Introduced almost 60 years ago in April of 1964, the Ford Mustang has become one of the most successful American cars and a recognizable cultural icon with influence beyond the limits of the car industry.
It might sound incredible, but Ford had produced over 10 million cars with brand new, 7th generation debuts for the 2024 model year and showed no sign of slowing down.
However, among all those millions of standard Mustangs, there are quite a few unique and super-rare ones. Today, we will look at those cars and bet you will find some that even the most hardcore Mustang fans never heard about.
- 1 Shelby GT350 Convertible (1966)
- 2 Ford Mustang HO (1972)
- 3 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Convertible (1968)
- 4 Ford Mustang E (1969)
- 5 Ford Mustang 41X (1989)
- 6 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
- 7 Shelby GT500 Super Snake (1967)
- 8 Ford Mustang McLaren M81 (1980)
- 9 Shelby Europa (1971)
- 10 Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special (1970)
- 11 Share this post:
Shelby GT350 Convertible (1966)
Most Mustang enthusiasts will tell you that Shelby didn’t produce convertibles until 1968. However, this is entirely false. Apart from legendary Cobras, Carroll Shelby and his team made the first GT350 open top in late 1966 as a secret model.
The car wasn’t listed as a production item, nor was it available for sale or promoted through specialized press. It was a commemorative model to mark the successful GT350 racing career and its impact on the muscle car market. Shelby American produced exactly six examples, all of which were gifted to Carroll’s family and friends.
Interestingly, those GT350 Convertibles were all well-equipped cars with items that were either optional or not available on standard versions. Each was painted in different colors (white, blue, green, or red) with signature white racing stripes. It had a factory-installed roll bar for protection as well as A/C, radio, and Shelby aluminum wheels. Since those cars are so rare, they are unicorns of the Shelby world, and almost impossible to find them for sale.
Ford Mustang HO (1972)
The original muscle car era came to a screeching halt in 1972. The rising insurance costs, tightening emissions, and safety regulations were too much for Detroit and its octane addiction.
Suddenly, most legendary muscle car models and engines were discontinued, giving way to low-compression motors, diminutive power, and poor performance, which lasted throughout this decade. The Mustang H.O. is a forgotten gem of muscle car culture and deserves a closer look.
Even though Ford had discontinued the Shelby and Boss models, the power-hungry customers had one exciting option for 1972 – Mustang H.O. (High Output).
This model was hidden in Ford’s catalog, and it featured a 351 V8 engine delivering as much power as it legally could for 1972. It used some components from the 1971 Boss 351 model, the last proper classic muscle Mustang.
According to Motortrend, the result was 275 horsepower on tap, which wasn’t as high as the previous models but was good enough to make it the fastest Mustang of the period. Unfortunately, customers didn’t realize how good this Mustang was, and only about 60 cars were ever produced in all three body styles – Coupe, Convertible, and Sportsroof.
Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Convertible (1968)
Ford shocked the public with the mid-year introduction of the Cobra Jet engine in 1968. Suddenly, the Mustang got the hottest engine, thumping 428 cubic inches of Detroit steel, conservatively rated at 335 hp. In reality, those engines pushed way over 420 horsepower and posted fantastic acceleration figures and quarter-mile times.
Ford wanted to promote the Mustang as a drag racer’s weapon of choice, and despite being expensive, the 1968 Mustang Cobra Jet found its way to the drag strip with a lot of success. In order to disguise it as just a standard Mustang, it was offered in all three body styles.
Of course, serious street racers snapped the Fastback and Coupe because those versions were stronger and lighter and had better performance and torsional rigidity, which is essential when you have a torque monster of an engine under your right foot.
But some customers wanted all that firepower in an open top. So, Ford produced just 34 1968 Mustang Cobra Jet Convertibles, all with a lot of standard features, dual exhaust, wide tires, and a massive 428 V8 under the hood. Currently, only 17 of the 34 made are accounted for, and the rest wait to be discovered and restored.
Ford Mustang E (1969)
In the late ‘60s, performance was the name of the game for all Detroit car manufacturers. Everybody offered insane engines with multi-carb setups, high horsepower, and tire-shredding performance. With 0.35 cents a gallon, nobody considered fuel economy to be a selling point.
However, despite being at the forefront of the muscle car mania, somebody in Ford still thought about the economy and managed to push out one interesting but obscure Mustang model.
Along with the new sheet metal for the 1969 model, the Mustang lineup got a version called Mustang E (for Economy). Offered in a seductive Sportsroof body style, it looked muscular and fast. But it was anything but. Under the hood was a base 250 cubic inch, six-cylinder model with just 120 hp, matted to uniquely engineered C4 automatic transmission and unusual 2.33:1 rear end ratio.
The whole drive train was engineered for cruising at the speed limit and using as little fuel as possible. A stark contrast to other muscular Fords of the time, which had one task – to go fast and look good doing it. However, even though the Mustang E was affordable and elegant, the production was minimal. Ford made only 50 cars in one body style with the Mustang E script instead of the running pony logo on the fenders.
Ford Mustang 41X (1989)
Nobody knows how many Mustang 41X were made since it was a kind of secret model, and only a few cars were discovered. But its story is fascinating, and we hope to learn more about these extraordinary machines. In the late’80s, the Foxbody Mustang was the muscle car to have.
