Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
May 1, 2008
Photos By: Brian Bohnsack, Andrew Sivori
We found this Pony for sale on the side of the road. At first, it looked like a clean car. Upon further inspection, it was missing the exhaust from the converters back. It also had a red interior, which can be a resale nightmare.

Unfortunately, not everyone's first car is a mustang. Many of our first rides are based on our parent's recommendations or are hand-me-downs. Not every new driver is ready for a mustang either, especially the v-8 kind, but eventually the allure of owning america's first ponycar leads us to buying into the mustang brand, be it a new or used horse.

If you're a first-time buyer or looking to upgrade, there are things you should know. With that, Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords looked into the Mustang market to give you some buying tips regarding late-model Mustangs. Having bought and sold more than 30 cars in his lifetime, the author is rather familiar with the used-car market, and Mustangs in particular.

Geographical Considerations
Unfortunately, Northeast and Midwest enthusiasts have to deal with rust. Floorboards, rocker panels, doorskins, and quarter-panels are all susceptible to car cancer, especially on Fox-body Mustangs. We haven't heard of it being much of a problem with the SN-95s and newer cars yet. Another thing all Fox-body Mustang buyers should look for is rust around the underside of the hatch and/or trunk lid. No matter where you live, this seems to be a problem. If you're considering a Mustang that has these issues, know that parts are easy to find and rather inexpensive at this point in time.

Not everyone can afford a new car, but for those who can, a new Roush, Saleen, or Steeda Mustang may be the ticket for a warranteed, high-performance Mustang.

Southern cars can often be the victims of floods, which usually leads to a host of electrical issues, as the submerged wiring harnesses can hold water, and rust components and connections. can be a good way to determine whether or not a car has been in a flood, or an accident for that matter, but you can check yourself for excessive rust on the seat frames or under the dash. A moldy smell is usually a sign of previous flooding, but it could also be a result of a leaky heater core.

Be A Smart Shopper
As with anything you're looking to purchase, it pays to be a smart shopper and do research first. Compare the car to similar Mustangs, and be sure to ask a lot of questions if you don't know much about the one you're interested in. If you're one of the overly excited types, bring a friend to be the voice of reason. I've always had a problem with envisioning the finished product when looking at the beat-up hulk. Such a car can be good, but it will most likely get you in deeper than you planned, or can afford. Friends or family members who know your habits (and your financial state) can help steer you away from making costly mistakes.

It also pays to make the most of your friends and family in regard to their talents or skills in the automotive department. If you, or someone you know, does bodywork, you might be able to make a better deal on a car that needs such work. If you have spare Mustang parts lying around, finding one in need of said parts means it can be had for slightly less than one that's complete.

The owner of this Mustang was looking to get $6,500 for this Calypso Green '92 coupe--not a bad price given its relatively clean, 97,000-mile condition and numerous performance parts.

We've found that is still the best place to find deals on Mustangs. People who aren't really into the Mustang hobby, but have one to sell, often use print ads for advertising their rides. Aside from their local newspaper, the Auto Trader magazine is the next best thing and a bit more focused. The publication offers locally based issues so you aren't scouting the nation, though you can do that online if you like.

The next best resource is It's a free classified service, so you don't get much in the way of organization or search choices, but there are deals to be had.

Also online are the numerous Web site classified sections. Here, you'll find people asking for premium prices because they're more familiar with the Mustang market. However, you'll still find deals where people need to get out of their vehicles fast for whatever reason. Good resources include and

We'd be remiss if we didn't include eBay here. The thing we like most about the site is that there's usually much more in-depth documentation of the vehicle, with more pictures and information listed. Unfortunately, these are auctions, and you have to outbid other people rather than just showing up on someone's doorstep with a bundle of cash and persuading them to sell you the car there and then. Still, depending on your cash and the car you're looking for, great deals can be had on eBay.

This is a fairly well-documented sales brochure--much better than the average white-shoe-polish "this unit rides and drives like new" sales pitch. The transmission and rear-axle modifications suggest the car has been to the track or drag raced often, and only a test drive could offer insight to the car's soundness.

The Basics of All Cars
I've always felt that the more stock the car, the better the foundation is to start with. Performance modifications can spell hard driving, but not always. Sometimes show cars and their owners who just cruise in them can be highly modified but rarely raced. Assessing the quality of the work, the parts chosen, and the condition of the vehicle can give you a better idea of the overall condition.

If the car you're looking at has an inch-thick coating of rubber in the wheelwells, it's probably a good sign the car has been driven hard. If it's a race car, this might be acceptable--aside from the fact that it may point to a lack of maintenance. Stay away from gears that grind, or a trans or clutch that slips, unless you're in the transmission business. Sometimes these issues point to an inexperienced, but not necessarily abusive, driver.

Look for spaghetti wiring anywhere on the car. Hack jobs in the wiring department can lead to a host of electrical gremlins that you might be chasing forever. Look for owner records of repair and maintenance work, and if possible, verify a car's health by taking it to a reputable shop for an inspection. When we consulted the staff at HP Performance in Orange Park, Florida, regarding this story, they recommended having a qualified shop perform a multipoint inspection. HP offers free quick inspections where they will put the vehicle on a lift and check suspension wear, upper and lower control arm bushings, frame damage, and inspect the quality of aftermarket work, if present. They can also provide more in-depth services, such as compression and leakdown tests, at their regular shop rate.

The later SN-95 modular-powered cars still bring in the bucks, as do Saleen and Roush models such as this S-281.

Beware Of Imposters
In looking through numerous ads, we came across many "Cobra" Mustangs, but few were actually SVT products. Imposters, clones, and replicas have been commonplace in the musclecar market for years, so it's no surprise to see late-model Mustangs that have been reworked into high-performance-model Mustangs. Sometimes it's a set of Cobra R wheels or a Saleen ground-effects package that the owners flaunt in the subject title of the ad to attract more potential buyers. Do your research and ask for official paperwork or validation of some sort.

'87-'93 Mustangs (Fox-Body)
The fuel-injected 5.0L Mustang is as popular as ever, and the strong market for clean Foxes shows this. Relatively clean examples pull in $4,000-$6,000, which will probably get you an 80,000-mile hatchback LX or GT. Coupe or sedan models bring in another thousand or two. Surprisingly, convertible models can be had for $4,000 or less. We've also seen a trend of 30-something individuals spending $10,000 or more for very low-mileage Mustangs. Many of these people sold their modular-powered Ponies to go back to a Fox-body, which was probably a car they had in high school. Check eBay and you'll see some rather pricey Fox Mustangs with 20,000-30,000 miles on the clock. Whether these cars hold their value in years to come remains to be seen.

The four-cylinder conversion is a viable option for those very mechanically inclined enthusiasts. Notchback models are in high demand, and for some, this is the only way to afford one.

Common problems with Fox Mustangs include torque-box damage (where the lower control arm mounts to the chassis) and rust under the hatch or trunk lid. Damaged torque boxes will have cracks and tears in the sheetmetal of the chassis, and are generally the work of abusive drivers and/or high-traction racing situations. These can be repaired, but you may want to stay away from cars with this problem. One thing to keep in mind is that the '93 5.0L Mustang engines were equipped with hypereutectic pistons. In the hands of a capable tuner, they work well, but they aren't nearly as durable as the earlier engines that have forged aluminum slugs.

High-mileage Foxes will have an assortment of interior component failures, including window regulators, door-lock actuators, and convertible-top motors. We've seen some of these components fail on 40,000-50,000-mile cars, but it's more common in 100,000-plus-mile plus vehicles. Repair parts are available at places such as Latemodel Restoration Supply.

Becoming more common in the Mustang market are four-cylinder to eight-cylinder conversions. The Fox-body coupe or sedan model seems to be the hot ticket, as purchasing a factory 5.0L coupe is at the higher end of the market. There's nothing wrong with the conversion if it's done properly and everything works as it should. Check for clean and neat installations. Oftentimes these cars are in better shape because they haven't been beat on as badly or for as long. The chassis are probably a lot stiffer since they haven't had to endure the 5.0's abundant torque for the majority of its life. Carfax can usually reveal the car's true identity, and you'll also want to look for smaller sway bars and brakes, as the four-and six-cylinder parts are significantly smaller. Proper conversions will have the V-8 spec equipment in every department.

Project cars such as this can be a blessing or a curse. This 5.0L, five-speed coupe was purchased for $1,500. It needs a large amount of bodywork along with head gaskets and numerous other parts to get it up and running. Is it worth the price? A car is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. If you're dying for a notch and only have $1,500, but you're handy with the toolbox, then this may be a good option.

'94-'95 Mustangs (SN-95)
For the pushrod loyalists, Ford offered the SN-95 body style with the 302 for two years before it changed to the modular powerplant. Enginewise, most of the internal parts are carry-overs from the Fox-body Mustangs, and the aftermarket has the exterior components pretty well covered. Rumor has it that the unique ECM limits these cars from producing as much power as a Fox-body EEC IV computer, but we believe these differences to be minimal.

With these first-generation SN-95s, you get improved braking thanks to four-wheel disc brakes, five-lug wheels, and the suspension options are more plentiful than with the earlier cars. Wheel selection is also huge compared to Fox bodies, as most aftermarket Mustang wheels were designed for the '94-'04 Mustangs.

Clean 5.0L SN-95s start around $6,500, though we've seen the occasional sweet deal come in for quite a bit less. Convertibles are dirt cheap, and the low-optioned GTS models will be something to hold on to should you be able to find one. Not all of them were completely stripped of their power options, and you'll find the occasional GTS model with power door locks but no power windows.

Carbureted cars are a lot of fun, and we see quite a few at the various Mustang and Ford events. The more stock you can buy one, the better off you'll be. We picked up this '85 Capri GS for $1,500, and it's stock save for the carburetor and air cleaner.

'96-'04 Mustangs (SN-95 Modular)
The early non-Power-Improved modular Mustangs ('96-'98) received a bad rap due to weak performance and are probably the best bargains available these days. If you get one with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, and performance is in its future, you'll be looking at a rebuild. The lower initial cost allows you more cash for ported heads and cams--parts that will put you at least level with, if not above, their later counterparts. Once again, convertibles remain at the cheap end of the market in this segment, with clean five-speed hardtops bringing in $6,000 or more.

Surprisingly, '96-'01 Cobras with their Four-Valve powerplants can be had for a reasonable price. The early, rounded body style goes for $7,000 or slightly more, while we've seen the '99-'01 models go for around $10,000. You're starting off with 300-plus horsepower from the get-go, and adding a supercharger or turbo can put you well over 400-500 hp.

Convertible Fox-body and SN-95 Mustangs are at the cheap end of the market these days. This special-edition Pony was picked up off of for $1,900. It needs new paint and upholstery, but it's entirely stock and unique in appearance.

The '99-'04 Mustang GTs still command high prices, with clean, low-mileage examples pulling in $12,000 or better. The body style still looks current, and '04 models can still be financed at most dealerships. There's also a large group of Mustang enthusiasts who prefer the '99-'04 body style to the newer S197 retro look.

The '03-'04 Cobras command high premiums, with high-mileage cars raking in $20,000 or better. These are probably the best bet for collectors, as they hold legend status in the performance aftermarket, much like Turbo Supras, ZO6 Corvettes, and such.

With regard to common issues with modular-powered SN-95 Mustangs, the technicians at HP Performance mentioned that excessively high-mileage, modular-powered cars may have chain-guide wear that's visually undetectable, and you'll want to pull the breather cap on the cam cover and run up the engine rpm to verify that there's no oil blow-by. HP also noted that it has seen numerous stock modular engines with superchargers installed having cracked pistons. A compression test can verify the engine is in sound condition.

The '03-'04 "Terminator" SVT Cobra Mustangs still pull in the dollars. If you can get in one for less than $20,000, you may want to Carfax it to make sure it hasn't been in a major collision or flood. You'll occasionally find the good deal, but most of these factory-supercharged terrors regularly pull in $25,000-$35,000.

'05-Newer Mustangs (S197)
The S197s are still a hot commodity in the Mustang used-car market, and dealers know this, which is why GT models still bring a premium price. We've noticed a lot of modified S197s coming into the market, and these can often be the bargain to look for. More often than not, any performance modifications that have been made can be verified by the owner and/or shop that performed them. Combine that with the fact that you can usually buy the cars for the average price of a stock one, and you have the makings of a good deal on your hands. As always, look for clean installations and signs of frequent maintenance and upkeep.

'79-'85 Mustangs (Fox-Body)
The four-eyed cars, as they're known in our hobby, started the whole 5.0L craze, as the drivetrain was largely the same aside from the EFI. Unfortunately, the majority of these cars have been run into the ground and tossed away. Most of the ones we researched were in rough shape with their stock components long gone. Still, you can find rather nice examples of both Ford Mustangs and Mercury Capris for around $4,000 or so.

Survivor cars occasionally pop up on eBay or in the local paper, and these are usually the best buys. For those who want the body style, but not the carburetor, the '86 models offered fuel injection, but any of the later 5.0L EFI parts can be installed on the earlier cars.

MM&FF Buying Guidelines
The MM&FF staff has had their share of ponies in the stable. Here are the buying guidelines we generally go by.

  • Spend more money initially to secure a nicer foundation. Short of a full-on restoration, a $2,000/100,000-mile Mustang will feel like a $4,000/100,000-mile Mustang, no matter what the mods. Start with a car with less than 80,000 on the odometer, and you'll be much better off.
  • Have the cash in hand, and don't buy in haste. The best deals come along when you're not looking for them, but you have to have the cash to buy them, allowing you to close on the deal immediately. You never know when the seller may be in the clearance mood and will take whatever you offer.
  • Have solid or reputable recommendations. If you're friends with people who work in a shop, they can usually find good cars for you. Whether they've worked on the cars or can vouch for the owners, they often have a larger network and more experience than you in Mustangs.
  • Know your limitations. Sure, that rotting carcass looks like a mint, low-mileage notchback in your head, but rather than skipping to the finished product, assess each part of the car and how you'll be able to afford to turn it around.