For a car enthusiast, knowing the history of the Ford Mustang is as basic as knowing the laws of thermodynamics are to a physicist, knowing Hebrew is to a rabbi or knowing when the bacon is done to a cook at Denny's. The Mustang is a pillar of American automotive lore, and the car that brought sporting dash and styling at a price almost anyone could afford.
The Mustang has never been an exotic car. Even the rarest, most powerful Mustangs ever built (such as the '69 Boss 429) were assembled with haphazard care by a UAW workforce facing a quick-moving, continuous production line with parts that were shared in common with six-cylinder Falcons, four-door Fairlanes and stripped Galaxies. Handcrafting and taking the time to do something extra special has never been part of Mustang production.
But that hasn't kept the Mustang from capturing the hearts of drivers for nearly 40 years. As ordinary a car as the Mustang has always been, it has always been extraordinarily attractive.
Ford's Mustang was conceived in full knowledge that in the mid-'60s the biggest population bubble in history was coming of age in America. Baby boomers would rule the '60s and there was little reason to think they wanted cars that were anything like their parents' cars. The production Mustang was shown to the public for the first time inside the Ford Pavilion at the New York World's Fair on April 17, 1964 two months and nine days after the Beatles first came to New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. It went on sale at Ford dealers that same day.
The 1964 1/2 production Mustang followed two Mustang concept cars. The Mustang I shown in 1962 was a midengine two-seater powered by a V4. The Mustang II show car first displayed at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., during October 1963, was a front-engine, four-seater foreshadowing the production machine that went on sale six months later. Compared to those two, the production machine was dowdy. Compared to every other American car then in production, except the Corvette, the Mustang was gorgeously sleek.
To make the Mustang affordable it needed to share much of its engineering with an existing Ford product. That product was the smallest Ford of the time, the compact Falcon. In fact, the first Mustangs were built in the same Dearborn, Mich., plant as the Falcon.
Initially offered as either a notchback coupe or convertible, the Mustang's unibody structure was laid over a 108-inch wheelbase and stretched out 181.6 inches from bumper to bumper. While it shared its front double-wishbone/coil spring and leaf spring rear suspension as well as its overall length with the Falcon, the proportions of the Mustang were different. Its cockpit was pushed further back on the chassis, resulting in a longer hood and shorter rear deck design, and both its roof and cowl were lower. It's with those proportions detailed with such iconic touches as the running horse in the grille, the side scallops along the flanks and the taillights divided into three sections the Mustang became a car people were instantly passionate about.
Engine choices started with the utterly lame 170-cubic-inch (2.8-liter) OHV straight six that made just 101 horsepower; then proceeded through a 200-cubic-inch (3.3-liter) OHV straight six rated at a flaccid 116 horsepower; a 260-cubic-inch (4.3-liter) OHV V8 breathing through a two-barrel carburetor and making 164 horsepower; a 210-horsepower two-barrel-equipped 289-cubic-inch (4.7-liter) V8; a four-barrel 289 making 220 horsepower; and, at the top, the famous "K-code" high-compression, solid-lifter, four-barrel 289 pumping out a lusty 271 horsepower. K-code-equipped cars got a special badge on their front fenders indicating that not only did the engine displace 289 cubic inches, but that it was also the "High Performance" version.
A three-speed manual transmission was standard with every engine except the 271-horse 289, which was available only with the four-speed manual that was optional on other models. The Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmission was also offered.
Nothing could stop the 1964 1/2 Mustang (especially not its four-wheel drum brakes) and with Ford furiously adding production capacity for the "pony car" at plants around the country, the company sold an amazing 126,538 of them during that abbreviated 1964 model year 97,705 coupes and 28,833 convertibles. The V8s outsold Mustangs equipped with the six by nearly three to one.
The three most significant additions to the Mustang for 1965 were the neat 2+2 fastback body, the optional GT equipment and trim package and optional power front disc brakes. Gone forever was the 260 V8 that few buyers were choosing anyhow.
Even Ford was shocked at America's appetite for the Mustang during '65. It sold an astounding 409,260 coupes, 77,079 2+2 fastbacks and 73,112 convertibles that year. That's a total of 559,451 Mustangs for the '65 model year.
With that many Mustangs in the nation's automotive bloodstream, it was natural that many of them would be raced. But in order to go road racing head to head against Chevrolet's Corvette, Ford needed a two-seater. And rules said that Ford had to make at least 100 of them by January 1965. That's where Carroll Shelby came in.
Shelby, a Texan and longtime racer, saw the potential to slay Corvettes with the Mustang and took 100 of the first 2+2s equipped with the K-code engine built at Ford's San Jose, Calif., plant down to Los Angeles for modification into "GT 350" models. Tossing the rear seats aside, Shelby added such performance items as oversize front disc brakes, a fiberglass hood and a lowered suspension with oversize tires on 15-inch wheels. Shelby's legendary series of modified Mustangs would be built through 1970 in various forms and are today considered some of the most desirable Mustangs ever built. It's impossible to ignore the Shelby Mustangs (which carried Shelby VIN numbers) when recounting Mustang history, but space considerations prevent further discussion of them in this article.
