Tom Wilson
April 1, 2009
For its swan song Ford brought out two special color convertible editions for the then 14-year-old Fox Mustang. One was white, the other this brilliant chrome yellow (which would be used on the SN95 cars). Like the "7-Up cars" these Special Editions had body-colored mirrors and rub rails. But it didn't much matter; by then the world was eagerly anticipating the '94 Mustang. No one much cared in '79 when the Fox debuted, but his tough Dearborn street fighter had made performance Mustang-centric. When Ford changed ponies in '94, the world was watching.

It's important to note it took time for the '87 to '93 Foxes to dominate the market, and most of this success was in spite of Ford management. Where Ford got it right was in the Foxes' initial layout and intent in the 1970s. The lightweight mandate and sturdy powertrain proved adaptable far beyond their expected lifespan. After that Ford bumbled the Fox Mustang, but almost by accident did the right things in the end. First of the gaffs was to nearly replace the Fox Mustang in '88 with a front-drive Mazda that ultimately became the Ford Probe. This must have looked good according to the product planner's cookbook, but that the idea was even vocalized, much less seriously developed, illustrated a frightening disconnect between blue oval management and its customers. It took a mail-in campaign organized by Mustang Monthly magazine editor Tom Corcoran to stop it, but in the end the Fox Mustang continued.

Then there was the 25th anniversary issue in 1989. It would have been the perfect time to deliver an upgraded Fox Mustang, but the milestone passed with a whimper of a badge. Luckily the upgraded 302 parts developed for the stillborn 25 Anniversary car-a twin-turbo prototype was constructed by Roush-were kept and later released in the SVO catalog as GT-40 bits and later employed on the '93 Mustang Cobra. But that should have been an '89 Cobra.

Besides its landmark performance powertrain, the '85 GTs sported Fox 5.0 landmark twin polished tailpipes and 10-hole wheels. The convertible top was powered, but stacked as neatly as a baby carriage, a Fox ragtop characteristic.

Or should we look through the other end of the telescope? In 1989 the Special Vehicle Team didn't exist and Ford's Special Vehicle Operations had just discontinued its turbo four-cylinder attempt at a specialty Mustang. So maybe having the already developed 25th Anniversary parts (nee, GT-40) lying around was the low-buck dealmaker that got SVT off the ground in 1993. And then Ford ignored the Mustang from '89 to '93, mainly because they were busy elsewhere, often with emission and safety issues. Aside from the airbag and a few color options the 5.0 soldiered on without updates. Again, this would normally be a disaster, but it had just the opposite effect. The aftermarket was on fire with new 5.0 Mustang parts in this period, effectively doing Ford's job for them. For their part, Ford not spending any money on the Mustang meant continued low showroom prices.

Thus, the important EFI Fox Mustang enjoyed an incredibly long, uninterrupted sales run from 1987 to 1993. Hundreds of thousands of mechanically identical fuel-injected Fox 5.0 Mustangs were sold; these legions gave the pony car huge leverage with the aftermarket, a major reason why the Fox Mustang came to completely dominate the domestic performance scene. If you love the diversity of all those blowers, suspension kits, brakes and so on, thank Ford for doing little to the car for six years.

Ford's Special Vehicle Operations is what is now SVT. In '84-'86 this group offered its own special SVO Mustang. It's "aero" front end styling was ahead of its time, as were the five-spoke 15-inch wheels and four-wheel disc brakes. A snappy handler, its intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder was just too torque-less and far too buzzy. The SVO's were fuel misers when it didn't count; just 9,844 were made.

Another reason the Fox Mustang was such a bargain was because Ford barely needed to compete with Chevy, Dodge, or imports. The import scene was nascent in the early '90s and an anti-Mustang vibe predominated. All Ford needed to do was put wavy American flag stickers in the Ford Motorsport SVO catalog and move on. Dodge was married to minivans by then, with no hope of a pony car. Their sporty move was the Viper, and that car targeted the Corvette.

And Chevy? Their Camaro was a viable pony car on paper, what with its larger 350 engine and superior chassis, but in the real world the Camaro withered. It was too large and too expensive. Its spacey aerodynamic sleekness came with real practical costs. The laid back windshield required view-blocking A-pillars. The doors were the size of Nebraska and a real pain in parking lots. The seating was too low relative to the window sills, the engine sat half under the windshield where no one wanted to work on it, and so even though contemporary Camaros spanked Mustangs on road courses, their daily driving hassles suppressed their technical superiority.

This was a huge blow to Chevrolet. As the Fox 5.0 did its massive burnout across the aftermarket in the early '90s the unthinkable happened: the Chevy world went Ford. Eventually the Camaro faded from production, driven to pasture in large part by the Fox Mustang.