3: '71 Boss 351— One Last Hurrah
Nineteen seventy-one is a strange irony because it was both the beginning and the end. It meant the end of a memorable era of muscle cars and the beginning of a period of emission-strangled, fuel-stingy automobiles that would be with us for more than a decade. It meant saying goodbye to the all-American muscle car, and we did that in 1971. When we considered the '71 Mustang for our 10 Best, it became a toss-up between the Boss 351 and the 429 Cobra Jet. The Boss 351 wins because it yields the crisp sound and performance of its predecessor—the '69-'70 Boss 302—only with more power and torque. Most appealing are those mechanical lifters, throaty Cleveland heads, and the long arm of the 351C's added stroke.
In truth, the '71 Mustang was neither drag car nor road racer. It was a road-going Mustang designed for the open highway. What made the Boss 351 different was its high-revving Cleveland, close-ratio four-speed, and 3.91:1 gears. With factory drag racing gears, you could show off with your Boss 351 around town but suffer the consequences of those low gears when hitting the open road. No matter how you look at the Boss 351, it's a terrific Mustang with its long hood and short deck—and a reminder of how short lived some things can be.
2: '68½ Shelby GT500KR— King of the Road
Ford kept the lid on the 428 Cobra Jet until the 1968 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. It began with 50 Wimbledon White fastbacks with dog-dish hubcaps, produced at the Dearborn Assembly Plant in December prior to the race and followed by the distribution of these 428-powered rocket ships to professional Super Stock drag racers around the country. The Cobra Jet Mustangs promptly changed public perception about big-block Mustangs.
Ford introduced the 428 Cobra Jet engine as a Mustang option on April 1, 1968. Carroll Shelby followed suit with the CJ-powered KR version of the '68 GT500. KR stands for “King Of The Road,” a name Chevrolet intended for a limited production Camaro. Shelby got it first, and the GT500KR became one of the best-driving, best-performing Shelbys of all time.
1: '05-'11 Mustang— A Grand Slam
Regardless of your picks for Top 10 Mustangs you'd like to own, we find it impossible to resist the S197 '05-'11 Mustang. When Ford teased us with those two-seat S197 concept cars in 2002, we looked at all their nuances and said, “No way is Ford going to give us a production car this good.” When those first production cars came our way for '05, it was surreal. Those first '05 Mustangs resembled a '67-'68 coming at you and a '69-'70 heading the other way. That's when we were positive Ford had a winner that would both please and sell. Later, Carroll Shelby and Ford reunited to build the most powerful Mustangs ever.
And just when you thought the Mustang was as good as it could get, Ford unleashed a duo of powerhouse engines for '11: a 305hp V-6 and a 412hp V-8 for the GT, with a 444hp Boss 302 coming for a '12 encore. Life has come full circle and is better than ever in Dearborn.