When the Mustang debuted in 1964, it was clear that Ford had a hit on its hands right out of the gate. Less than a year and a half later the millionth example of the pony car would roll out of the factory, helping to set in motion a new focus on youth-oriented high-performance models across the automotive industry.
While the Mustang was undoubtedly a sales juggernaut, by 1967 Ford faced some stiff competition from the likes of General Motors and Chrysler, both of which had high-output, big-block V8s available in their compact and intermediate-body vehicles. Although Carroll Shelby’s involvement with the Mustang had brought some performance credibility to the table with the GT350, at the stoplights across America it was becoming clear that Ford couldn’t rest on its laurels. The Mustang would need more firepower if Ford wanted to stay ahead of the pack.
At the 1967 Detroit Auto Show the company debuted the Mustang Mach 1 concept, a low-slung fastback with a muscular look that came packing a 427-cube, high-output, big-block under its clamshell hood. While the Mach 1 was intended to offer a glimpse of what to expect from the revised 1968 Mustang model, the public reception to the concept was so positive that Ford decided to attach the moniker to its upcoming SportsRoof body, which was set to debut the year after.
Though the Mach 1 would lose the majority of the concept’s wild features in its transition to production spec. When it debuted for the 1969 model year it was undoubtedly one of the most head-turning designs to ever roll out of a Ford factory. By then the Mustang had grown in size to accommodate big-block V8s like the one found in the concept’s engine bay too. Buyers could then option the car with hardware that could back up its muscular look.
The Mach 1 Formula
Mustangs outfitted with the Mach 1 package made their intentions clear at a glance. Decked out with matte-black hood treatment, side scoops, chin and rear deck spoilers, and rear window slats, the Mach 1 screamed muscle car from stem to stern.
Motivation came from a 351 cubic-inch Windsor V8 with a two-barrel carburetor as standard. A 351W with a four-barrel was the optional small-block setup. For those looking to take things a step further, the Mach 1 could be outfitted with a choice of two big-blocks as well, a 390-cube FE block V8 or the top-dog, 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet, which dished out 335 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choice between a three-speed automatic (the FMX transmission was used for small-block cars and the C6 was reserved for the big-blocks), a three-speed manual, or a four-speed manual, while an array of rearend ratios were available as well.
Cobra Jet buyers also had the Drag Pack option available to them, which included a Traction-Lok rearend with either 3.91:1 or 4.30:1 gears, staggered shocks for four-speed cars, an oil cooler, and the 428ci Super Cobra Jet engine. While the 428 SJC didn’t offer higher output than the standard Cobra Jet, its upgraded bottom end components gave Drag Pack cars the added durability racers needed for regular track use.
To ensure the Mustang Mach 1 stayed planted at speed the Competition Suspension package was installed as standard equipment. This package included stiffer spring rates, revised shock valving, a beefier front sway bar, and a steering rack with a 16:1 ratio. Front disc brakes were optional.
Beyond the mechanical hardware, Ford ensured that Mach 1 owners could get their cars configured just how they wanted them aesthetically as well. 16 exterior color choices were available along with three different interior styles. While the Mach 1 came standard with a non-functional hood scoop, a shaker scoop was also on the options sheet, the latter of which featured a vacuum-actuated door that was designed to direct cooler air into the engine at wide-open throttle.
The package immediately resonated with buyers, and Ford would move 72,458 Mustangs with the Mach 1 package in its first year on sale.
The 1970 model year would bring a handful of changes to the Mustang. Gone were the side scoops as well as the two outside headlamps. Meanwhile, new recessed taillights and a honeycomb panel between them gave the rear of the car a freshened-up look. The previous 351 Windsor small-block engines available with the Mach 1 package were also replaced with the new 351 Cleveland V8 in two- or four-barrel configurations, the latter of which offered a power bump of 10 horsepower and 30 lb-ft of torque over its Windsor-based predecessor for 300 horsepower and 385 lb-ft.
The Mach II and Mach III Concepts
Ford designer decided to try something a little more radical when they put together the Mach 2 concept in 1967. Considered a potential successor to the Shelby Cobra, the Mach 2 featured a mid-engine layout that put the high-output small-block V8 behind the passenger compartment while retaining the long-hood, short-deck proportions of a Mustang. As cool as it was, the Mach 2 never got past the conceptual phase. Decades later the Mach III gave the public some insight into the new design direction that was coming for the fourth-generation Mustang. As with the Mach 1 concept, while elements of the overall design of the Mach III would make their way into the 1994 Mustang, many of the wilder design features — like two-seater layout and the low-cut speedster windshield — did not. (Photo Credit: Ford)
The Mach 1’s sales success would convince Ford to develop the package for the second-generation Mustang’s debut in 1971. But with the Mustang’s expansion in size and weight, along with stricter emissions laws looming, the performance equation was beginning to change. The base engine for the Mach 1 in ’71 was a 210-horsepower, two-barrel 302, followed by four different optional 351 Cleveland engine configurations.
A new 429 cubic-inch big-block now sat at the top of the performance totem pole however, and it offered more power than had been available in the Mach 1 package in previous years, boasting 370 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque in Cobra Jet guise, while Super Cobra Jet engines got an extra five ponies to go along with the added durability. Mach 1s equipped with the optional Ram Air system got functional air inlets through the NACA-style hood scoops. Similar to the shaker scoop seen in previous years, vacuum-controlled flaps in the scoops were designed to direct cool outside air into the induction system for more power at wide-open throttle.
As the 1970s continued, federal regulations, gas prices and an overall market shift began to chip away at musclecars as a whole, and the Mustang Mach 1 wasn’t spared. By 1972 Ford dropped the big-block engines for the Mach 1 options sheet, while the following year would see federally mandated bumper extensions, the deletion of the Ram Air option, and the engine choices paired down to three different mills – a 302 V8 with 140 SAE net horsepower, a two-barrel 351C with 177 horsepower, and a four-barrel 351C with 266 horsepower.
The Mach 1 package would continue on into the Pinto-based Mustang II era. A 140-horsepower version of the 302 V8 became available in 1975 and offered some semblance of performance versus the 105-horsepower V6 that was equipped in the Mustang as standard. The Mach 1 soldiered on through the Malaise Era before being put out to pasture when the Fox Mustang debuted in 1979.
After a hiatus of nearly two and a half decades, the Mach 1 package returned to the fold in 2003. This time around a 32-valve, 4.6-liter V8 was under the hood, dishing out 305 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque.
After seeing the success of the Bullitt Mustang two years prior, Ford took advantage of the original Mach 1’s deep well of styling cues with Magnum 500-inspired 17-inch wheels, a shaker hood scoop, matte black stripes, ’60s-style Comfortweave-trimmed black leather seats, and other throwback elements. Response to this limited production model was so strong that Ford extended Mach 1 production into 2004.
Although the Mach 1 bowed out once again at the close of the SN-95 era, the badge enthusiasts still expect it will return in the future. While it appears that this time around it may not be attached to the fender of a Mustang, it seems that high performance will still be part of the equation.