The History of the Original Mustang: The Peak Performance Period (1969-1970)
That year, the Mustang development team began to work out another major overhaul. The plan was to make the car even more aggressive, both visually and mechanically. The original 108-inch (2743 mm) 64½ wheelbase was retained, but the body length was lengthened by 3.8 inches (97 mm). 1969: more performance versions than ever before
Building on the aggressive stance of cars from 67 to 68, the new Mustang coated side panels that were convex rather than concave. It was the first model to use quad headlights placed inside and outside the front grille opening. In addition, the iconic central logo has been replaced with a smaller one installed on the left side of the grille.
The Fastback 2 + 2 body style was discontinued, replaced by a new SportsRoof variant. Although the latter was given its own body code number, the change was more of an unsuccessful rebranding than a drastic change in styling. To this day, SportsRoof models are still considered fastbacks by the vast majority of pony car enthusiasts.
In the engine department, the 1969 lineup was among the most diverse in model history. For the first time since 1964, there were two sixes in a row to choose from. As standard, the Mustang continued to come with the 200 cu.ft. (3.3-liter) T-code six-cylinder and an optional 250 cu.ft (4.1-liter) version producing 155 hp was added.
The base V8 continued to be a slightly revised variant of the 302 cubic inch (4.9 liter) two-barrel Windsor, while the four-barrel version was discontinued. New to the lineup were a few 5.8 L (351 cubic inch) units. The two-barrel Windsor produced 250 horsepower, while the four-barrel Cleveland could produce 280 horsepower.
The 320-horsepower Thunderbird Special was the only big 390-horsepower block left, with Ford abandoning the two-barrel Thunderbird introduced a year later. Next in line was the 428 cubic inch (7.0 liter) Cobra Jet which was rated at 335 hp but could spit out a lot more, especially when fitted with the optional dynamic air intake.
The Performance Edition lineup saw the official launch of the new Mach 1. It was only available in the SportsRoof body style and could be fitted with any of the five V8s. Among other exclusive visual enhancements, it came standard with a matte black hood with exposed locking pins. Inside, it was fitted with high-back bucket seats and a special carpet. It also included all of the mechanical upgrades that came with the optional Special Handling Package.
With 72,458 units sold, which represented nearly 25% of all Mustang sales in 1969, the Mach 1 would ultimately replace the GT gear set that was last sold that year.
The Shelbys featured many cosmetic upgrades that set them apart from standard cars. These included a redesigned front grille, fiberglass cowls, front fenders, and a luxury-focused cabin.
While the GT500 came with the same 428 Cobra Jet introduced the year before, the GT350 was now equipped with the new 5.8-liter (351 cubic-inch) Windsor upgraded to 290 hp. The engine was fitted with a four-barrel Autolite 470 CFM carburetor, an aluminum intake manifold, and valve covers made from the same material.
Along with the GTs, Mach 1s, and Shelbys, Ford introduced two additional performance homologation models that would become some of the coolest Mustangs ever built.
The first was the Boss 302, developed to dominate the Trans-Am Championship in its respective class and beat the Z / 28 Camaro. As the name suggests, it used a heavily modified 4.9 liter (302 cubic inch) engine fitted with cylinder heads from the later Cleveland 351. It produced 290 horsepower and 290 lb-ft (393 Nm) of torque, helping the car achieve a 0-60 mph (96 km / h) time of 6.9 seconds.
The second model was the Boss 429. It was designed primarily to certify its powertrain for NASCAR use. One of the biggest engines the automaker has ever fitted on a production car, the 429 cubic inch (7.0 L) unit produced a whopping 375 hp and 450 lb-ft (610 Nm) of torque. It could launch the enraged pony car to 60 mph (96 km / h) from a standstill in 6.5 seconds.
Another special edition worth mentioning was not about performance, but created with luxury in mind. Also introduced that year, it was called Grande and could only be purchased as a hardtop. With many visual upgrades and a premium interior, it was the classiest Mustang of the first generation.
Despite all these additions, sales were down slightly from the previous year. Excluding the Shelbys, 299,824 units were produced in 1969. 1970: Slight changes and the end of the Shelby era
After the extensive overhaul of the previous year, the Mustang received only minor modifications. Most notable of these saw the headlights moved inside the grille opening and where they were previously was covered with a pair of fake intake vents.
The V8 engine lineup saw the withdrawal of the last 390 remaining, and the Cleveland 351s eventually replaced the Windsor 351. As for the special editions, the Grande, Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss 429 editions returned with insignificant modifications.
Unfortunately, Shelby’s story would end in 1970. A year earlier, Carroll Shelby would end his contract with Ford and go their separate ways to pursue other projects. The GT350 and GT500 sold that year were carryovers from 1969 and only featured different hood stripes.
Although the curtain has been drawn on these two iconic models, this period marks the peak of performance of the first generation. With the wide variety of models available, we can only imagine the number of sleepless nights customers endured in 1969 thinking about buying a new Mustang.
A largely unsuccessful overhaul coupled with new emissions regulations that limited engine horsepower available led to lower sales for the next three years. You can read more about the 1971-1973 models in the last part of our series.