Jim Smart
August 19, 2007
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

It's easy to feel deflated when watching Speed Channel reruns of the '07 Barrett-Jackson auction and cruising eBay for Mustang deals. Why bother shopping for one when prices are through the roof? With reports of $240,000 Shelbys and half-million-dollar Boss 429s, it seems everything is priced beyond a modest budget.

Or is it?

The best thing about 43 years of Mustang production is there's a lot to choose from. Don't let anyone fool you: Your dream ride is still within reach. There are plenty of bargains if you're flexible and savvy. Dare to go where no one has before.

The humble Mustang hardtop is what people recall when they think "Mustang." It's the silhouette from April 1964. Hardtops are plentiful and often cheap to purchase, but be prepared-many are overpriced because of what they are. Still, hardtops are among the most negotiable Mustangs.

Enthusiasts have typically ignored '69-'73 Mustang hardtops and '74-'78 Mustang IIs. There weren't many people restoring or modifying these cars 10 years ago. Walk through a large show today and take note of how many there are now. We're seeing more and more 302 hardtops, Grandes, King Cobras, Cobra IIs, and Ghias because the traditionally popular Mustangs-Mach 1s, Bosses, Shelbys, and almost any fastback or convertible-are currently riding a crest of high values, making them less accessible to most enthusiasts. Now people are stepping up and using their imaginations to create exciting Mustangs with less concern for what's popular.

Mustangs that were once ordinary show up in newspaper classifieds, auto traders, the Internet, and estate sales, based on the demographics of people who bought them new. Imagine a low-mileage '72 Grande with its original papers for $6,500 or a first-generation, garage-kept, 48,000-mile, six-cylinder hardtop for $3,500. How about a low-mileage, limited edition Rainbow of Colors '68-'69 Mustang hardtop for $3,000? These Mustangs were purchased by retirement-age professionals on a budget-school teachers, secretaries, government employees, and so on-who wanted something sporty to drive. These people kept their classic Mustangs until they passed away; now some of the cars are being sold cheap by surviving families who want to unload them. They don't always know what the car is worth. That can make them terrific bargains, especially if you happen upon something rare and pristine.

IIs Too
Although '74-'78 Mustang IIs get a lot of negative scrutiny from the classic crowd, it's a bum rap and limited thinking to leave them out. While there's nothing exciting about a base 2.3L four-banger Mustang II MPG with a four-speed, Ford built derivatives that we're fond of to this day. The '76-'78 Cobra II was a looker and a solid performer when outfitted with a 302 and a four-speed. The same goes for the colorful earth-tone Mach 1s of the era. Ford wrapped up Mustang II assembly with the '78 King Cobra, a limited-production package that remains attractive today. Many of them can be had for a bargain, depending on condition. Restored or low-mileage, they're valuable because Ford built so few.

The message here is to watch for pristine, low-mileage Mustang IIs, not the clapped-out throwaways. In most cases, the only ones worth salvaging and restoring include '78 King Cobras, solid Cobra IIs, and Ghias. If it's rusty or missing parts, move on. They're often priced to sell because not many people want them.

Fox In Your Future?
Although it's hard to think of them this way, '79-'93 Mustangs have become classics. They're the same age as '65-'73 Mustangs when interest in them turned around in the late '70s. The '85-'93 Mustang GT is symbolic of Ford performance back then, pav-ing the way for the '05-'07 GT. The carbureted '85 GT is recognized for its roller-tappet technology and simple wonderfulness without a computer-it only had a Ford-engineered Holley carburetor with a dual-snorkel air cleaner and shorty headers.

Some of those "safekeeping" buyers, disappointed in appreciation that didn't happen, are selling. If you can buy an '85-'93 Mustang GT or Cobra for its original sticker price, it's a smokin' deal. The same can be said for the '84 20th Anniversary Edition GT hatchbacks and convertibles. With an anniversary turbo-four convertible, you'll have something unusual parked in your garage-Ford built only 104 of them.

While limited-production '84-'86 Mustang SVOs can be pricey, some are a bargain. Most sellers understand the SVO's significance-and good deals are found when they don't.

Another good buy, Fox-body Mustangs in factory-original condition include the '79 Indy 500 pace car, '79-'81 Cobra with a turbo four-cylinder, '82 GT, '83-'84 GT convertible, '83-'84 GT Turbo, '84-'86 SVO, '85 GT (last year for carbureted Mustangs), '93 SVT Cobra, and '94-'95 GT and Cobra.

Fox-body '79-'04 Mustangs are the greatest values right now because Ford produced so many of them. When the SN-95 '94 Mustang GT was introduced, buyers bought them in great numbers because it was the first new model in 15 years.

Quality took a quantum leap for '94 as well. Some buyers bought '94 Mustangs and put them away for safekeeping-especially the Cobra, which was the official Indy 500 pace car that year. They haven't yielded a huge return on investment either, so some original buyers are cutting their losses, thankful for a wonderful driving experience and selling for what they can get. Others, feeling no pressure to sell, are holding out.

