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History of the First Generation Ford Mustang Engine

Memoirs from the Era of Horsepower

History of the First Generation Ford Mustang Engine. On April 17, 1964, an American legend was unveiled and a love affair was formed. It was a time of change as full sized muscle cars were gradually being replaced by smaller (intermediate sized) muscle cars. Nevertheless, Ford had a dream of making a small sports car with power and performance. Thus, the pony car was born. The Ford Mustang paved the way for muscle cars to come – and it was all about the power.

1965 – 1966

The Mustang made its debut as a simple sports car with a 190 cid six cylinder and a pair of V8s under the hood. However, it was not until the K-code was introduced later in 1965 that enthusiasts had reason to cheer. The K-code 289 V8 engine offered 271 bhp (brake horse power). It put some performance into the pony car to match its sporty good looks. However, if that was not enough, Carroll Shelby collaborated with Ford to offer the Shelby GT-350. The Shelby (289 V8) came in two versions: street tune at 306 bhp and race tune that hit around 360 bhp.

In 1966, Ford replaced the 260 cid V8 with 2-barrel and 4-barrel versions of the 289 cid V8. At the same time, the Shelby’s race image was dying out for a variety of reasons. However, the Shelby still had a few more years to hang around. The GT-350 did offer a Paxton supercharger through 1968. It boosted horsepower by approximately 40%.


1967 was a big year for the Mustang. It underwent a massive restyle from bumper to bumper. This included increasing the size of the engine compartment and dropping a big block 390. From there, the 390 ruled the Mustang world, pushing out the 289 cid. The Shelby brought in the GT-500, which sported a 428 V8, but 1967 was the last year that Shelby American actually built the Shelby Mustang. After 1967, Ford built the Shelby while Shelby had very little involvement.


The year 1967 brought with it an increase of power. A few 427 engines found their way under the hoods of some Stangs, cranking out a rockin’ 390 bhp. In April of this year, Ford introduced its more famous line of engines to the world. The 428 Cobra Jet came on the scene. Styled after the regular 428, the difference was larger valve heads. Listed output was 335 bhp, but rumors flew about the actual horsepower being somewhere around 410 bhp. The 289 was finally dropped and the 302 emerged with 250 bhp.


1969 brought “The Boss” series. Built to qualify the 429 V8 for NASCAR, the Boss package was built to impress – and perform. The Boss 302 followed as the performance era peaked.

1970 – 1973

While many of the high performance engines continued through 1970, the 429 Cobra Jet did come onto the scene with 370 bhp. The Super Cobra Jet also emerged offering 375 bhp. 1970 was the last year for the Shelby Cobra, however. It was the beginning of the end of Ford’s Total Performance era. The Mustang became larger in 1971 and while the Mach 1 Mustang was the high performance vehicle with a Boss 351, Ford performance headed for the decline.

By 1972, the Boss 351 was dropped and the top option for engines in the Mustang was the 351 Cleveland, which sported a mere 257 bhp. Federal guidelines cracked down on the performance engines and by 1973, the top option for engines was the 351 V8 with just 156 bhp. The high performance Ford Mustang faded out to be replaced by the Mustang II, but it was a grand ride while it lasted.

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