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.

Rick is actually the original owner of the last Fox ever built. He read a magazine story about the '93 rolling off the assembly line on August 26, 1993 at 1:25 p.m. That's when the Fox era officially came to a close. Fortunately for Rick, the story made note of the car's VIN and receiving dealer. He immediately tracked the car down, and bought it for $500 over invoice. Luckily, he was the first to call, as the dealer, Carlisle Ford in Clearwater, Florida, received several offers for more money. He even got $1,000 cash back from Ford, as it was the end of the model year and the anticipated '94 Mustang was on the way.

So the Fox revolution crept slowly, fostered by improving technology and management busy elsewhere and happy enough to let the Mustang program run on autopilot once it hit its stride.

Thus, in the beginning Ford gave us 1979-1981 Mustangs with four, six, and barely eight cylinders, each less inspiring than the next. In '80 and '81 the 302 was even downsized to 255 cubes in order to save fuel. The highlight was an Indy Pace car version in '79, but no one was fooled by its fake hood scoop or decals.

The first glimmer came in 1982 with the new performance-oriented High Output GT. That Detroit could build a souped-up Mustang was too much to hope for, yet there it was in two-page magazine ads touting the "5.0"-hey, we knew it was just a 302 with a new name, but at least it was a 302-along with its marine camshaft and two-barrel Holley carburetor. A Holley carb! Man, we hadn't had one of those in over a decade, even if it was a lousy two-barrel. Was it really true? It was, and people were ready for a performance car that didn't have 100,000 miles on it already (imagine if the hottest thing on the road today was a '98 Mustang GT; ever since then Dearborn had been selling a Focus with Mustang badging, and suddenly Ford came out with the Performance Improved Two-Valve modular in a new Mustang chassis).

Today an '82 GT doesn't get glanced at in car shows except by Editor Turner, but it was the right car just in time. And Ford was nearly paranoid over weight when they developed the Fox. Reduced mass was the only way to improve mileage-and gain whatever performance that could be had with a smog-strangled 122hp small-block V-8-the best Ford could do in the early Mustang II days when the Fox was developed.

Normally we would photograph a convertible with the top down, but we weren't about to drop the top on the last Fox ever, so we shot it as it sits with the window sticker still in place. During the short time we spent with this GT, it was like a blast back to the heyday when these cars were rolling off the dealer lots. The car still smells new, the ashtray door isn't broken, and the paint is immaculate. Even still, it is a convertible Fox, so the chassis does flex and creak even when the cars are in like-new condition.

The Ford Fairmont/Mercury Zephyr sedans were the first Foxes, and if you put a drop light in the engine compartment the fenders would darn near glow like a Japanese lantern. Passengers stepping into the backseat of a Fairmont would audibly oil can the floor pan they were so lightly built.

So the '82 HO Mustang didn't need much power to feel sporty. It's new 5.0 High Output was enough, and the twin-snorkel air filter housing certainly recalled the '60s glory days. Power was up 17 horses from the base '79 302, yielding 157 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. In those days you weren't an enthusiast if you couldn't shift, so all 5.0 HO GTs came with a four-speed manual tranny and 3.08 gears in a Traction-Lok 7.5-inch rear axle.

Humble though it was, reaction to the '82 HO was positive. Sales were good and magazines started comparing the new Mustangs to classic '60s performance models. That was when we started to learn the new Mustang could easily out-handle the classic cars, even if acceleration was obviously lacking. But performance was back.

In 1983 the 2-barrel Holley was replaced by the obvious 600 cfm four-barrel Holley alternative. That delivered a welcome 175 hp. Just as important, the first Borg Warner T-5 five-speed transmission was fitted, although the four-speed Single Rail OverDrive four-speed remained as well.

In 1984 there was a 20th Mustang anniversary to celebrate-with stickers only. More substantive was the introduction of the LX model-which had all the GT's mechanicals, but didn't bother with some of the trim excess. Also noteworthy was the introduction of the first EFI Mustang. These were 5.0s with Central Fuel Injection; it was standard with automatic-transmissioned GTs. The CFI was a first attempt at fuel injection for emission and mileage reasons. Obviously it was a complete mystery to everyone, didn't support hot rodding of any kind and mustered 10 fewer horsepower than the carbureted 5.0 HO. In most respects CFI combined the worst aspects of carburetion and fuel injection and set the enthusiast world against EFI as an expensive, complex, weak and unresponsive alternative to carburetion.

