Jim Smart
April 1, 2002
Photos By: Mustang Monthly Archives

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We found this well-preserved ’79 Mustang sedan from Illinois at Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte in 1994.
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The all-new ’79 Mustang was available with four engine choices—from left to right, 5.0L (302ci) V-8, 2.3L OHC Turbocharged four, and the 2.8L Cologne V-6. Not pictured is the standard 2.3L OHC four.
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The ’80-’81 Mustang Cobra was more dressed up than 1979, but figured in way less power.
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What Ford couldn’t provide under hood, they provided in a more striking package. Any way you look at it, these were the most anemic Mustang years ever.
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Though the showroom examples were not too hot, the racetrack was. Ford returned to racing in 1981 with the Miller brewing company Mustang. This Mustang carried on the legacy left by the Trans-Am cars of the late '60s and early '70s.
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No convertible—yet. In this pre-production shot, Ford toyed with a faux convertible. As far as we know, none made production. At the time, we were still three years away from a real drop top.
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At the heart of the new Mustang GT was the 5.0L High Output V-8 with two-barrel Motorcraft carburetion and a Ford Marine camshaft with a more aggressive grind.
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Call the ’82 Mustang GT an awakening to a new and exciting era called Musclecar II. This car reopened the Ford versus Chevy street performance battle because Chevrolet brought back the Z28 Camaro as a response to the Mustang GT.
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The ’82 Mustang GT’s rekindled performance image made it a test bed for tuners everywhere. Buff magazines of the era, including Mustang Monthly, played with this car, helping public awareness. The message? The BOSS was back!
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The ’82 Mustang GT’s exhaust system had a throaty note, but didn’t hold a candle to what was coming later, in 1985.
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Inside, the ’82 Mustang GT had a healthy air of sportiness.
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Full instrumentation, blacked-out appointments, and a four-speed stick between the buckets.
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Expensive Recaro bucket seats were optional.
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Instrumentation for 1982 wasn’t much different than 1979-’81. We like the six-grand tachometer, but have to laugh at the 85 mph speedometer—a government mandate at the time. Engine vitals gauges complemented the rest of the panel.

When the ’79 Mustang was introduced more than two decades ago, it was a radically different car than the ’78 Mustang II it replaced. For one thing, it was a totally new platform we would come to know as the Fox body. For another, it became the most innovative Mustang platform ever. The Fox platform has its U.S. beginnings with the ’79 Mustang even though the ’78 Fairmont and Zephyr sedans were introduced first. What’s more, the Fox would become the most widely used platform in Ford history, finding happy marriages with Mustang, Capri, Cougar, Thunderbird, LTD, Marquis, Lincoln Continental, and Mark VII. What made the Fox platform different was front McPherson struts with coil springs. In back, a four-link suspension with shock absorbers and coil springs. It was a well-balanced platform, fun to drive, and a great handler with lots of potential for longevity and growth.

The ’79 Mustang was introduced in the fall of 1978 with two body styles—a two-door sedan and a three-door hatchback. Two basic models were offered—base and Ghia. Although we think of the Cobra as a model, it was actually an option package based on the standard Mustang, available only with the three-door hatchback. There was also the Sport option package for those who wanted something between base Mustang and a Cobra.

Three suspension packages were available for 1979 ranging from a soft ride to a stiff competition handler. Handling was the new Mustang’s greatest asset. Four engine choices were available—2.3L OHC four, 2.3L OHC Turbo, 2.8L Cologne V-6, and the 5.0L (302ci) V-8. Three transmissions were available depending upon engine selection. Transmission choices were simple in scope with an SROD four-speed or C4 Select-Shift automatic. Axle ratios ranged from 2.47:1 to 3.45:1 depending on engine and transmission selection.

Ford’s Ghia studios in Turin, Italy, served as the inspiration for the Mustang Ghia luxury model. Introduced first in 1974, the Ghia was an upscale luxury edition Mustang with Ghia badges, optional vinyl top, a more plush interior, courtesy lamps, heavier pile carpeting, abundant sound deadening, rich wood grain appointments, a nicer steering wheel, and a more distinctive trim package. The Mustang Ghia was to 1979 what the Grande was to 1969-’73.

For those desiring a sport-driving experience, there was the Mustang Cobra for ’79. Available with either the 2.3L OHC Turbo four or a 5.0L V-8, the Cobra was equipped with TRX wheels and Michelin metric radials, performance suspension, front disc brakes with semi-metallic linings, color-keyed quarter-window trim, Cobra decals, nonfunctional hood scoop, engine-turned dashboard appointments and full instrumentation, three-spoke Sport steering wheel, and more.

