When we spotted Tom Elledge's '68 High Country Special at the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals, we did a double-take. For one thing, High Country Specials aren't common to begin with, not even in Colorado where they were originally marketed. To find one in the middle of Pennsylvania is extremely unusual.
Imagine Tom's demeanor when he unearthed this limited-production hardtop in a barn, buried under bird droppings. Perhaps the poop can be credited with protecting the car and its identity for all those years. Tom is quick to say it was something he never expected to find anywhere, not to mention in a barn far from its origins.
Produced from '66-'68 as a special promotion vehicle for Colorado-area Ford dealers, the first two years of High Country Specials were little more than special exterior colors and a triangular HCS emblem for all body styles. For '68, the HCS became a hardtop only and borrowed the front foglights, sidescoops, and Shelby rearend treatment from the California Special.
Assembled at Milpitas, California (San Jose), and sold new at Courtesy Ford in Littleton, Colorado, Tom's High Country Special can't be described as mainstream. At first glance, it appears to be a 289-2V hardtop with fancy California Special-style graphics and body treatment, including the Shelby-style tailpanel with Thunderbird taillights. In fact, it's easy to believe it's a California Special because the HCS graphics are so subtle. Tom's is a J-code 302 four-barrel engine with all the trimmings.
We appreciate the chrome Styled Steel wheels wrapped in E70x14-inch reproduction Firestone Wide-Oval tires. The narrow-band white sidewalls gave cars of the period a clean, well-trimmed appearance. They were novel because few were ordered with them.
When Tom hauled this car home to Gettysburg, there was a lot of work to be done. Thankfully, the hardtop was solid and didn't need structural repairs. Jeff Keffel reworked the body and laid down the Candyapple Red finish. The sheetmetal is original; there are no patch panels or body filler on this one. Mike Hufnagel at the Pony Ranch in Hanover gets much of the credit for the rest of the body. Keith's Pit Stop handled the mechanical restoration, including rebuilding Tom's matching-number 302.
Inside is a standard red-vinyl interior with the optional console. The standard AM radio is good for ball games and talk radio, but not much else today. Power steering, a more common option, eases driving effort.
What excites Tom most about his HCS is the rarity, with only 250 others made for '68. According to Kevin Marti of Marti Auto Works, who has an incredible Ford factory database for '67-'73s, the San Jose plant produced 45 Candyapple Red '68 High Country Specials. There were 43 with the 302 four-barrel engine. Only nine were Candyapple Red with the 302-4V.
Ford's Denver sales district threw a big party for these cars when they were first introduced. Savvy reporters and sales people met the train as it rolled in from California with hundreds of HCS Mustangs on board. The atmosphere at Milpitas was festive when the first '67 High Country Special rolled off the line.
There wasn't much hoopla when the High Country Specials were built at Milpitas in 1968. They rolled into Denver without much notice, routed to dealers all throughout the area. Although, when Tom's HCS arrived at Courtesy Ford, you can bet it was noticed. That's what these cars were all about: being noticed and owning something special for the high country.
High Country Basics
'66-'67: HCS shield located on front fenders above Mustang emblems
'68: HCS shield located on Shelby side scoops. All California Special features except script on the rear quarter-panels. Fiberglass decklid and end caps. Hood locks.Blacked-out grille with Marshall or Lucas foglamps. Shelby sidescoops.California Special-style body graphics.Shelby/T-bird taillamps.
High Country Colors
'66-'67: Columbine Blue, Aspen Gold, Timberline Green
'68: All '68 Mustang Colors
High Country Body Styles
'66-'67: Hardtop, Fastback, Convertible
'68: Hardtop Only
High Country Engines
'66-'68: All engines available, including 428 Cobra Jet in 1968.