This is the engine configuration that launched an entire aftermarket industry-the mass air-equipped 5.0 H.O. Even if you've been around 5.0 Foxes for a while, it's unlikely you've seen too many that are stock. That's a tribute to how adding a tunable fuel-injection to the familiar small-block Ford eased the hot rodder's journey from carburetors to fuel injection. Today it seems simple, but when the original speed-density system debuted in '86, the knee-jerk reaction was to rip off the EFI and add a carburetor. Mass air changed all that and allowed the 5.0 to supplant the small-block Chevy as the mainstream engine for bolt-on speed.

Like it or not, 1985 saw the final carbureted Mustang. As was then normal, the front grille was restyled, 10-hole; 15-inch wheels introduced with the fast-wearing Goodyear Gatorbacks; and the swaybars enlarged and kicker shocks added to the rear suspension to combat wheel hop. All good changes, but the gear heads were mainly under the hood. There the roller cam made its debut, and this was heady stuff. Until then roller cams were race-car-exotic, but as the world was on the cusp of computer-driven leaps in precision and knowledge, the production roller cam marked the beginning of a real change in hardware and electronics.

That wasn't all, though. The once ubiquitous, heavy-as-sin cast iron exhaust manifolds were replaced by flyweight stainless steel short-tube headers-another amazement, headers on a production car-plus dual mufflers (although a central catalytic converter remained). Power jumped to 210 hp at 4,400 rpm, with torque moving from 245 lb ft in 1984 to 270 lb ft at 3,200 rpm in 1985.

Now here was a Mustang to be proud of. While still eclipsed by the big-block gods of the past in acceleration and panache, the 1985 Mustang GT with five-speed manual ran hard enough to demand respect, and was unquestionably better in the corners and at the gas pump. By comparision the CFI automatic 5.0s were still wheezing along with 165 hp in 1985. At a 45 hp deficit, EFI wasn't making any friends.

Having finally assembled a good-looking, hard-running V-8 Mustang with a five-speed and easy-to-work on carbureted induction Ford ticked everyone off by throwing it all away just a year later. For 1986 the Holley was gone forever, replaced by yet another EFI system. This one was even more complex with injectors at every port and sequential electronic activation. Furthermore, the ignition and fuel systems were co-mingled by a central engine management computer. Called EEC-IV, the new system was inscrutable, and punished anything past the most minor changes with hideous, stuttering driveability, flat spots and a lack of power. It was as if everything the hot rodder had learned was now useless, along with his tach/dwell meter.

Dig those 15-inch pony wheels; they were the nuts in 1991 and foreshadowed the iconic Cobra R rim. They were also the final cosmetic Fox Mustang change, save the Cobra-and along with the smooth nosed, body-clad GT trim seen here set the "modern" 5.0 look that took us to the SN95.

Also unfortunate was Ford's one-year switch to a dumb cylinder head. Similar to previous castings, the '86 head featured a fence around the intake valve in the combustion chamber. This masked-valve design promoted a high-swirl combustion chamber that was good for emissions but choked power, which backed up to 200 hp. Enthusiasts groaned; would old cars always be the fast way?

And these weren't just car enthusiasts; they were Ford enthusiasts. Ever since the '55 Chevy the domestic performance world was Chevy's oyster. Fords and Dodges were "other" cars. Chevy's were notable cheaper to buy and hot rod, ran as fast as anything and were the undisputed dominators in the performance marketplace. Ford fans typically came from Ford families, or had long ties to the marque at the least. To have a Mustang that made sense in '85 was a big boost to the faithful; to have it back-track in '86 was an insult.

The one bright spot in '86 was torque. The port injection system allowed the use of a long-runner intake manifold because it ran dry (no fuel mixture), so long, turning runner shapes could be run with impunity. The long runners promoted torque (and suppressed top-end power). Also, Ford had been creeping up the 5.0 HO's compression ratio, with '86 seeing a move to 9.2:1 from forged, flat-top pistons. Combined with the long runners, the '86 HO moved up to 285 lb-ft of torque; that helped cover up the power loss, felt good around town, and delivered a hair more fuel economy. Of course, by then fuel prices were falling in real terms as the economy started to recover, so that gain wasn't well celebrated.

A 5.0 LX, the Fox of Foxes. In '88 when this one posed on its 10-spokes the "aero" front end was still looking a bit new, but with previewing on the Thunderbird and Taurus the profile was not overly forced. In California, this car would already have been mass air; modifications were easy, cheap and nothing would change for six years.

The next year, 1987, saw more positive movement. Most obvious was the new "aero" front sheetmetal. Not as homogenous with the rest of the car as the original "four-eyed" front end, the aero look was modern and improved speed and economy; later it became the norm after sheer repetition. Inside the dash and instrument cluster was completely updated.

Underhood, the masked-valve head was gone, replaced by the storied E7TE casting from the '85 carbureted engine, plus a larger throttle body. Power was now 225 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque; a power level that would hold till the end of Fox Mustang production, no matter if Ford fiddled with the ratings at the end. Behind the 5.0 was the slick-shifting Borg Warner T-5 five-speed, backed by the light, but rugged 8.8-inch rear axle.

In fact, by 1987 the Fox Mustang had reached near completion. The next six years would see minor changes such as revised spindles, an occasionally deleted center console arm rest and replacing the unloved 85 mph speedometer. An air bag changed the steering wheel design in 1991, but in broad terms the Fox Mustang reached its final form in 1987 with one exception that would change everything.

To many this '86 Fox could be the best looking of the breed. The hood scoops and Cobra stickers were gone by then, leaving the purest expression of the original four-eyed headlight design. Mechanically, however, the masked-valve heads and inscrutable EEC-IV engine management made many think the world had ended a second time. Most curiously, the coupes were shunned by performance buyers then but are prized today. Tastes do change.

That change was mass air metering. If there ever was a single more important technical advance in Mustang history we can't recall it. Introduced on 1988 California 5.0s and made standard on 50-state cars the next year, mass air metering was the key to the electronic kingdom gate. Where the previous speed-density system could only be changed via the most sophisticated laboratory equipment-and it had to be modified when any meaningful hot rodding was performed-mass air automatically accepted changes in the engine's mechanical state of tune. Furthermore, Ford SVO, via engineer Hank Dertain, bundled the mass air mechanicals into a retrofit kit, allowing all EEC-IV 5.0 owners the freedom to modify their cars.

And it was this ability to modify the Fox Mustang that was such a huge factor in putting it over the top. That's good, as on the showroom floor the Fox Mustang was falling behind technically by 1989 when mass air was standard across the line. While the engines were durable and torquey, they lacked top end breathing (showroom stock racers shifted their 5.0's at just 4800 rpm for best lap times, for example). The rear drum brakes were easy pickings for critics, while the econobox 10-inch front discs were the real culprit and four-lug wheel attachment meant there was no inexpensive upgrade. The featherweight chassis proved about as rigid as cooked spaghetti, and drag racers found the rear suspension would tear out of the unibody when launched hard. Road racers figured out that same four-link rear suspension geometry was near schizophrenic, and in short, the 5.0 HO was considered a crude piece by many. The mainstream automotive press labeled it a cheap thrill and asked for refinement.

Compare this '93 GT with the '91 GT and there's no difference. This was both a blessing and a curse, but by 1993 it was time to update the aging Fox. Sales exhaustion was settling in, and the Mustang had lost its status as a tier-one car; that is, performance enthusiasts were still interested, but mainstream America wanted more refinement than the Fox could deliver.

Such shortcomings would normally be disqualifying weaknesses, but in the Fox 5.0 they weren't because by the late '80s the Fox Mustang had an additional trump card up its fender. Already 10 years old and simple as a country bumpkin, the Fox Mustang was fully amortized in Ford's accounting and could be sold dirt-cheap. Well into the '90s dealers routinely handed over 5.0 LXs for $14,000 and change; the lowest figure we heard for a new 5.0 LX in the early '90s was just under $13,000, an anomaly for sure, but it underlines the point.

This combination of low cost and easy modification was the Foxes' ultimate strength. By '90 nothing else came close in bang for the buck, and when Ford Motorsport SVO (now Ford Racing) and the aftermarket started bringing heavy duty and racing pieces to market the 5.0 was unstoppable. From 1990 on, enthusiasts looked at the 5.0 the same way we did; it was the best 7/8s finished car ever. You drove it home and finished it the way you wanted it. So if the Fox could be driven off the showroom floor as-is and deliver a ton of fun, fitted with an ever-growing list of speed parts it positively ruled.

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.

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!

While the S197 seemed to take the specialty or tuner Mustang trend to the next level, don't think that the Fox era didn't have its fair share of specialty rides. Of course, Steve Saleen picked up where Carroll Shelby left off in '84, but in the later '80s and early '90s the specialty Foxes were plentiful. I have fond memories of dreaming about cars like these in my youth, but at that time even a stock Fox was beyond my reach. However, the existence and variety of so many aftermarket Mustang variants not only showed how robust the aftermarket support was for the Foxes, but also set the stages for years of tuner Mustangs.

Like all the other lists in this story, narrowing my top specialty 'Stangs down was pretty tough. It also made me stick to the factory cars for my Top 10 Foxes list, when in reality I would have mixed them freely on any Top 10 wish list. In the end, here's a list with some brief descriptions, as I bet most of you don't recall all these cars:

1. '92 SAAC Mustang. The Shelby club presaged the '93 Cobra with this blend of looks and performance made famous by Steve Grebeck's Pro 5.0 version.

2. '89 Roush 25th Anniversary Prototype. Since it never made production, this insane twin-turbo anniversary wasn't available for sale like the rest of this list, but it should have been.

3. '93 Saleen SA10. Steve Saleen closed out the Fox era with this sexy, bumblebee hued small-volume Mustang.

4. '92 1/2 Steeda 5th Anniversary. Setting the stage for a new wave of parts and cars, Steeda's LX was a sharp-handling red looker.

5. '89 Saleen SSC. Likely the car most Fox fans would most like to clone, this two-seater Saleen was simply lustworthy.

6. '93 Crawford Quarterhorse. Amid a storm of street handling packages, this drag special from the original 347 stroker specialists was proudly pointed in a straight line.

7. '89 Kenny Brown Outlaw. Long on handling prowess, and short on flash Kenny Brown's Fox efforts showcased the company's handling and stiffening bits.

8. '88 Ronnie Sox Mustang. A blend of body kit and bolt-ons the short-lived Sox 'Stang had the flash to suit the time, but the kind of performance you'd expect from its namesake.

9. '89 JBA Dominator GTA. Now owned by Latemodel Restoration Supply's Shannon Guderian, this flashy widebody 'Stang also packed a performance punch.

10. '88 ASC McClaren. These two-seater convertibles shunned performance, but brought a Eurocentric flare to the Fox.

So there you have it, a trip back to a time when Fox options were plentiful, but the number sold was modest. Only Saleen really moved a significant number of small-volume 'Stangs in this era, but that doesn't make the other cars any less cool. If you see one of these cars at a car show or cruise night, take some time to check it out and take a few photos, they are true rarities. - Steve Turner

Just when you think every Fox Mustang has been thrashed within an inch of its fenders, we have news of several collections aimed at preserving our favorite Mustang generation. If we didn't personally see many of these collections we'd swear they were made up. Plus, when we're in our 50s, and see an original Fox Mustang with 6 miles on it for sale, we won't automatically discount it as a fake. Thankfully, while the rest of us are busy thrashing our Fox Mustangs, there are people out there keeping these cars bottled up for posterity's sake.

Most would argue that these cars are meant to be driven, and we agree, but having original preserved for study is a good thing, too. After all, a car is original only once, and these collections represent the cream of the Fox Mustang crop. In doing our research for this article it seems the book ends to most Fox Mustang collections start with a '79 Pace Car, and end with a '93 Cobra R. The Fox Mustangs between these two milestones usually include assorted extremely low-mileage SVOs, '85-'86 GTs, Saleens of all years, and Fox coupes.

One collection we were able to see up close is Daniel Carpenter's gathering of Fox cars. Daniel's collection is nothing short of spectacular. His group is stored in an upstairs room, and when I opened the door to see what was on the other side it was like seeing Marissa Miller in person. OK, maybe not, but it was really close. I was speechless while gazing at 14 gleaming Foxes. I wanted to hug 'em, squeeze 'em, and call them my own, but I don't think Daniel would approve me taking any home. Daniel's breathtaking collection starts with a '79 Pace Car featuring the original front spoiler still in the box. The car has 11 miles on it.

Chick's car? Sure, the Mustang's non-threatening sportiness has always been a sales virtue. From '79-'81 it is what the Fox Mustang survived on. This little-adorned, pre-5.0 convertible highlights the Foxes spare physique and large greenhouse. And yeah, it was a long time ago; if she was 25 then she'd be 54 now.

Other than the Pace Car, collection highlights include a triple-black '83 GLX 5.0 five-speed convertible with six miles on it, an 85 1/2 Comp Prep SVO with 380 miles, an '86 SVO with four miles, a '93 Police Package LX coupe with 347 miles, and a '93 Cobra R with 29 miles on it that was never dealer prepped. Daniel had several Fox Mustangs that had never been dealer prepped. These cars still have the plastic on the seats, and chalk markings from the factory. They all smelled brand-new.Another collection visited by Editor Turner is that of National Parts Depot's Rick Schmidt. Rick owns the first serialized Fox Mustang and the last Fox Mustang to roll off the assembly line. The '79 was evidently ordered by a friend of Edsel Ford, and the last '93 is a red GT convertible. Rick also owns a '79 Pace Car, a '93 Cobra, and a '93 Cobra R. You can read more about Rick's first and last Foxes in the captions.

One collection we heard about is from Monty Scawright. Like many of us, Monty was a teenager during the late '80s. No one from that generation will ever forget seeing, hearing, or driving a Fox Mustang for the first time. That sensation and image is burnt in our brain. Also like many of us, Monty couldn't afford one at the time, but he has more than made up for lost time with his current collection. Monty, like our first two collectors, also has a '79 Pace Car and a '93 Cobra R. The Pace Car has 150 miles on it, while the Cobra R features just six miles. Monty, however, has a couple really special cars in his collection, including an '85 Twister II with around 700 miles, and an '89 LX convertible Carolina Edition. The Twister II was only available in the Kansas City sales district, and just 90 were built, making them extremely rare. The Carolina Edition convertibles were all white with a red interior, and featured a 5.0/five-speed combination. Monty's example boasts 89 miles, and he even has the car's original window sticker. Making this author super jealous, Monty also has an '89 Saleen SSC, and it has just 596 miles on it.

Speaking of Saleen Mustangs, Stu Akers from the Saleen Ranch probably owns the largest Fx Saleen collection. Stu, at our latest count, owned 13 Fox Saleens ranging from the three '84 models to 2 of the 18 '90 Saleen SCs. Stu owns '85-49R, the first Saleen race car. Stu owns several significant Saleens from the Fox era. Another Fox Saleen aficionado is Mark Allen, who at last count owned 9 examples, including what many regard as the Fox Saleen high-water mark in an SA-10. So, while Fox Mustangs aren't setting records on the auction circuit just yet, there are several enthusiasts that collect these cars for the pure love of the Fox. For that we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. - Michael Johnson

We would certainly be remiss if we failed to include a few notable drag race '79-'93 'Stangs in this celebration of the Fox-body Mustang's 30th anniversary. However, deciding which Ponies to acknowledge in this limited forum is a mountainous order (and we humbly apologize to the Foxes and their owners that we'd never forget and who definitely deserve mention, but unfortunately are not able to list).

Two of the main reasons why selecting any number of "Top," "Best" or "All-Time" Foxes in the drag category is difficult are, the reality is hundreds of cars that deserve such recognition, and (somewhat unfortunately), our choices are also hard to make because the heyday for many of the "legendary" 'strip-dominating Foxes came long before the organized, sanctioned Mustang drag racing (NMRA, Fun Ford Weekend, World Ford Challenge, PSCA) that many of you are familiar with, even existed.

So, here you are. In no particular "ranking" or order, these are just a few of my favorite Fox-body drag cars. While some of these Ponies have long been retired from action, there are quite a few that are still running strong and making plenty of noise on drag strips all over the country

. Billy Glidden's nitrous-injected 1990 GT hatchback
. Dwayne "Big Daddy" Gutridge's 1993 turbocharged LX coupe
. "Racin' Jason" Betwarda's twin-turbocharged 1987 GT convertible
. Job Spetter Jr's turbocharged 1988 LX coupe
. Mike Murillo's "Star Car I" turbocharged 1989 LX coupe
. Chris Little's nitrous-injected 1990 LX coupe
. Bob Kurgan's supercharged 1986 GT hatchback
. Charlie Booze's naturally aspirated 1992 GT hatchback
. Larry Geddes' naturally aspirated, manual-transmission 1990 LX hatchback
. Chris Tuten's nitrous-injected/turbocharged 1987 LX hatchback

That's a rundown of 10 of my favorite, hard-running drag Foxes. For our younger readers, who may not have a full awareness of the pre-sanctioned, and early "history" of Mustang drag racing (probably because you weren't old enough to recognize some of the cars in this list), many of these Mustangs and their drivers have won major events and in some cases, multiple championships, or have been "firsts" in setting new, or shattering previously existing elapsed-time and quarter-mile-speed records for their particular class or configuration. - KJ Jones

Polling the 5.0&SF crew, we came up with our Top 10 Foxes of the era based purely on personal preference. If you have some other ideas, be sure to send us an email at 5.0mailbag@sorc.com.

Spend as much time around Mustangs as us and you're bound to hear a few memorable phrases. Here are a few.

"Let's face it, the Mustang's lot in life is to have the holy shit beat out of it." - Don Walsh senior, Ford SVO engineer, rocket scientist, and Fox drag racer

"... a beer can on wheels." - Dale Amy, Super Ford and 5.0 Mustang & Super Ford contributor

"The best 7/8 finished car ever made." - Tom Wilson, Super Ford editor

"The '55 Chevy of the '90s." - Everyone at the '90-'99 SEMA shows

"This is the car that's going to send your kids to college!" - A now-forgotten aftermarket parts maker to us. He was right.