Jim Smart
December 1, 2008
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

Have you checked out '79-'04 Mustang resale values lately? Prices are down, and you are invited to the greatest Mustang white sale ever. Rare, collectible Fox-body Mustangs will hold their value long term. But for now, most buyers aren't willing to pay high prices thanks to the popularity of the '05-'09 Mustang. Prices for '79-'04 Mustangs are at rock bottom and not likely to rebound any time soon.

The good news is, if you desire an affordable fun car, there has never been a better time to buy a Fox-body Mustang. Of course, prices will eventually rebound, much as the '65-'73s did in the '80s.

If you want to understand the ups and downs of '79-'04 Mustangs, look no further than events of the period-baby boomer trends and issues such as fuel prices and the economy. Ford introduced the '79 Mustang on the heels of an automotive meltdown that was the '70s. Detroit chloroformed the factory muscle car early in the '70s due to rising insurance costs and tougher government safety and emissions standards. In 1974, the Arab Oil Embargo stopped pleasure driving overnight as fuel prices doubled. Baby boomers also plowed into adulthood. Instead of sporty Mustangs, they were buying station wagons, minivans, and economy cars.

For '79, the Mustang was reengineered on an all-new platform, code-named "Fox," which first appeared as the '78 Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr to replace the Maverick and Comet. For the Mustang, the Fox platform incorporated European-style McPherson strut/four-link suspension, metric wheels and tires, slippery lines, sculptured console, and even optional turbocharged power. It was a car with a fresh attitude thanks to Ford's Jack Telnack, the new vice president of Ford North American Design.

With more than 4.3 million Fox-body Mustangs produced over 25 years, which should you consider and what should you do with it? Should you buy a '79 Indy Pace Car, '79-'81 Cobra, or other low-mileage original from this era? Much depends on how you feel about these cars. If they were hot when you were in high school and you would like to relive your youth, buy one and enjoy the memories. But don't buy one to restore because parts are hard to come by. Don't restore one with an eye on resale value because you're going to be disappointed.

Every so often, low-mileage time capsules show up on eBay or in trader publications, complete with the original bill of sale and factory paperwork. If you can find a seller desperate to move one of these originals, they're a terrific deal for buyers nostalgic for the '80s.

The '79 Mustang came out of the chute as the official Indy 500 Pace Car. Over 10,000 replicas were produced in a mix of V-8 and four-cylinder turbo models. These cars are good investments if you buy a low mileage original in showroom condition. As restoration projects, parts are hard to come by and values are marginal.

'79-'84: Deal Or No Deal?
When Ford redesigned the Mustang for '79, it was fresh and inspiring, yet it lacked traditional Mustang nuances. Despite its all-new status, it was disappointing to many because it didn't look like a Mustang. Gone were the Mustang's quarter scoops and three-element taillights. Also missing was the roar of a powerful V-8; the best you could get was a 302ci 2V small-block.

TRX metric wheels and Michelin radial tires would have been a terrific idea had the tire industry supported this short-lived idea. Try finding those metric radials today. Ford also moved the horn button from the steering wheel to the turn signal stalk where it stayed from '79 to '84. This was a ridiculous idea because no one thinks of the turn signal lever when it's time to sound the horn. The new Mustang also lost the richness of the '74-'78 Mustang II, especially the Ghia models.

Despite our criticisms, the '79-'84 Mustangs were important stepping-stones to the 5.0L Mustangs to come. If you can find a low-mileage weekend play-toy at the right price, these Mustangs make terrific rides. Here are some best buys, suggested because they're cheap whenever they come up for sale.

Best Buys
* '79 Indy 500 Pace Car replica-10,478 produced
* '79 Cobra 5.0 with four-speed
* '82 GT, the first of the HOs
* '83-'84 GLX 5.0L convertible
* '83-'84 GT hatchback and convertible
* '83-'84 GT Turbo

You have to love the '85 Mustang GT's mouthy grille, hood graphics, 15-inch aluminum wheels, Marchal driving lamps, and ground effects. Ford carried this look over to '86 with Sequential Electronic Fuel Injection (SEFI) underhood. These cars make great weekend fun cars and are priced to slide right into your garage if you can find one.

'82-'86: Mustang Comes Alive
The '82 Mustang GT was an awakening. Powerful advertising hinted that performance was back. Closer scrutiny revealed a warmed-up 5.0L V-8 with a 351W marine camshaft and a Motorcraft 2150 two-barrel carburetor. Not exciting by today's standards, it was great at a time when we had been convinced performance was long gone.

The '82 Mustang GT had cool ground effects borrowed from the Cobra parts bin, a four-speed, a Traction-Lok rearend, TRX wheels with Michelin radials, a rear deck spoiler, and European-style offset dual exhaust tips. Chevrolet responded with a warmed-over Z-28 Camaro that year. So did Pontiac with its Trans Am. The '82 Mustang GT signaled the beginning of a return to factory performance cars.

