Jim Smart
August 1, 2002
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

Back in 1990, Ford was looking at its future. Among the many things it addressed was the Dearborn, Michigan, assembly plant where the Mustang had been produced since 1964. The Dearborn assembly plant, one of Ford's oldest, needed a lot of updating, not to mention a union contract Ford and organized labor could live with. What's more, Ford needed an up-to-date Mustang that could be conceived, designed, and built without a huge infusion of corporate cash. There were false starts, with proposals that proved too costly.

Alex Trotman, who became Ford's chairman in 1993, provided the thrust needed to get the Mustang program off of dead center back in 1989. He did this with a skunk works program that was modest, simple, and committed. The skunk works program had to cast the Dearborn plant's future in stone, produce a better Mustang, and it had to make money.

Trotman's success was rooted in his passion for the Mustang. He understood that if he wasn't successful, the Mustang name would perish. Letting the name die a corporate boardroom death was unthinkable. Trotman went to work putting together a team of players with vision, people with passion unafraid to work nights and weekends. John Coletti became the team's leader. When Coletti assumed control of Team Mustang, he assembled an even larger team of committed people ready to save the name.

The team's first objective was to develop a striking design that would capture hearts and imaginations worldwide. This team also had to come up with a plan that made economic sense. Once Coletti and his team sold Ford management on the idea of developing a new Mustang, they had to come up with designs that would sell. Three basic designs were conceived: the Bruce Jenner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Rambo. These names pretty much fit the way each design looked. The Bruce Jenner had a lean, yet soft faade-the handsome guy next door. Rambo, as you might expect, was extreme. The Arnold Schwarzenegger was a broad-shouldered, muscular aero body that ultimately became the '94 Mustang.

SN95 Mustang development had to be more than just a pretty face. It had to perform well in every area, including safety. The new Mustang needed modern safety features like side-impact protection, dual air bags, occupant-friendly interior amenities, and more. Professional race car driver Jackie Stewart was brought in to evaluate platforms and suspensions. The platform evolved into what is today the Fox-4. By the middle of 1990, the SN95 project was good to go.

The original SN95 skunk works team gave way to Team Mustang. Coletti put together a team of not only qualified people, but people enthusiastic about cars. This meant a group of people who didn't mind burning the midnight oil and working in conditions most Ford types weren't used to. Saving the Mustang meant huge personal sacrifices for everyone involved. Ultimately, it would take approximately 75 people to develop the new Mustang, and less than three years to do it. It was an industry first.

Not only did Team Mustang need committed people, it needed space. A diligent search for space Team Mustang didn't have to spend money on became an overwhelming task. Because Team Mustang needed at least 45,000 square feet of space, finding an appropriate building would not be easy. Through sheer luck and timing, they stumbled on a warehouse at the Danou Technical Center in Allen Park, just south of Dearborn along Southfield Road. Close by was Body and Assembly (pilot plant), the Dearborn Proving Grounds, and Ford's vast engineering complex. Team Mustang's building had to house every aspect of vehicle development including a design studio. It had never been done before.

Team Mustang wasn't only about Mustang development, but a new way of thinking at Ford. Because the team was housed entirely under the same roof, typically complex scenarios were avoided completely. Translated-no bureaucracy, no waiting. Instead of it taking days or weeks to get answers and make decisions, it took minutes and hours. Ford has been using this team approach platform development ever since.

Once it was determined the Arnold Schwarzenegger was doable, Team Mustang went to work on a very complex redesign. You would be amazed at what it takes to redesign a carline. For one thing, it takes all members of a team working together to determine what will work together and what won't. In mid-1991, Team Mustang completed its first structural SN95 prototype. It was the team's first opportunity to see in steel what they had seen in clay since the beginning of the project. Not only was that first structural prototype a rolling chassis, it was a running, drivable vehicle. Ford executives who drove the car were crazy about it. Other structural prototypes would follow for development purposes. After that, confirmation prototypes assembled at Body and Assembly for extensive real world testing and demonstration.

On Monday, October 4, 1993, Ford had its symbolic Job 1 roll-off at the Dearborn assembly plant with a lot of splash and flash. With the public address system playing the "Have You Driven A Ford Lately..." jingle, through the curtains came Job 1, driven by Ford Chairman Red Poling under bright lights and hundreds of attentive eyes. Alex Trotman was in the passenger's seat. On that day, Poling handed Trotman the keys to the company across the hood of Job 1.

