Car Corner: Mustang’s California Special limited edition

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Ford has produced the Mustang over its 50-year history in many special editions and optional packages. The one nearest and dearest to my heart is the California Special limited edition.

My first Mustang, which I purchased in 2007, was a 2007 GT California Special (GT/CS) in performance white with a black/tan leather interior and a 5 speed manual transmission. With the GT/CS package on my Mustang came hood and side scoops, rear spoiler, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, unique Shelby inspired front and rear fascias and other premium upgrades. I added a Ford Racing power upgrade package that provided more horsepower and a Hurst short-throw shifter. This car is a lot of fun to drive with the five speed transmission and horsepower to spare.

The Mustang California Special has an interesting history. In February 1968, the California Ford dealers began to market a factory-built, limited edition Mustang called the GT/CS or “California Special.” It was inspired by the Shelby GT but priced like a Mustang. The hope was for a targeted production of 5,000 but actually only 4,118 were made, which included 251 cars that were remarketed in Denver, Colo. as “High Country Special ‘68,” resulting in only 3,867 as California Specials. Production ran for only 5 1/2 months from mid-February to early August 1968. The original GT/CS package included special equipment such as side striping, a Shelby-style rear spoiler, blackout grille and side scoops. They were only available in California and certain western states.

The marketing theme for the GT/CS limited edition was “California Made it Happen”, a variation on Mustang’s national marketing theme and commercial jingle, “Only Mustang Makes it Happen.” This was all in response to the new pony car competition for the upcoming 1968 model year from the Camaro, Firebird, Javelin and even Ford’s Torino and Mercury Cougar. The state of California alone was responsible for the sales of 20 percent of all Mustangs and Thunderbirds in the country, which gave the regional dealers there the clout to ask for and market their own Mustang.

A Southern California district sales manager for Ford was looking for something unique to spark the sales of Mustangs in Los Angeles. Ford dealers had tried promotions like the “1967 Rainbow Colored Mustangs” and also added accessories and options to dress up cars for public view. The objective was to make the Mustangs sold in California unique and to look “custom” made, thus differentiating them from the standard models available elsewhere.

The district sales manager attended the Ford Preview event for the new 1968 Fords in Los Angeles where he got the idea for the “California-Only Mustang” from a Shelby GT-500 prototype and then sold his idea to Lee Iaccoca, Ford Executive Vice President at the time. The decision was made to bring the Shelby prototype to Dearborn and use it to develop a limited edition Mustang.

Shelby Automotive, now part of Ford, was assigned the task of designing and engineering the necessary parts and assembly procedures for the GT/CS. This was done right alongside the development of their 1968 Shelby. Thus, the 1968 “California Special” was born.

The GT/CS did not appear again until 2007 and only 8,519 were produced, mine being one of them. This time, these limited edition models included side striping, similar to 1968, plus all of the other items mentioned above on my Mustang. The GT/CS was again available for 2008 and 2009. A total of 7,459 were produced in 2008 and 2,619 in 2009. None were available for 2010. For the 2011 Mustang, Ford made the GT/CS available in the 5.0 liter model, which has been available each year since.


May 16: Friday Night Thunder cruise-in at 5 p.m. in the Courthouse Square area of downtown Inverness.

Ken McNally is a car enthusiast from Citrus County and his Car Corner columns appear twice each month on the second and fourth Fridays in the Hernando Today. Email him at or call him at (352) 341-1165.