Ford has brought back the 1960s California Special package for its latest 5.0-liter Mustang GT. Road Test Editor Howard Walker gets to grips with this 
drop-top pony express.

We’re doing a little California Dreamin’ here, top down in a retro V8 Mustang California Special, Mamas & the Papas on the stereo. Life is good. And the Ponycar we’re riding here is a sweetheart; a ‘16 GT convertible with retina-searing Race Red paint, a throaty 5.0-liter 435-horsepower V8 under the hood and the super-cool California Special trim.

The original California Special was a limited-edition option on Shelby and GT Mustang coupes offered by SoCal Ford dealers way back in the late 1960s. Now they’re solid collector items.

They were badged GT/CS – for California Special – and offered with big-block 390 V8s as well as the rarer Cobra Jet 428. Production ran for less than six months, between February and August 1968. In total, just 4,118 were built.

These days $20-to-30-grand will buy you a decent 390-powered example, though the notchback coupe styling is, to me, still an acquired taste. Disappointingly, no California Special fastbacks or drop-tops were made.

For 2016, Ford has brought back the California Special as a $1,995 option on the V8-powered Mustang GT Premium fastback coupes and ragtop models. And it’s well worth the asking price. It adds gorgeous black-painted 19-inch alloys, a deeper front splitter, a unique grille with a tri-bar pony badge, subtle hood and side stripes, and a funky-looking, retro trunk-mounted wing. Inside, the seats are trimmed in ebony leather with sexy black suede inserts and red contrast stitching. There’s also a unique aluminum dash finish with ‘California Special’ badging, and marginally less low-rent floor mats with red stitching.

Yes, you can get all this Californication in the rakish Mustang GT Fastback, but if you live here in Florida, why the heck would you not want the convertible? It’s like going to Barnacle Bill’s in Sarasota and ordering prime rib!
So, twist the handle on the windshield header, toggle the switch, and in the time it takes to say “Which way to Siesta Key?” the canvas top has powered back and you’re feeling that warm sun on your face.

And while Mustangs these days can be had with fuel-sipping 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-bangers, there’s nothing like a big ol’ V8 for putting a smile on your face. And Ford’s latest 5.0-liter 435-horsepower Coyote V8 that powers the GT is a peach. Blip the throttle and it sounds like Dolph Lundgren gargling with roofing nails! Punch it, and this Motown thoroughbred will giddy-up to 60 mph from standstill in under five seconds. That’s feisty.
Of course fuel economy is pretty dreadful. While EPA figures show 15 mpg city and 24 highway, my week of admittedly mostly around-town-let’s-blip-the-throttle driving, saw an average of, er, 13.8 mpg. But life’s too short to worry about gas mileage. Just drop the top, crank up the stereo and head to the beach.

And this is one fun-to-drive roadster. The steering is nicely weighted and precise, the six-speed automatic shifts sweetly, though rather lazily, and there’s grip-a-plenty from the 19-inch rubber. While the ride is firm, it won’t loosen your dental work.
While you can still have fun in a base V6 Mustang Convertible for just over $30-grand, you’d love this V8-powered GT ragtop which kicks off at $42,795. My CS tester, with optional automatic, thumping 12-speaker stereo and Nav, topped out at a rather-hefty $47,575.

As for the sheer joy of a little California Dreamin’ in a red Mustang convertible? Pretty priceless!

For more information about the latest Mustangs, please visit http://www.ford.com/cars/mustang/trim/gtpremiumfastback/