Amie Williams
Associate Online Editor
November 14, 2013
Photos By: Ford Archives

A lot of work goes into the redesign of an existing model, especially one that has a significant fan base. The story of the fourth-generation Mustang is actually one of three separate cars – the 1979 Mustang, ’89 Ford Probe, and the 1994 Mustang.Here is the evolution of how the Fox-body Mustang came to be.

The 1979 Mustang was released when safety and fuel regulations were at an all-time high. Shortly after launching the 1974 Mustang II with just four- and six-cylinder engines, people still wanted a larger interior, sharper handling, better styling, and, last but not least, that V-8 option. It was then out with the old ‘70s styling and in with the new compact Mustang – the Fox-body.

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Just when the 1979 Mustang was introduced, consumer opinions started changing after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Shortages, spiked gasoline prices, long lines, and fuel rationing weighed heavy on everyone’s mind and fears were brought to life again in 1979 during the Iranian oil crisis.

That’s when President Carter delivered the “Crisis of Confidence” speech and fuel economy was on top of the list of worry. Attention turned to the Japanese and German front-wheel drive cars that grabbed a few more miles per gallon than the American rear-wheel-drive muscle cars. People were leaving the muscle car for one with better fuel economy. Of course, Ford noticed.

Ford started tossing around the idea of a front-wheel-drive Mustang after the sales were declining in the mid-1980s. A partnership with Mazda began and the plan was to call the new front-wheel-drive car “Mustang” and sell it alongside the Fox-body Mustang, which would be renamed as the “Mustang Classic.”

All of the budget demands were focused on this new FWD platform, and by early 1987 prototypes had been spotted testing around Dearborn. This wasn’t kept a secret for long, and angry enthusiasts began to protest with a letter-writing campaign. Autoweek grabbed ahold of the news and published a story in its magazine titled “The Next Mustang,” which laid out Ford’s plans in full.

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Ford received hundreds of thousands of letters from angry enthusiasts protesting the front-wheel-drive platform and convinced Ford to change its strategy. While too much money was already dumped into the new project, Ford couldn’t totally abandon the program. Instead, this new car was introduced as the Ford Probe for 1988 and 1989, a name that belonged to a series of aerodynamic concepts.

Of course, the Mustang trucked on ahead as a RWD all-American car. Now the Mustang and Probe would sit together on the showroom floor and compete directly against each other. Program management would use this to determine the future of our beloved pony car.

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The Probe was predicted to outsell the Mustang and legitimize Ford’s previous plan. That didn’t happen as Mustangs sales began to skyrocket and Probe sales floundered. After that, a new Mustang was ordered for 1989 with the internal project code of SN-95. Two redesign proposals were pitched with another front-wheel-drive attempt and a traditional rear-wheel-drive.

With money being an issue for this new program, it was time for the engineers to use their creative skills. Many of the front-wheel-drive concepts never made it past the drawing board. The plan was to use a CT-20 based off of the Escort chassis, and only one FWD clay model was produced. The conclusion was that this car wouldn’t be feasible, and decided to halt the front-wheel-drive program by the end of 1990.

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The redesign of the new Mustang was crucial as it could either make or break the brand. There was no budget for an all-new platform, so the car would have to ride on an updated version of the existing platform. The 1989 Thunderbird was considered with a shorter wheelbase and an independent rear suspension, but would be too pricey. Ford decided to significantly refine the Fox chassis and rename it Fox 4.

About 80-percent of the platform was reworked and the body completely different. The Program manager John Coletti wanted a more aggressive appeal for the redesigned Mustang. It was time to make the Mustang more performance-oriented. Design director Patrick Schiavone decided to bring back some classic elements such as the side C-scallop, open grille with the running pony emblem, tri-bar taillights, and a dual-cockpit cabin. Some of the early renderings were not impressive, but finally three designs prevailed – Bruce Jenner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Rambo.

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While each design looked like a Mustang, each one was completely different from the other. The Bruce Jenner design was more conservative with round edges, smoother lines and styling. This would become the “Ovoid” design that would eventually debut on the 1996 DN101 Ford Taurus.

Rambo was as hardcore of a design as its name with a deep front and rear fascia sculpting, a fastback profile, strong shoulder lines, and chiseled fenders. Schwarzenegger seemed to fit in the middle between the other two designs. This design was chosen as the basis for the 1994 Mustang, but a bit more subtle. It had muscular features yet still traditional with a roomy interior and a set of tri-bar taillights.

Soon it was time for the 1993 Mustang to hit the streets, and by this time the Schwarzenegger theme went under the knife for some more developments. The lower front fascia was opened up to look better and provide functional cooling. Hood inlets were tamer with inserts and the wing, spoiler and mirrors were designed to be more aerodynamic. At one point a roof spoiler idea was tossed around for the SVT Cobra coupe, but was dismissed due to cost.

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In 1994, the new Mustang was introduced and Motor Trend called it the Car of the Year. Sales spiked up leaving Ford more than gratified. The new Mustang was deemed a success and it helped pave the way for the next freshly-designed Mustang in 1999– the New Edge. With the new “New Edge” came the introduction of the Bullitt, Mach 1 and SVT Cobra, and of course, the track-prepped Cobra R.

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