Galloping Hard: How the Mustang Got Its Groove Back

By Robert Bowen
Sep 24, 2019 | Ford, Mustang | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the Oct. 2010 issue | Never miss an article

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The Ford Mustang was looking pretty tired by 2004. Sure, it had some interesting visual cues, but overall it lacked the distinctiveness many Mustang enthusiasts thought it should have. The car’s performance was also starting to suffer in comparison to its competitors, mostly imports like the reborn Nissan Z-car. 

In short, the Mustang was showing the strain of being Ford’s sports flagship. After all, the car had gone largely unchanged for a decade. Buyers agreed that the old Mustang had lost its edge, and they stayed away in large numbers as it petered out into anonymity. 

The 1995-2004 Mustang—known by its SN95 chassis code—had its moments. Check out the various Cobra and Cobra R models for examples of just how fast, attractive and downright aggressive one could be. Of course, that vibrance didn’t last.

It didn’t help that the cool automotive vibe in 2004 was straight-up retro: The PT Cruiser, Chrysler 300C and various throwback products—including Ford’s own Thunderbird—proved that nostalgia sells. Every concept, particularly from the Big Three, reflected the styling values of an earlier time, when consumers were younger and the American car was dominant. A backward-looking Mustang would probably do very well, and Ford knew it.

Updates and Changes


Ford releases their all-new S197-chassis Mustang, and both the base (V6 engine) and GT (V8 engine) models are available with the Deluxe or Premium trim packages. The most significant features of the Premium packages are a six-disc CD/MP3 changer and leather seats. The GT coupe starts at $25,140.


Ford offers a Pony Package for the V6-powered car. It includes the wheels and grille found on the GT plus ABS and traction control. Additionally, a run of 500 Stampede Edition V6 models is sold exclusively in Texas and Oklahoma.


A familiar name returns, as the Shelby GT500 is introduced. It includes a supercharged 5.4-liter Triton DOHC V8 that makes a claimed 500 horsepower. The engine is backed by a Tremec six-speed transmission plus a host of suspension and brake changes. 

Ford and Shelby also team up on the Shelby GT-H, a modern version of the famed 1966 Shelby GT350H “rent-a-racer.” The GT-H wears a distinctive black-and-gold color scheme plus a Ford Racing Performance Pack that adds 25 horsepower. The GT-H is available through select Hertz rental outlets. 

But wait, that’s not all: The Shelby GT also appears this year. The car receives a Ford Racing Power Upgrade Package. A 90mm throttle body, cold-air intake, high-flow X-pipe exhaust and recalibrated ECU bump output to 319 horsepower and 330 lb.-ft. of torque. The car also receives shorter springs, thicker anti-roll bars, 18-inch wheels and a shorter 3.55:1 final drive ratio. Hood pins are also standard.

Another special edition offered this year is the GT California Special Package, featuring stripes and unique front and rear fascias.


The stacked lineup continues, as Ford dealers continue to offer the Shelby GT and Shelby GT500 models in addition to the standard Mustang GT as well as the base car. A Warriors in Pink model gets pink stripes and trim. The Shelby GT500KR is added to the roster, and its massive 540-horsepower supercharged V8 is joined by an array of chassis modifications. 

Another name from the past returns, as Ford brings back a Bullitt edition. It gets 15 more horsepower than the standard Mustang GT. A recalibrated ECU raises the redline by 250 rpm to 6500; top speed is boosted to 151 mph. According to a Ford press release, “a specially mastered DVD helped Ford engineers deliver an exhaust note that matches the film.” Only two colors are available, Dark Highland Green and Black.


Most of the hot models return, including the Shelby GT500, Shelby GT500KR and Bullitt. New options include a full glass roof panel plus HID headlights.


The S197 Mustang receives a face-lift. The look is still retro, but the nose, tail, sides and interior all get some tweaks. 

Wheels grow an inch in diameter, as all V6 cars wear 17s while the GT gets 18-inchers. The Bullitt engine modifications migrate to the base GT, giving it 315 horsepower. Stability control becomes standard.

Retro Revival

Project leader Hau Thai-Tang hit the styling ball out of the park with an all-new Mustang that was almost universally praised. It seemed familiar and fresh at the same time. The overall look was straight out of the 1960s, featuring creased flanks plus a nose and tail that recalled the car’s glory days.