The easiest way to tell the 1966 Mustang from the '65 is the later car's lack of horizontal or vertical dividing bars in the grille the running horse logo seems to float unsupported in the '66's slatted grille. Other changes were limited to color variations, a revised instrument cluster and a few trim tweaks. Incredibly, the '66 was even more popular than the '65 and Ford sold 607,568 of them 499,751 coupes, 35,698 2+2s and 72,119 convertibles. That's still the most Mustangs ever sold during a single model year.
How do you follow total sales of 1,288,557 Mustangs over just two-and-a-half years? Carefully.
By 1967, the Mustang had something it hadn't had before: competition. Chevrolet was now making the Camaro, Pontiac the Firebird, and Plymouth had redesigned the Barracuda into a more serious machine. Even within Ford, Mercury was now selling the Cougar.
Ford's response to that competition was a new, slightly larger Mustang with an all-new body over what was pretty much the same chassis. The wheelbase was still 108 inches, but total length was up two inches to 183.6 inches and every styling feature was just a little bit exaggerated the grille opening was bigger, the side scallops deeper, the taillights were now larger and concave instead of modest and convex, the 2+2 fastback's roof now extended all the way back to the trunk lid's trailing edge and the convertible's rear window was now a two-piece item made of real glass instead of instantly hazing plastic. A hood with dual recesses was optional.
The standard power plant was now the 200-cubic-inch six making 120 horsepower with a 250-cubic-inch (4.1-liter) 155-horsepower six and the 200-, 225- and 271-horsepower K-code 289 V8s optional. New on the menu was a 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) "big-block" V8 breathing through a Holley four-barrel carburetor making 315 horsepower. Accommodating that wider engine meant that the front suspension's track needed to be widened by 2.5 inches for clearance.
With its wider track, the '67 Mustang was a more stable car than the '66. The seats were more comfortable, and the instrumentation was easier to read. It was, generally speaking, a better car in every way that counted. Ford sold 356,271 coupes, 71,042 2+2s and 44,808 convertibles during '67 despite the new competition. Of those, only 472 cars were equipped with the 271-horsepower 289, while around 28,800 had the 390 under their hoods.
Federally mandated side marker lights and a revised grille distinguished the 1968 Mustang from the '67 on the outside, while a slew of new engines set it apart mechanically. A low-performance 195-horsepower 289 V8 was still an option, but the other 289s were gone in favor of two new 302-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) versions of the small block V8. The two-barrel 302 made 220 horsepower, while the four-barrel-equipped version put out 230 horsepower.
More glamorous than the revised small V8s were new 427- and 428-cubic-inch (both convert to about 7.0 liters) versions of the big-block V8. The more radical 427, which had a slightly higher-compression ratio and wilder cam, was rated at 390 horsepower, while the more civilized 428 knocked out 335 horsepower. Both the 427 and 428 were very rare options. Those big engines hinted at what was in store for the Mustang over the next few years.
The Mustang got larger once again for 1969 even though the wheelbase remained 108 inches. The new body for 1969 featured four headlights, a sharp nose with a simpler grille that dispensed with the famed running horse centerpiece and a revision of the fake side scoops on the coupe and convertible. The fastback had large nonfunctional scoops dug high into its rear fenders. Unlike the '67, the '69 design clearly broke from established Mustang styling themes.
But under the sheet metal the Mustang still carried that Falcon-sourced front suspension and the solid rear axle was still perched on leaf springs.
The range of powertrain options grew once again for '69 and those led to the development of exciting new models. Base power still came from the 200-cubic-inch straight six, the 250 six was back again as an option. But the 289 V8s were gone for good with a two-barrel, 220-horsepower 302 now serving as the least intimidating V8 available. Beyond the 302 was a new 351-cubic-inch (5.8-liter) V8 which made 250 horsepower when gasping in air through a two-barrel carb and 290 horsepower with a higher-compression ratio and four-barrel carburetion. The 390 was back making 320 horsepower and two 428s were offered, with the "Cobra Jet" version making 335 horsepower and the "Super Cobra Jet" pounding out 360.
For those who wanted a luxurious Mustang, Ford offered the '69 coupe as a "Grande" model. For those who wanted a performance image, the company came up with a "Mach 1" version of the 2+2 fastback available only with the 351, 390 or 428 engines.
The two most intriguing '69 Mustangs came in the middle of the model run. Both were named "Boss" and both were built for racing.
The Boss 302 Mustang arose because Ford needed a car to go up against the successful Camaro Z28 in the SCCA Trans Am road racing series. So Ford came up with the Boss 302, which benefited from an optimized suspension, a neat Larry Shinoda-designed body package (which included a flat-black hood, rear window louvers and a rear deck spoiler) and a high-compression, deep-breathing 302 V8 making a wicked 290 horsepower. Ford would sell 1,628 of these near-racers and they'd prove effective weapons on the racetrack as well.
