Home » The One-Year-Only 1995 Ford Mustang GTS Offered A 5.0 V8 Punch In A Base Model Body: Holy Grails

The One-Year-Only 1995 Ford Mustang GTS Offered A 5.0 V8 Punch In A Base Model Body: Holy Grails

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Welcome back to Holy Grails, the Autopian series where you show off some of the coolest, most underrated cars that you love. Keep those grails flowing in! After years of telling you all about our favorite cars, we’re so excited to see what gets your heart all revved up. And as it turns out, you dear readers love some awesome cars. Today, we have a Grail recommended by a reader who goes by Jack Trade, and their choice is the 1995 Ford Mustang GTS. The GTS sold for just one year and featured the very last year for the 5.0-liter pushrod V8 that was found in earlier Fox bodies. This was essentially a rebirth of the 1980s Mustang LX, but just for one year.

Based on the responses from our last entry, an explanation is in order. If you’ve read David Tracy’s work for long enough, you’ve undoubtedly read an article or several from him about some sort of “Holy Grail” Jeep. He’s been talking about holy grail Jeeps since 2018, and even embarked on quests to obtain some. This has long confused readers at the old lighting site and now here. In legend, there is just one Holy Grail, so the fact that he’s had more than one of them doesn’t fit. Later, I would adopt David’s formula when talking about some of the wildest Volkswagens and Smarts that I find. But what gives? What’s with us calling things holy grails?

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Jason Torchinsky/David Tracy

To us, a “holy grail” vehicle is simply a rare or special version of a vehicle that sets it apart from the rest of the pack. These vehicles will often be desired in their respective enthusiast communities. In the case of David’s Jeeps, they have a rare manual transmission. Or in the case of my Smarts and Volkswagens, it’s often because the cars themselves are quite rare and offbeat. Yes, this means that we’re stretching the meaning of “holy grail.” And we’re aware it’s a bit silly because we keep finding our grails. But in short, when we talk about a “holy grail” car, you know that we’re talking about something rare or notably special, and quite possibly hotly desired by specific enthusiasts. With that said, we’re always open to suggestions!

Last week, this series took a turn towards vans when reader CJ reminded us that Ford used to sell rear-wheel-drive, wedge-shaped minivans with a manual transmission. The Ford Aerostar was Blue Oval’s response to Chrysler’s instant hit minivans. But instead of copying Chrysler’s homework, Ford decided to go a different way. Chrysler’s minivans drove like cars while hauling the whole family all while being small enough to fit in a garage. Ford would take the route also chosen by General Motors. The Aerostar drove less like a car and more like a truck. It was rear-wheel-drive and even featured parts borrowed from the Ranger pickup. Ford touted this as an advantage; while Chrysler vans towed up to 2,000 pounds, the Aerostar towed 5,000 pounds like a Chevrolet Astro. And yep, they still fit in a garage.

This week, we have another Ford, but this isn’t a utility vehicle. Instead, it’s a Mustang; Ford’s celebrated and long-running pony car. But this Mustang is an odd one.

1995 Ford Mustang Gt Img 6573 33902
Bring a Trailer Seller

To understand what makes this car special, we will need to rewind the clock back to late 1978. The third generation of the Ford Mustang released and was on a mission to right the Mustang II’s wrongs. According to the book How to Tune and Modify Your Ford 5.0 Liter Mustang, the Fox platform was the result of a Ford initiative to have a platform capable of underpinning everything from two-door sports cars to four-door family cars. As Hemmings writes, having that platform underpinning a bunch of vehicles also meant that Ford could streamline production and save on costs.

The first Fox platform cars were the 1978 Ford Fairmont and the Mercury Zephyr.

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Ford via eBay

For the Mustang, Ford gave its designers a mission to give the new vehicle a vastly different design than the Mustang II. But at the same time, Henry Ford II wanted some design traits to carry over. There were a number of concept designs, but it was ultimately Jack Telnack who found a way to drive the design home. Telnack came over to America after being vice president of design at Ford of Europe. His design for the new Mustang took elements of previous concepts and combined them into something that looked to have a bit of Euro flair.

