S197 Mustangs (2005–09) are a compelling pony-car bargain

2005 Ford Mustang GT Ford

Full disclosure, the closest I’ve come to owning a Mustang was tossing out a lowball offer on a fairly nice ’86 SVO, the Mustang that “Mustang people” despise. I’m clearly an outsider with an outsider’s perspective on the desirability/collectibility of post-1973 Mustangs. I must confess, I just don’t get the cash that 1979–93 Fox-body Mustangs attract at the moment, especially not when 2005–2009 (chassis code S197) Mustangs can be had for less money.

I mean no disrespect. As a Gen-X child of the 80s, I appreciate the huge role the ‘Stang had in tapering the Malaise Era; it was big news in 1985 when the V-8 Mustang’s rated horsepower (in SAE net, no less) again climbed above the 200 waterline. And, the styling certainly warps you back to that time and place, although I’d have to say designer Jack Telnack’s big moment was the 1986 Taurus, not the 1979 Mustang. As a bonus, Fox ‘Stangs are stupendously easy to modify and can be made stupid powerful on the cheap.

Except now they’re no longer cheap. Even a stock GT in good condition sets you back close to $15K these days, and exceptionally cared for examples can go for close to $50K. How about those coveted tuner models, like the 1993 Ford Saleen Mustang SC Convertible? Forget about it.

Look instead at the 2005–2009 model years of the fifth-gen S197 Mustang, a “retro-styled” car that is now becoming vintage in its own right. It’s a Mustang that looks like an actual Mustang—and it goes like hell in almost every iteration. Even in today’s white hot market, fifth-generation cars strike me as the place where savvy Mustang buyers should be looking.

Mustang World's Fair
The 2005 40th Anniversary Mustang meets the original pony car at the site of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY. Ford

Right around the time the SN-95 (fourth-gen Mustang) was running its course with a fairly handsome “New Edge” facelift, I started thinking about the possibility of a rebooted Mustang that recalled the ’65 Fastback. (For the record, I also called the deftly re-booted James Bond franchise that happened a year after the new Mustang went on sale, but I digress.) The concept car previewing the S197 debuted in Detroit at the 2003 North American International Auto Show, and was in most respects a production car.

It was probably the most successful piece of automotive retro-futurism attempted up to that point. Designer Sid Ramnarace—working under the supervision of J Mays—succeeded where others had failed, capturing the essence of an iconic car without veering into caricature. Praise was almost universal. Car and Driver editor John Phillips joked that for model year 2005, Mr. Ed had turned into Secretariat. You could quibble about the quality and finish of some of the interior materials and the retained live rear axle, but it worked just fine; composure was so contemporaneously impressive, the aforementioned C&D first drive concluded that “the GT exhibits a blend of compliance and response worthy of a BMW. Nice job guys.”

2005 Ford Mustang GT Interior
2005 Ford Mustang GT interior Wieck

While there’s nothing particularly hateful about the base V-6 cars—and in fact they make more power than many of the Fox-body-era GTs—you don’t need me to tell you that it’s the V-8 that you want. The 4.6-liter three-valve, SOHC modular V-8 in the standard GT cranks out 300 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, significantly brawnier than even the hottest non-Saleen Fox-body variant, the SVT Cobra R from 1993. Of course, things got even better in 2010 with the second coming of 5.0-liter V-8 power. That said, those late-model Mustangs seem to have exited their depreciation cycle early and are already creeping out of fun-money territory.

Not so for the 2005–2009 S197 Mustangs. Like all used cars, their values are up, but a quick look at ads for Mustang GTs wearing under 100,000 miles reveal prices in the low-to-mid teens, which corresponds to the Hagerty Price Guide’s current value for one in #3 Condition. In comparison, nice Fox-body cars seem to start exclusively in the high teens, and climb quickly into the twenties for cars with better equipment and lower mileage. Manual S197s bring a premium, as do the California Special and the Bullitt versions, but not huge ones.

