Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 18, 2014
Photos By: Ford Photomedia, Source Interlink Archives

We almost lost the Mustang in the 1990s. Or at least the Mustang as we had known it for three decades. Within Ford, the wheels were in motion to replace the rear-wheel-drive Mustang with a car based on the front-wheel-drive 626 from Mazda, which was partially owned by Ford. As word leaked out, Mustang enthusiasts rebelled by responding to a Mustang Monthly editorial that suggested readers write to Ford president Donald Petersen (see sidebar).

The letters convinced Ford to rethink its decision, and an executive named John Coletti spearheaded a Team Mustang movement to revamp the Fox-body into a new retrostyled Mustang that was embraced by both older and younger enthusiasts alike. From ’94-’04, the Fox-4 Mustang kept the legend alive with great models like Terminator Cobras, Bullitt GTs, and Mach 1s.

Almost Probe

In the mid-1980s, some within Ford felt that the next generation Mustang should compete against the onslaught of Japanese cars that were selling well in the U.S. However, after enthusiasts voiced their objections about plans for a front-wheel-drive Mustang (see “The Write-In Campaign” sidebar), Ford reconsidered and enlisted John Coletti to lead a new Team Mustang to keep the rear-wheel-drive Mustang alive. The front-wheel-drive program continued and eventually became the ’89 Probe, a car line that survived only seven years. It was discontinued after 1997.

Coletti Saves the Day

As Mustang enthusiasts voiced their concerns about a front-wheel-drive Mustang based on a Mazda platform, Ford executive vice-president Alex Trotman initiated a program to save the Mustang in its traditional rear-wheel-drive configuration. He asked design manager John Coletti to lead the effort, resulting in the Team Mustang skunkworks effort that led to the successful launch of the re-engineered and retro-styled ’94 Mustang.

New Styling

The ’94 Mustang, code-named SN-95, arrived in Ford showrooms in October 1993 as a base V-6 or GT with the 5.0-liter V-8. The old Fox platform was changed and stiffened so much that it is often called the “Fox-4.” For styling, the ’94 Mustang abandoned the European look of the ’79-’93 Mustangs and reverted to a more traditional appearance with a large grille opening, side scoop sculpturing, and tri-bar taillights.

Mach Concept

To tease the public about the upcoming ’94 Mustang and to upstage the new Camaro’s debut at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show, John Coletti asked his team to come up with a Mustang supercar concept. The Mach III not only wowed auto show attendees, the hardly subtle prototype garnered plenty of press coverage as it provided hints to the Mustang’s future.

Car of the Year

For the second time in its storied history, the Mustang received Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year” award for the new ’94 model. Motor Trend publisher Lee Kelley (seated in car at the left) presented the award to Mustang program manager Mike Zevalkink with other Team Mustang members, including John Coletti at extreme left, gathered around for the photo op.

Coletti’s Boss

A street-racer at heart, John Coletti was never one to back down from a challenge, especially when it came to the competition from Chevrolet. When he heard about a Camaro ZL-1 concept car with a 750-horsepower big-block Chevy engine, Coletti countered with an SN-95 Mustang built by Roush with a supercharged 604 cubic-inch Boss 429. Former Ford designer Larry Shinoda, who created the original Boss 302 name and stripes, penned the graphics for Coletti’s modern Boss.

SVT Unleashes the SN-95 Cobra

The mid-’94 introduction of the SVT Cobra gave enthusiasts a 240-horsepower version of the 5.0-liter, improved suspension, and an upgraded interior. The convertible model was chosen as the second Mustang to pace the Indianapolis 500, with replicas offered to the public.

351 for the Track

The newly formed Special Vehicle Team, headed by John Coletti, produced one of the best Mustangs of the SN-95 era with the ’95 Cobra R, a 351-powered coupe aimed squarely at grassroots racers in SCCA World Challenge and IMSA Grand Sport. Some were bought by racers; most found homes in the garages of collectors.

351 for the Street

Mustang performance enthusiasts loved the 5.0-liter Mustang but craved the torque and power available from the larger 351 V-8. Steve Saleen gave it to them in the form of the Saleen S351, a Mustang that was especially potent as the S351SR—for “Supercharged Racer.”

Mod Motor Madness

For ’96, the pushrod small-block’s three-decade reign as the Mustang’s most popular engine came to an end with the introduction of the modern 4.6-liter SOHC and DOHC engines. Known as “mod motors” for the modular way the assembly plant could be configured for different engine assembly within the same family, the SOHC powered the GT while the more powerful dual overhead cam version was reserved for the Cobra.

Ready to Strike

With a new high-revving 305-horsepower DOHC modular engine under the hood, SVT’s ’96 Cobra raised eyebrows as the best all-around Mustang to date.

The Write-In Campaign

In 1987, I had returned to Mustang Monthly just as word was leaking from Dearborn that Ford planned to replace the Fox-body Mustang with a front-wheel-drive derivative of the Mazda 626. In the April 1987 issue, we published a letter from reader Michael Perih, who suggested a write-in “No Japanese Mustang” campaign urging Ford to rethink its plans. Needing an editorial for the July 1987 issue, I expanded on Perih’s idea:

“As much as I try to rationalize the whole deal (ordeal?) and attempt to bring my thought processes into the 1980s and beyond, I just can’t force myself to accept Ford’s intended future for the Mustang. Call me old fashioned or sentimental or just plain stubborn, but a Japanese car, even one built in America, is a Japanese car and I’m not prepared to see a Mazda with the Mustang name and running horse emblems affixed to its fenders. The name ‘Mustang’ is as American as hot dogs, apple pie, and rear-wheel-drive, having come from a small, spirited horse found on the western plains.”

From there, I recalled the 1968 Hot Rod magazine write-in campaign to Ford that resulted in the 428 Cobra Jet engine, and suggested a similar Mustang Monthly reader uproar in an attempt to squelch the idea of a front-wheel-drive Mustang. I even provided Ford president Donald Petersen’s address. Years later, Ford reported that some 30,000 letters and postcards arrived at World Headquarters, convincing the company to rethink its intentions and launch the program that would become the SN-95 Mustang for ’94. Rear-wheel-drive, of course. –Donald Farr