The Boss 429 was built only to homologate Ford's spectacular 429-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) hemi-headed V8 for NASCAR stock car competition. The 429 was ludicrously underrated at 375 horsepower (500 horsepower was more like it), and there's no explanation as to why the company insisted on shoehorning the big engine into the Mustang (the front suspension had to be virtually redesigned) instead of putting it in the roomier bay of the Torino, which was the car Ford actually ran in NASCAR. Only 859 Boss 429 fastbacks were built during the '69 model year and they all had large functional scoops on their hoods.
Those Boss 429s were but a drop in the 1969 Mustang sales bucket. In all, Ford sold 299,824 Mustangs that year, including 72,458 Mach 1s and 14,746 convertibles.
Ford went back to just two headlights for the 1970 Mustang, replacing the outboard lights with attractive scoops that fed nothing at all. Other changes included the elimination of the phony side scoops from all models. Also, the 351 V8s now came from Ford's Cleveland plant and were of a slightly different design from the previous 351s that had been built at the Windsor, Ontario, facility.
During the '70 model year, sales dropped to 190,727 Mustangs including 6,318 Boss 302s, 499 Boss 429s and just 7,673 convertibles.
Flat-featured and flabby, the 1971 Mustang was hardly beloved upon its introduction and has never really gained a place in enthusiasts' hearts. The wheelbase stretched to 109 inches and the car grew all the way to 187.5 inches long overall, and that was enough to kill the light, airy look and feel that had made the Mustang so engaging.
Still running on the Falcon-derived chassis, the '71 Mustang had engines ranging from the 250-cubic-inch six rated at 145 horsepower, through a plebeian 302 making 210 horsepower, two 351s at 240 and 285 horsepower and new Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet 429s pounding out 370 and 375 horsepower, respectively. Gone from the scene were both the Boss 302 and Boss 429 and in their place was a new Boss 351 with a (you guessed it) 351 V8 aboard that whacked out 330 horsepower.
Whether it was due to this new car's so-so appearance or the age of the Mustang concept is not known, but only 149,678 '71 Mustangs were produced. That's 41,049 less units than '70 and less than a quarter of the number sold during the 1966 model year.
While the 1972 Mustang was mostly carryover from '71, a change to net horsepower ratings and lower compression ratios (to reduce emissions) knocked the ratings of the 250-cube six to 98 horsepower, the lackluster 302 to 140 horsepower, and the three 351s offered to 163, 248 and 266 horsepower. Gone were both 429s, as well as the Boss 351. Sales slumped to just 111,015.
Power ratings dropped even further during the 1973 model year as emissions regulations began strangling output. The six now made a totally inadequate 88 horsepower, the 302 just 135 ponies, and the two remaining 351s (a two-barrel of Windsor design and a two-barrel Cleveland) just over 150 horsepower each.
Even though 1973 sales picked up to 134,867 cars, it was obviously time for Ford to rethink the Mustang.
Everyone hates the Mustang II. It was too small, underpowered, handled poorly, terribly put together, ill-proportioned, chintzy in its details and altogether subpar. It also sold ridiculously well.
By the early '70s it was obvious to Ford that the pony car market the Mustang had established was changing. Emissions regulations made the high-compression, high-horsepower V8s unsustainable, and baby boomers were increasingly turning to smaller imported cars. Making the Mustang a smaller, more fuel-efficient car seemed like a good idea.
Tossing aside the Falcon components that had underpinned the Mustang from Day One, Ford plopped the 1974 Mustang II (Ford put the "II" there to indicate the extent of the car's change from the oversize '73) atop the basic structure and suspension of its subcompact Pinto. The Pinto was smaller than the Falcon, but otherwise similar. It was still a unibody design, the front suspension was still a double wishbone design and the rear suspension still bolted its solid rear axle to a pair of leaf springs. If there were any steps forward in technology with the Pinto chassis, it was that it had a rack-and-pinion steering gear rather than the Falcon's recirculating ball, and front disc brakes were standard.
The Mustang II rode on a miniscule 96.2-inch wheelbase and stretched out just 175 inches long total. That's 12.8 inches less in wheelbase and 12.5 inches less in overall length than the '73 Mustang. That's also 11.8 inches less in wheelbase and 6.6 inches less in overall length than the original Mustang. And it weighed in about 400 pounds lighter than the '73 version as well.
Despite the smaller size, the Mustang II actually revived traditional Mustang styling cues like the scalloped sides while retaining others like the three-piece taillights and the running horse in the grille. Available as either a notchback coupe or a fastback hatchback, the Mustang II's pricing ranged from $3,134 for a base coupe to $3,674 for a Mach 1 hatchback.
Lighter weight with the same power means more speed. But the Mustang II's reduced mass came along with less power. In fact, the '74 Mustang II was the first Mustang ever to be offered with a four-cylinder engine and without a V8.
