Every one of Ford’s aviation-themed AirVenture Oshkosh show cars – ranked

For well over a decade, Ford has been building aviation-themed one-off show cars for the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosk. It’s a huge airshow and aviation gathering that takes place every summer when we’re not in lockdown. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) also organizes charities centered around aviation – this is where Ford comes into play.

As the show is rolling into Oshkosh, Ford reveals a new custom show car centered around a particular aviation theme which changes every year. They’ll use it to commemorate a certain plane, honor a war hero, or pay respects to a squadron or demo team. It then gets auctioned off with all proceeds going to one of EAA’s charities. These charities typically revolve around getting future generations and underserved communities involved in aviation.

A total of twelve cars have been built and donated up to this point with over $4 million raised. After a hiatus last year for reasons, a thirteenth car was just revealed (I’ll cover it Friday in the news recap) based on the Mach-E. Seeing that news release got me thinking about all of Ford’s previous AirVenture Oshkosh show cars. It’s one of the annual traditions I always look forward to covering because it combines two of my favorite things and they rarely miss the mark while doing so. Because the internet loves SEO-driven lists that count down the top whatever, I’m gonna run through all thirteen of the Ford Oshkosh show cars and talk about why they’re good or in some cases less than good. So in order from the least good to the most good, here we go.

F-22 F-150 Raptor

I remember emitting an audible sigh when I first saw this. It wasn’t because it was the first of these Oshkosh show cars that wasn’t a Mustang, it’s because the link they tried to make with their choice of vehicle was a little too on the nose, and I don’t think it worked. Someone really thought that trying to make an off-road spec F-150 resemble a stealth fifth generation air superiority fighter was the way to go. However I can imagine there would have been an equal amount of criticism if they didn’t use something called the Raptor to make a vehicle themed after the F-22 Raptor. So I can understand the choice.

But they could’ve at least done more to get it to actually resemble an F-22. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a cool truck. I love all of the off road performance enhancements they made so it can truly conquer sand dunes and rough terrain – ya know, just like a real F-22! But you’d never associate it with an F-22 if not for the giant lettering on the side and the big plane they put on the grille. And the paint scheme doesn’t match that of an F-22… like, at all. It’s the one and only time that I was a bit underwhelmed by one of these show cars. Don’t worry, as far as I’m concerned it’s the one and only time I think they missed the mark. it gets way better from here.

Mustang AV8R

This one is low on the list as well, but not because it’s bad. The Mustang AV8R was the first custom car Ford built specifically for Oshkosh. It doesn’t really follow a specific plane or squadron theme like the rest of them and as a result is the more generic-looking project of the bunch. It’s the one where the theming is just “planes”, and not F-22 Raptor, a famous P-51 Mustang, or a WWII squadron. I do quite like it though despite the vagueness. The color scheme inside and out is attractive and they even supercharged it. There’s not really anything I can criticize here. It’s just that everything which came after it is far more interesting. But for a first shot, it’s not bad at all.

Ole Yeller Mustang

With this car, Ford honored a beloved plane and its legendary pilot. Ole Yeller is a very distinctive P-51 Mustang once owned and made famous by Bob Hoover, who is without a doubt one of the best pilots to ever walk the earth. He was a highly decorated fighter pilot in WWII and test pilot, but perhaps became most known as the father of modern aerobatics. His airshow routines were jaw-dropping and many of them were performed with a bright yellow and green P-51 Mustang affectionately known as Ole Yeller. It’s this plane that Ford tried to commemorate with a bright yellow and green GT350.

And… I don’t think it looks that great. It gets much closer to resembling its subject than the Raptor truck did because they at least got the colors right. But the wheel choice is pretty terrible, the green window tint is… strange, and that wing looks like it was pulled off a teen’s EcoBoost that crashed at a sideshow takeover. It does get bonus points for having neon lights on it though. I can’t knock Ford for a lack of effort and I must admit it’s gotta be a fun car to see in person. But I just don’t like it that much. I only put it ahead of the AV8R because of the neon.

