Driving through the decades

The 1968 Ford Mustang added a big-block V8 engine and the overall size, interior and cargo space were increased. Exterior trim changes included concave taillights, chrome side ornamentation, square rear-view mirrors, and newly-designed wheels. (Chad Horwedel/Flickr)

The 1968 Ford Mustang added a big-block V8 engine and the overall size, interior and cargo space were increased. Exterior trim changes included concave taillights, chrome side ornamentation, square rear-view mirrors, and newly-designed wheels. (Chad Horwedel/Flickr)

MaryAnne Shults

In 1968, America was in a state of fluctuation. The Vietnam War heated up when the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. President Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election. The civil rights movement and anti-war protests gained momentum when students on college campuses across the nation raucously expressed their views. Both issues were hardest hit when activist Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated within a three-month period.

Before they left their college years behind, students in 1968 would become today’s Baby Boomers, stereotyped as being a generation of narcissists full of greed. However, these were children and teenagers in the 60s that grew up happy with a simple life filled with Hula-Hoops, Slinkys, and for those living in Southern California, Disneyland.

In big cities and small towns across America, young men’s testosterone levels raised when one could hear the resonance of 300-plus horsepower engines revving and smell burning rubber. A majority of young lads were lusting after the new fad of Pontiac GTOs, Chevy Chevelle Super Sports, Plymouth ‘Cudas, and other V-8 high-performance cars emerging during that era.One of those cars most popular in California was the Ford Mustang GT/CS, a limited-production 1968 Mustang coupe pony car.

The car has an interesting history. According to the book “Mustang 1964 1/2-1968,” author Tom Corcoran notes that 20 percent of Mustang sales were in California. Ford’s Southern California district manager, Lee Grey, was brainstorming a way to sell even more. His concept was a custom look that would set them apart from the available standard models.

After seeing a prototype of a Shelby GT-500 nicknamed “Little Red” at a Los Angeles auto show, Grey shared his idea with Lee Iaccoca, who gave him the green light, and production began at Ford’s San Jose assembly plant. Just over 4,000 models were shipped to distributors in California and several other Ford districts in the western U.S.

The hardtop design had a Shelby-style decklid, spoiler, special taillights and a black grill minus the Mustang logo. They were offered with any standard engine and paint combination. Most had small-block 289 two-barrel, but a number were available with a 390- or 428-horsepower engine.

Today, Mustang enthusiasts take pride in their original or restored vintage GT/CS cars. When they were first distributed, they had a sticker price averaging $3,000. In contrast, there is one for sale on www.californiaspecial.com for $44,900.

Last summer, Ford released the 2007 version.

“We’ve taken the spirit behind the original Cal Special, a regional package that personalized the Mustang for the West Coast buyer, and created a more aggressive, customized Mustang for customers everywhere,” said Joe Siler, Design Manager, Ford Vehicle Personalization in a Ford press release. “We think the result has all of the high-style flair of the original.”

Not much has changed today when contrasting the lust for horsepower, the rumbling of a big-barrel engine, or the sound and smell of screeching tires from a vintage muscle car.

Photo:  https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7423/14195651731_9a07849ae6_c_d.jpg

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