The base engine was a single-overhead cam four displacing 2.3 liters (that's 140 cubic inches, and from here on out Ford expressed all Mustang engine sizes metrically) and rated at a truly pathetic 88 horsepower. The only optional engine was the German-built "Cologne" 2.8-liter OHV V6 making an underwhelming 105 horsepower. In stock form, the first Mustang II was underpowered, period. Two transmissions were available, a standard four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic.
In addition to a base notchback and base fastback, a "Ghia" notchback and Mach 1 fastback were offered during '74. Ordering the Mach 1 mandated inclusion of the V6 in the package. The Ghia included a vinyl top and fancy interior trim.
Coming to the market while memories of the OPEC fuel embargo of 1973 were still fresh in buyers' minds, the more economical Mustang II sold a stunning 385,993 units during its inaugural year. As much as the Mustang II is despised today, Ford appreciated its success back then.
A V8 returned to the Mustang lineup for 1975. The 5.0-liter (302 in Amerispeak) V8 had only a two-barrel carburetor through which to breathe, and had to exhale through a catalytic converter; both conspired to limit output to an anemic 122 horsepower. Further, the automatic transmission was the only transmission available behind the V8. The addition of the catalytic converter also tempered the output of the standard four to just 83 horsepower and of the V6 to just 97 horsepower.
The model lineup for '75 was supplemented with a new "MPG" coupe aimed at budget shoppers, but the market's initial enthusiasm for the Mustang II was already waning and production dropped to 188,586 that's just 49 percent of the number made during '74.
Returning essentially unchanged for 1976, the Mustang II was stagnant during the year. All the variations from '75 returned with a new "Stallion" appearance package available on the fastback. But the most notorious addition was the Cobra II package that added a big rear spoiler, a fake hood scoop and blue stripes across white paint to a V8-powered fastback. The Cobra II wasn't any faster than other similarly powered Mustang IIs, but it sure looked radical and Farrah Fawcett-Majors' character, Jill Munroe, drove one on the huge TV hit series Charlie's Angels. Also in '76, the now 134-horsepower V8 was available with a four-speed manual transmission, output of the standard four swelled to a heady 92 horsepower and the V6's rating went to 102 horsepower.
Maybe it was bicentennial-induced hysteria, but Mustang II sales came in at a surprisingly stable 187,567 units a mere 1,019 less than in '75.
Except for some minor trim changes and the expansion of colors available on the Cobra II, the 1977 Mustang II was visually identical to the '76. New to the options list were T-top removable glass roof panels and simulated wire wheel covers. Power from the four and V6 dropped again to 89 and 93 horsepower, respectively. Production dropped about 18 percent to 153,117 cars.
For 1978 the Mustang II got some revised trim and the radical-looking (but mildly performing) "King Cobra" version debuted. The King Cobra wasn't much more than a Cobra II with revised graphics and the hood scoop turned around backward, but it was visually about as nutty a Mustang as has ever been built. Mysteriously, production climbed to 192,410 units.
Thankfully, it was time for Ford to put the Mustang II out of its (and our) misery.
Any car that stays in production through 15 model years has to be counted as a success. But when the all-new 1979 Mustang (no "II" and no "III") was introduced, few would have predicted such a long life for it. Or that it would inspire a passionate following of amazing breadth. Or that it would be used as a cop car.
Tossing aside the wimpy Pinto parts, the 1979 Mustang was built atop the shortened chassis of the Ford Fairmont "Fox" body that had been introduced for '78. While the Fox platform was still a unibody structure, it shared little else with previous Mustangs. The new front suspension was a modified MacPherson strut system that mounted a spring separate from the strut itself, while a new link and coil spring rear suspension held up the back of the car. This basic suspension system would remain in use on Mustangs through at least the 2003 model year.
Available as either a coupe or fastback hatchback, the new Mustang rode on a 100.4-inch wheelbase and was 179.1 inches long. That's a bit more than four inches longer in both dimensions over the Mustang II, but still shorter than the original Mustang's 108-inch wheelbase and 181.6-inch overall length. However, the '79 Mustang was significantly roomier inside than any previous Mustang thanks to a more upright-oriented cockpit and flatter doors that allowed more shoulder and hiproom.
The new Mustang's styling was angular and handsome, but hardly related to previous Mustangs. There was no running horse in the shovel nose grille which was flanked by four square headlights, the sides were devoid of the signature side scallop and the taillights were divided into six segments instead of three. With slightly different blistered fenders, a flatter grille and different taillights, Mercury sold the same car as the Capri. The '79 Mustang was at its best wearing the optional 390mm three-spoke "TRX" wheels and tires, but there was little about it that was intrinsically Mustanglike.
All three engines from the '78 Mustang II carried over to the '79 Mustang. The 2.3-liter SOHC was rated at 88 horsepower, the 2.8-liter Cologne V6 at 109 horsepower and the 4.9-liter (but called a 5.0-liter by Ford) V8 made 140 horsepower. They were joined by a turbocharged version of the four also making 140 horsepower but saddled with epic boost lag and hideously bad reliability. Late in the model year, the old 200-cubic-inch (3.3-liter) OHV straight six reappeared making 94 horsepower. Four-speed manual transmissions were standard behind all engines with a three-speed automatic optional.