WASP Mach-E

This Mach-E is what was just revealed this week and has the distinction of being the first electric show car for Oshkosh. But more importantly, it highlights a little known but consequential chapter of WWII history. The WASPs – or Women Airforce Service Pilots – were a group of American volunteer pilots who were responsible for transporting new planes to airfields where they were needed. Planes of all types were being built as quickly as humanly possible – so many in fact that it was hard to get enough personnel to fly them out of there. Around a thousand dedicated, talented, and brave women logged over 60 million miles to ensure that new planes got into the hands of our combat-trained pilots. A downside to being the first to fly a new plane cross country is that you’d be the first to encounter a defect – as a result, 38 of them lost their lives in service. WASPs were badass. Plain and simple.

This WASP Mach-E aims to serve as a small token of gratitude for the sacrifices they made. Sporting a custom paint job which nicely represents the sort of planes they’d be flying at the time and appropriate WASP badging and logos, it’s not hard to miss the theme they were going for. I really like this one, though I wish it was a little more than just a paint job and a few interior touches. I get the Mach-E is still a very new car for Ford, but some new bodywork or even aftermarket wheels (those are stock too) would’ve done wonders for it. It could’ve been a chance for Ford to show off some Ford Performance upgrades (assuming they exist yet). They did good with this one. I just think the rest of the cars on this list are better.

SR-71 Mustang

This was one I legitimately forgot about until researching for this piece. It was a project that saw two titans from Ford’s racing history collaborate to honor a plane that needs no introduction and the aircrews that were a cut above the rest. This SR-71-themed Mustang is probably the most sinister looking of the bunch. It takes the “Blackbird” name to heart with a matte black and gray finish with some red accents. What makes it for me though is the silver SR-71 graphics along the sides and over the top of the car. One doesn’t need to see the graphic on the roof to know exactly what plane they were trying to mimic. This one is just cool.

Mustang F-35 Lightning II

Ah yes. The widely loved and not at all controversial F-35 Lightning II. The winning design from the Joint Strike Fighter program, a competition for defense contractors which asked “how can we build the most overly complicated fifth-gen jet that has serious compromises as a design feature”. The jet was already earning a bad rap around the time that this tribute Mustang debuted several years ago, but I can’t fault Ford for their execution… too much.

Hands-down the best part about this car is how the livery includes the signature F-35 tail art that was painted on one of the early test models (CF-01). I love the pattern, its colors, and how nicely it fits the Mustang. Having the flags of all the nations who were involved in the JSF program along the door is also a nice touch. The yellow-tinted windows nicely mimics the canopy on the real plane as well. There’s a few things I’m not crazy about like the front splitter with fake bracing taken straight off every S550 build you see that also has an “insert crowd here” sticker or the monster claw pattern over one of its headlights. I can guarantee you’ve seen one before.

Apollo Edition Mustang

One of this nation’s greatest accomplishments was the inspiration for this out of this world fun project. NASA’s Apollo program which gave the world its first moon landing and countless other achievements was honored by this nicely themed Mustang. Custom white and black paint mimics the signature color scheme of the mighty rockets which propelled earth’s bravest into the cold depths of space. Red USA lettering in a vertical orientation and the flag above it is directly lifted from the Saturn V which got the moon landing missions off the ground. All of the Apollo theming inside, including the insignia with all Apollo mission patches proudly displayed. It suffers from the same tacky front splitter as the Lightning II Mustang, but that’s the only thing I don’t like about it. A very cool and thoughtful design overall. And it too gets bonus points for having neon underglow.

Mustang AV-X10

The AV-X10 Mustang was a follow up to the AV8R and was built on the then-new 2010 Mustang GT. It’s probably the most tame of all the cars on this list but I think it accomplishes a lot with relatively little. It was the first to be modeled after a specific type of aircraft – the P-51 Mustang, because of course – and wears a livery that’s very similar to what many of them wore. Silver body, yellow nose/cowling, and contrasting white vertical stabilizer/rudder. And for good measure, a pinup nose art, something that was extremely common on WWII aircraft which helped give the plane and its aircrew a unique character.

