The History of the Ford Mustang GT CS

Ford Pays Homage to Shelby's "Little Red"

Ford Mustang GTCS

nakhon100/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 

Looking for a truly unique Ford Mustang? Check out one with the California Special Mustang package known as the Ford Mustang GT CS.

The original California Special Mustang, which features characteristics of both a classic Shelby Mustang and a classic GT coupe, got its start in February of 1968. Select California Ford Dealers offered the car as a limited-edition Mustang, naming it the Mustang GT CS with CS standing for “California Special.”

The marketing message associated with the car was “California made it happen!” Some of the original California Special Mustangs were offered with big-block 390 engines. There were also Cobra Jet 428 versions. In all, only 4,118 of these limited-edition cars were made. They were eventually sold in other states as well. It’s reported that 251 of the GT/CS Mustangs were sent to Denver, Colorado, where they were re-branded as “High Country Special” Mustangs.

A New Era for the Mustang GT CS

The California Special Mustang package officially returned as an available option in the 2007 model year, sporting 300 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque beneath its hood. Buyers of new GT Mustangs had the option of purchasing this special appearance package as an added upgrade, which paid homage to the classic models. The price of the package was around $1,895, making it an affordable option for buyers looking to spruce up their Mustang. The package was offered until 2009.

While it was not available for the 2010 model year, Ford did bring the California Special Mustang package back in 2011, featuring California Special badging, a tri-bar pony badge, 19-by-8.5-inch machined painted wheels, and more. The 2013 model featured 420 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque thanks to its new 5.0L V8 Coyote engine. Options included a Brembo Brake Package, as well as numerous performance upgrades offered by Ford Racing Performance Parts. The California Special Mustang remained an available package through the 2014 model year.

For the 2016 model year, Ford once again revived the California Special package, this time featuring 19-inch black-painted machined-aluminum wheels, a custom hood and side stripes, along with a black pedestal spoiler out back, darkened taillight trim, and black-painted mirrors and hood vents. In addition to a dashboard plaque, the car features a strut-tower brace with California Special branding. Other elements of the California Special package include a faux gas cap in the rear, complete with California Special badging. Special interior upgrades included black leather seats with red contrast stitching, special door-panel inserts, and custom floor mats. The California Special could only be added to GT Premium models for a price of around $1,995 over the cost of the base vehicle.

2016 California Special Package Highlights

Some of the extras in the 2016 Ford Mustang GT CS included the following:

  • 19-inch Ebony Black-painted machined aluminum wheels
  • Black Miko suede seat inserts with red contrast stitching and embossed GT/CS logo
  • Unique patterned door inserts with red contrast stitching
  • Unique instrument panel appliqué finish with CT/CS badge
  • Premium carpet floor mats with red contrast stitching
  • Hood stripes
  • Raised Black-painted decklid spoiler
  • Faux gas cap
  • Underhood California Special strut tower brace badge
  • Unique dark taillamp lens accents
  • Black-painted mirror caps and hood vents
  • Performance front splitter
  • Unique black upper and lower grilles with tri-bar Pony logo and red-contrast stitching on center console lid and shifter boot

Paying Homage to Shelby's "Little Red"

Of note, the original California Special Mustangs were inspired by a Shelby GT500 prototype nicknamed “Little Red.” The car sported Shelby serial number 67411H900131 and was piloted by Shelby American’s Chief Engineer Fred Goodell for use as a daily driver. As the story goes, when Shelby was finished with the car “Little Red” was shipped to Ford Headquarters in Dearborn, then to Kar Kraft, where, like many prototype cars, it ended up in the crusher. While the original car is long gone, its memory lived on in the classic California Special Mustangs.