Unravelling the 1968 Mustang Mystique - From Revology to Bullitt

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When the “Bullitt” Mustang rolled across the auction block for $3.74 million in 2020, people wondered how a ‘68 Mustang had such a million-dollar mystique.

In ‘68, customers had lots of choices for the Ford Mustang. They could order a Hardtop, Convertible, Fastback, or upgrade to the Shelby GT350 or GT500 Cobra. The Mustang enjoyed immense popularity due to Carroll Shelby’s influence and a movie named Bullitt featuring a Highland Green 390 GT.

Many baby boomers fell in love with the Ford Mustang as they watched actor Steve McQueen prowl his 1968 Mustang GT 390 through the streets of San Francisco. In what is considered the first car chase in a live-action film, moviegoers watched every turn, squeal, and tire spin as the Mustang more than held its own against the rival Dodge Charger. So, it was no surprise when, in 2020, the very car that McQueen drove sold for a cool $3.74 million. If that isn’t enough to warrant respect, consider that 1968 was one of the best years for the Shelby Cobra GT350/GT500 models, with Ford offering a limited number to the public as street-legal racers. Then, in 2015, Ford sanctioned Revology to produce a limited number of reproduction Mustangs with modern components, which has only furthered the car’s mystique. Non-Mustang owners might wonder how a vintage Ford could command so much admiration, but those who grew up in Bullitt’s shadow knew precisely why. More than any other pony car, this car helped create the Mustang image, smoking its tires into the American psyche and paving the way for a legacy of power and performance unmatched in automotive history. While that might seem like a bold claim, let’s spend some time unraveling the ‘68 Mustang to discover its secrets.

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The 1968 Ford Mustang Mystique

As 1968 dawned, Americans were embroiled in fights against an unpopular war, chronic poverty, and complex race relations. While conflict seemed to dominate the headlines, American automakers were embroiled in a performance war of their own. Every car brand had its version of the muscle car. GM had the Camaro. Dodge had the revised Charger and Challenger. Plymouth promoted the Barracuda and the new Road Runner. Pontiac had their GT0, Firebird, and Ford had their ever-popular Mustang. With every carmaker promoting more robust engines as quickly as they could, the race was on to produce the best-performing muscle car. Ford knew that the Mustang was a contender to similar cars, so they left it virtually unchanged for the 1968 model year.

Ford quickly promoted the Mustang as the “hip” new car when it debuted for the ‘65 model year. Yet, Ford GM Lee Iacocca grew concerned about the Mustang’s performance image and quickly enlisted Carroll Shelby to create a specialized race version bearing the Mustang name and look. As the Mustang started making a name for itself on and off the track, Americans wanted in on the action. Young people quickly showed that they loved the idea of a powerful compact sports car, and even though there was plenty of competition, no other sports car sold as well.

Ford revised the Mustang in 1967 to keep up with the competition, making the small sports car bigger while updating the car to meet new safety standards coming down the pipeline. For the ‘68 model, Ford added revised side markers, shoulder seat belts for the front seats, and a steering column that would collapse instead of banging into the driver’s chest.

In 1968, customers could order the regular production Mustang as a Hardtop, Convertible, or Fastback with five different engines. While the 200 ci slant inline-six was the standard engine, there were several other V8 options, from the 289 Challenger V8, 302 (five-liter), and two versions of the 390 Thunderbird V8 with either a 2 bbl or 4 bbl carb. Ford produced 317,894 Mustangs for the year, most of them Hardtops.

The Bullitt Movie

When Bullitt was filmed in April of 1968, the studio purchased two highland green Mustang 390 GTs for the movie's centerpiece, an iconic live-action car chase. During the filming, Steve McQueen’s Mustang is filmed chasing through the streets of San Francisco, pursuing a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T with a 440 ci V8. The scene is filmed as a live-action sequence, deemed one of the most exciting car chases in film history and the one by which all others would be judged.

The movie follows the cars chasing each other through the streets of San Fran, and many of the camera angles are from the perspective of the cockpit. Moviegoers felt as if they were inside McQueen’s Mustang as the car slid around corners, moved in and out of traffic, and jumped over hills, keeping pace with the Charger every mile of the way. While the Director asked the drivers (McQueen performed part of the driving) to keep speeds around 75 mph, the stunt coordinators estimated that speeds topped 110 mph for much of the chase.

The movie’s budget was over $4 million, but it grossed over $42 million, which was considered a resounding success for the studio. The film received many awards, earning a nomination for “Best Sound Editing” and winning the Oscar for film editing. Ford quickly enjoyed the public’s love for the film, with dealers using it to promote Mustang sales.

The Shelby GT Models

In 1968, Carroll Shelby had worked with Ford for several years to develop the Mustang into a bonafide American racecar. Their partnership resulted in the GT350 Cobra in 1965, which instantly created all kinds of buzz when it began dominating European racecars on their turf. Ford produced the Cobra in limited quantities during the 65 - ‘68 model year and offered them to customers. The MSRP was around $4,500 for the Shelby model, almost two thousand dollars above the $2,818 price for a Mustang GT Fastback.

Ford applied the Cobra name to the GT350, GT500, and a particular high-performance version named the GT500 KR (King of the Road). The standard engine for the 1968 GT350 was the new 5.0L (302 ci) V8, which produced 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque with a 10.5:1 compression ratio. GT500s were given the 427 V8 Cobra Jet engine, rated at 360 hp. The GT500-KR was equipped with an all-new OHV Cobra Jet 428 V8, rated at 335 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque (although everyone knew it produced much more).

Ford equipped the Cobra Mustangs with many driver amenities in standard production vehicles. The cars came with high-pile carpeting, air-conditioning, safety belts, and wooden accents on the dash, console, and shift knob. Ford made over 1600 of each Cobra model, with two-thirds of them being Fastback versions (vs. convertible).

Revology Ressurects The Iconic Mustang

Obviously, the scarcity of old Mustangs has produced a thriving and growing market for their restoration. In 2014, Ford authorized a company named Revology to create a reproduction of the classic Mustangs from the era. The cars were fashioned to look exactly like the older Mustangs in appearance but used modern components to increase the car’s performance, comfort, and driveability. Revology is one of only two companies in the world authorized by Ford and Shelby to make reproductions of these legendary vehicles. As of 2023, Revology had delivered 160 models to enthusiasts in the US and around the world.

While the reproductions must be sold as replicas and do not meet current Federal Safety Standards (no airbags, ABS brakes, or other safety features), they have proven very popular. Revology continues to receive high praise for its exquisite attention to detail as it recreates these beautiful cars. The average price for a reproduction will set you back about $200,000, give or take, but many Mustang lovers considered it a reasonable price to pay to relive part of their childhood dreams.

The Current Value Of The Mustang

Over the years, the Shelby Cobra Mustangs have garnered the most money, with several of the mid-sixties Shelby Mustang selling for millions. The highest price ever paid for a Shelby Cobra Mustang was $3.75 million paid for the very first GT350 prototype in 2020). The amount eclipsed the amount paid for the Bullitt Mustang ($3.74 million). The valuation for a typical 1968 Cobra Shelby Mustang is around $110,000 - $275,000, depending on its condition and configuration according to the Conceptcarz.com website. A regular production Mustang is worth less but still is highly sought after by car collectors everywhere and represents one of the great deals of automotive collecting. (If you own one, hold on to it. The value is bound to increase). New listings occur all the time, so if you find one, snatch it up.