California Special Mustang: Definitive History Of Ford’s West Coast Cruiser

California Special returns with a new limited-edition design package for 2019 Mustang GT that commemorates visual cues of the 1968 original while celebrating modern Mustang performance and style
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There have been many special edition Ford Mustangs over the years, from the Mach 1 to the Boss 302 and everything in between. One such package that doesn’t get quite as much attention, however, is the California Special Mustang. But its story is a fascinating one, and one well worth revisiting in depth.

It all started back in 1967 and 1968, when Ford dealers in California sold more new Mustangs than any other state. To commemorate this achievement, Ford decided to come up with a special model. To do this, it collaborated with Shelby to build upon the 1967 Shelby GT500 prototype called “Little Red,” which led to the creation of the 1968 Mustang GT/CS California Special.

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1968 Mustang GT/CS California Special

The first California Special Mustang was available as a coupe only with an array of powertrain options, including the 289, 302, 390, and 428 Cobra Jet V8s, with outputs ranging from 195 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque to 335 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. Buyers had a choice of either Ford’s 4 speed manual transmission or the 3 speed automatic with 2 in 1 select shift.

On the outside, the 1968 California Special had Shelby air-simulated side scoops with a GT/CS insignia, a functional louvered hood with integral turn signals, a two-toned hood option, Shelby hood pins, three options for wheels, a blacked-out grille, rectangular grille-mounted fog lamps, a pop-open gas cap, special side stripes, 1967 Shelby GT500 taillights, bucket seats, leather vinyl trim, carpeting, and a floor shifter.

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Ford built just over 4,100 California Special Mustangs in 1968, and most all of them were sold exclusively in California. However, many have speculated that Ford sent some GT/CS Mustangs to Denver, Colorado that were renamed “High Country Special,” as well as a few to other western states and Canada.

2007 Ford Mustang GT California Special

2007-2009 Mustang GT/CS California Special

It wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that the California Special made a comeback in 2007. Since the Shelby GT500 was also making a return at this time, it seemed like a no-brainer to bring back the GT/CS. This time around, Ford made the package available on the Mustang coupe/fastback or convertible, and the special package was also sold across the country, not just in a select state or region.

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2007 Ford Mustang GT California Special

The latest Mustang California Special was given a revised front fascia, with larger grille openings for greater cooling at high speeds, and a chin spoiler that was 1.5 inches lower than the standard Mustang GT front fascia. It also sported a signature ram-air style hood scoop, Shelby air-simulated style side scoops, special black or white striping, color-matched side skirts, a race-inspired rear diffuser, chrome exhaust tips, a faux style gas cap, and California Special badging.

2007 Mustang GT/CS Brochure

Built from 2007-2009, the 2nd generation California Special was available in the following colors:

  • Performance White
  • Redfire (2007 Only)
  • Black
  • Dark Candy Apple Red (2008-2009)
  • Grabber Orange (2008-2009)
  • Vista Blue
  • Vapor Silver (2009 Only)

On the inside, the 2007-2009 GT/CS was equipped with dark-charcoal leather-trimmed seats with either dove or parchment grey inserts, and both the driver and passenger seats came with four-way power with heated ventilation.

As far as the drivetrain goes, the second-generation California Special was equipped with the same 4.6L Modular V8 as the regular Mustang GT, which produced 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. Customers could choose from either a 5 speed manual transmission or a 5 speed automatic gearbox.

2011 Ford Mustang GT California Special

2011-2014 Mustang GT/CS California Special

The third generation California Special Mustang launched in 2011 to coincide with the S197’s mid-cycle refresh. In 2013, the GT/CS also received a few small updates. This time around, the special model received a front splitter, multi-bar style front grille with unique tri-bar pony emblem, revised fog lamps, standard HID headlamps (2013-2014 only), a rear diffuser, updated signature tri-bar tail lamps, a color-matched pedestal spoiler, and unique 19 inch 5 spoke wheels.

2011 Ford Mustang GT California Special

Other exterior touches included GT/CS specific hood and side-striping (2013-2014), side-striping that was moved to the bottom of the fender and door for 2013-2014, signature air-simulated side scoops, and color-matched side skirts (2013-2014).

2013 Ford Mustang GT California Special

On the inside, the California Special came equipped with standard leather seats (2011-2012) or leather-wrapped seats with Alcantara seat inserts (2013-2014) with GT/CS embroidering, white faced gauges (2011-2012) or black faced gauges (2013-2014), and a carbon fiber applique accented dash with the GT/CS logo.

2011 Ford Mustang GT California Special

In 2011, the GT/CS was available in the following colors:

  • Race red
  • Red Candy Metallic
  • Grabber Blue
  • Ingot Silver Metallic

Color options for 2012 included:

  • Race red
  • Red Candy Metallic
  • Grabber Blue
  • Yellow Blaze
  • Ingot Silver Metallic

Color options for 2013 included:

  • Deep Impact Blue
  • Red Candy Metallic
  • Race Red
  • Performance White
  • Sterling Gray
  • Black

Color options for 2014 included:

  • Black
  • Ingot Silver
  • Metallic
  • Oxford White
  • Sterling Gray
  • Race Red

The third-generation California Special came equipped with Ford’s first-generation 5.0L Coyote V8, which produced 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque in 2011-2012, and 420 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque in 2013-2014. Transmission options included a 6 speed MT-82 manual or a 10R60 6 speed automatic.