The design team managed some notable feats with the third-generation Mustang. At 179.1 inches long, it managed to be four inches longer than the Mustang II, and it offered 20 percent more interior space to boot. Yet, the Fox body still shaved off about 200 pounds from the Mustang II.

Ford Mustang 1987 Photos 1
Ford

And the Fox body didn’t stop there, as Ford’s third-generation pony car brought back the GT, added turbocharged four-cylinder engines, and introduced the first SVT Cobra. These cars have endured, too, and today they’re a common sight at car shows around America.

As Car and Driver writes, one of the most desired Fox body Mustangs of the modern day is the LX. Sold from 1987 to 1993, you got the 4.9-liter “5.0” High Output V8. This was the same engine as the Mustang GT, however, the LX did away with the GT’s equipment, making it cheaper, simpler, and lighter than the GT. And as DrivingLine notes, the LX was the only way that you could get a 5.0 Mustang as a notchback back then. Well, unless you were in law enforcement, then you got the notchback 5.0 SSP. At its height in 1987, the 5.0 HO was rated at 225 HP and 300 lb-ft torque, just shy of the 235 HP Cobra. And you got that power without anything else that you didn’t need.

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Ford

When Car and Driver tested a Mustang GT and a Cobra in 1987, the GT did the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds, only 0.4 seconds slower than the Cobra. The LX did it in 14.8 seconds, though Car and Driver notes that the measurement was taken with the magazine’s older 3-mph rollout. Still, even the acceleration to 60 mph figure of 6.2 seconds is not bad for a car that’s over 35 years old.

In 1993, the Fox body passed the Mustang torch to the SN95, another radical redesign of the Mustang formula. The SN95 brought on a dramatic change in styling, and Ford’s team also found ways to improve the Mustang’s handling and ride along the way.

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Ford

As Motor Trend notes, Ford leaned on Mustang enthusiasts for input on how to better the Mustang. One of Ford’s original ideas was to replace the Mustang with a front-wheel-drive sport compact. As Hagerty notes, when AutoWeek published a look into this new vehicle, it apparently enraged Mustang fans to the point where thousands apparently sent in letters to Ford, informing brass about the mistake that they were about to make.

Ford ended up spending $700 million and just 36 months developing a successor to the third-generation Mustang. And the aforementioned front-wheel-drive concept became the Ford Probe. Arguably a huge overhaul on the Fox body ‘Stang, the SN95 has a stiffer structure than the third-generation, and featured other goodies in the form of suspension geometry that better fights body roll and a wider track front and back. Ford’s engineers even reduced shock tower flex. The SN95 brought over upgrades in technology, too. Four-wheel disc brakes came standard, and ABS was available.

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Ford

When the new Mustang launched for the 1994 model year, you could get it with a 3.8-liter Essex V6 making 145 HP, or the 5.0 HO carried over from the third-generation, now rated at 215 HP. But for reader Jack Trade, the SN95 Mustang to get is the 1995 Mustang GTS. Why? This Mustang gave you the base model body that would normally house a V6, but instead, you got that V8:

How about the somewhat unknown, 1 year only Mustang GTS as the perhaps last best expression of the Fox Body era?

(yeah yeah, I know, it was an SN95. But that platform was a worked-over Fox so there’s at least more than just a spiritual connection here)

It was the same concept as the LX 5.0 Mustangs of the 1980s – GT performance equipment stuffed into an otherwise base model.

A GTS critically got you the very last year of the legendary torquey-down-low 5.0 HO V8 of Fox fame, but also gave you contemporary safety goodies like ABS brakes and airbags, all sitting on a chassis that offered much better (by previous Mustang standards, anyway) handling.

