Tom Wilson
April 1, 2009
Rick and Jim Schmidt of National Parts Depot (800) 874-7595; www.npdlink.com were kind enough to let us photograph their ultra-rare bookend Foxes-the first serialized '79 and the last '93 off the assembly line.

Horse Sense: How in the world did the name of a small predatory mammal come to signify a family of Ford Mustangs? It's simple enough; in the '70s and '80s Ford used animal names as code names for vehicle platforms. The Fox name was applied to a mid-size rear-wheel drive platform that first took shape as the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr, then a year later the '79-'93 Mustang.

With finer appreciation of our own mortality we realized the Fox Mustang is now 30 years old. Yes, there are graybeards on staff who graduated from college in 1979 when the first Fox Mustang debuted. Heck, there are Mustang writers in the building who, although too young to drive, can easily recall the whoopla over the original Mustang debut in 1964. They're the ones with the oxygen bottles tucked in their driving suit pants leg.

Special ordered by a friend of Edsel Ford's-Floyd Moore, a noted Ford collector-this '79 wasn't the first off the assembly line, but it does wear the 000001 at the end of its VIN. This is likely due to its unique package of options. It is a Ghia, with TRX suspension, turbo-four-cylinder with a four-speed, moon-roof, and leather deluxe interior. Floyd Moore, the original owner, actually drove this car for $14,000 mile before parking it, so it's no pristine museum car, but it is still in good shape. As often as Fox Mustangs are raced, wrecked, and left to rot, it's amazing such a rare car is still around.

Truth be told, the Fox debut in '79 was not all that major. In those days a "Mustang" in the average enthusiast's eye was a Boss 302 or something. We had just endured the Mustang II phase, where the name had been sullied by anemic, strangled Pintos with huge snake decals on their hood, and the new Fox Mustang (no one called them Foxes then, they were just Mustangs) was, well, cleanly different, but certainly no performance car. Like a new kid in school, it was unknown, had no obvious performance advantage, and needed to prove itself.

To understand the why of the Fox Mustang it's necessary to recall the era that spawned it, plus the huge lead times massive companies such as Ford required to bring a new car to market.

The first generation Mustangs were just filing out the door and the second, Pinto-based generation was just coming in when the earliest planning for the Fox cars began in 1973. And the mid-'70s were an evil time indeed. The country had lost its mojo over Vietnam and Watergate, then OPEC decided to turn off the oil tap in both '73 and '79 and each time double the cost of gasoline overnight. Governmental leadership stunk, the popular music sucked and the economy was a train wreck. Unemployment was real, mortgage interest rates hung like vultures at 12 to 18 percent and computers were something seen in cheesy sci-fi flicks.

If some of this sounds eerily familiar today, it certainly does to those who lived through stagflation. There was a prevailing apathy in the U.S. then, a period of vanished confidence and no clear sense of the future.

We haven't been around too many '79s, but even fewer with Deluxe Leather Interior in red no less. The low placement of the door handles is a sure giveaway you're in a '79 Mustang. How about the odd-ball combination of power door locks and roll-up windows? This '79 is rare in many ways.

Domestic cars hit their nadir in the late '70s. Arrogance in the boardroom left the door wide open for the Japanese, while near-panic in the engineering lab ensued when it became necessary to simultaneously double mileage and halve emissions. Performance? Forget it, there was no time or even ability to engineer it. Detroit build quality resembled high school science projects and it was normal for a brand new car to spit, sputter, knock, run-backwards and finally expire in a gasp when the key was shut off. No one was in a mood to automatically accept a new Mustang as a good thing, just the opposite. The great Mustangs had already been built, this new car was more of a "personal car," a then popular label for something not a sedan but not a sports car. Think Monte Carlos or square T-birds.

Furthermore, Ford was in a Eurocentric mind-set during the Fox gestation and early years. Ford managers rotated through Ford of Europe in those days and many had returned to command positions in Dearborn. Furthermore, the fuel crunches had made European's seem fuel savvy, thanks to their familiarity with sky-high fuel prices. Thus, the Fox Mustang had picked up a hint of Ford's "World Car" push during its initial development. This was seen both in the clean, hard-edged styling, along with Ford's push for small engines, occasionally turbocharged. While we rightly recall the Fox Mustang as a V-8 car, for its first six years or so Ford was really pushing turbo fours and six-bangers as mainstream Mustang engines. It wasn't until the late 1980s when Ford truly backed the V-8 option and left an industrial 2.3-liter four-cylinder for the economy and secretary crowd.