2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special

2016-2020 Mustang GT/CS California Special

One year after the S550 Mustang debuted in 2015, Ford brought back the California Special with a host of updates. On the outside for 2016-2017, that included a larger race-inspired front splitter, larger air openings for better airflow, revised fog lamps, a unique multi-bar grille with signature tri-bar pony emblem, a power bulge hood, turn signals inside the heat extractor hood vents, a race-inspired blacked-out pedestal spoiler, unique decklid with a signature GT/CS faux gas cap, signature Mustang tri-bar tail lamps, 19 inch unique wheels, hood and side stripes (at the bottom of the fenders), and air-simulated side scoops.

2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special

For the 2019-2020 model years, the GT/CS received a more aggressive bumper cover, prominent race-inspired Performance Package front splitter, multi-bar style front grille with unique tri-bar pony emblem, revised LED fog lamps, standard LED headlights, a revised rear diffuser, standard quad-tip exhaust, California Special specific decklid script, faux gas cap, updated signature tri-bar tail lamps, and color-matched pedestal spoiler, 19×8.5 inch machined-face aluminum wheels with high-gloss Ebony Black-painted pockets, fender to door striping, air-simulated side scoops, and CS badging on the strut tower brace.

Exterior color options for 2016 GT/CS models were:

  • Oxford White
  • Deep Impact Blue
  • Race Red
  • Ingot Silver
  • Shadow Black

Color options for 2017 included:

  • Oxford White
  • Deep Impact Blue
  • Race Red
  • Ingot Silver
  • Shadow Black

Color options for 2019 included:

  • Oxford White
  • Velocity Blue
  • Race Red
  • Ingot Silver
  • Shadow Black
  • Need For Green
  • Dark Highland Green
  • Kona Blue
  • Magnetic Grey

Color options for 2020 include:

  • Oxford White
  • Velocity Blue
  • Race Red
  • Iconic Silver
  • Shadow Black
  • Grabber Lime
  • Magnetic
  • Rapid Red
  • Kona Blue
  • Twister Orange
2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special

On the inside, the GT/CS featured front bucket leather seats with Alcantara inserts seat-back and bottom with GT/CS embroidering, California Special dash plaque, GT/CS specific dash accents, CS instrument panel applique badge, a “Carbon Hex” aluminum instrument panel, and Miko Suede door and seat inserts with red contrast stitching and a GT/CS logo.

The 2016-2017 California Special Mustang came equipped with Ford’s second-generation 5.0L Coyote V8 that produced 435 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, which was backed up by either an MT82 6 speed manual transmission, or the 10R60 6 speed automatic.

The 2019-2020 GT/CS came equipped with Ford’s third-generation 5.0L Coyote V8, which produces 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, and is backed up by either the MT82 6 speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission.

2019 Ford Mustang GT California Special

Since its return in 2007, the California Mustang has proven to be a popular and stylish package for Mustang buyers. So much so that we don’t expect it to disappear for decades like it did the first go round.

We’ll have more historical breakdowns like this soon, so be sure to subscribe to Ford Authority for more Ford Mustang news and around-the-clock Ford news coverage.

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Written by Brett Foote

Brett's lost track of all the Fords he's owned over the years and how much he's spent modifying them, but his current money pits include an S550 Mustang and 13th gen F-150.

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8 Comments

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  1. The Mustang GT/CS Limited Edition is a great package that a lot of people for get about that will bring good value for years to come. Little known fact this model came as Glass Top as well as Hard Top and Convertibles

  2. My mother bought her 1968 California Special in 1969. I sold the car 2007 to a gentleman who imported it to Australia. He didn’t want to tell me that once it landed in Australia it tripled in value. After it was registered there.

  3. 1968 was NOT the introduction year of “California Specials”. I know, because I bought a super-yellow CS fastback Mustang in 1967. In 1967, the first year of the CS’s, the only thing that the CS nomenclature got you was a special color…a wonderful school-bus yellow. In 1967, that was enough to make your car very special, indeed.

    • There are several 1967 Mustangs painted as CS “clones” out there, but no documentation that actual CS cars existed prior to the 1968 model year.

      • My documentation is that I ordered it new, from a Ford dealer, as a special order, in 1967. And took delivery in 1967. Registered as a ’67. And it had the fake “finned brake air inlets” of the ’67’s, as opposed to the simpler “scoop” detail aft of the door. I moved the outboard fog lights to the center of the grill (removing the logo), Shelby-style, and put hood-pins in. I had Shelby-style black racing stripes painted on. Caroll Shelby got a kick out of it when he saw it at that same dealership.

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