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Mustang GT California Special History

Kevin Cassar
March 9, 2020

Mustang GT/CS History

Ever since the inception of the Ford Mustang on April 17, 1964, at the World’s Fair in New York, Americans began a love affair with the original pony car. For over 55 years, that tradition continues for millions of people all around the world. The Mustang is able to offer something to every demographic throughout the world that no other car can do. It has the ability to give the driver a fast, fun, and freedom driving experience as no other muscle car can.

In the early years of the Mustang, it was clear that Ford made an amazing vehicle to give teenage baby boomers something sporty and hip to drive. But what the Mustang was lacking was some American Muscle! Thanks to the late great Carroll Shelby he changed all that. Over the next 3 years, Shelby would take the Mustang from a mule to a racehorse. From the introduction of the Shelby GT350 & GT350R in 1965 to the 427 cubic inch beast in the 1967 GT500. He made it his mission to take Ford’s pony car to the greatest heights imaginable.

Between 1967 and 1968, California Ford dealers had the best Mustang sales across the entire United States. So Ford engineers and designers decided it would be great to come up with a special model to commemorate their remarkable achievement. It just so happens at this time things were being turned up a notch from Shelby with the introduction of the 1967 Shelby GT500 prototype called “Little Red." Ford struck gold because they were at the drawing table on a package to offer California Ford dealers. Through some collaboration with Shelby, Ford was able to create the 1968 Mustang GT/CS “California Special”. It was based on the “Little Red” Shelby GT500 concept.

1968 Mustang GT/CS


The Original 1968 Mustang GT/CS

One thing is for sure, Ford knew it would set a trend for all other manufacturers to follow. The Mustang was the first to introduce a full range of options for customers to choose from. When the original 1968 Mustang GT California Special was introduced it turned that up a notch. As Ford would say “Designed To Be Designed Into Your Personal GT/CS” and they weren’t kidding.

The ‘68 GT/CS was an industry first to allow you to customize each area of your vehicle.


1968 Mustang GT/CS: Powertrain Options

  • Ford offered the 289 V8, 302 V8, 390 V8, and the almighty 428 Cobra Jet V8. Power ranged from 195HP to 335HP and Torque ranged from 288 FT/LBs to an earth-shattering 440 FT/LBs of Torque.
  • Transmission Options: You had the choice of either a 4-speed manual gearbox or the 3-speed automatic with 2 in 1 select-select shift.

1968 Mustang GT/CS: Exterior Options:

  • Included Shelby air-simulated side scoops with GT/CS insignia.
  • Functional louvered hood with integral turn signals, a two-toned hood option with any color available.
  • Three options for wheels, blacked-out grille, rectangular grille-mounted fog lamps.
  • Shelby hood pins.
  • Pop-open gas cap.
  • Special side stripes.
  • The rear tail lights came straight out of a 1967 Shelby GT500 for that signature Shelby styling.
  • Every ‘68 GT/CS came equipped with options from the GT package.

1968 Mustang GT/CS: Interior Options:

  • Naturally the GT/CS included every option that made the Mustang famous from its birthday in 1964.
  • Such as bucket seats, leather vinyl trim, carpeting, and floor shifter.

Ford made it clear that it wanted to give customers the ability to have Shelby but with Mustang pricing. The great thing was each GT/CS was completely customizable to the customer. So no two GT/CS Mustangs were alike. This is what made the original so special. It was the first real special edition Mustang offered to the public.

Just over 4,118 GT/CS Mustangs were produced during 1968 only to be sold in two sales districts in California. But it is speculated that Ford did send 251 GT/CS Mustangs to Denver, Colorado.

It is key to note that the 1968 GT/CS was only offered in a coupe version and not a convertible.


The Return Of The GT/CS In 2007

It wasn’t till 40 years later till the Mustang GT California Special made its glorious return to enthusiasts everywhere. This once proud example of Mustang power, style, and freedom was finally back and here to stay. Ford knew it had to go all out in order to make a triumphant return into the Mustang community. 2007 marked two years into the S197 generation of the Mustang. Many models were debuting including the return of the Shelby GT500. So it was a no brainer to bring back the GT/CS the same year of the GT500 since that is where its roots truly lie.