We call 1994's Job 1 a "symbolic" roll-off because the "first" '94 Mustang wasn't 100001 at all. It was 100296, a red GT convertible with white leather interior assembled for William Clay Ford II, currently Chairman of Ford Motor Company. The second unit off the line that day was 100106, also a red GT convertible, followed by 100256, a yellow GT convertible. Out on the plant holding lot were hundreds of new '94 Mustangs awaiting shipment. Serial numbers ranged from 100071 to 100557. On the line were units with numbers upward of 100600 and higher. Unit 100001 was never found that day and likely does not survive in private hands. The lowest VIN we located that day at Dearborn was 100071, an evaluation unit.

What also made the '94 Mustang different was the way it was assembled. Older, more conventional assembly methods used since 1964 were abandoned in favor of new technology. For the first time in Mustang history, robotics would become a more integral part of Mustang assembly. Instead of installing engines via an overhead hoist, engines and transmissions would be mounted on the color-keyed subframe and installed through the bottom of the engine compartment.

When we had our first opportunity to drive a '94 Mustang at a press introduction in Solvang, California, in September 1993, we found it was clearly a different Mustang altogether. For one thing, it felt like a heavier car with all that safety equipment on board-new side-impact protection, air bags, interior padding, and more. It wasn't the scalded dog the '93 Mustang GT was, because it was so much heavier with less power. In terms of driving comfort, the '94 Mustang was a better car with improved legroom in front, crisper handling, no cowl shake, and a solid feel thanks to the revised Fox-4 platform. Ford brought us a stiffer platform with more steel, a greater number of spot welds, glued joints, and additional bracing underneath.

The new Mustang's interior reminded us of the '69-'70 models with their pod-style dashboard and recessed instrument panel. Seating comfort was vastly improved over 1993. Rear-seat legroom was nonexistent. Trunk space was way down from 1993. Convertible trunk space was even worse. We thought of the '94 Mustang as a two-seater with room for only small children in back. The all-new Mach 460 sound system was a first for Mustang. Mustang was a fun car to drive with a six or a V-8. In some respects, the six was more fun because it was light on its hooves and held the road nicely. The 3.8L Essex V-6 was a peppy improvement over the anemic 2.3L OHC standard four available in 1993. If you couldn't afford a Mustang GT, the V-6 was a nice alternative.

The 5.0L High Output V-8, available only in the Mustang GT, was rated at 240 horsepower. Where the horsepower rating seemed to be an illusion was due to the car's increased weight for 1994. With the throttle pinned wide open, the 5.0L High Output just didn't pull like it did in 1993. That was the weight penalty rearing its ugly head. Despite the performance penalty, the redesigned '94 Mustang felt good to drive. Its superior handling made it that way.

Another item that made the '94 Mustang unique was the optional removable hardtop for convertibles. Ultimately, the removable hardtop proved elusive. Very few were produced with this option, and it was dropped later in 1995.

Why Change A Good Thing-1995
The '95 Mustang roared onto the scene with few changes, mostly in the area of color. Because Mustang sales in 1994 were well over 200,000 units, Ford felt the same great air of success it did in 1964 with the original Mustang. Not hell-bent to change a good thing, Ford left the car alone. Think of the '95 Mustang as a carryover of 1994. The really groovy removable hardtop for convertibles was dropped midyear.

Going Mod-1996
We have to call the '96 Mustang GT and Cobra the beginning of a new era for Ford's most successful nameplate. After 32 years of small-block Ford power, 1996 was the first year the V-8 Mustang would be powered by something altogether new-the 4.6L Modular SOHC and DOHC V-8s. Back in 1964, an overhead cam Mustang would have been considered exotic for a beer and pretzel carline. In 1996, it signaled a new beginning for the Mustang.

The 4.6L SOHC V-8, standard in the Mustang GT, was clearly a more advanced engine than the 5.0L pushrod V-8 it replaced. It had cross-bolted main bearing caps, single overhead camshafts in aluminum heads, a crankshaft-driven oil pump, a super lightweight nodular iron crankshaft, powdered metal/cracked connecting rods, and a nearly square bore and stroke. The 4.6L SOHC engine was different from the 5.0L in terms of power. It lacked the low-end grunt torque of a 5.0L. Instead, it made its power at higher revs, coming on strong at 3,500 rpm and higher. It also sounded different than the 5.0L V-8, with a whirbly exhaust pulse at idle and a deeper, richer tone at revs. When the automotive press was goosing throttles at Ford's Romeo, Michigan, proving grounds during the summer of 1995, it became clear we were embarking upon a fresh idea for the 32-year-old nameplate. The Mustang would never be the same again.

Something else that would change dramatically was engine electronics for 1996. Prior to 1996, the Mustang's engines had long been controlled by Ford's EEC-IV (Electronic Engine Control, Generation IV), which was first used in the early '80s. For 1996, Mustangs received something new called EEC-V, a more interactive form of electronics that's a tattletale for any engine issues. Pull a spark-plug wire and EEC-V knows. Tamper with the engine and EEC-V knows about it. Good for the Ford Service technician, but not always good for the home mechanic. EEC-V did everything EEC-IV did, only much faster and in greater detail.

Because engine and transmission had to be more cohesive for 1996, Ford tied engine and transmission electronics together for a happier marriage. The AODE became known as the 4R70W automatic overdrive transmission that year. The tried and proven T5 five-speed was sidelined for the new T45. Vacuum assisted power brakes were replaced by a hydro-boosted power brake system because there wasn't enough room underhood for the former.

The news for 1996 wasn't all technology. Ford built some 2000 SVT Cobras painted in BASF's Mystic finish, the same color pigment used on money for quick identification. If you purchased a Mystic Cobra, you had to have the vehicle's serial number in order for a body shop to order the stuff.

Also new, and eagerly accepted for 1996, were the Mustang's redesigned three-element taillamps. They had a more traditional appearance and became a popular swap for those with '94-'95 Mustangs. Classic Design Concepts in Walled Lake, Michigan, developed a sequential turn signal package for the three-element taillamp. It has been great for enthusiasts.

Well after the '96 model year got started, SVT introduced the redesigned Mustang Cobra with DOHC, 32-valve 4.6L V-8 power. It was a terrific awakening because the '96 Cobra was vastly different than its '94-'95 predecessor. At first glance, there wasn't much difference. A long stare revealed a new hood with larger scoops. Where the Cobra was different was underhood. Sit behind the wheel, spin the starter, and it was a whole new world. The double overhead cam Mod V-8 had a caged lion sound to it. It sounded unwieldy and ready to strike. And it had a throaty roar without being noise offensive. For an impressive hole-shot, you had to get the revs up high, dump the clutch and pin the throttle wide open. The engine revved smartly to 6,800 rpm before the computer turned off the fuel and ignition.

Growing Familiar-1997-'98
The redesigned SN-95 Mustang wore out its welcome quickly during the mid-'90s. Buyers who fell in love with the car in 1994 were asking Ford what it had done for them lately. Ford would yield an answer, but not until 1999. Aside from a variety of striking colors in 1997-'98, including a groovy coppertone color that reminded us of Emberglo from 1966, the Mustang didn't change much from 1996-'98. Not even horsepower ratings changed during the period.

Ford, able to read the consumer quite well, realized the Mustang couldn't remain in its present form for long. In the last year of the 20th Century, Ford would come through with a hotter Mustang buyers would be willing to trade their '94 Mustangs in for. Coming next month: the redesigned '99 Mustang.

Mustang Goes To Indy
For the first time since 1979, the Mustang would return to Indy after a 15-year hiatus. Racing great Parnelli Jones, winner of the '63 Indy 500, would drive the official pace car at the running of the '94 Indianapolis 500. To commemorate the Mustang's honor at Indy, Ford produced 1000 identical red SVT Cobra convertibles to be sold to the public through SVT Ford dealers. This limited production drop-top's introduction was also the redesigned, second generation SVT Cobra's introduction as well. Convertibles were available first, then coupes. Some 5,000 coupes would follow.

What made the actual pace cars different than those sold to the public was the use of a specially calibrated AODE automatic transmission behind the essentially stock 5.0L High Output SEFI V-8. A 15-gallon racing fuel cell was used instead of the stock fuel tank. Also on board was a halon fire extinguishing system, a 50,000-watt strobe light package built into the roll bar, attachment points for ABC television cameras, and antennas hidden in the convertible top boot for those ABC cameras. Only a minor adjustment was made to the rear leaf springs to accommodate the added weight of the specialized equipment. Alex Trotman, then chairman of Ford, drove another pace car. Another racing legend, A.J. Foyt, drove yet another. The replica pace cars sold to the public achieved immediate collectibility status when they were introduced. And they remain desirable buys today when they come up for sale.

Regular production SVT Cobras didn't have it much different than the pace cars used at Indy. Underhood was the same powerful 235-horse 5.0L GT-40 V-8. The Cobra's handling was exceptional, especially if you had just driven a Mustang GT. Inside, there were rich leather upholstery and white-face instruments.