In mid-February 1968, the California Ford Dealers (Ford Dealer Advertising Fund) began to market a factory-built, limited-edition Mustang, called the GT/CS, or "California Special". The hope was for a targeted production run of 5,000, but actually, 4118 were made, which included 251 units that were remarketed in Denver, Colorado, as "High Country Special '68". Production ran for only 5.5 months from mid-February 1968 to early August 1968.
California made it happen
The marketing theme for this 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 from Ford's Torino and Mercury Cougar. The state of California, alone, was responsible for the sales of 20% of all Mustangs and Thunderbirds in the country, which gave the regional dealers there the clout to ask for and market their own Mustang.
Lee Grey was the Southern California district sales manager for Ford and he 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", as well as by adding 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.
Lee Grey attended the Ford Preview event for the new 1968 Fords at the Los Angeles Coliseum in August 1967, where he saw a Shelby GT-500 prototype coupe nicknamed "Little Red". This was a supercharged 428, C-6 automatic coupe that was dressed up in bright red paint, and a vinyl roof, as a formal, yet high-performance vehicle. It was on display to gauge market response as a possible Shelby lineup Mustang. Lee saw this as an opportunity to use the elements of this prototype to market his "California-Only Mustang". He met with Lee Iaccoca in L.A., and the decision was made to bring the car to Dearborn to develop into a limited edition Mustang. First, it was known as the "GT/SC", as a nationally available Sport Coupe, then, after some discussion, developed as the GT/CS.
Shelby automotive and the GT/CS
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. The fiberglass parts were crafted at A.O. Smith, in Ionia, Michigan, in steel molds. A.O. Smith was also the same OEM manufacturer for the Corvette fiberglass bodies. The completed fiberglass parts for the GT/CS included: the rear decklid and end caps, taillight panel, and side scoops (RH and LH).
In April 1968, during production of the GT/CS, a second Shelby coupe prototype, the "Green Hornet EXP-500", was built by Shelby Automotive based on a GT/CS purchased from Ford. Its main purpose was as a test vehicle for independent rear suspension and fuel injection.
"Little Red" and the "Green Hornet" were the only two Shelby coupes produced (other than the race-only '67 coupes). Both were prototypes. All other Shelby Mustangs were either fastbacks or convertibles. "Little Red" was later crushed. "Green Hornet" survives today.
The Mustang GT/CS features included: Marchal or Lucas Fog Lights, twist-type DZUS hood pins, side scoops, pop-open gas cap, rear spoiler decklid with end caps, and taillight panel with 1965 Thunderbird taillights (non sequential). Side stripes with the "GT/CS" die-cut logo, along with a rear decklid stripe were included, and were available in white, black, red, and metallic medium blue only. It was available in all standard Mustang colors for 1968, all Ford engine and transmission combinations (except 427/C-6, which was dropped for all '68s).
Most produced were the small-block 289 two-barrel (2V) carburetor with C-4 automatic transmission. All regular production factory and dealer options for 1968 Mustang coupes were also available for the GT/CS, other than options that would conflict with the GT/CS package, such as fog lights or C-stripes. The GT option package was available on the GT/CS so some, but not all, GT/CSs are also GTs. The "GT" in GT/CS has nothing to do with the GT package.
Distribution of the Mustang GT/CS was primarily within the two California sales districts (DSOs 71 & 72); but was expanded to sales districts in Washington, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Western Canada, and Colorado (as the High Country Special).
The most prized versions are the big-block 390 and Cobra Jet 428 versions, of which only a handful were made. The GT/CS has become one of the most owner-appreciated classic Mustangs, since it has both the qualities of a Shelby GT, and a Mustang coupe. Its uniqueness, and rarity draws great attention on the road, and at car shows. Values can range from as low as $8,000 for a restorable small-block driver version, to up to $150,000 for a Concours 428 CJ version.