With a 225 hp 5.0-liter V8, lightweight body, and decent handling, it was the first Mustang that could match the performance of the ‘60s machines. It sparked the interest of millions of enthusiasts and became one of the bona fide muscle legends.
However, serious street racers wanted more and realized that their Foxbody 5.0s could go even faster if they chose the bare-bones Notchback LX version without any options. The relentless quest for lightness inspired Ford to offer a 41X option.
Named after the ordering code, the 41X came without sound deadening, radio, sun visors, speakers, seatbelts, passenger rearview mirror, etc. Significantly lighter, the 41X had the stock engine and 5-speed manual transmission, but it was noticeably quicker on the street and the strip.
Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
The 1993 Mustang SVT Cobra R is another great name from the Foxbody era. Offered in the last model year, it was a swan song of the third Mustang generation that arrived on the scene in 1979 and lasted 14 years and over 2.6 million examples.
Ultimately, Ford introduced the SVT Cobra model and its track-only version, the mighty R. Even though it looked like the standard Cobra, the R was more Spartan and set up for the SCCA championship.
With race-tuned suspension, no rear seat, better brakes, and a unique three-double-spoke design, the Cobra R was only sold to customers with racing licenses.
Ford claimed that the 5.0-liter was stock and delivered 235 hp, but enthusiasts believe the actual output was closer to 250 hp since Cobra R had significantly better performance than the stock.
Offered only in one color (red), the 1993 Cobra R was sold in just 107 examples, and it is the Holy Grail of all Foxbody Mustang fans.
Shelby GT500 Super Snake (1967)
Legendary Carroll Shelby once said: “There is never enough horsepower, just not enough traction.” During the heyday of his venture with Ford, it looked like all of his cars were engineered by this mantra. In 1967, Shelby introduced the GT500, a top-of-the-line model with a massive engine and excellent performance.
However, while the car community was fascinated by the aggressive lines of the new muscle car, he was busy engineering a GT500 Super Snake behind the scenes.
The 1967 Super Snake featured a GT 40, a Le Mans-winning, high-revving V8 with unknown power output. It reached speeds of over 170 mph, and Goodyear even developed a particular tire for testing. Even though it looked like a standard GT500, the Super Snake was full of racing tech and unique parts.
Carroll planned to sell a limited run of 50 cars but realized that the car would cost over $9000. In 1967, that was Ferrari money. Shelby American quickly abandoned the idea, leaving the sole Super Snake prototype, which survived all those years and recently sold for seven figures at an auction.
Ford Mustang McLaren M81 (1980)
The late 70s and early 80s were the dark days of American performance. In such a climate, muscle cars vanished since manufacturers struggled to offer performance engine options. The Foxbody Mustang debuted on the scene in 1979, and despite great reception from the customers, Ford faced a challenge.
How to provide exciting versions for power-hungry customers. The Foxbody Mustang had an interesting 2.3-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder in its lineup, and engineers thought it was a good starting point.
With the help of the McLaren racing team’s American division, they quickly developed the prototype with a 175 hp engine (decent numbers for 1980) and wild body kit, which looked great and was aerodynamically efficient.
According to autoevolution.com, the car featured numerous specific parts, improved suspension, wider wheels, and racing seats and gained much attention from the motoring press. Unfortunately, the proposed price was over $25,000, as expensive as a brand-new Porsche 911.
Ford quickly realized that the McLaren M81 would not be a good seller and canceled the project after only ten cars were completed.
Shelby Europa (1971)
Only true Shelby fans know about Shelby Europa, a limited run of cars produced in Belgium by Shelby dealers and Carroll’s friend Claude Dubois.
When Ford discontinued Shelby production in 1970, Dubois acquired rights to the name and imported several 1971 Mach I Mustangs (Sportsroofs and Convertibles) and turned them into Shelby Europa at his Belgian workshop. But this wasn’t just a graphics package and a fancy name. Those cars were proper hot rods and deserved the Shelby name.
Dubois installed adjustable front suspension, Koni shocks, better brakes, and spoilers. Since it was based on the 1971 Mach I, the cars came with either 351 or 429 V8, and Dubois tuned the engines to deliver over 400 horsepower. US laws forbade such modifications at the time, but in Europe, they were legal.
Shelby Europa sold Mustangs faster and handled better than anything in the States. However, high prices and import taxes got the best of Dubois’ exciting project, and the Shelby Europa project was canceled after only nine cars.
Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special (1970)
For the better part of the ‘60s, Ford was busy offering special edition Mustang models designed to be sold in specific parts of the country. Those cars were stock models with a different color option, few extra features, and the badge on the fenders—nothing to write home about.
However, 1970, Nebraska and Iowa dealers got a unique Mustang to sell. It was called Sidewinder Special and remains among the rarest and most exciting models.
The Sidewinder Special was based on bare bones Sportsroof model, but it got unique treatment with front and rear spoilers, window louvers, and a graphic package with a snake cartoon on the rear fenders. However, the Sidewinder Special got a competition suspension, 351 V8 with a 4-bbl carburetor, C4 automatic transmission, and a limited-slip differential under the sheet metal.
It was rated at 300 hp, but since the Sidewinder Special was a base model, it was light and agile. Ford produced 40 cars shipped to the dealers with exterior add-ons in the box and manual instructions on how to put them on by dealership technicians. Out of those 40 produced, only seven are known to survive.