Courtesy of GAA Classic Cars
  • 351 Ram Air
  • Factory 4-speed
  • 38k actual miles
  • True survivor with 95% original paint
  • Original North Carolina car coming from a private collection
  • First time offered for sale
  • All original sheet metal

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Years Produced:1971
Number Produced:36,449
Original List Price:Approximately $3,500
SCM Valuation:$24,000
Tune Up Cost:$350
Chassis Number Location:Top edge of the dash on the driver’s side, visible through the windshield
Engine Number Location:On the rear driver’s side of the block, just below the head
Club Info:Mustang Club of America
Alternatives:1971 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, 1971 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400, 1971 Plymouth ’Cuda
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot ST0113, sold for $39,055, including buyer’s premium, at GAA’s Classic Cars Auction in Greensboro, NC, on March 2, 2019.

There is no denying the ’71 Mustang was, well… different. This was the first major update of the original Pony car since 1967, and its exaggerated nose, wider stance and nearly flat roof on SportBack models (just a 14-degree rake), was a shock to the senses. Even its advertising had a new theme: “Mustang. It’s a Personal Thing.”

Thunderbird, that’s a Personal car. Mustang? Thankfully, under the new sheet metal were the underpinnings of the previous Mustangs, and there were still two true performance machines available, the Boss 351 and the Mach 1.

Love it and hate it

I remember when these new Mustangs arrived in showrooms the reaction was very polarized. Even Lee Iacocca weighed in: “They say all good things must come to an end, and the Mustang was no exception,” wrote Iacocca in his eponymous autobiography.

As general manager of the Ford Division, Iacocca was instrumental in the concept and creation of the most successful new-car launch in history. But the “Father of the Mustang” lamented, “Within a few years of its introduction, the Mustang was no longer a sleek horse. It was more a fat pig…”

The one inch in wheelbase and three inches in width added in 1971 were mostly to accommodate Ford’s monster 429 engine, but much of the newest Mustang’s bulk was an illusion — a design meant to look larger than it actually was.

Never one to mince words, Car and Driver commented, “It’s from the inside, from the driver’s seat, that you discover how the Boss has been sabotaged by the stylists…. your view of the Mustang itself from the driver’s seat creates the illusion of an immense machine — something about the size of a float in the Rose Parade.”

Performance Mustangs

The Boss 351 was Ford’s continuation of the successful Boss 302, designed for homologation in the SCCA Trans Am championship. The increase in displacement gave the Boss better acceleration while retaining the high-revving capabilities of the 302.

“For being bigger, the Mustang is still a very nimble machine,” wrote Sports Car Graphic magazine. “Variable-rate power steering and seemingly unlimited power with excellent throttle response means it snaps to your every whim.”

But at the end of 1970, Ford pulled out of all forms of racing, despite winning the Trans Am series that year, and the Boss 351 never got to defend the championship.

At around $4,500, the Boss 351 was expensive, plus the whole performance market unpredictably declined rapidly after 1969. Ford planned on producing 10,000 Bosses between 1971 and 1972, but just 1,806 were built in ’71 only.

The other performance ’71 Mustang, Mach 1, was Ford’s quick Pony for the masses. Like the Boss 351, the Mach 1 was available only in fastback form.

The base engine of the $3,200 Mach 1 was a toned-down 302, but the popular M-code 351 Ram Air option made things interesting. No, this wasn’t quite the super-high-performance 330-hp engine exclusive to the Boss 351, but at a conservative 285 horses, it provided plenty of giddy-up.

There was also that giant powerplant, the 429 Cobra Jet, which produced nearly 100 hp more than the M-code. But that came with a penalty in weight, handling and cost. Add the “Drag Pack” option, and it became the 429 Super Cobra Jet with gears and equipment specific to drag racing.

Theft and fame

With no real racing presence and a love-it/hate-it design, the 1971–73 Mustangs could have gone off into history nearly forgotten. That might have happened if not for a Mustang named “Eleanor,” star of the original 1974 low-budget, cult-classic movie “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

The movie’s protagonist, Maindrian Pace, is an insurance investigator who also happens to be the leader of a professional car-theft ring. A South American drug lord offers Pace $400,000 for the theft of 48 specific vehicles, to be delivered to the Long Beach docks within five days. Pace gives each vehicle a female code name, but the most challenging to locate and heist is the Yellow Gold Mustang, code-named Eleanor.

A suitable ’71 Mustang (disguised as a ’73 in the movie) is finally stolen just as Pace is surrounded by the police. The ensuing chase across five Southern California cities cements Eleanor’s (and the 1971–73 Mustang’s) place in movie and automotive history — at 40 minutes, this is the longest chase scene ever filmed.

Fresh Ford

Our featured 1971 Mach 1 really hits the sweet spot in desirability. It’s about as factory fresh as an unrestored ’71 can be, yet the mileage is not so low that it is relegated to museum use only. That’s a good thing, since its 285-hp Ram Air engine and 4-speed gearbox just beg to be driven. There’s even a bonus: The Code E Medium Yellow Gold factory paint is pretty close to Eleanor’s generic school-bus yellow hue.

If this was a ’71 Boss 351, the median price today would be $82,500, but the much more plentiful Mach 1 totals in at $24,000. Only the rare 429 Cobra Jet (1,252 built) and Super Cobra Jet (613 built) options could spike the price up to the $75k range. Given this Mach’s low original miles, entertaining powertrain options and spectacular originality, its $36,500 sale seems to me enough above the median to be fair.

All things considered, while this car wasn’t stolen, it was a good deal for both the buyer and seller.

(Introductory description courtesy of GAA.)

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