Among automotive nameplates, there are few cars as legendary as the Ford Mustang. For almost 60 years, the ‘Stang has held its own against competitors and changes in the marketplace. In fact, the Mustang is Ford’s oldest model still in production (the F-150 debuted in 1975).
There are several reasons why you might be interested in buying a Mustang. Perhaps there’s a pristine show car or restomod calling out? Maybe you’re looking for a classic weekend cruiser or a newer daily driver? Or, you could even be searching for a project car. Regardless, there are Mustang essentials to be aware of that will help the hunt. Read on for a generation-by-generation overview of America’s favorite pony car.
First-Generation Ford Mustang (1964.5–1973)
It all began on April 17, 1964, when Ford debuted the Mustang at the World’s Fair in New York. Fresh, sporty styling with many underpinnings from the mundane Falcon created a winning formula that far exceeded Ford’s expectations. The automaker had hoped to sell 100,000 Mustangs during the first twelve months, which turned out to be more than 400,000. More than 3 million first-gen Mustangs hit the streets, meaning even five decades later, there are plenty of examples around.
While the Bullitt and Eleanor Mustangs are the most noteworthy examples, sought-after variants include the Mach 1, Boss 302, Shelby GT350, and Shelby GT500. But even a plain-Jane first-gen Mustang can still turn heads. Pricing will be all over the place. Expect to pay $15,000-$40,000 for a less-than-perfect model that still runs. On the other hand, a clean original or restored Ford Mustang for sale can easily run $50,000-$100,000. It’s also not hard to find like-new examples or over-the-top restomods around $250,000. It all comes down to how much you want to spend.
Second-Generation Ford Mustang (1974–1978)
Among Mustang purists, the Mustang II is the most forgettable generation. Faced with pressures from the era’s energy crisis and stricter emissions standards, Ford neutered the Mustang to give it a more European appearance. The idea of a Mustang with an opera window and a vinyl top caused fans to recoil in horror.
Fortunately, not every second-generation model was saddled with atrocities. You’ll want to look for special editions like the Mach 1 or King Cobra II. But aficionados never cared about the Mustang II, so these cars were usually left to rot. Plus, there weren’t that many built with only five years of production (the briefest Mustang generation). In other words, there aren’t a lot on the market. A decent Mustang II in Cobra trim will price out in the $10,000-$20,000 range. Perfect examples will cost twice as much.
Third-Generation Ford Mustang (1979–1993)
Ford revived the Mustang with the introduction of the Fox Body generation for the 1979 model year. The moniker comes from Ford’s Fox platform shared with the Fairmont, Granada, and other Blue Oval vehicles. Fans rejoiced as the Fox Body embraced modern styling with first-gen cues and more capable powertrains. Along the way, the “Vanilla Ice” 5.0 Mustang appears and is cemented into American culture. Other standouts include the highly collectible SVO edition with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the prized SVT Cobra and Cobra R. The Foxy Body Mustang enjoys support among collectors and tuners due to a plentiful and cheap supply and simple mechanics.
You’ll find numerous running-condition examples, including GTs and convertibles, under $10,000. Very clean, low-mileage Fox Bodies can reach $20,000. More collectible models (in excellent condition), such as the SVO or SVT Cobra, will approach $30,000.
Fourth-Generation Ford Mustang (1994–2004)
Dubbed the New Edge or SN95 Mustang (from Ford development code), the fourth-edition Mustang uses an updated Fox Body chassis with an all-new exterior reminiscent of the original model. While the leftover overhead-valve 5.0-liter carries on for a few years, big news hits for 1996 as Ford replaces the OHV V-8 with an all-new overhead-cam “Modular” 4.6-liter V-8. The engine first appeared in the Lincoln Town Car, but Ford readily adapted the powerplant for Mustang duty. Thanks to improved emissions and fuel economy, Ford never looked back.
Noteworthy SN95 Mustangs include the first Bullitt special edition, the return of the Mach 1, and very rare SVT Cobra R. Expect to pay $10,000-$20,000 for a decent weekend runner, with special editions costing twice as much.
Fifth-Generation Ford Mustang (2005–2014)
The fifth-generation (or S197 in Ford speak) Mustang is the automaker’s first all-new pony car for the 21st century. Its platform entirely casts aside any Fox Body remnants, and flat body panels reinforce a bold, muscular look. And for many Mustang shoppers, the S197 is a sweet spot. Depreciation has set it in, but modern features make the car ideal for daily driver duties.
While the 4.6-liter V-8 engine reaches 300 horsepower, Ford shakes things up starting with the 2011 model year. A larger Modular 5.0 V-8, dubbed the Coyote, offers 412 horsepower and miles of smiles. Look for a 2011-2014 GT for great performance values. Special editions include the Shelby GT500, a second Bullitt variant, and limited-run Boss 302. $15,000-$25,000 will get you a nice S197 Mustang with GTs available at the upper end of this range. With a $40,000-$70,000 budget, you’ll have no trouble scoring a potent GT500.
Sixth-Generation Ford Mustang (2015–present)
Facing pressure from a resurgent Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, Ford rolls up its sleeves for the sixth-generation (S550) Mustang. Power comes from not only an improved Coyote V-8, but even the 3.7-liter V-6 offers 300 horsepower. Significantly, the introduction of the turbo 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder offers up to 335 horsepower. In short, there’s not a bad engine under the S550’s hood. We also see the appearance of the six-figure Mustang thanks to the spectacular Shelby GT500.
Because this generation is still in production and with the craziness of the current market, used S550s have strong pricing. You’ll be able to find a high-mileage (100K+ miles) example around $15,000. But, newer Mustangs in better shape will run $20,000-$35,000, with the EcoBoost being at the lower end of the range. With $50,000-$70,000 to spend, check out the GT350 that offers a thrilling 526 horsepower and exceptional driving dynamics. For an over-the-top Mustang experience, there’s nothing like the GT500. Expect to pay at least $80,000 for the privilege (but six-figure pricing is typical even for a used one).