Everything on the new S197-chassis Mustang was almost directly related to the model’s heyday, and it struck a chord with the media and the public. Despite the period cues, the car managed to look modern, sleek and muscular.

The retro theme continued inside the cockpit, with a slab-front instrument panel, squared-off center console and three-spoke silver steering wheel. Like the exterior styling, the interior was retro without compromising functionality. The ergonomics were totally modern, with high door panels and comfortable seats.

The performance was not, thankfully, rooted in the Vietnam War era. Ford offered a choice between two powerplants.

The base engine was a new modular 4.0-liter SOHC V6 that replaced the previous 3.8-liter pushrod V6. This engine was no slouch, producing 210 horsepower—on par with the 5.0-liter V8 found in the old Fox-bodied Mustang.

Backing the shiny new V6 was a familiar old friend: the T-5 manual transmission. Love it or hate it, the five-speed unit was a big improvement over previous versions of the same gearbox. Most buyers picked the five-speed automatic transmission, however. 

The base powertrain was good for sub-7-second zero-to-60 times, plenty fast enough for most buyers. The real news for Mustang enthusiasts, however, was the new GT. 

The base GT received a 300-horsepower, 4.6-liter modular V8. It featured three valves per cylinder where the previous Mustang GT used two-valve heads. The block was aluminum, and the engine featured variable valve timing along with other technological extras. Behind the V8 engine was either the five-speed automatic transmission or the Tremec 3650, a five-speed manual box. Either combination could rocket the snazzy-looking coupe to a low-5-second zero-to-60 time.

The car’s foundation also featured some updates. An all-new chassis with plenty of torsional rigidity helped Ford engineers squeeze some pretty stunning road holding from a suspension that wasn’t particularly glamorous on paper. The front continued the long-standing Mustang tradition of MacPherson struts, this time with stiffer lower control arms. Out back, the car used a solid axle supported by coil springs, a central torque link, two control arms, and a tubular steel Panhard rod. 

The GT came with anti-roll bars on both ends, and the V6 made do with a single, smaller bar on the front. The V6 Mustang came with standard 16-inch wheels, while the GT was shipped with 17s. As with most modern cars, the brakes were robust: either 11.5- or 12.4-inch rotors plus beefy aluminum calipers up front.

Cue the Aftermarket

Contemporary reviewers loved the car, dubbing it a worthy successor to the Mustang name. They praised the power, brakes and comfort—even the handling got the thumbs-up despite the use of a solid rear axle. 

The base V6-powered car was lauded for its low price, high level of standard equipment, and surprising performance. The V8-powered GT was the media darling, of course. Thanks to its base price of about $25,000, it was a performance steal. 

There were a few complaints, though. Not everyone cared for the fuel economy or the downmarket materials Ford used to muzzle prices. Some reviewers noted the side effects of a solid rear axle, but most were still surprised by the handling extracted from the same rudimentary suspension.

The new Mustang was immediately seized by the aftermarket—with a little help from Ford marketing execs. They realized the importance of the aftermaket, making preproduction vehicles, engineering drawings and critical specifications available to the larger tuners before the car even hit showrooms. 

Ford’s own tuning arm, Ford Racing Performance Parts, played a pivotal role, supplying race parts large and small. A “body in white” program was even instituted to supply race teams with the raw material needed to create their own track machines.

Ford Racing Performance Parts went one step further, creating a turnkey racer—the FR500C—for teams looking to run in Grand-Am Cup. The FR500C was powered by Ford’s crate race engine, an overbored version of the 4.6-liter V8 known as the 5.0 Cammer; the moniker was a sort of mishmash of historical engine names. A spec T-56 transmission, Brembo brakes and suspension package rounded out the FR500C. All of the parts were also available separately for do-it-yourself types.

So, how does all of this help today’s bargain shopper? The Mustang hasn’t been immune to depreciation, making used examples an even better deal. 

Ford has built a ton of Mustang GTs since the car’s 2005 release. The market is more or less flooded with these sharp-looking, V8-powered coupes, and the aftermarket is still going strong.