What it didn’t get you: leather seats, power windows, fog lights, a spoiler, anything that wasn’t purely about the motoring. I don’t think you even got so much as a special badge or decal.

They weren’t unobtanium but Ford didn’t make a ton of them, maybe 5 or 6k total for that single year.

There’s just something so pure about the car – plenty of people will buy high-end Mustangs for the bling and imputed street cred (witness Ford’s shamefully making Shelby stripes available on even base S197 models), but to purchase something like this, you’re into the driving experience first and foremost. That’s a grail for sure.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

Sure enough, Jack Trade hit the nail on the head, here. This Mustang was special for a couple of reasons. For starters, you got the firepower of the GT and none of the other stuff that wasn’t related to making the Mustang go fast. As parts supplier CJ Pony Parts writes, you got the 4.9-liter 5.0 HO V8 making 215 HP and 285 lb-ft torque, plus a Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed manual.

This gave you the same hardware as the GT, but in a stripped-down body for less money. While a Ford Mustang GT was $18,105 in 1995, this was $16,910. You didn’t get fog lights and you didn’t get a rear spoiler. Inside, you sat in cloth seats, manually cranked your windows, and adjusted your mirrors by hand.

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Cars & Bids Seller

If that was too stripped down for comfort, you could option your GTS with power windows, mirrors, and trunk release. You could also get an AM/FM stereo cassette player, cruise control, and visor mirrors with lights on both sides. But the formula largely remained the same. You got V8 power and just enough creature comforts. The GTS trim level was eliminated the next year after Ford built just 6,370 of them.

Ford Mustang enthusiast site Mustang Specs points out the differences between a GT and a GTS and they might be difficult unless you know what you’re looking for. A Mustang GTS had the same badging as a regular Mustang GT, but came without the aforementioned body parts and with the base interior. The GTS also had different wheels.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

While researching this, I tried to find brochures and reviews for the GTS but came up empty. It seems that the GTS came and went without much fanfare. That’s sort of weird, but not all that surprising. It was a single-year vehicle that existed as a stripped-down version of a higher model. If this Motor Trend review of the 1994 V6 and V8 ‘Stangs is anything to go by, then you’re in for a ride:

Both Mustang models are as distinctive to drive as they are to look at. The GT drifts through high-energy corners with about the same tire-howling delight as the ’93, but now has more understeer designed in for a measure of restraint. (More than a third of current Mustang owners are 25 years old or less, an age when driving skills are still being honed.) The driving experience is characterized by power rack-and-pinion steering that directs the car with more precision, and body roll is better controlled. On the street, the softer suspension and more rigid structure absorb shake and shiver as never before.

[…]

The Mustang is a competent and extremely attractive way to cruise Gratiot Avenue or Sunset Boulevard. Its first-class styling, excellent dynamics, and adherence to performance as a fundamental truth make it the most significant new American car this year. As a stand-alone heir to the Mustang title and throne, the SN95 has pulled the sword from the stone. And in all its iterations, it’ll appeal to many more drivers than merely the legion of Mustang buffs who’ve anxiously awaited its arrival as an elegant answer to the pony-car equation, the new Mustang earns our highest accolade: Motor Trend ’94 Car of the Year.

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Cars & Bids Seller

Finding a Ford Mustang GTS has been quite a task. These cars are nearly 30 years old now, and many have been passed through countless owners. They’ve gotten modded and beaten up along the way. So, looking at SN95s for sale today in 2022, it’s hard to figure out which ones are GTs with missing wings and which ones are modded GTS. And one baffling ad showed what was clearly a GT, but was claimed to be a GTS. Despite that struggle, I did find three Mustang GTS for sale. One was so rough it had a salvage title. One was rough and modded. And finally, here’s one clean enough that I’d trust it on a road trip.

