The Glorious Return of The Mustang Mach I

With Ford reportedly rebooting the muscle car, we look back at a stone cold classic.

2003 Ford Mustang Mach I. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

Our sasquatch-chasing friends at Autoblog recently posted spy photos of what they say is the upcoming 2018 Ford Mustang Mach I. Our tight-lipped contacts at Ford respond that it’s too soon talk about a Mach I reboot. We say it is always a good time to gush about the Mach I, a truly awesome version of America’s favorite pony car.

Possible 2018 Mustang Mach I prototype. Photo: Brian Williams/SpiedBilde via Autoblog video

Launched in 1969, the Mach I has been a Mustang performance model known for its aggressive styling cues that distinguish it from ordinary GT models and  accessible price that makes it more affordable than rarefied Boss and Shelby iterations.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach I. Go-go boots optional, but recommended. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

The original car’s base engine was a 351 cubic-inch V8 and it topped out with the mighty 428 Cobra Jet. The concept of a lower, meaner Mustang was sketched out early on, highlighting the Mach’s expected design cues.

Ford Mach I design sketches. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

Those doodles were rendered in the metal by 1966, when what resembled a squashed ’67 Mustang was shown as the Mach I concept car.

1966 Ford Mustang Mach I concept car. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

Today, the Mustang has a potential vacancy in its model line between the everyman muscle car 435-horsepower GT and the exotic 526-horsepower Shelby GT350. The Mustang has been a license to print money for Ford, second only to the F-150, and a Mach I could help the Blue Oval reap still more of it from the Mustang line.

1970 Ford Mustang Mach I. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

The Mach I has traditionally been visually identifiable by its liberal use of blacked-out panels and by its front air dam and rear spoiler. The original Mach I ran from 1969 until 1973, after which Ford made the temporary mistake of replacing the Mustang with the Mustang II.

1971 Ford Mustang Mustang Mach I. Photo: Mecum Auctions

“II” was a popular suffix Ford applied to a variety of other Ford models also, including the LTD II and Bronco II. No one has ever been able to explain Ford’s use of the “II” nomenclature, which arose while the company was run by Henry Ford II. 

1976 Ford Mustang II Mach I. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

The ’70s were unkind to performance cars, and the Mach I even briefly lost its V8 powerplant, before it was restored in the 1975 Mustang II in the form of an anemic 2-barrel carbureted small block 302. When the Mustang II was replaced for the 1979 model year by the first of the decades of Mustangs built on Ford’s corporate Fox platform, the Mach I died with it.

2003 Ford Mustang Mach I. Photo: Ford Motor Co.

However, just as the last of those by-then-obsolete Mustangs were heading to showrooms built on the SN95 updated Fox chassis in 2003, Ford’s solution to kindle interest in the soon-to-be-replaced Mustang was to revive the long-dormant Mach I name.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach I 428 Cobra Jet engine with shaker air intake. Photo: Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. 

The 2003 car’s styling signature was its “shaker” air intake that was mounted on the engine and protruded through the hood, just like the one on the 1969 Mach I. Ford built 6,500 of the Mach I tribute cars in 2003, then introduced the all-new retro-styled 2005 edition of the Mustang.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach I with “simulated teak-grain” surfaces Photo: Barrett-Jackson Auction Co.

Ford built 72,000 Mach Is in 1969, and according to the experts at Hagerty classic car insurance, even one with the base 351 is worth nearly $38,000 on average. The sought-after big block 428 Super Cobra Jet averages $73,000.

Count us as in favor of the rumored 2018 Mach I revival. But let’s just hope future spy photos are of flaming red prototypes.

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