A famous badge’s staggering value

The Cobra Jet-powered Mustang Mach 1, built in 1969 and 1970, packed a serious punch to complement its upgraded interior and exterior. Sporting some of the era’s most popular features like air dams, wings, rear-window louvers and Shaker hood scoops, the Mach 1 looks the part of a tire-melting pony car, and it has performance to back it up. Collectors recognize their desirability, and today they routinely bring prices in the mid- to high-five figures.

For many Ford partisans, the Mach 1’s preferred option is the 428 cid Super Cobra Jet engine. It’s a heavily tweaked version of the Blue Oval’s big block, which featured some of the best components that the company’s generous parts list had to offer. To avoid drawing unwanted attention from insurance companies – a major hassle for muscle car buyers at the end of the ’60s – Ford graciously placed a modest 335hp rating on all the CJs. Marque experts say that power plants’ output was more like 400 horsepower, straight from the production line.

Mach 1 CJs, bristling with attitude and confidence, typically sell for $70,000 to $90,000. Nine original configuration Mach 1 CJs crossed the auction block in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January, all of them at the Barrett-Jackson auction. Sale prices ranged from $58,300 for a restored automatic transmission example to a breathtaking $101,200 for a sympathetically restored 68,000-mile example with its original upholstery.

But there are cars affecting Mach 1s’ values in this strong market, namely the Shelby Mustang GT500 and 1968-only GT500KR, which are $100,000 to $200,000 cars. These cars have comparable Ford-built engines, and A.O. Smith in Mich. assembled them, not Shelby’s facility in Venice, Cali.

Shelby Mustangs, however, have three things going for them.

The first advantage is a distinct appearance, something that inevitably beguiles both collectors and onlookers. Ford, which by this time was calling the shots on Shelby Mustang production, did a superlative job of face-lifting the production Mustang to create an aggressive look and stance for its Shelby-labeled cars, one that was instantly recognizable.

The second strength is the Shelby American Automobile Club, which has fostered the history, mystique, recognition and documentation of Shelby Mustangs, much as Kevin Marti has done with Fords at large. Faced with a mass of informed consumers who have SAAC’s Registry books at their disposal, the restoration and documentation standards of Shelby Mustangs have been maintained at a high level. And finally, there’s the Shelby name, one of the legends in American automobiles. Attached to anything from cars to chili mix, a piece of the Carroll Shelby legacy makes a difference.

The performance difference between a Mach 1 CJ Mustang and a Shelby Mustang GT500 or even a GT500KR is all but indistinguishable. But in dollars, the gap is huge, at least the value of a nice first generation K-Code Mustang – and at its greatest, two Mach 1 CJs for one Shelby Mustang GT500KR. For the owner who plans to enjoy a powerful Mustang on the road, that makes a strong case for the logic of collecting a car that wears its Ford badge proudly.

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