After 1995, the GTS trim level was dead, replaced temporarily by the 248A option package until 1998. You still got a stripped-down Mustang, but the 5.0 HO V8 was replaced with the 4.6-liter modular V8. The GT also had this engine and later, the Cobra would get a flavor of it, too. So, if you really wanted the last whiff of the Fox body experience of the 1980s, but in a more modern package, the 1994 and the 1995 Mustangs were the last of them. And if you wanted to relive the old LX, the GTS was your ride of choice.

(Top Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer Seller)

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27 Responses

  1. Argh! I just missed out on purchasing a Red 43k mile rust free example of a GTS not even a year ago. Had a deal all set up but the seller sold out from under me. Still haven’t gotten over it.

  2. I love the SN95, my mom got #6 off the assembly line in late 93…. Tons of awesome memories cruising in that car. It was a green gt auto with tan cloth, and tan top ( very) such a blast.

    A few years ago I sold a 98 I got cheap that was surprisingly unmodded even at 155k! Redid the interior and exterior added just a few bolt ons and loved driving it, super reliable, comfortable, and looked great. Still regret selling it.

  3. My favorite Sn95 Easter Egg was the hero wheel in 94 and 95, a 17” split tri spoke, which were design evolutions of the TRX wheels from the early Fox bodies.

    That’s cool in and of itself, but it’s even cooler that the Probe GT wheels from 1989 had that same basic design theme, betraying that car’s first planned identity.

    As for the GTS, it’s easy enough to see why they didn’t create the same interest as the LX. The LX deleted the frankly fairly crass plastic skirts from the GT; there wasn’t much to delete on the cleaner SN95. And swapping out the not terrible but not great seats from the GT for the awful seats from the V6 was not a choice you’d be happy with unless you were planning a Recaro swap.

    But the 16” five spokes were the standard wheels on all the GTs those years, if memory serves.

    1. I was gonna say this exactly. The visual differences between an 87-93 LX to GT were a pretty big difference. My preference in the Fox area is definitely the LX 5.0 with the cleaner lines compared to the GT. But when the SN95 debuted, there wasn’t much different on the outside except for the spoiler and fog lights. Without that larger visual differentiation, I can see why the GTS was just a one year wonder.

  4. Ran into a few of these while working as a Ford tech in the late ’90s. The lack of rear spoiler was the biggest tell. I bet I’m the only person there who knew what they were.

    The wheels on this are the same as the base 16″ GT wheels though, they’re not unique to the GTS.

  5. As a former 248A package owner, I can say, rare? Yes. Interesting? I guess. But otherwise, meh.

    Another grail- the 76/77 Olds 442 with factory 5 speed

    1. Yeah, I like the idea of the GTS and if you were buying new it was a good way to get the better performace at a lower cost. 27 years latter there seems to be little reason to chose this over an similiar condition GT, I doubt there is much difference in price and it doesn’t seem likely that a GTS will go up anymore in value than the GT, but who knows.

      A better “holy grail” SN95 is the 1995 Cobra R, but those are unobtanium.

  6. Holy hell, I own this car! Whoo hoo!!! I own a legit Autopian Holy Gail! You all just made my day. Bought it 10-11 years ago because the 95 mustang was what I wanted but couldn’t afford when I was in high school back in the late 1900’s. I wasn’t specifically looking for a gts just wanted the 5.0 and 5 speed.

    Mine was originally red but a previous owner had repainted yellow. It is weird how it is spec’d that you don’t notice until comparing to a standard gt. No fog lights, rear window defroster, or cruise control. I do have AC, power mirrors, and a power drivers seat, passenger seat is manual. There is a factory spoiler but I’m unsure if that was optioned new or added later by a previous owner. I have done some of the standard basic bolt ons but nothing that can’t be returned stock. These make for a fun driver that has a usable enough back seat that my kids can still enjoy riding in too.

    1. A buddy of mine had one of these in the late 90s. Not only did no one know what a GTS was, but apparently the dealer had decided to install a OEM spoiler which made it even harder to distinguish from a GT. He spent a lot of time explaining to other car guys what it was.