1980-’81
You could call ’80-’81 the lull before the storm of performance cars to come in the ’80s. In 1980, America had just been body-slammed with its second OPEC oil crisis, which means performance was one of the last things on anyone’s mind in Dearborn. So underhood performance only grew worse.

It may interest you to know that 1980 was the first year the Mustang received halogen headlamps. It was also the first year the Mustang ever had an optional V-8 smaller than the 260ci small-block available the Mustang’s first year. The de-cubed 255ci small-block was a weak attempt by Ford to develop a V-8 that would offer better fuel economy than the 302 it replaced. In fact, the 302 wasn’t even available in the Mustang in 1980-’81. Ford took the 302’s three-inch stroke and married it to a smaller 3.68-inch bore. But this is where the similarity ends. The 255 had different cylinder-head porting designed to improve low-end torque and reduce emissions. Buff magazines of the period experimented with the 255 without much success. It was never considered a performance engine.

Production and supply problems with the 2.8L Cologne V-6 put Ford in the position of having to return to the Mustang’s original six-cylinder power plant—the 200ci inline six. The 200ci six actually returned late in the ’79 model year in a few units and continued in service through 1981. Standard Mustang power for 1980-’81 was the 2.3L OHC carbureted four. The optional 2.3L OHC carbureted turbo four remained a Mustang engine choice through the end of the ’81 model year.

The Ghia returned for 1980-’81 with few changes. Cobra returned with some minor changes not worthy of mention. Ford fitted the Cobra with the same front air dam used on the ’79 Indy Pace Car. Either the cowl induction style hood or a hood scoop was available.

The standard Cobra engine was the 2.3L OHC Turbo four. Optional was the 4.2L (255ci) small-block V-8. Believe it or not, a 2.26:1 rear-axle ratio was used with the 4.2L V-8. Only a C4 Select-Shift automatic was available. After a vanishing act for several years, Traction-Lok returned for 1980. The year 1980 was also the first for radial tires as standard equipment.

Inside, the Mustang was virtually unchanged aside from minor trim changes. Recaro front bucket seats were again offered as a rather expensive option. An optional T-top was offered for the first time on the Mustang in 1981. It is important to note that 1981 was the last year a Mustang was assembled at the Milpitas plant near San Jose, California. Ford closed the San Jose plant as a result of California’s tougher pollution standards. The plant is a shopping mall today, known as The Great Mall of Milpitas, built using the plant’s architecture and offering a factory theme.

1982—Mustang GT!
Mustang sales couldn’t have gotten any worse than they were in 1981. That year, Ford sold 127,093 units, down a whopping 113,971 units from ’80’s 241,064. Worse news was yet to come—119,314 units in 1982. Ford’s product planners were concerned about the future of this genuinely American nameplate. It had been one of Ford’s best sellers ever, breaking all records, with over a million units the first two years (eclipsed by the Maverick’s success in 1970).

Ford understood that to sell the Mustang’s primary image—performance—it had to build Mustangs that inspired buyers to visit showrooms. In the fall of 1981, we became acquainted with a old and familiar designation that had been absent for 12 years—Mustang GT. Mustang GT roared onto Main Street for 1982 with a warmed-up 5.0L High Output V-8 that signaled an improvement in the performance picture. The new 5.0L High Output V-8 had a lighter block, high-performance 351W marine camshaft, double-roller timing chain, and horses numbering 157. Beneath the dual-snorkel air cleaner was a Motorcraft 2150 two-barrel carburetor.

The ’82 Mustang GT was an exciting change in the Mustang with the Cobra-style front air dam, nonfunctioning hood scoop, traction bars, and dual European-style exhaust tips on the left-hand side. Believe it or not, the TRX wheels and Michelin radials were optional. The GT suspension used stiffer springs along with front and rear stabilizer bars.

Inside, the GT had an all-business façade with full instrumentation, blacked-out knobs and controls, and low-back bucket seats with headrests. Reclining Recaro bucket seats were a high-cost option.

Elsewhere in the Mustang lineup for 1982, the Ghia name was dropped and replaced with GLX. The GLX was a luxury package on a par with the Ghia. Lots of foo-foo inside and out. The 255ci small-block returned one more year as an option in all Mustang models except the GT. Gone was the chronically ill 2.3L OHC Turbo four. Standard was the 2.3L OHC four popper. Optional was the 3.3L (200ci) inline six. Those dinky 13-inch standard wheels were dropped in favor of more stable 14-inch rollers and skins.