This one is named Dearborn Doll, and while I can’t verify if it was ever a real nickname given to a warbird in the past, it would’ve made for a damn good one. The interior upholstery was completely redone as well to give it an old school look and feel that fits the era. But my favorite touch is the ghosted insignia on the glass roof which mimics the roundel seen on US Navy and Army Air Force planes in the latter half of the war. There’s not much to this one, but it’s such a classy and attractive design that I can’t think of anything else to add to it. For a while I considered adapting this livery to my Mustang.

US Air Force Thunderbirds Edition Mustang

The US Air Force Thunderbirds were honored with a Mustang back in 2013. It came at a difficult time when budget cuts forced the legendary demo team to cancel all but one of their shows for the season. While the red, white, and blue F-16s couldn’t fly, this Thunderbirds-themed Mustang looked like it wanted to.

The signature Thunderbirds livery was adapted quite nicely to a widebody Mustang. It was only missing the distinctive nose cone pattern but probably because it would’ve been difficult to apply to the car and have it look good. But everything else from the vertical stabilizer art to the team logo and the flags of all the countries the team has performed for are perfectly captured on this one-off livery. And that splitter up front doesn’t have a fake set of braces on it so I like that part too. The wheels are nice but obnoxiously big. Otherwise, solid car. Beautifully done. An outstanding one-off project for an outstanding demo team.

Mustang Red Tails Edition

Real talk. If you’re unfamiliar with the Tuskegee Airmen or the “Red Tails”, fix that literally right now. The mostly black airmen and supporting crew were the first Afircan American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. They flew bombers for a brief period of time but were most known for their bomber escort missions over Europe. Their P-51 Mustangs were easily identified by the red noses and tails, earning them the Red Tails moniker. While some may say they never lost a bomber during an escort (they did – bomber losses in general were insane), the truth is they had an incredible record that was very well above average. They earned their place in history and were remarkable aviators, who continued to be treated like shit when they got home.

This 2013 Mustang pays homage to the pilots and crew of the 332nd Fighter Group in one of the most creative cars of the bunch. It begins with a red nose featuring a yellow checkered pattern – common for the period – and a black anti-glare stripe over the hood which also proudly displays the Tuskegee Airmen nose art. To mimic the exhaust stabs of a P-51, they attached some exhaust piping just behind the front wheel. I can’t find evidence that they were functional in any way but truth be told I didn’t look very hard. The remaining markings include the Army Air Force roundel of the era, a stylized number done exactly as the real planes had it, and of course, a red tail. This one is definitely high on the list of my favorites. Super well done and it’s for a group that deserves all the recognition they get.

Blue Angels Mustang GT

Ten years later, this one is still one of my favorites and I say that for a few reasons. First off, my father was a naval aviator so I’m required to place it above most of the other Air Force-themed cars. On a more personal note, I just love the Blue Angels and have been to at least a dozen of their shows since I was old enough that my parents could bring me to an airshow without me crying. But as it relates to this specific car, I think it looks stunning.

The also gorgeous Blue Angels livery works very well on this 2012 Mustang GT. The deep blue paint with “screaming yellow” accents isn’t an exact match to what you’d find on one of their Hornets, but it’s damn close enough. But they still went as far as adding the Commanding Officer’s number and yellow accent to the rear wing’s vertical stabilizer-shaped end plates. And those wheels… best wheels of any car in this list so far. The whole car is just plain gorgeous. It would be my number 1 if not for the next two cars on my SEO-driven list.

Old Crow Roush Mustang

When it comes to accuracy, this one takes top honors. It’s 2019’s Ford Oshkosh car built in collaboration with Roush who knows a thing or two about Mustangs… and not just the Ford Mustang. Jack Roush is something of an aviation geek and owns a P-51 Mustang which was restored and painted in Old Crow’s colors. Old Crow was famously flown by US Army Air Force Col. Bud Anderson, a WWII triple ace pilot who was highly decorated. So when Ford partnered with Roush to honor this legendary pilot and his famous plane, Roush had the source material.

