Jim Smart
June 1, 2002
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

In the last three months, we brought you the Fox Mustang's first years: 1979-'86. In those years, the Mustang went through dramatic changes that made it a world-beater in the ponycar market. From 1982-'86, the Mustang went through significant engineering and styling changes that made it clearly better each and every year. For 1982, Ford brought back the Mustang GT with a High Output V-8; a great start. The following year, a four-barrel carburetor and optional five-speed. For 1984, the world-class Mustang SVO. In 1985, bitchin' chassis and engine refinements that made the car a joy to drive. The following year, 1986-electronic fuel injection and a tougher 8.8-inch rear axle.

Even in the Mustang's leanest, most disappointing years, it was still a car to have fun with in work or play because it never lost its spirit. It was a sporty ponycar regardless of what it had underhood. When we road-tested the '87 Mustang GT for the first time in the summer of 1986, we were convinced it was the best Mustang ever made. We were right. It roared to life with true dual exhausts, and it held the road valiantly. Ford updated the Dearborn Pony with an all-new dashboard and instrument panel, fresh bucket seats, improved body assembly technique, better corrosion protection, and a revised 5.0L High Output V-8. The musclebound filly had arrived.

What made the 1987 different was a new fascia, composite headlamps and redesigned taillamps, larger quarter-windows with "MUSTANG" graphics, and more. GT models were radically changed with a special bottom-breathing fascia with driving lamps, ground effects, simulated side scoops, 15-inch turbine wheels and wide tires, fluted taillamps, true dual exhaust system, power quick-ratio steering, Traction-Lok differential, front disc/rear drum brakes, AM/FM stereo radio, intermittent wipers, convenience group, dual remote mirrors, adjustable reclining front bucket seats, tilt steering wheel, full instrumentation with tachometer, and more. In short, the '87 Mustang GT was the best Mustang ever when it was introduced.

The '87 Mustang GT convertible was exciting and fresh with its new fascia, ground effects, turbine wheels, driving lamps, and bottom air intake. Behind the wheel, no Mustang had ever been more fun to drive. The redesigned Mustang was a solid performer, dependable, and long on potential. Although the Mustang has evolved considerably since, Fox-body buffs see the '87-'93 Mustang GT as one of the best ever.

Initial driving impressions of the '87 Mustang GT were stellar. On a road course, the redesigned Mustang held the road nicely. It had a solid feel as never before in a Mustang. You knew you could cut a sharp apex at speed and live to see the next straightaway. On the straightaway, the thing was fast. The 225-horse 5.0L SEFI small-block sounded different and pulled like a mad dog. That more traditional induction sound generated by a four-barrel carburetor was gone. In its place, the groan of a single throttle-body and a seat-of-the-pants kick not seen before.

At the time, die-hard enthusiasts said it was the end of a tunable Mustang. Truth was, it was only the beginning of one of the greatest eras in automotive history. Tech heads would tune the peculiarities of electronic fuel injection, making a new generation of fuel-injected Mustangs more tunable than ever before. The '87-'93 Mustang 5.0L would ultimately become known as the '55-'57 Chevrolet of the '90s.

A lot of groovy carryovers were retained from 1985-'86, like Quadra-Shock, coil spring, and four-link rear suspension. True dual exhausts, introduced for 1986, continued for 1987. Despite all these innovations, the Mustang continued to have a braking system that was sorely lacking. It was a front disc/rear drum brake ride begging for more aggressive binders from the factory.

The standard Mustang LX was available in sedan, hatchback, or convertible. Standard power was the 2.3L OHC four with EFI. Gone was the 3.8L Essex V-6 available since 1982 as a Mustang option. The base Mustang LX was good transportation, a sporty car without the muscle. The 5.0L SEFI High Output was an LX option for those who wanted less weight in an all-business package. Drag racers loved the LX sedan for its streamline approach and weight loss program with a 5.0L High Output underhood. The 10-hole aluminum wheels, carried over from the '85-'86 GT, were a nice LX option.

For 1989, the Mustang rolled off the Dearborn line without 25th Anniversary excitement. As you can see, changes were few for 1989-mostly internal.

1988
The Mustang changed very little for 1988. Most of the changes for 1988 were internal-a 75-amp alternator, 58-amp/hour battery, and mass-air flow sensing on California-delivered models with the 5.0L High Output V-8. Mustangs GTs and LXs with the 5.0L High Output V-8 delivered to the rest of the country continued with the speed-density system. Color choices changed, as did some options like the T-Roof, which was dropped after 1987.

1989-25 Years
Although it's impossible to believe today, Ford was seriously considering dropping the Mustang in 1989. Sales were sluggish. The nameplate just wasn't selling like it once did. In 1989, the Mustang was in one of the most stagnant periods in its history. Each new model year was a lackluster experience. The car simply didn't change much from year to year. Despite the Mustang's 25th Anniversary in 1989, Ford didn't do much to celebrate the occasion. More on this later.

Improvements for 1989 were subtle. The mass-air flow sensing system became standard equipment in 49 states, ushering in a new era of high-performance Mustanging. With mass-air sensing, it became possible to modify the 5.0 L High Output engine without the consequences associated with the speed-density system. A hotter camshaft, for example, wouldn't upset the balance of nature underhood.

Other improvements for 1989 included sports seats in LX models as standard equipment, making the low-buck ride high on comfort. Power windows, locks, and mirrors became standard on the convertible. That wimpy 0-85 mph speedometer grew to 0-140 mph on GT models for 1989. Also new for 1989 was the Mustang LX Sport Series with 5.0L High Output power. Call this one a GT package without the GT persona and price.

The 5.0L High Output engine continued virtually unchanged for 1989. Aside from a minor camshaft profile change, which can't be detected, this engine was a '88 carryover. Axle ratios and transmission choices were unchanged.

For 1989, mass-air sensing made it easier to modify a 5.OL High Output engine without the temperament of a fussy computer. The mass-air system was more user-friendly.

Earlier, we mentioned the Mustang's 25th Anniversary. This one caught Ford asleep at the switch. With a minimum of fuss, Ford fixed a 25th Anniversary Pony and tri-bar dash ornament to the Mustang's dashboard beginning in the spring of 1989. There was even a special window sticker commemorating 25 years. But April 1989 came and went without much fanfare. There never really was a 25th Anniversary Edition Mustang.

1990
The first model year since 1987 that you could see change at a glance was 1990. This was the first year the Mustang was equipped with an air bag system, accommodated by a vastly different steering wheel. With the air bag system came the loss of an important option-the adjustable tilt steering column. Call it trading comfort for increased safety.

Changes included value packages that made it easier to option out a nice Mustang without selling the farm. One nice option package was the Value Group that included air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; clock; and Premium Sound. The 25th Anniversary dash emblem was carried over from 1989.

Widely recognized in 1990 are the 7UP Mustang convertibles that were Emerald Green and produced in limited numbers. These are the unofficial official Mustangs of the 25th anniversary. Despite this recognition by hobbyists, Ford has never confirmed these cars as 25th Anniversary models. We invite your feedback on this one.