When Ford was designing the 2007 GT/CS they wanted to really harken back to its roots of great styling, power, and fun. But most importantly give customers the endless amount of options to make it truly one of a kind. For the first time ever you could get the GT/CS in a convertible. This was huge for Californians as they knew their tribute Mustang was going to have some drop-top fun. Unlike the original GT/CS it would be sold all across the country for the first time ever. Giving all Mustang enthusiasts a chance to get some of that California Special treatment.

07-09 Mustang GT California Special

This second generation of GT/CS was designed and built to make a statement!

2007-2009 Mustang GT/CS Exterior Styling & Options:

  • The second-generation GT/CS was designed to stand out from the corral of Mustangs. It was given a revised front fascia, with larger grille openings for greater cooling at high speeds, and a chin spoiler that was 1.5 inches lower than the standard Mustang GT front fascia.
  • Each GT/CS came equipped with a signature ram-air style hood scoop that was prominent from head-on.
  • Like the original ‘68, GT/CS Ford wouldn’t forget the signature Shelby air-simulated style side scoops.
  • Signature striping, each came equipped with either black or white stripes depending on the color choice.
  • Unlike the 2007-2009 GT500 the GT/CS came standard with color-matched side skirts.
  • The rear of the California Special has equipped standard with a race-inspired rear diffuser and large chrome exhaust tips expelling the sound of 300 all-American horses. Like every Mustang of this generation, it came with a faux style gas cap on the decklid. But the GT/CS has unique badging “California Special”.

2007-2009 Mustang GT/CS Color Options:

  • Performance White
  • Redfire (2007 Only)
  • Black
  • Dark Candy Apple Red (2008-2009)
  • Grabber Orange (2008-2009)
  • Vista Blue
  • Vapor Silver (2009 Only)

07-09 Mustang GT/CS Interior Comparison

2007-2009 Mustang GT/CS: Interior Styling & Options

  • Customers had the choice of dark-charcoal leather-trimmed seats with either a dove or parchment grey inserts.
  • Driver and passenger seats came with four-way power with heated ventilation.

07-09 Mustang GT/CS Engine Bay

2007-2009 Mustang GT/CS: Powertrain Options
  • Just like every Mustang GT from 2005-2009, the 2007-2009 Mustang GT/CS came equipped standard with the modular 4.6L 3V V8 engine producing 300 Horsepower and 320 lb ft of torque.
  • Your choice of a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission.

2011-2014 Mustang GT/CS: Here Comes The Coyote

Since its comeback in 2007, the GT California Special struck the hearts of millions of Mustang enthusiasts all across the country as it did back in 1968. Just like Carroll Shelby had envisioned, he finally turned this mule into a racehorse. With Ford's unveiling, the return of the legendary 5.0L V8 Mustang enthusiasts were raving to get their hands on it. Ford was keen on embracing the opportunity to hit home with all Mustang enthusiasts.

Now with the third-generation of the GT/CS, Ford was on point to give customers modern styling, all-out performance, and handling. In order to keep the success of the second generation GT/CS going. In 2011 the S197 Mustang received a mid-cycle refresh in the S197 generation. The GT California Special would take no back seat to get a refresh update as well.