  7. So I know a Mustang isn’t perhaps autopian prime – too familiar, too non-quirky, and too many yahoos own ’em.

    But for me anyway (and maybe Mercedes), what makes this one worthy is its complete throwback enthusiast nature coupled with its timing.

    Ford wasn’t making these for people to show off on social media or to collect in hopes they’d be worth $$ later on, it was making them for people to drive hard. And you got modern reliability and passive (aka non-intrusive) safety features to boot. It perhaps sat at the transition point of our automotive experience.

    My favorite general review of the this-era Mustang came from Consumer Reports, who in addition to a lower-half filled oval noted simply “the appeal of this primitive rear driver continues to elude us.” That is, it was visceral and unencumbered in way that was already by then starting to become rare. And the GTS perhaps the most of them all.

    My story: I really wanted one of these when they came out (I knew about them from the car mags at the time), but wasn’t in any financial position to acquire one. Years later, I finally was, but of course I was way too late. So I ended up getting a barebones 2002 GT with absolutely no options. Cloth seats, base radio, no retro wheels. Had the styling gingerbread, but I felt it was the closest thing to the feel of the GTS.

    And I still have her, 20 years later. She was my daily driver for 10 of those (all weather, everything but ice), and has done it all from autocross to drag to track. She proudly bears the scars of doing what she was born to do, and I’ll keep her for the rest of my life if I can.

  8. All I can say is I loved my ’89 LX 5.0 hatchback. If the GTS experience was anything like that, it would have been the one I would have bought.

    I was never a fan of all the plastic cladding on the GT. I don’t recall my ’89 being particularly option deficient otherwise. It didn’t have a rear window defogger, but I always attributed that to it being an Arizona car. That was the only option I missed. After I moved to Colorado, I had new back glass put in with the heating elements and added the switch. All the wiring was already there.

    One of the things I loved most about it is the way it pulled. Most cars would do fine up until 60 mph or so. That 5.0 would keep pulling well past that.

    1. The 1987to 1989 GT’s were for some reason the best years it seemed like. many of them routinely walked away from t he 90 and up 5.0’s, but this one has that Thunderbird restricted intake and the 215 HP seemed a lot more optimistic at the time. I can appreciate the rarity, but I am not sure I would buy any SN95 mustang. The v6 one my mom had did not turn very well(no U turn without 3 points) and the Auto Trans was pretty slushy.

  9. I didn’t know about the SN95 Mustang GTS… and I suspect this was a US-specific model. I don’t remember it being offered in Canada. But it definitely looks like the correct trim to pick in the years it was offered.

  10. I wonder how many of the 5000 or so GTS’s went straight to Saleen.
    My understanding is that the LX 5.0 option was a result of Saleen wanting a base model with the 302 to build their versions upon. I would think they would have their hands in something like the GTS, too.

  11. As the owner of a 35k all original, non optioned GTS I can tell you they did not come with ABS and a radio with cassette player was standard in them. Happy to see this article about them as most people have no idea what they are! Thanks for writing!

  12. Grail Suggestion: 02-03 Ford Ranger FX4 with manual trans + t-case. The shift-it-yourself t-case was available on the top trim FX4 with a manual. Plus it got other goodies like skid plated, forged Alcoa wheels, a torsen rear diff, and more.

  13. Here’s a modern Holy Grail, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Carbon Edition Turbo. Released for the 2021 model year, the Carbon Edition presented a new paint color in Polymetal Gray to us swines who didn’t deserve such a rare commodity. Even better, the Turbo engine from the CX-9 was optional and could be have in FWD guise for torque steer joy.

    So when the 2022 CX-5 Carbon Edition rolled up, the Turbo engine was dropped, as was the Bose system and the power liftgate (thanks, chip shortage). The only way you can tell by one of these today is a simple ‘Turbo’ badge they put on the back of the cars starting in 2021. RIP to Mazda insanity of doing this for the sake of why-the-hell-not. Rotary engine, anyone?

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