2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt profile green
2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

You’ll still likely pay less for a 2008-2009 Bullitt Mustang with a manual than you would for a really nice Fox-body LX or GT. And that’s perfectly OK. If ’80s nostalgia is your jam, by all means, go for the Fox. But if it were me, I’d be stocking up on every low-mileage, manual Dark Highland Green Bullitt I could find. With cold-air induction, a higher redline, an extra 15 horsepower, and a specially tuned exhaust, they’re undeniably special cars.

The all-new seventh-generation Mustang is about to break cover on September 14. It will undoubtedly be significantly faster, but larger, probably heavier, and far less traditional looking than the fifth-gen car, which might just be remembered as the last right-sized, analog Mustang—a worthy successor to the original from 1964.

Rob Sass is the Editor-in-Chief of Porsche Panorama, the official publication of the Porsche Club of America. The opinions stated are his, and not necessarily those of the Club. 

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    So, it’s $197? What’s the catch? What if I want an 83? Or an electric version? Could it be an automatic transmission car?

    The S197 platform went from 2005 to 2014.

    I have owned a 2006 convertible (albeit a V6), a 2011 GT California Special convertible (loved that car) and now a 2016 Roush Stage 3 Phase convertible with only 13K miles (Really love this one).

    I don’t count the 1979 4 banger Mustang Ghia my ex brought into the marriage. That car alone was reason enough to divorce her. What a turd that was!

    As much as I love my Roush and the GT/CS before it, I have to agree with the author that the 2005-2009 models executed the design the best.

    I remember seeing the concept at the Chicago Auto Show and I was in love.

    2011 was the first year of the coyote. 2010 was the design change, but it had the 4.6 3 valve, making it kind of a dud.

    The 2011-2014 5.0 was the best of the generation. The 3valve while attractive was a little to late with 300hp. But I’m still a huge fan of all Mustangs, but think the 2015-23 to be the best of the late models.

    Durable too. Still have an ’07 V6 that’s well over 200k miles. Change the oil, fresh tires and hit the road.

    Agreed… I love my ’07 GT 5 speed convertible… Ford got it right with the “retro-futuristic” styling… I like a Mustang that looks like a Mustang…

    2008 GT/CS here. Love it! I get the power of the Coyote, but that 4.6 just sounds incredible, looks the retro part…it’s slimmer, lighter and less “plump” than the current ‘Stang. The S550 looks too much like a BMW. I know, it’s all personal preference, but slipping behind the wheel of my GT/CS, white with the blue stripes (painted)…it’s like sitting in a ’65 Shelby GT350. Hurst manual, lowered, Roush intake, tuned, the 3.55s…Drives great, looks awesome and very affordable to own/maintain…appreciating too.

    My prediction is that the 07-08 Shelby GT’s are the future collectibles. Get ’em NOW while they’re still affordable. Love my black ’07 SGT!

    Love my 2008 GT/CS. Hurst shifter, lowered, Roush intake, exhaust, white with painted blue le mans stripes and no CS stickers. It has the “Powered by Ford” badge on the fenders…looks like a ’65 Shelby. Sure, it’s not as fast as a 5.0, but it’s quick enough, handles nice, makes great noise and looks amazing! I love the performance of the current generation Mustang, but cannot get into that design…looks too much like a ’19 BMW 8 series. Prefer the retro vibe of the ’05-’09.

    I’ve had 2 05 GTs , wasn’t that in love with the first one ,had fords exploder automatic, that used rev clutch pack to give first gear the ability to use engine compression, ate it up on a trip from Santa Monica to
    PDX crisscrossing between HiWay 1 and 101 on some outrageously fun obscure roads, when I got to Portland car would barely back up (it was pathetic) , thanks ford $3200 repair and it was still a junk trans. I bought another this April with 5 spd man with almost every mod there is for suspension ,transmission brakes ,aero, engine with stronger internals and beefed up Vortec v3 supercharger that pumps out 499 rwhp on 91, Ive always liked the retro queued body and now i love the car. it is so much fun! , fairly fast and a great handling track car. It is yellow with carbon fiber hood, GT 350 19″x11 wheels, it definitely stands out in a crowd, and very streetable I’m not selling this one!

    I have a 2008 gt Shelby and love this car the body design is spot on and the 4.6 has 320 hp and only 48000 original miles the price keeps going up would recommend this mustang to anyone it looks great and sounds great.

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