No one is quite sure why the Mustang struck such a chord with the American people and stuck around so long. Maybe it was the name, or the effective marketing campaign. Maybe it was the affordable price and available performance, or the many racers who made legends of themselves behind the wheel of a Mustang. But within just a few years, specialty versions of the Mustang were popping up everywhere, perhaps none more famous than Shelby.

But Shelby wasn’t the car for everyone. Some people wanted more style without the extra performance, just to help the car stand out. In fact, the California Ford Dealers Association successfully solicited Ford to build a special Mustang, just for the California market. It would be called the California Special and was available for just one year, 1968.

1968 Mustang CS Pictures by JH

Ford wouldn’t cave to just any request, but the California dealers held a lot of sway. California sold 20% of the Mustangs and Thunderbirds in the country, a huge chunk of the market. California dealers had started resorting to showroom tricks, like Rainbow-colored paint jobs, to help move more metal. Now they wanted something back from Ford, and Ford delivered.

Actually, Shelby delivered. The car was developed alongside the 1968 Shelby, and a few of those parts actually found their way on to the California Special, like the rear decklid and fiberglass side scoops. Other special features of the original California Special included Lucas fog lights, hood pins.

A pop-open gas cap, and tail lights borrowed from the Ford Thunderbird (though unlike the Thunderbird and Cougar, they did not blink sequentially). It could also only be ordered in red, white, black, or medium metallic blue. Special markings and side stripes were also included, and all other Mustang options could be ordered with the California Special.

There was also a special Mustang called the High Country Special, which was sold only in Colorado. These cars are even rarer, and could only be ordered in Aspen Gold, Timberline Green, and Columbine Blue, and featured the Rally Pak, Pony seats, and a special console and badges. Just 333 of these cars were ever built from 1966 to 1968.

2007 California Special Pictures by KC

Ford brought the California Special back in 2007 as an appearance package, and it returns for 2011, available outside of California. But these cars owe a lot to their predecessor, and inspired enough people to force the package to return from retirement. We doubt the new California Special Mustang will ever be worth as much as the original, but it has secured itself a special place in history as well.

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