The now coveted California Special or Mustang GT/CS arrived at dealers in the middle of February 1968, and Ford assembled the last unit in early August of the same year. The original production order called for 5,000 units, but only 4,118 were actually produced, which included 251 that Ford rebadged as the “High Country Special ’68” and sold in Colorado.
Ford expected strong entries in the pony class for the ’68 model year, with formidable competition coming from the Camaro, Trans Am, Javelin, and the Mercury Cougar, even from Ford’s own Torino. In the continental United States, 20 percent of Mustang and Thunderbird sales, 1965 through ‘67, took place in California, which gave the dealers’ organization a lot of clout back in the head office. These retailers collectively tried a number of special or unique options in an attempt to create a California-exclusive Mustang.
Ford’s Southern California district sales manager at the time was Lee Gray, and he was always looking for a way to increase Ford sales in his area. Gray and the dealerships agreed the California Special presented a possible solution for the dealers’ needs and would also help Ford meet the upcoming competition head on.
The national catchphrase for marketing was “Only Mustang makes it happen.” but for the ’68 model year, it became “California made it happen” for the limited-edition Mustang GT/CS.
In 1969, there was the Mustang GT package, but the California Special GT/CS was a model name; this car may or may not have had the GT package. The GT/CS option included fog lamps, DZUS hood pins, spring-loaded gas cap, side scoops, a rear deck lid-mounted spoiler with end caps, non-sequential Thunderbird taillights, side stripes with GT/CS inscribed, plus the lengthwise double stripe on the rear deck and on the hood. The GT/CS was available in any Mustang color, but the stripes were only in metallic medium blue, red, black, or white.
Any other non-conflicting Mustang package would complete the California Special trim option, including engine and powertrain combinations, but most CS units had a two-barrel carburetor on the 289-cubic-inch (4.74L) engine coupled to the C-4 automatic transmission; the 427/C6 combination wasn’t available for any Mustang in ’68. There were very few units assembled with a 390 and the 428 Cobra Jet engines under the hood, making them extremely rare today..
Lee Gray was already forming a plan to help his dealers when he attended an auto show in August ’67 held at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The pre-release name for the soon-to-be Shelby GT-500 prototype was ‘Little Red” and got its power from a supercharged 428 bolted to the C-6 automatic transmission. This first Shelby-made vehicle was eventually destroyed. The vehicle was testing the waters for the release of an ultimate high-performance machine, but Gray saw many features he wanted to incorporate in his California market special-release vehicle. At a later meeting with Lee Iaccoca, they decided to have Dearborn fine-tune a limited-production Mustang called the GT/SC. But this later changed to GT/CS, with the CS standing for California Special.
The GT/CS was the first prototype Carroll Shelby engineered, but while Little Red was on display, he was at work on a second prototype, the EXP-500, later known as the Green Hornet, which still exists today. It’s anybody’s guess, but the original name for the California Special was GT/SC, which stood for “sport coupe,” but it also could have stood for Carroll Shelby. What did CS really stand for?