Three Pinnacles in Mustang Performance

69mach1mus-s1.jpgSometimes when analyzing the current crop of cars it requires a reflection upon the past to see where the new cars fall short, meet, or exceed the pinnacles of the past. Nowhere is this more helpful then in  case of the Ford Mustang. The Mustang needs no introduction, it was first released during the 1964 model year, and has remained in production for the last five decades. The only other car model that has remained in production longer is the Chevrolet Corvette however it has a lapse in its streak – there was not a 1983 Corvette offering. Technically the Mustang has been in production for more consecutive years than the Corvette due to there not being any Mustang production lapses since its 1964 introduction.

The Mustang has remained true to its roots by remaining a sporty car for the masses during its entire production run. Granted even during the Mustang II era (1974-1978) which most will agree was the lowest point in Mustang performance, the Mustang II which was based on the Ford Pinto platform still was a sporty looking car. There may have been a performance malaise under the hood of the Mustang II, however  Ford did pickup on this and at least quickly returned a V8 to the Mustang’s option list in 1975 after the first year offering was missing a V8 option. The offering was Ford’s small-block 302 CID V8 which was the only V8 available in the Mustang II and could only be equipped with a miserly 2 barrel carburetor. Total horsepower output was only 140, paltry indeed but decent for 1975 when most cars including performance cars had their performance wings clipped. The upside was that a V8 equipped 1975 Mustang II weighed in at a very light 3,148 lbs so 140 horsepower went a lot further than it would have with the previous behemoth Mustang which was several hundred pounds heavier. Never-the-less 0-60 mph still took the V8 powered Mustang II the leisurely time period of mid-10 second range. What many Mustang fans don’t know is that this was the first official year of the 5.0 liter V8 engine option (Ford was doing its part to support the metric system) which would be a legend in the next decade. Even though the 302 CID V8 (a member of Ford’s Windsor small-block V8) really displaced 4.9 liters, Ford decided to round up to the better sounding number of "5.0" – after-all it does have a nice ring to it unlike "4.9". In fact the 5.0 liter V8 was such a Mustang staple during the 1980s and early-1990s that Ford has brought back the name with a new DOHC 32 valve 5.0 liter V8 which unlike the original actually displaces 5 liters – the "5.0" badge which was seen on many Mustangs in the past can now be seen again on the 2011 Mustang GT. Before we get too far into the Ford’s 5.0 liter V8, lets rewind back to age of the height of the Vietnam War, the first moon walk, Richard Nixon, a famous outdoor concert at Yasgur’s farm, and the glory days of the muscle car.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 – 428 CJ/SCJ

For the 1969 model year Ford released an updated Mustang which was slightly bigger and heavier than previous Mustang offerings. The 1969 styling changes gave the Mustang a bolder and more muscular look, and backing up the look was a whole array of hot performance motors. The Best of which was the  428 CID V8 Cobra Jet (CJ) and Super CobraJet (SCJ), which gave the Mustang true street performance credentials. Also on the engine option list for the 1969 Mustang was the Boss 429 CID V8 which was Ford’s version of the Chrysler 426 CID V8 Hemi. The Boss 429 V8 was produced in low numbers and was only found on the Boss 429 Mustang which was a limited production Mustang made only to qualify the 429 for NASCAR racing duty (NASCAR required at least 500 units to be sold in a 1969 production car in order for the 429 to be certified for the 1969 racing season). The production Boss 429 was setup for racing and though it  packed a heavy punch it was the 428 CJ/SCJ that was faster on the street. The 428 CJ and 428 SCJ were part of Ford’s FE big-block family – making the CJ and SCJ sturdy reliable engines. There were also many inexpensive Ford and aftermarket performance parts available for the 428 so it’s no surprise the 428 quickly became a favorite among Mustang owners doing battle on the streets and on the 1/4 mile strip.



Though the 428 CJ and SCJ could be ordered in different Mustang trim packages, most 428 CJ and SCJ V8s were ordered with the Mach 1. The Mach 1 which was only available in a fastback was the performance Mustang for the average Joe, where the top-of-the line Boss 302 and 429 Mustangs were more expensive and made in very low numbers – the same could be said about the pricey Shelby Mustangs. The Mach 1 had seven different performance engine options available. The 428 CJ and 428 SCJ were the hottest options in this lineup.

The 428 CJ and 428 SCJ were both rated at 335 horsepower which was a wink-wink – "yeah right" horsepower rating. 69mach1mus-2.jpgTrue output for both engines touched 400 horsepower at the very least. The CJ was an engine option, the SCJ was essentially upgraded version of the 428 CJ motor Ford gave the buyer when the low 3.91 or 4.30 rear axle ratios were ordered. By the middle of the year Ford introduced mid-year 1969 a drag pack option (which you could only get a 3.91 or 4.30 axle ratio with) for the 428  – this gave the buyer a few performance upgrades including the 428 SCJ. Both the CJ and SCJ could be ordered with or without a Ram Air induction system which consisted of a front opening shaker hood scope (though there are persistent rumors that a few early production 1969 Mach 1 CJ/SCJ Mustangs may have left the factory with the fixed hood 1968 Ram Air hood scope). It did not matter whether a 1969 Mustang had a 428 CJ or SCJ with or without Ram Air, the horsepower rating was still 335. In reality the SCJ produced slightly more horsepower than CJ, and Ram Air induction bumped up by at least 5 or perhaps as much as 10 the horsepower of a CJ or SCJ.   

The 1969 Mustang Mach 1 428 SCJ went 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 13.9 seconds at 103.32 mph. A very impressive figure indeed, it would be the pinnacle of Mustang performance for the average performance buyer – and it would be a very long time before another reasonably priced Mustang would eclipse this figure.

