1968 Ford Mustang California Special – Classic Style, Modern Ride

Although the Murphy name implies things that can go wrong, John Murphy will show you how to set your sights on how things can go right. John always finds the light with his good-natured optimism and sense of humor. Case in point is his Wimbledon White ’68 California Special with red appointments and a J-code 302-4V V-8 engine with all the trimmings, including SelectAire air conditioning and swing-away tilt steering wheel. Not only did John unearth a GT/CS, he found one that’s well-optioned.

John’s search for a California Special dates back to 1990. There were wild goose chases and disappointments. In March 2008, John found this one in the GT/CS forum. It’s not only a genuine GT/CS, it’s also generously appointed. The coveted Marti Report was faxed, images were sent, and a sale price was discussed. Plane tickets were purchased. Suitcases were packed.

John understood the risks. He was prepared to return home empty-handed if the car didn’t measure up. John’s optimism played in his favor. When he picked up the car and headed home, he noted the car’s problems and made a list, which got progressively longer as the miles passed. By the time John arrived home, he realized that the GT/CS needed a lot of work to become the concours-driven show ride he desired.

In particular, the interior needed refreshing, so the entire cabin was gutted for cleaning and restoration. Because most of John’s previous restorations had been ’65-’66 Mustangs, he had a lot to learn about second-generation rides. Although ’67-’68 Mustangs look basically the same as their ancestors, there were many refinements that created a learning curve for this veteran restorer. John was able to restore some interior items. Others had to be replaced.

What bothered John most about the GT/CS was its dated technology, inefficiency, and noise. The drive home was noisy with a lot of road boom, driveline harmonics, and slipstream roar. John wanted to maintain the Mustang’s classic character while making it more fun to drive, which meant improvements had to be invisible. Before the fresh interior went in, extensive insulation and soundproofing was installed. Virginia Classic Mustang set him up with everything necessary to quiet the ride–insulation and sound deadening throughout, trunk divider, and rubber-backed material for underneath the carpet.

“The Auto Custom Carpets mass-backed carpet weighs 42 pounds instead of the normal jute-backed carpet sets, which weigh just 15 pounds,” John tells us.

The swing-away steering column presented its own set of problems. “Without help from Shelby guru Peter Disher, it would have been impossible to have the swing-away mechanism work properly,” John says.

Once John had a quiet interior, he focused on cosmetics—instrument cluster, air conditioning outlets and controls, deluxe seat belts, new headliner, and date-coded Carlite window glass all around. The good news for John was that a previous repaint needed little more than a cut and buff to be show worthy. John was able to clean up and detail the styled steel wheels, caps, and trim rings.

“If there was a serviceable original part for this car, it was given preference over a reproduction or aftermarket replacement,” John comments. “The time spent renewing old parts was rewarding for me.”

John’s goal wasn’t to build a pristine, concours-restored trailered car or a thoroughbred, but instead a nicely restored and tastefully modified driver he could take anywhere. He installed Halogen headlights for better nighttime visibility. After the timing set failed during the car’s first cross-country trip, John became committed to improving reliability, pulling the engine to perform a rebuild with hardened exhaust valve seats, new guides and springs, a stock replacement hydraulic camshaft, and cast pistons. Machine work was handled by Capitol City Machine Shop in Springfield.

John’s concern over engine cooling convinced him to install a C6OE-G thermostatic clutch fan instead of the original flex fan. This not only improved cooling, but offered quieter operation. John tells us, “Even on the hottest day with air conditioning running, the temperature needle remains rock steady.”

The car’s original C4 Select-Shift was replaced by an AOD transmission from an ’89 Mustang. “The car now provides 23 miles to the gallon on the open road,” John says, “with an average of 20 mpg over 1,500 miles with the A/C on.”

Purists might be inclined to give John a hard time over his hidden modifications, but nothing has been done to this car that couldn’t be reversed in short order. “This is a great car to drive,” John observes. “It is quiet, cool, and dependable.”

It’s a modern-day ride with the style and flare of a classic Mustang.

’68 California Special Facts

4,118 built, including 251 marketed in Denver as High Country Specials
Marketed from mid-February through August 1968
All produced at Ford’s Milpitas, California (San Jose) assembly plant
Some California Specials were sold in sales districts outside of California, including Kansas City, Oklahoma, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Arizona. We’ve also heard of California Specials being sold in Western Canada
Most were 289-2V equipped though you could order the California Special with any ’68 Mustang engine, including the 200 six and 428 CJ.
California Special is also known as the GT/CS