Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 17, 2014
Photos By: Ford Photomedia, Source Interlink Archives

By the early 1970s, Ford knew it had to update the Mustang for the next decade by utilizing lighter materials, smaller engines, and improved aerodynamics, all for the sake of increased fuel mileage and fewer emissions. Ford’s new world car platform, code-named “Fox,” would provide the foundation for a series of new Fords, including the next Mustang.

The Mustang’s ’79-’93 Fox era started quietly. A ’79 Pace Car edition provided a glimmer of hope. Then the floodgates started opening in ’82 with the debut of the 5.0-liter HO, an engine that was especially well-suited for the also-new GT. From there, the 5.0 gained steam—from 157 horsepower in ’82, to 175 horsepower with a four-barrel in ’83, finally topping out at 225 horsepower with fuel-injection from ’87-’93. Lightweight and inexpensive, the 5.0-liter Mustang revived the Mustang legend for a new generation of enthusiasts.

Saved by Telnack

When Jack Telnack returned from Europe to take over as Ford’s executive director of light car and truck design in 1976, he was not pleased with the styling studio’s boxy designs, which looked too much like the Fox-based four-door Fairmont. Utilizing the aerodynamic tricks learned in Europe, Telnack oversaw the creation of a more European Mustang with a slanted nose and lower hood. The Telnack-influenced ’79 Mustang would set the stage for one of the greatest eras in Mustang history.

Ready to Strike—Well, sort of

The Cobra model continued on the Fox-body (but without the “II”) as the top-of-the-line performance Mustang. Unfortunately, like its predecessor Cobra II, the power under the hood did not support the optional Cobra hood decal.

Setting the Pace

Like the original ’65 Mustang, the all-new ’79 Mustang was chosen as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. Finally, after five years of Mustang IIs, enthusiasts had something to talk about when the Pace Car replica arrived with a front air dam and rear spoiler, hood scoop, TRX suspension, Recaro seats, and a Pewter Silver paint job with orange/red/black graphics. Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder or 302 V-8, the Pace Car was not overwhelming in terms of power, but the appearance package set the stage for Mustangs to come.

Getting a Handle on Performance

The Fox Mustang took another step in the performance direction with its optional TRX suspension package. Centered around Michelin’s oddly-sized metric radial tires (390mm, or 15.35 inches), which had been used by Ford in Europe, the TRX option also included matching-size forged aluminum wheels, unique strut/shock valving and spring rates, larger front stabilizer bar, and a rear stabilizer bar.

Boss is Back

Motor Trend reached into the Mustang’s past to describe the late-addition ’82 Mustang GT. Although available with all Mustang engines, the revived GT model, absent from the Mustang since 1969, stirred the souls of enthusiasts when equipped with the new 5.0-liter HO, a 157-horsepower small-block with a 351 camshaft, improved cylinder heads, and a two-barrel carburetor with an aluminum intake and dual-snorkel air cleaner. Motor Trend testing resulted in 6.9-second 0-60 times and 16.10 seconds through the quarter-mile, leading them to conclude, “For our money, it’s the best-balanced, most capable Mustang ever done.”

Four-Eyed Fun

The ’82 5.0-liter HO got things started. By ’85, the 5.0 had a four-barrel carburetor, even better cylinder heads, and tubular headers, followed by electronic fuel injection (EFI) for ’86. With their four headlights, enthusiasts refer to the early Fox-bodies as “four-eyes.”

Celebrating Two Decades

Ford commemorated the Mustang’s 20th birthday with a special 20th Anniversary Edition, available as a white hatchback or convertible with red “GT 350” rocker panel stripes. It was a nice nod to the Mustang’s history, although it led to a courtroom dispute between Carroll Shelby and Ford over the use of the GT 350 nomenclature.

5.0 For the Future

Mustang performance enthusiasts panicked when they learned about the 5.0-liter’s EFI for ’86, fretting that any modifications would upset the new-fangled EEC-IV computer. Turns out, nothing was further from the truth. By the time the revised 225-horsepower 5.0-liter arrived in the Mustang for ’87, owners had learned that the EFI engine responded extremely well to typical hot-rodder tricks, fueling a 5.0-liter revolution on the street and track.

Scoops and Spoilers

We remember our friend Austin Craig from Ford’s J. Walter Thompson advertising agency calling with the exciting news about the ’87 Mustang GT: “Wait until you see it,” he predicted. “It’s got an aerodynamic nose, body effects with rear scoops, and fluted taillights.” The ’87 GT established a new benchmark for a factory-produced Mustang with its combination of performance and style.

By Enthusiasts, For Enthusiasts

As Ford reentered the racing arena after a decade-long absence, the company looked to its successful European organization for direction. The result was Special Vehicle Operations, which was charged with supporting private racers and developing a performance parts program. To help fund the program, the engineers created the Mustang SVO, one of the best-balanced Mustangs ever built. Produced from ’84 to ’86, the SVO featured a high-tech turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine, special suspension with new “quadra-shocks” at the rear, and a unique appearance, including an off-set hood scoop and dual-plane rear spoiler. Car & Driver called it “the best all-around car for the enthusiast driver ever produced by the U.S. industry.”