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View comments on the GRM forums
infinitenexus Reader
9/24/19 12:46 p.m.

I had never even owned an American car until recently.  My dad, whos first car was a 66 Mustang, bought a 2009 blue GT and let me drive it a few years ago.  Not too long after that I wound up buying a 2012 GT.  They're really great cars, and I just can't wait for when the GTs get near challenge prices!  These cars can fit a ton of tire and put down very fast lap times.

Error404 Reader
9/24/19 1:01 p.m.

I don't "get" the styling of SN95 and onward Mustangs, it has never resonated with me. Not that ford cares what I think, the only Mustang I've bought is 30yrs old. 

Vigo MegaDork
9/24/19 5:45 p.m.

2005-2009 are my favorite Mustangs of the 55 year models available so far. laugh

DirtyBird222 UberDork
9/24/19 5:54 p.m.

A) I miss the format of the Conti/Koni series that those Mustangs ran in. GT and ST classes were chock full of diversity. Stock cars, slightly modified, and built by the teams, along with exciting racing. The new TCR/GT4 format is a snore. 

B) The S197 was a breath of fresh air, especially with the loss of the F-body a few years prior. The pony car market was pretty stale and the 350Z, RX-8, M3, and S2000 were really the only competitors in that market (maybe some others too) but the SN95 was a snooze compared to those. 

3) I owned two S197s: the first one was a Roush Supercharged GT and holy sheeet I loved that car. It was a blast to thrash and the supercharger wine ontop of the roar of the V8 was intoxicating. The second one I owned was a base GT and that 4.6L without a power adder was not nearly as exciting. Prettty sure S197s can be had for cheap at the moment. 

noddaz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
9/24/19 6:01 p.m.

Great.  Now I need to go to Craigslist and find a Mustang.  cheeky

And V6 models are CHEAP!   (Stay focused on what I have, stay focused on what I have)

BTW, how well do the V6 cars accept performance engine goodies?


buzzboy HalfDork
9/24/19 6:03 p.m.

I've always thought the 3valve was the worst sounding engine ever put in a mustang. I like this gen for it's updated chassis, good transmission choices and lower resale values.

TVR Scott
TVR Scott GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
9/24/19 7:53 p.m.

I'm a fan for sure.  I had a red GT convertible for a couple years and really enjoyed it.  Would definitely get one again.

I love that crazy lime green in the first picture in the write-up.  Couple black stripes on that, oh my.

noemjj New Reader
9/24/19 8:30 p.m.

Loved the originals. In 79, I had a 65 Fastback 289 4 speed. Nice car. Gave it to my brother after a wreck.  In 82, I found a 67 Fastback, great Texas no corrosion car.  But, the really Fantastic thing about it was, It had the complete drivetrain of a 1968 Shelby GT 500 KR that had been wrecked, it had the 428 Cobra Jet, with the Shelby/Ford added 427 medium rise intake heads and a 750 Holley carb on a aluminum intake. It had a HD  T-10 short ratio 4 speed, and the rearend 9 in with detroit locker.  The engine had been rebuilt with 11.0 compression pistons and a Lemans cam. Dyno sheet for the engine with single carb was 455 HP and I forget the TQ figure, it was a monster with the short ratio trans.  Had to buy 103 octane pump gas, still sold at sunoco’s and some places., or advance the dist to keep it from detonating.  It woud get 8 MPG easy driving, and 5 MPG having fun. It ate headers and tires, and was a bitch to keep cool, but it was a great car.  

b13990 Reader
9/24/19 11:03 p.m.

The '05 redesign disappointed me. I'm 43, and it looks like a car for my dad... or maybe a bar of soap.

Haven't checked the size / weight recently, but everything '05+ looks big to me.

Underneath the skin, these cars are everything I'd have asked for: solid 8.8" with Traction-Lok out back, Tremec 3650 (screw the T-56 and its extra shift / weight), a real increase in power... I just don't like the retro fantasy it's wrapped in.

I wish they'd dropped that 300hp motor into the "New Edge" GT for at least a couple of years. That was a car that still tried to look like something a young man might want. Too bad they kind of half-assed it (unless you were one of the 3 people who got a "Terminator" or the 4 people who got a "Mach 1.")

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