Mustang GT California Special 2011-2014 Comparison

2011-2014 Mustang GT/CS: Exterior Styling & Options

Exterior Keypoints 2011-2012 2013-2014
Front Fascia Received a race-inspired front splitter, larger air openings for better airflow, revised fog lamps, unique multi-bar grille with signature tri-bar pony emblem, and a power bulge hood. Yet again the GT/CS would see another refresh as 2013 got a slight refresh to the 2011-2012 Mustang.
It received a prominent race-inspired front splitter, multi-bar style front grille with unique tri-bar pony emblem, revised fog lamps, and HID headlamps standard, unlike the 11-12 Mustangs.
Rear Fascia Received a pedestal race-inspired spoiler, unique decklid with a signature GT/CS faux gas cap. Signature tri-bar tail lamps. Received a revised rear diffuser, updated signature tri-bar tail lamps, color-matched pedestal spoiler.
Wheels 19” inch specific 9-spoke alloy wheels. 19” inch specific 5-spoke alloy wheels.
Styling Cues Signature GT/CS fender to door side-striping and air-simulated side scoops. GT/CS specific hood and side-striping. Side-striping was moved to the bottom of the fender and door. Signature air-simulated side scoops.
Unlike years past 2013-2014 received color-matched side skirts.
Convertible Yes Yes
Color Options 2011: Race red, Red Candy Metallic, Grabber Blue, and Ingot Silver Metallic. (All were black side-striping)
2012: Race red, Red Candy Metallic, Grabber Blue, Yellow Blaze, and Ingot Silver Metallic. (All were black side-striping)
2013: Deep Impact Blue, Red Candy Metallic, Race Red, Performance White, Sterling Gray, and Black. (All were black side-striping)
2014: Black, Ingot Silver, Metallic, Oxford White, Sterling Gray, and Race Red (All were black side-striping)


Mustang GT California Special 11-14 Interior Comparison

2011-2014 Mustang GT/CS: Interior Styling & Options

2011-2012 Mustang GT/CS 2013-2014 Mustang GT/CS
The interior received a massive upgrade from previous GT/CS models.
They came equipped with standard was leather-wrapped seats with GT/CS embroidering in the seat-back.
Whiteface gauges were prominent in the dashboard. Sync came standard equipped with the option of the Shaker 1000 audio system.
Unique carbon fiber applique accented dash with GT/CS logo.
Updated gauges were prominent now black-faced unlike the 11-12 white face gauges.
Optional was a center-mounted touchscreen display for sync and navigation.
Unique carbon fiber applique accented dash with GT/CS logo.
Standard equipped was leather-wrapped seats with Alcantara seat inserts. GT/CS embroidering in the seat-back.


Gen 1 Mustang Coyote Engine Bay

2011-2014 Mustang GT/CS Powertrain Options

Standard equipment came with the first generation of the 5.0L “Coyote” 32V V8 with TIVCT (Twin Independent Variable Cam Timing).


2011-2012 Mustang GT/CS 2013-2014 Mustang GT/CS
Came equipped standard with the first generation 5.0L “Coyote” 32V V8.
Producing 412 Horsepower & 390 FT/LBs of Torque.
Transmission options included a 6-Speed MT-82 Manual or a 10R60 6-Speed Automatic.
Came equipped standard with the first generation 5.0L “Coyote” 32V V8.
Producing 420 Horsepower & 390 FT/LBs of Torque.
Transmission options included a 6-Speed MT-82 Manual or a 10R60 6-Speed Automatic.



2016 Mustang GT/CS: The Start Of A New Era

With the launch of the S550 Mustang in 2015, the world of Mustang was turned upon its heels. Enthusiasts were pretty nervous about their favorite pony car new reveal. The six-generation Mustang provided an all-new platform that would harken back to the first generation Mustang without steering away from what is purely Mustang. It gave customers independent rear suspension for the first time since the 2004 SVT Cobra.

Initially, Ford did not give enthusiasts a GT/CS offering in 2015, we believe this was due to making sure they got it right for the marketplace. But the following year in 2016 GT/CS fans were raving because they finally got what they wanted out of the S550. Ford was able to take cues from every predecessor of the GT/CS and package it into the S550 Mustang.