The most desirable of all '79 Mustangs would turn out to be the 6,000 Indy pace car replica fastbacks, which featured a unique hood scoop, unique front air dam, unique rear spoiler, black and silver paint with orange graphics and an interior blessed with genuine Recaro front seats. The pace car was available with either turbo four or V8 power and included the TRX wheel and tire package.
With the Ghia trim back on the coupe and a "Cobra" package available on the hatchback (which had a fake hood scoop but no spoilers), the '79 Mustang was a hit. A healthy 369,936 Mustangs were built that model year.
In a very real way the 1980 Mustangs were worse than the '79s. While visually they changed very little (a few aerodynamic tweaks were made, including a subtle lip spoiler on the coupe's trunk lid), under the hood things got ugly. Gone from the line were both the 2.8-liter V6 and the 5.0-liter V8. The only six available was now the wheezy 3.3-liter straight six, while the sole V8 was a new version of Ford's small-block displacing 255 cubic inches (4.2 liters) and gasping out just 119 horsepower. It was the smallest and the worst V8 ever offered in a Mustang. By default the turbo four was the most powerful engine in the '80 Mustang inventory. Too bad it was a grenade waiting to detonate.
All the spoilers and scoops used on the '79 pace car were now part of the '80 Cobra package, which also included a tasteless oversize cobra hood decal. In what was the worst year ever for Mustang engine performance, Ford sold 271,322 examples of the breed.
A five-speed manual transmission finally came to the Mustang in 1981 as an option behind the regular and turbocharged fours. Also, making a return appearance on the options list was a T-top roof. Otherwise the '81 was much the same car as the '80, and sales slipped dramatically to 182,552 cars.
Big news came for 1982 in the form of a new "High Output" (HO) version of the 5.0-liter V8 making a healthy (for the time) 157 horsepower with two-barrel carburetion in a revived Mustang GT hatchback. Backed by a four-speed manual transmission and wearing many of the '79 pace car's body pieces, the '82 Mustang GT wasn't quite a return to the glory days of high-performance, but it was a step in the right direction.
The rest of the Mustang lineup was set up in three progressively more luxurious series: L, GL and GLX. The turbo four was gone (temporarily), but the base four, iron lump straight six and inexcusable 4.2-liter V8 all carried forward through '82. The most unusual model Mustang, however, wasn't sold to the public at all, but a "Special Service Package" notchback coupe equipped with the Mustang GT's 157-horsepower V8 and four-speed transmission that was used by the California Highway Patrol as a pursuit vehicle. The CHP bought 400 of the SSP Mustangs in '82 and they, along with numerous other state and local law enforcement agencies, would continue buying them right through 1993 when Ford ended production.
A new grille with Ford's Blue Oval logo at its center came along with the 1983 Mustang. But the grille was the least of the changes that year, as the Mustang convertible returned in the form of a conversion performed by ASC, Inc. on coupe bodies. The convertible was offered in GLX and GT trim and featured a real glass rear window, power operation and rear-quarter windows that rolled down. The convertible was instantly popular.
The drivetrain lineup was also revised for '83 with the straight six and 4.2-liter V8 being eliminated and quickly forgotten. A revised version of the turbocharged 2.3-liter SOHC four returned to the lineup, this time with electronic fuel injection that did a wonderful job of tempering turbo lag and increasing engine longevity. But its 142-horsepower output didn't seem all that impressive, especially since the 5.0-liter HO V8 now sported a four-barrel carburetor and was rated at 175 horsepower. And the V8 was now available with the excellent Borg-Warner T5 five-speed manual transmission.
The normally aspirated 2.3-liter SOHC four was still around for buyers too timid for anything else, but the six-cylinder option was the new "Essex" 3.8-liter V6 making 112 horsepower.
Despite all the improvements, the '83 Mustang was hardly a barn burner in the sales race. A total of 120,873 Mustangs were sold that model year, including 23,438 convertibles.
Much of the 1984 Mustang line was carried over from '83, but there were a few changes and an unexpected new model in the line. Although there was supposed to be a more powerful (205 hp) 5.0 V8 this year, development problems killed it. A fuel-injected version of the HO V8 with 165 hp was offered with the automatic transmission (now with a fourth overdrive gear). The turbo four was back for one last year, now rated at 145 horsepower in the Mustang GT.
There were also revisions to suspension tuning, and at midyear Ford offered a "GT-350" 20th anniversary package for convertibles and hatchbacks. But the big surprise came in the form of the technologically sophisticated SVO Mustang.
With its own unique appearance (single square headlamps in a grille-free front end, plus a unique dual-plane rear spoiler), the SVO was powered by an intercooled version of the turbocharged 2.3-liter four rated at an impressive 175 horsepower. Wearing big 16-inch wheels on five-lug hubs, with four-wheel disc brakes aboard for better stopping, the lavishly equipped SVO was quick, agile and expensive with a base price of $15,596. However, no matter how interesting it was on a technical level, it wasn't as quick as the V8-powered Mustang GT and never sold in large numbers.
