Tom Wilson
December 1, 2007
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Another advantage on the '87 Mustang was low weight. The already-aged Fox platform dated from 1979 and was a poverty job. The second gas crisis erupted in 1979, and Ford had gotten strong religion when it came to losing weight and cutting corners. Floorboards in other Fox platform cars would oil can with a resounding "glunk clunk" when you stepped on them to sit down, and the Mustangs had just enough metal in them to stop sunlight from glowing through. Such a casual attitude toward structure aided acceleration performance and covered up-and created-the chassis' serious handling woes. If the Mustang engine couldn't be hot-rodded easily, then it at least ran strongly off the showroom floor. Your grandmother could crank off a 14-second quarter in a 5.0 without setting the tire pressures, and that was starting to nibble at the '60s-era car legends. The magazines took notice, and for the first time, people seriously compared a new performance car to the '60s icons.

For the average Joe, the stock fuel-injected 5.0 H.O. proved easy and fun to drive. The handling was skatey if pushed, and the dragstrip launch was something of a lottery, but the '80s were much more forgiving of cars that couldn't handle because-and this is scary to recall-the "late-model Mustang" was an improvement compared to the '60s sleds.

The '87 Mustang was a new car. By then, the '60s stuff had been recycled more times than "Dancing in the Streets." While those cars were still dirt cheap by today's standards, the meaningful '60s performance cars still required more than lunch money to buy and featured dog-bit interiors, torn weatherstripping, squeaky suspension bushings, rusty bodies, leaks, and all the other joys of 20-year-old, run-hard machinery.

The performance world had come to a fork in the road in 1987 with the new Mustang steering us in a different direction. It was affordable and ran hard enough stock to gain everyone's attention, but it didn't answer to modifications. Luckily Chevy's Camaro was too expensive and unwieldy for daily driving, and Dodge was busy punching out minivans. Given its gentle environment, the '87 Mustang survived to become the gold standard, the '88 California-spec 5.0 Mustang LX. That was the car that replaced speed density with mass air metering, unlocking the performance kingdom. It would take at least two years for new car buyers, the aftermarket, and racers to catch on to the Mustang's unprecedented performance potential, a greatness foretold in 1987. Once the secret was out, the performance world became Ford's oyster. What a 20 years it has been.

The Options
It's hard to believe that T-tops - a hatchback option only, KJ! - only got one sentence in the sales brochure, but there were plenty of other options available for the '87. The two main packages were the 240A LX, which optioned up the 2.3 LX, and the 249A, essentially throwing the book at a 5.0 GT. The other option groups include the Climate Control Group (air conditioning, a heavy-duty battery, rear-window defroster, and tinted glass), Special Value Group (Power Lock Group, AM/FM/cassette, speed control, and styled road wheels), and Custom Equipment Group (graphic equalizer, electric mirrors, illuminated visor mirrors, tilt steering, and power side windows). There were 11 available exterior colors (Black, Dark Gray Metallic, Light Gray, Scarlet Red, Medium Cabernet, Medium Shadow Blue Metallic, Medium Yellow, Dark Shadow Blue Metallic, Bright Regatta Blue Metallic, Sand Beige, Dark Clove Brown Metallic, and Oxford White) and four interior colors (Regatta Blue, Scarlet Red, Medium Gray, and Beige).

My First 5.0
In 1987, I had just started as the West Coast Editor of Super Ford magazine, the slim black-and-white precursor to the bulging tome you're holding now. While hardly from a Ford family-my dad is a Marine infantry officer who thinks cars are either vehicles to carry you to the next drop-off point or target-I was a typical enthusiast in that I owned (and still own) a 289-powered, four-speed '66 Mustang fastback and had not driven a 5.0 Mustang of any sort.

My first 5.0 Mustang drive was in a red five-speed '87 hatchback out of the Los Angeles-area Ford press fleet. The car was bone stock and probably had fewer than 5,000 miles on it. I have two vivid recollections of that car: its power and that difficult to define but enjoyable new-car condition

Recalling the power is easy. Turning onto a freeway about a half mile after picking up the car, I booted it up the steep uphill ramp. The engine snarled and the car ripped up the ramp and onto the freeway with me grinning like the fresh-off-the-farm kid that I was. Intoxicated with the acceleration and not used to having lift so soon, I hid from my buddies who had driven me to Ford's press fleet parking lot. It was a quick three-gear blast, but one that opened a new world of performance to me.