16-20 Mustang GT/CS Exterior Comparison

2016-2020 Mustang GT/CS: Exterior Styling & Options

Exterior Keypoints 2016-2017 Mustang GT/CS 2019-2020 Mustang GT/CS
Front Fascia Received a larger race-inspired front splitter, larger air openings for better airflow revised fog lamps, unique multi-bar grille with signature tri-bar pony emblem, and a power bulge hood.
Turn signal inside the heat extractor hood vents.
Yet again the GT/CS would see another refresh as 2018 got a refresh to the 2015-2017 Mustang.
It received a more aggressive bumper cover, prominent race-inspired front splitter, multi-bar style front grille with unique tri-bar pony emblem, revised LED fog lamps, and LED headlamps standard, unlike the 16-17 Mustangs.
Rear Fascia Received a race-inspired blacked-out pedestal spoiler, unique decklid with a signature GT/CS faux gas cap.
Signature Mustang tri-bar tail lamps.
Received a revised rear diffuser, and standard quad-tip exhaust.
“California Special specific decklid script, faux gas cap, updated signature tri-bar tail lamps, and color-matched pedestal spoiler.
Wheels 19” inch specific 5-spoke alloy wheels. 19” inch specific 5-spoke alloy wheels.
Styling Cues GT/CS specific hood and side-striping. Side-striping was moved to the bottom of the fender and door. Signature air-simulated side scoops. GT/CS specific fender to door striping.
Air-simulated side scoops
Convertible Yes Yes
Color Options 2016: Oxford White, Deep Impact Blue, Race Red, Ingot Silver, and Shadow Black.(All were silver or black side-striping)
2017: Oxford White, Deep Impact Blue, Race Red, Ingot Silver, and Shadow Black. (All were silver or black side-striping)
2019: Oxford White, Velocity Blue, Race Red, Ingot Silver, and Shadow Black. (All were black side-striping)
2020: Oxford White, Velocity Blue, Race Red, Ingot Silver, and Shadow Black.(All were Silver or black side-striping)


S550 Mustang GT/CS Interior Comparison


2016-2020 Mustang GT/CS: Interior Styling & Options

2016-2017 Mustang GT/CS 2019-2020 Mustang GT/CS
From every angle, it is uniquely Mustang. But what makes it a GT/CS is even better!
Ford gave the GT California Special interior front bucket leather seats with alcantara inserts seat-back and bottom. WIth GT/CS embroidering.
California Special dash plaque.
Unique door panels with Alcantara and red stitching accents.
GT/CS specific dash accents
From every angle, it is uniquely Mustang. But what makes it a GT/CS is even better!
Ford gave us front bucket leather seats with Alcantara inserts front and bottom. WIth GT/CS embroidering.
California Special dash plaque script.
Unique door panels with Alcantara and bright red stitching accents.
GT/CS specific dash accents.
Red accent stitched center console.
Optional 12 inch LCD gauge display with rev-matching.


Mustang GT/CS S550 Engine Bay


2016-2020 Mustang GT/CS: Powertrain Options

2016-2017 Mustang GT/CS 2019-2020 Mustang GT/CS
Came equipped standard with the second generation 5.0L “Coyote”32V V8.
Producing 435 Horsepower & 400 FT/LBs of Torque.
Transmission: MT-82 6-Speed Manual or 10R60 6-Speed Automatic.
Came equipped standard with the third generation 5.0L “Coyote” 32V V8.
Producing 460 Horsepower & 420 FT/LBs of Torque.
Transmission: MT-82 6-Speed Manual or 10R60 6-Speed Automatic.


19 Mustang GT California Special

Over the 50 year history of the Mustang GT California Special, it has left a mark on all Mustang enthusiasts around the country and the world. In the beginning, it offered something that before you could only get if you stepped up to get a Shelby. This was all thanks to the amazing dealers in California that made it possible. Each enthusiast who owns a GT/CS will tell you his or her amazing story of what grabbed their attention at first glance of a GT/CS. They would probably say the bold styling, refined interior, and the all out performance that you expect to receive that only Mustang can provide.

No matter where you go people will always be keen to spot a GT/CS out of the corral of Mustangs. They are few and far in between all the rest of the Mustangs. That is why they are a sought after Mustang. Everyone at Steeda hopes Ford keeps bringing new editions of the GT/CS to the Mustang family for years to come.

Check out the over 50-year span of the GT/CS below:

GT/CS Mustang History




Image Credit: Ford | Car & Driver

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