Another new grille design came along for the 1985 model year featuring a single large slit between the two pairs of headlights. The GT was treated to a new set of 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels shod with P225/60VR15 Goodyear Eagle "Gatorback" tires, and thanks to a serpentine single belt accessory drive system and revised roller cam, the 5.0 HO engine was now making a full 210 horsepower in four-barrel carbureted form. The fuel-injected HO hooked to the four-speed automatic now made 180 horsepower. The SVO continued forward, but the turbocharged four was gone from the Mustang GT options list.
Fuel injection became the only induction system on the 1986 5.0 HO, and output was 200 horsepower with both the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic in Mustang GTs. Real dual exhaust debuted this year, meaning there were now two catalytic converters so each engine bank had its own exhaust right to the tail pipes. The SVO Mustang's turbo four was recalibrated and its output was also 200 horsepower.
With Mercury's Capri out of production after the 1986 model year, Ford simplified Mustang production in 1987 by eliminating the V6 engine option, killing the high-priced SVO, and paring down the trim levels to just LX and GT the coupe in LX only with the hatchback and convertible available in both trims. The front end and taillights were redesigned once again with the GT getting its own grilleless face, flush single headlamps, specific taillights, rear spoiler, urethane side skirts and turbine wheels. But many found the low-key skirtless LX to be the real performance value, as it was offered with all the GT's performance options, but without the look-at-me exterior pieces. Both the LX and GT also got a new interior including an improved dashboard that grouped the instrumentation in a pod in front of the driver.
Carburetors were finally a thing of the past for Mustangs as even the 2.3-liter, SOHC four-cylinder engine now sported fuel injection and made 90 horsepower. The 5.0-liter HO was also revised and now made a robust 225 horsepower regardless of transmission. At this point in its development, the "5.0 Mustang" had reached its full flower and would remain mechanically unchanged through 1993. In fact, the 1988 and 1989 Mustangs were virtually unchanged from 1987.
There was a good chance the Mustang would be killed before the 1990 model year, as Ford contemplated re-engineering the car to accept a driver-side airbag. But Ford decided to spend the money and installed the airbag for 1990, eliminating the tilt steering column in the process.
A new five-spoke, 16-inch wheel was offered on both LX and GT 5.0-liter Mustangs for 1991. The car carried over into 1992 with only a few not-very-special "limited edition" models to goose sales by offering special wheels and paint.
While the basic Mustang LX and Mustang GT were unchanged for 1993 (the 5.0-liter engine's output was revised to 205 horsepower probably for marketing reasons with the redesigned Mustang coming for '94), a new special-edition Mustang did appear in the form of the SVT Cobra. A parts bin mix of 1983 Mustang taillights, the front air dam from the GT, a new grille with the running horse emblem on it and 17-inch wheels scavenged from a delayed Thunderbird project, the SVT Cobra was nonetheless surprisingly attractive. The 5.0-liter in the Cobra was modified slightly to make 235 horsepower while the improved suspension, bigger wheels and tires and four-wheel disc brakes all expanded the other parameters of performance. Only 4,993 of the Cobras were built during the 1993 model year. Another 107 track-ready versions of the Cobra, known as the "Cobra R," were also built without such luxuries as a radio or backseat.
Even after 15 years in production, Ford still sold 114,228 Fox-based Mustangs during the '93 model year. Obviously the Fox-bodied Mustang was totally exhausted. Or was it?
By the early '90s, Ford knew it needed to keep the Mustang around no matter what that wasn't something the company was so convinced of a decade earlier. Kill the Mustang and it would kill the one car the whole world associated with Ford. But a new Mustang would still have to be affordable, and the only way to control costs would be to build it atop the existing Fox chassis.
What appeared for 1994 was a Mustang clearly influenced by the styling themes of Mustangs past. There was the galloping horse in the grille, the side scallop reappeared and the taillights were split into three segments (albeit horizontally instead of vertically). Inside, the cockpit featured a twin-pod dashboard that recalled the dashes used between '64 1/2 and '73. Only two body styles were now offered, a two-door coupe with a semifastback roof and a convertible.
The Fox platform was thoroughly reinforced for the '94 Mustang, but the basic modified MacPherson strut front and coil sprung solid rear axle returned intact. Four-wheel disc brakes were now used throughout the line with ABS optional.
The biggest beneficiary of the new structure was the drop top; this was the first Mustang convertible since the '73 that was actually conceived as a convertible and not a conversion. The new convertible's structure was significantly stiffer and the car handled better than the outgoing '93.
Engine choices were also pared down to two for '94. Base Mustangs (no more LX, just Mustang) got a fuel-injected development of the 3.8-liter Essex V6 rated at 145 horsepower. The Mustang GT got a revised version of the 5.0-liter V8 with a flatter intake manifold that was rated at 215 horsepower. The disappointingly low-output rating of the V8 made many suspect that the '93 5.0's down-rating to 205 horsepower was done in a relatively shallow attempt to mitigate any outcry resulting from the squashed intake's stealing power from the '94 5.0-liter. Both engines could be mated to either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.
Available with either 16-inch or 17-inch wheels and tires, the '94 Mustang GT proved to be a better handling, more secure driving car than ever before. But it wasn't really any more sophisticated than the '93. Most tests of the time found the 5.0-liter V8's performance to be soft in comparison to the 5.0-liter used in the '93 Mustang.
For the third time in its history, the Mustang was chosen to pace the Indianapolis 500. Instead of conjuring up some sort of special edition for the Speedway, Ford assigned its Special Vehicle Team (SVT) the task of building another Cobra version of the Mustang. The result was a slightly modified GT wearing 17-inch wheels and, thanks to a set of Ford's "GT40" cylinder heads and a different intake, a 5.0-liter V8 making 240 horsepower. Cobras were distinguished by their own uniquely blistered hood, rear spoiler and front fascia with round foglamps and snake logos on their fenders and in their grilles. While the Cobra used to pace the 500 was a convertible, the Cobra coupe was more common. Fully 5,009 Cobra coupes were sold along with just 1,000 convertibles during '94.
The new Mustang was a hit, but hardly overwhelming. Selling into a market vastly more fragmented than it was in 1965, Ford sold 123,198 Mustangs during '94. Not bad at all considering that the car didn't go on sale until January of 1994.
Why change something that was working? The 1995 Mustangs were virtually identical to the '94s. The only change to the model lineup was the introduction of a "GTS" model that essentially put the Mustang GT's drivetrain into a plain Mustang shell. Sales rose to 190,994 units that year, including 48,264 convertibles and another 5,006 SVT Cobras (1,003 of which were drop tops).
The big change for 1996 was the abandonment of the 5.0-liter V8 in favor of Ford's 4.6-liter, SOHC V8 in the GT. Rated at the same 215 horsepower as the outgoing 5.0, the 4.6 opened a new chapter in Mustang history as the good old small-block Ford V8 was left behind after serving in the Mustang for 31 of the previous 32 model years. In addition, the 3.8-liter V6 was rerated to 150 horsepower. Transmission choices remained the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
A special run of 250 Cobra R models were also produced for '95 powered by a 5.8-liter version of the Ford small-block V8 making 300 horsepower. The lack of a rear seat, radio or air conditioning didn't keep enthusiasts from snapping them up instantly.
Bowing to enthusiasts' demand, all Mustangs got new taillights for '96 that were divided vertically into three segments as tradition dictated. Otherwise, except for revised front fender badges on the GT announcing the 4.6 engine, styling was unchanged.
Also new for '96 was a heavily revised version of the SVT Cobra that now featured an all-aluminum, DOHC, 32-valve version of the 4.6-liter engine. To accommodate the tall engine, the hood sported a new bulge but otherwise the car looked quite similar to the '95. But with a full 305 horsepower available, it performed much better. This was, after all, the most powerful V8 in a Mustang since the Boss 351 back in '71. Cobra production expanded to 7,496 coupes and 2,510 convertibles during '96.
Some new upholstery, a new security system and new colors came for 1997, but that's about it. Ford built 108,344 Mustangs that model year, with 6,961 of them being Cobra coupes and 3,088 Cobra convertibles. Except for redesigned five-spoke wheels on the Cobra, revisions to the 4.6-liter V8 that increased output to 225 horsepower and the usual juggling of colors and trim, the 1998 Mustang carried over from '97. Inexplicably, sales increased to a healthy 175,522 total units that year, including 5,174 Cobra coupes and 3,480 Cobra convertibles. By the way, what is a "Mustang Cobra" anyhow? Is it a reptile? A horse? Or is it some cruel, misbegotten hybrid of the two?
New sharply creased fenders and revised front and rear fascias appeared on the 1999 Mustang while the windshield and roofs carried forward unchanged. An appreciated touch with the new styling was the "corral" around the galloping horse in the Mustang's grille. In fact, most of the interior and chassis was also unchanged, so it might be best to think of this as less a true eighth-generation Mustang than as an aesthetic development of the seventh. All 1999 Mustangs also got special 35th anniversary badges on their front fenders.
Significant revisions to both the base Mustang's 3.8-liter V6 and the GT's 4.6-liter V8 seriously increased their horsepower ratings for '99. The V6 was now pumping out an impressive 190 horsepower and the V8 a stout 260. Transmission choices remained either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Intended to be the pride of the Mustang fleet for '99 was the seriously revised Cobra. The big news here was the first independent rear suspension ever offered under a Mustang; basically a trailing arm system incorporating lightweight aluminum control arms, that rode in its own cradle, which bolted in place of the solid rear axle still used on other Mustangs. The rear suspension worked well, but the revised 4.6-liter, DOHC, 32-valve V8 would wind up an embarrassment to Ford. Originally rated at 320 horsepower (up from 305 in previous-year Cobras), many owners were distressed to discover that their engines were often making less than 300 horsepower. Fueled by Internet bulletin board postings was a class-action suit by Cobra owners demanding refunds or new engines, Ford desperately trying to satisfy them and the suspension of Cobra production during the 2000 model year. While 8,095 Cobras escaped Ford during '99, only 454 made it out during 2000.