1987 Ford Mustang GT/LX 5.0 H.O.

Ford Mustang performance was luke warm at best during most of the 1970s. By the beginning of the 1980s this began to change. In 1982 the Mustang GT returned as the Mustang performance model – previously the Mustang GT had a good run as peformance offering from 1965-1969. The 5.0 liter V8 for 1982 was now available in High Output (H.O.) form in the Mustang GT – provided it was ordered with the 4-speed manual transmission (automatic GTs were stuck with the 4.2 liter V8). The 5.0 liter H.O. (2 bbl) V8 produced 157 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque in the 1982 Mustang GT – seems like chicken feed today however back in 1982 it was quite the berries. After-all the standard Ford 5.0 liter V8 in 1982 produced only 132 horsepower, so the H.O. made 25 extra horsepower. And Ford Mustang fans were glad to have it, 0-60 mph was a very fast for its day, low-8 second range which was the same time it took a 1982 Corvette to do the same acceleration run.



Ford did not stop there it kept improving the Mustang GT year-by-year, and horsepower soared. By 1987 Ford had one of the hottest performance packages in America with its 5.0 liter H.O. V8, which now used Electronic Fuel injection (EFI) and produced 225 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. With this bump in horsepower 0-60 mph had dropped to 6.54 seconds and the 1/4 mile was now down to 15.13 seconds as tested by Motor Trend Magazine back in 1987.

For 1987 the Mustang had received new front and rear styling along with a new interior. Mustang fans were elated at the performance of the 1987 GT which was 25 more horsepower than the previous year. The Mustang GT had GM’s performance F-bodies – Chevrolet’s Camaro Z28/Iroc-Z and Pontiac’s Trans Am on the run in previous years, so much so that GM was forced to offer the Corvette’s 5.7 Tuned-Port Injection (TPI) V8 in the F-bodies. Bad news for GM fans was the expensive 5.7 TPI V8 option only matched the power of Mustang’s 5.0 H.O. and couldn’t best it – the mandatory automatic transmission with the 5.7 liter also crippled GM’s F-bodies’ performance potential.

However the real secret for 1987 was the base Mustang LX could be ordered with the GT’s hot 5.0 H.O. EFI V8. The GT came with the mandatory fastback hatchback which was optional on the LX. The LX however came standard with a notchback coupe roofline – a LX notchback weighed less than the fastback. And for those Mustang LX 5.0 buyers who opted for the notchback and left out most or all of the luxury and convenience options the end result was a very light Mustang that was faster than the GT. This was a smart choice for the Mustang buyer who wanted all out performance and no flash for the least amount of cash. For those that wanted a looker Mustang that performed very well, the GT was the right choice.



1987 was a good year for Mustang performance fans – at no time since the death of the original muscle car era had the Mustang performed as close to revered 428 CJ/SCJ Mustangs. However the 5.0 H.O. 1987 Mustang GT/LX was still slower in acceleration tests in comparison to the original 428 CJ/SCJ Mustangs however the later hit their top speeds just after passing through the 1/4 mile, the 1987 Mustang GT went all the way to the high top speed of 148 mph (the 5.0 LX had a lower top speed than the GT due to inferior aerodynamics). The Mustang GT and 5.0 LX both shared the same handling suspension which was so superior than anything found on a 428 CJ/SCJ Mustang. In other words where the 1987 Mustang GT/LX 5.0 fell short in acceleration it made up for in top speed and very good handling.
As good as 1987 was for Mustang performance, most back in 1987 did not realize this would be a performance pinnacle for the Mustang for a long while – it would be 12 more years before a Mustang GT would surpass this horsepower figure.

2011 Ford Mustang GT

By 1996 a Mustang SVT Cobra was the performance Mustang that was approaching 428 CJ/SCJ performance territory with a standard 4.6 DOHC 32 valve V8 rated at 305 horsepower however production numbers were low and the SVT Cobra was pricey. The average Mustang performance buyer during this time was stuck with a Mustang GT which had a mandatory 4.6 SOHC 16 valve V8 rated at 215 horsepower. Eleven years later a 2007 Shelby GT500 Mustang would produce 500 horsepower however the cost of ownership was more than most Mustang buyers could afford.



Fast forward a few years and Ford now has a 2011 Mustang GT with an all-new 5.0 liter V8 – a DOHC 32 valve V8 not a OHV 16 valve V8 like the old 5.0 liter. The new 5.0 V8 produces 412 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, which is almost double the horsepower output of the 1987 Mustang GT. Performance as you would expect is phenomenal. It’s so good in fact it could only be described as "428 CJ/SCJ owners eat your heart out" performance – 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds and the 1/4 11mustgt-06-30-11-2.jpgmile in 12.8 seconds. This performance has a base price of just a little over $30K, which in today’s inflated dollars is a downright bargain.

And when it comes to handling, the Mustang GT with the optional Brembo brake package can hit an impressive .94 on the skidpad making it one of the best handling cars in 2011 for the money.

When the Mustang GT had the 5.0 liter H.O. EFI V8 the critics all raved at how the Mustang GT offered the most bang for the buck (same was said about the 5.0 LX). The new DOHC 5.0 liter 2011 Mustang GT offers even more bang for the buck. It’s safe to say never has it been better for the average Mustang performance buyer. Not only is the 2011 GT a new performance pinnacle for the Mustang it’s by far the highest performance pinnacle ever for the Mustang – it even makes the 428 CJ/SCJ look like chopped liver in comparison. It may have taken the Mustang a little over four decades to finally beat the 428 CJ/SCJ Mustang’s performance, however like all good things the wait was worth it. Let’s hope this is the sign of new future performance pinnacles for the Mustang and that a return of the performance malaise of the 1970s never again rears its ugly head.


Written contents in this article – © 2011 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved