Tom Wilson
April 1, 2009
The Fox that started it all was the '82 GT. Obviously the designer's had mislaid their French Curves when this car was designed in the boxy '80s. From the headlights and fog lights to the air dam, roofline and grille openings, these cars could have been penned with nothing more than a carpenter's square.

Initially lackluster, the Fox Mustang came to dominate the performance world in the 1990s. That it grew into one of the greatest of Mustangs is because it was true to core Mustang values of satisfying performance, low cost, V-8 power, adaptability and a non-threatening personality.

By non-threatening personality we mean the base Mustang presents the persona of a friendly companion rather than a mean beast that needs he-man taming. While 5.0 H.O.s were getting all the attention, there were even more 2.3-liter four-cylinder base Mustangs selling to those wanting a sporty feel but not needing the 5.0's bluster. Their numbers contributed greatly to the Foxes' affordability. By comparison, the Camaro's slickness didn't appeal as widely and it suffered accordingly, dying completely in '02.

Through its dominance the Fox Mustang achieved tremendous successes for Ford and its fans. Most importantly, the EFI 5.0's attracted a vastly wider audience than previous Mustangs; Chevy and Dodge traditionalists were won over by the Fox. Those conquest buyers no doubt helped bolster Ford sales in trucks and passenger cars for years, not to mention an entire class of youngsters who started out in 5.0s because it was the most affordable, most logical place to get started in high performance. That was Chevy's mantle until the Fox 5.0 took it away.

Equally vital to enthusiasts, the Fox Mustang supercharged the performance aftermarket. It is not over-stating events to say Vortech, to name one company-became a major speed parts maker on the strength of its Fox Mustang sales. By concentrating so many affordable, similar, modification-hungry cars in one place the 5.0 HO made it possible for new speed companies to get started and pumped up existing parts makers. Specifically, Fox Mustang sales put horsepower into the Ford Motorsport SVO-now Ford Racing Performance Parts program. The Fox made performance profitable at Ford; without it would the '01 Bullitts, '03 Cobras, and '04 Mach 1s have been built? Would the GT500 have been bothered with? Certainly these later performance Mustangs owe a huge debt to the Fox.

Born in uncertain times the all-new '79 Mustang rolled quietly onto the automotive stage in simple, non-performance trim and white walls no less. Lightweight, and fitted with basic engines, just adequate transmissions and rear axle the first Fox could only foster enthusiast's dreams. That it would remain a viable performance platform 30 years on was laughably unimaginable.

Taking a larger look at it, the Fox Mustang created the burgeoning Ford aftermarket as we know it today. Before '85 or '86 Ford performance was barely a cottage industry. It felt more like a cult, with a few sole proprietors offering esoteric parts for even more esoteric Ford FE engines and '60s-era small-blocks. In 1985 there wasn't a single aftermarket small-block Ford cylinder head, if you can believe that, and intake manifolds could be counted without having to take off your shoes. Chevy parts ruled, something that didn't change until the '90s when the Fox craze went national.

Thirty years on, Ford's Mustang is riding high. Even as a fuel situation in flux changes the world forever, the lessons from the Fox era remain valid. Mustangs have prospered when their costs were kept low. Mustangs have prospered when the technical specifications were kept simple and accessible to hot rodders. Mustangs have prospered when they were tough, dependable everyday drivers. Mustangs have prospered when they stuck close to their populist's roots. The Fox Mustang did all of these better than almost any other Mustang, pointing to core values Ford must keep in mind.

But for those of us who were there, the Fox is most simply a lasting tribute to small cars, big motors and easy speed. If we haven't said so before, Fox Mustang we salute you. Happy 30th birthday!