The result is a perfectly-detailed tribute built on a 2019 Mustang GT fully kitted up with Roush and Ford Performance hardware. A fully custom interior with canvas seat upholstery and military-spec green dash and door panels is a great representation of the plane’s cockpit. It’s obviously way more luxurious, but the colors and the vibes it gives are spot on. And that red shift knob isn’t just there to stand out – the mixture control lever in a P-51 is bright red like that. The exterior is where this thing is truly outstanding. All of the colors are perfect. The graphics representing the checkered nose, the top of its engine cowling, the Old Crow lettering, the invasion stripes, the red tail section, and all of its squadron markings are accurately represented. You can immediately tell how much thought, passion, and effort was put into this project. It’s not just one of the very best Oshkosh cars Ford has done, it’s one of the best one-off projects anyone has done. This could have easily been number one on my list, and as far as I’m concerned the top two can be interchangeable. But what comes next is just too damn cool.

Eagle Squadron Mustang

So vast and complex was WWII that this incredible story had completely slipped under my radar, even as someone who is deeply interested in military aviation and history. The Eagle Squadrons, as they were collectively known, were three Royal Air Force fighter squadrons formed by volunteer pilots from America. They formed in 1940 while Britain was defending itself from Nazi air raids during the Battle of Britain. America had not formally joined the war yet, at least not as a fighting force, but thousands of her volunteers were eager to kick some Nazi ass. Thousands applied and ultimately 244 Americans served with the RAF in these squadrons until they were eventually transferred to the US Army Air Force in 1942.

It’s these brave pilots who were honored with what I believe is the best car Ford produced for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Ford Performance teamed up with Vaughn Gittin, Jr. and his RTR brand to produce a one-off Mustang that legitimately stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it. I never once thought an RAF Spitfire-themed Mustang was something that needed to happen, but it did. The iconic RAF camo pattern (done up as an Eagle Squadron plane of course) is beautifully remastered for the Mustang. Its earthy tones and grays/whites with yellow accents are exactly what you’d find on a Spitfire from that era. What’s underneath that paint though is equally stunning.

RTR supplied all of the other visual upgrades for the car, including a fantastic custom carbon fiber widebody kit with chin spoiler, turning vanes, dive planes, and a Gurney lip on the rear spoiler. The fender pieces feature rivets as well which fit the theme nicely. It rides on beautiful RTR Aero 7 two-piece forged wheels as well. On top is a ghosted Eagle Squadron logo along with the RAF roundels. A healthy dose of custom interior touches finish off the Spitfire theme, including a hand-engraved badge made from genuine Spitfire aluminum. Just like the Old Crow Mustang, there’s not a single thing I’d change about this car. I’ve been using “perfect” a lot in this piece, but it can’t be used enough for this car. Ford Performance and Vaughn/RTR made something truly special here. Just like a real Spitfire is a deadly weapon of war with unparalleled beauty, this Eagle Squadron Mustang is equal parts gorgeous and menacing. And that’s why it’s my favorite.

These cars were all for a great cause

Well there’s my list. Every single one of these one-off projects was special and cool in its own way. Some are definitely better than others, but each of them has still managed to fetch six figures at auction and benefit wonderful charities run by EAA. From inspiring the next generation of pilots to providing a chance for the underserved to make their mark on history, these cars have truly helped people. I may mock certain design choices or say the F-22 F-150 was terrible (because it is), but they’re all nevertheless a creative way to raise money for charity and honor some people who deserve to be honored. If even one person clicks on a picture of a cool Mustang and gets to learn about the WASPs, the Tuskegee Airmen, or the Eagle Squadron, then it’s all worth it.

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[Image sources: Ford, EAA]

I'm the guy that spoiled the site with all the new car stuff. Hooniverse News Editor since 2011, amateur motorsport photographer, sim racer, and mountain road enthusiast.

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