Except for new fender badges and the usual minor tweaks, the Mustang carried over for 2000. A limited run of 300 "Cobra R" models were produced this year powered by a 5.4-liter, iron-block version of the DOHC, 32-valve engine rated at a massive 385 horsepower. Stripped of such niceties as air conditioning and a backseat, and carrying a $55,845 price, the Cobra R sold out in no time at all. For the first time since 1989, Ford sold more than 200,000 Mustangs a total of 215,393 found homes in 2000.
The Cobra returned for 2001, but the big news that year was the special "Bullitt" edition Mustang GT coupe designed to evoke memories of the '68 Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 film of that name. The Bullitt, based on the regular GT, featured a lowered suspension, new five-spoke wheels evocative of the classic Torq-Thrust design and such neat exterior details as a fuel-filler door designed to look like that of an aircraft's. The interior was also redecorated with special graphics on the instrumentation and special upholstery, both reminiscent of the 1968 GT, as well as aluminum-finished pedals and an aluminum ball shift knob. A larger throttle body and other revisions to the engine pushed output to 265 horsepower.
Available in blue, black or, like the movie car, dark green, the Bullitt was an immediate hit and all 5,000 sold out quickly.
The gorgeous wheels from the Bullitt made it onto the regular Mustang options list for 2002, but the car was otherwise unchanged. The big news came for 2003 with a reborn, radically more powerful Cobra and a new limited-edition Mach 1 model.
The new Cobra uses a supercharged version of the 4.6-liter, DOHC, 32-valve V8 making a stupefying 390 horsepower. With that grunt traveling through a six-speed manual transmission, the latest Cobra is the quickest and fastest Mustang ever built by Ford.
Meanwhile, the new Mach 1 is almost mechanically identical to the 1998 Cobra in specification and uses a normally aspirated version of the 4.6-liter, DOHC engine now rated (again) at 305 horsepower, a solid rear axle and five-speed manual transmission. But it's the eye candy, which includes a flat black painted hood, 17-inch versions of the Magnum 500 wheels from the '60s and, most prominently, the return of the "Shaker" hood scoop, that make it such a special machine.
To celebrate the Mustang's 40th birthday, Ford stuck a 40th anniversary badge on each 2004 Mustang. An optional anniversary package could also be ordered that included Crimson paint, Beige stripes, Beige wheels and monogrammed floor mats. Knowing that an all-new Mustang was set to debut for 2005, other changes were minimal at best.
Shown as a concept at the 2003 North American International Auto Show, the 2005 Mustang finally ditched the antiquated Fox platform in favor of the DEW98 platform already used for the Thunderbird and Lincoln LS. Like the Thunderbird, the designers managed to pay homage to a classic style without having the end result looking like a caricature of the original. The canted nose with its big grille and round headlights recalls the '67 to '69 Mustangs, while the side sculpting, fastback roofline and taillights recall those ponies of the 1965 vintage. Even the triangular side windows are reminiscent of what Carol Shelby did when he made the 1965 Mustang "2 + 2" (a.k.a. the Fastback) into his Shelby GT 350.
The Mustang's interior is also reminiscent of the Mustang's glory days. A dual-hooded dash with (optional) aluminum accent panels pays homage to the 1967-'68 Mustang, as do the big speedo and tach, circular air vents and plump, round steering wheel hub. Changeable backlighting illuminates the nostalgic instruments; at the press of a button one can select from white, blue, green and orange hues. The "sitting on an ottoman" seating position and gorilla's-reach gearshifter location of the previous generation were exorcised for 2005. With the new car, one sits more in, rather than on the seats, and although the previous manual gearshifter was bolted directly to the gearbox, this year's is a remote-linkage setup that puts the stick within easy reach.
In the GT, no less than 300 horses and 315 lb-ft of torque are found behind the running pony in the grille. The 4.6-liter, all-aluminum V8 sports three valves per cylinder along with variable valve timing. Even the V6 has more muscle as specs for the six-shooter now stand at 200 hp and 235 lb-ft. Buyers of the GT have five gears at their disposal, whether they go with the automatic or manual gearbox. The V6 car comes with a choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The newest pony also handles more crisply, thanks to the new suspension that features lighter-weight components (which allow the suspension to react quicker to changes in the road surface), repositioned and lighter coil springs, a stouter rear axle with more effective control arms and bigger brakes.
Initially, the latest Mustang will only be available as a coupe in either base or GT form, though it's only a matter of time before a convertible and any number of special models, such as the Cobra and Mach 1, return to the stable.