13 October 2016

The S-Code Mustang is an overlooked value

Frequently overlooked by the scrum chasing mighty Cobra Jets and K-Code 289s is the 390-cid S-Code Mustang, produced with little fanfare in 1967-69. That relative lack of collectors’ attention may well make S-Code Mustangs the market’s unsung hero.

Although the 390-inch V-8 is roughly 165 pounds heavier than the thin-wall 289, its good breathing produced impressive output: up to 325 horsepower and 427 pound-feet of torque. That’s within spitting distance of the 428 Cobra Jet’s 335 hp and 440 lb-ft (spitting distance being 3.7 percent fewer horses and 3.0 percent less torque, assuming Ford’s rating methods for both engines were consistent).

Ford put the S-Code 390 in a good many Mustangs: 28,800 in 1967; 9,228 in ’68; and 10,464 in ’69. Yet their low profile in the market has resulted in values that are steady, less subject to whims of fad and fashion.

The 390 was based on the FE-series V-8s introduced in 1958 for Thunderbirds and Edsels. The FE-series persisted well into the 1970s, installed in everything from pickups to Cammer-powered drag cars and Le Mans-winning GT40s. It began flexing its muscle in the redesigned 1967 Mustang’s wider engine compartment.

Take, for example, an extensively optioned 1967 Mustang GTA notchback coupe built in Ford’s San Jose, Calif., plant. Finished in Sauterne Gold with a Light Ivy Gold vinyl interior, it had an automatic transmission (earning the GTA badge, a one-year-only designation for Mustangs), power steering, power front disc brakes, black vinyl roof, dual exhaust (standard with the 390 engine), GT wheels, BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires, bucket seats with center console, tilt-away steering column, exterior decor with hood scoop turn signal indicators and even factory air-conditioning.

It had been cosmetically restored to unusually high standards with only a few paint chips and rubs, a little patina to the replaced interior trim and upholstery, and a clean, crisp engine compartment.

It also had an auction history that demonstrated the S-Code’s value and consistency, substantiated by two different auction observers on different occasions, each rating it a 2- for condition.

At the Branson Fall auction in 2014 it sold for $37,530, including buyer’s commission. Six months later, at Mecum’s Kansas City auction, it went unsold at a bid of $40,000, then sold a month later at Mecum’s Spring Classic in Indianapolis for $38,340 with commission. At Mecum’s Houston auction in April of 2016 it was bid to $35,000 without selling, but it found a more responsive audience at Mecum’s 2016 Spring Classic, where it hammered sold for $42,900 including commission.

That is a significant value compared, for example, with a 428 cid/335-horse SportsRoof Mach 1, which can bring twice as much in comparable condition. The Hagerty Price Guide assigns a 46.4% premium to the Mach 1 over a 390 GT in 1968, a big difference from the 3.7% and 3.0% premium in horsepower and torque.

Value is subjective, but the fun that a 390 S-Code Mustang provides is on par with its more renowned stable-mates at about half the cost.

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