Tim Love of Orange, California, recently bought a '94 Mustang GT, loaded with aftermarket goodies, for $11,000. It has a fresh 5.0L engine, a Vortech supercharger, Saleen wheels, and a host of other nice mods. It holds its own on the racetrack and makes a nice commuter.

When shopping for a late-model Mustang GT or Cobra, check the condition under the surface. Many of them have been raced and abused, making them risky investments. Don't settle for a thrashed-out '85-'04. There are too many good ones at bargain basement prices-usually much less than $10,000, sometimes as little as $2,500. There are more Fox Mustangs for sale than buyers, making them cheap and plentiful. If you like them, get on the bandwagon now because the value trend is sure to rebound.

Remember that prices are based on nostalgia and availability. As late-model Mustangs become older and fewer, people who tie these cars to their youth will become passionate buyers. We saw this happen with '65-'73 Mustangs. You can bet it will happen with the Fox Mustangs of the '80s and '90s as Gen-X and Echo Boomers reach prime earning age. Fox-body Mustang GTs and Cobras are the hot collector cars of tomorrow. The best buys are born of rarity-and what was hot when these cars were new.

The hottest sleeper Fox-body Mustangs include the '79 Indy pace car, '84-'86 SVO, '85 GT, '93-'95 Cobra, '01 Bullitt, '03-'04 Mach 1, '03 100th Anniversary Edition, and '04 40th Anniversary Edition.

We didn't mention Saleen, Steeda, and Roush Mustangs because these cars are still hot and rarely bargain priced. The only limited edition rides found competitively priced are usually not taken care of, but they're still new enough to be found in salvageable condition. The Bullitt, Mach 1, and Cobra are late-model fun cars with a wealth of aftermarket goodies available. This makes the '96-'04 Mustangs an excellent value if you stop concerning yourself with what they're going to be worth in 20 years.

The cool thing about estate auctions is that you may find a low-mileage original with factory paperwork. Documentation is everything to value if the car is in exceptional condition.

Shop, Buy, and Define...
When shopping for a Mustang, pull out all the stops. Check eBay and cruise local and regional classifieds. Don't just check automobile classifieds nationally and locally. Check estate auctions, bank repossessions, friends and neighbors with hard-luck stories, raffled Mustangs the winner decides to sell, local and regional car clubs and cruising spots, Internet chat rooms, Web sites, Saturday night drag racing events, local auto auctions, and state and county fairs. Post a "Wanted" ad on the supermarket or auto parts store bulletin board. Look for Mustangs in unusual places.

While doing this, consider what you can do to define a new trend-own a Mustang few others have. Of course, you want what everyone else wants. That said, cruise the shows and take note of how common the hot collectibles are. There are a lot of them out there.

How often do you see a well-dressed '69-'73 302 hardtop or '67-'68 six-cylinder fastback? No matter what's underhood, there's nothing like the adrenaline rush of a classic Mustang's lines to get people talking and pointing. Drive into any Saturday night cruising spot in a nicely restored or well preserved classic Mustang and watch the faces light up. Even the most modest six-cylinder hardtop gets looks.

The most important thing to remember about Mustang value is the rush people still get from seeing the classics. Regardless of what you have underhood, these cars get attention in all their various forms. It doesn't have to be a GT, Hi-Po, or Boss to get people stirred up. A six-cylinder or two-barrel hardtop still quickens pulses. Buy one and get into a timeless classic for less money. They'll hold their value-and you'll have fun driving them.

10 Best Mustang Buys

  • '85-'95 Mustang GT (reasonably priced, will gain value in time)
  • '93-'95 SVT Mustang Cobra
  • '87-'93 5.0L LX convertible
  • '69-'73 Hardtop, SportsRoof, and convertible
  • '69-'70 Mach 1 (351 only)
  • '65-'68 Six and base V-8 Hardtop
  • '75-'78 Mustang II with V-8
  • '78 Mustang II King Cobra
  • '79 Indy pace car (factory original condition only)
  • '03-'04 Mach 1

    Diamonds In The Rough
    Which is a better value: Buying something already restored or restoring it yourself? This leads to more important questions: Can you restore it yourself? Do you have the resources and budget? Do you want to drive it now or later? Buying a car already restored costs more, but turnkey restorations save time and grief.

    Be careful where you buy a turnkey restoration. Some dealers and sellers have excellent reputations, while others don't. Ask around. Talk with seasoned buyers. Each and every prospective buy mandates a detailed inspection prior to laying down cash. Examine the floors and structure for rust and accident repair. Pull the dipstick. Have a professional technician examine anything you don't understand. Be sure the car is everything the seller says.

    Resist impulse buys because when you make a bad decision, you're stuck with it. No one wants to suffer the sting of a bad buy, and then have to go through the misery of unloading a mistake. Buy a car to restore only when you enjoy the thrill of restoration. Otherwise, consider buying something complete.