Beginning with the 2018 model year, the Ford Mustang will drop the V6 engine option, meaning that for the first time in history you won’t be able to buy a six-cylinder Mustang. It marks the end of one era and the beginning of another one, a brave new world of smaller engines, bigger turbos, and fewer compromises.
Indeed, a six-cylinder Mustang has always been a compromise of sorts, trading horsepower and high insurance costs for fuel economy and affordability. Since the first Mustang rolled off assembly lines over 50 years ago, the base model Mustang has almost always outsold its V8-powered brethren, giving the Mustang the sales volume needed to keep its place in the Ford lineup. Though often mocked and derided, the importance of the six-cylinder Mustang cannot be overstated, though its demise has been certain for some time now.
When the Mustang first launched in 1964, it offered two inline-six cylinder engines offering as little as 101 horsepower by the old, more generous “gross”horsepower rating system. As the years went on the inline-six cylinder was replaced by the European-designed Cologne V6, first making its debut in the little-loved 1974 Mustang II.
This motor made just 105 horsepower during the Malaise era, and despite advancements in fuel injection technology, it would remain a poor performer throughout the 1980s. Ford would offer varying six-cylinder options throughout the Reagan era, including a 3.3-liter I6 that’s now harder to find today than a clean SVO.
Ford finally (and unceremoniously) dropped the six-cylinder option in 1987, though the V6 would make a triumphant return in 1994 as a 3.8-liter motor offering 145 horsepower. That was a big jump up from the 90-ish horsepower offered by the 2.3-liter four-cylinder it replaced. By the end of its run in the 2004 Mustang, the Essex V6 had grown to 193 horsepower.
Though never a powerhouse, Ford did sell hundreds of thousands of V6 Mustangs, far more than its V8 models. This undoubtedly helped the Mustang stay afloat in the early 2000s when its main rival, the Chevy Camaro, was culled from GM’s lineup due to dropping sales. For the 2005 model year, Ford upped the ante again by offer 210 horsepower from the new 4.0-liter V6, and six years later an all-new 3.7-liter V6 came on the scene with 310 horsepower, finally giving the base Mustang a motor it could be proud of. Even more impressive, the new V6 offered up to 31 MPG in the Mustang, and buyers could now have their cake and eat it too.
Alas, this potent-yet-efficient V6 motor would not last long, as the rumors of the return of a four-cylinder, turbocharged 2015 Mustang heated up. Those rumors, as we all now know, proved true, though a last-minute reprieve kept the 3.7-liter V6 in Ford’s lineup for a time, though the automaker detuned both its power and fuel economy ratings to make way for the 2.3-liter EcoBoost. Ford didn’t even bother offering the V6 option in Europe and other markets, an omen of what was to come.
Making just 300 horsepower and topping out at just 27 mpg on the highway, it has been clear for some time that the Mustang V6 was on its way out. This week’s announcement that the 2018 Mustang would drop the V6 option shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and we doubt many will mourn the passing of the V6 era. But the Mustang we know and love wouldn’t be the same without its various six-cylinder engine offerings, and we think that’s worth acknowledging.
So shred some rubber in remembrance and give your V6 Mustang-driving friend a firm handshake next time you see them, because they are the unsung heroes of the muscle car wars.