The '86 Mustang GT was a carryover from '85 except for the fuel-injected 5.0L High-Output V-8. It had less horsepower but more torque, which is what counts on the street. Fuel-injected Mustangs didn't get mass air metering until '88 (California only) and '89 (49-state). Mass air metering is what you want if you intend to install a hotter cam or aftermarket intake manifold.

In '83, we saw a more powerful Mustang GT, with four-barrel carburetion and the return of a Mustang convertible for the first time in a decade. These cars were terrific at a time when we badly needed to believe in the Mustang again.

Buy an '83 Mustang GT or GLX convertible because it's a low-mileage original or a pampered driver. Buy an '83 GLX or GT to enjoy as a weekend driver. As projects, '82-'83 Mustangs make poor investments unless you're itching to restore one. Buy one for the nostalgia or as a fountain of youth elixir.

Ford rolled a lot of improvements into the '85 Mustang GT, such as bolstered bucket seats with colorful piping, pod-style instrumentation, 15-inch aluminum wheels with Goodyear Gatorback radials, improved fast-burn cylinder heads for more power, roller tappets, Quadra-Shock rear suspension, World Class T5 transmission, and true dual exhausts. When we road-tested these cars 25 years ago, they were an exciting step forward because they were so much fun to drive. They were more powerful, handled better, and were more comfortable. At wide-open throttle, they held their own nicely, although the promised 225-horse 5.0L High-Output engine never materialized that year due to piston problems.

What makes the '85 Mustang GT a terrific buy is its status as the last carbureted Mustang, plus the features we mentioned that make this car a nice stand-alone ride. We'll take one of these anytime. The '85 Mustang GT is a great investment because it's the last high-performance Mustang that connects us with the Mustang's origins.

'84 20th Anniversary
In the spring of 1984, Ford's Dearborn assembly plant built 5,261 limited-edition 20th Anniversary Mustang GT hatchbacks and convertibles. Some buyers snapped them up and put them away as investments, thinking they would eventually take on the charm, magic, and value of '65-'73 classic Mustangs. That hasn't happened. Instead, these cars have been forgotten to the point where many people don't even know what they are today.

Resale values on these anniversary cars are surprisingly low, making them terrific bargains 25 years later. One recent example is a pampered '84 20th Anniversary GT Turbo convertible (just 104 made) that recently sold for under $9,000 in southern California. It took the seller months to find a buyer.

We know there are a few of these cars tucked away with low mileage waiting for the market to turn around. Expect to see a crop of low-mileage, showroom-original examples as sellers give up and sell for what they can get. If you can buy one of these cars at or below original window sticker, you're getting a great bargain. Soon you will be able to order a Marti Report on these cars from Marti Auto Works, which will enable you to know the original selling dealer and all those important specifics.

'84-'86 SVO
The Mustang SVO is one of the best-kept Mustang secrets ever because most people don't know what they are today. It's on a par with classic Shelbys and Bosses because so few of them were produced for a short period of time. However, keep in mind that collectibility also hinges on how many people actually wish to own one.

When you look at the redesigned '87 Mustang, you're looking at a whole generation of Mustangs. Not much changed from '87 to '93, aside from minor mechanical upgrades and 16-inch five-spoke wheels for '91.

Ignorance of the breed is a part of it because the SVO was such a brief chapter in Mustang history. These facts make SVO a terrific bargain depending upon condition and seller. The best way to buy an SVO is in factory original condition with all of the paperwork. Then go out and enjoy one of the greatest Mustang fun cars of all time.

'87-'93: More Power, Good Looks
The Fox Mustang's first significant redesign happened in 1987. Although sheetmetal didn't change, the Mustang got a new fascia, composite headlamps, fresh ground effects, new taillamps, and a redesigned interior with an all-new dashboard/console combo. It also got more horsepower, up to 225 in the updated Mustang GT. These cars were well received and sold quite well, launching a new performance revolution on the street because they were so easy to modify.

What hurt the '87-'93 Mustang was Ford's complacency; it didn't change much from year to year aside from color and some minor mechanical differences. In 1991, Ford fitted the GT with 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels. In 1993, Ford put the Cobra name back on Mustang with an exciting, limited-production car from SVT. The '93 SVT Cobra, available in three colors, was the ultimate evolution for '79-'93. If you can find one in showroom condition with its original paperwork, they're an excellent value.

The redesigned '94 Mustang was introduced in October 1993 in a 125-city tour that allowed everyone to see the car before its December 26 introduction. Here's a '94 GT coupe with a '95 Cobra R in the background. Don't expect to find a Cobra R bargain out there because so few were produced.

SN-95: What It Was And More
Mustang sales reached an all-time low of 79,280 in 1992, making the Mustang nearly extinct because Ford had no future plans for the car line. Ford executive John Coletti rescued the Mustang when he sold Ford management on saving the name and making it successful with virtually no redesign budget. It became known as the SN-95 project. Coletti and his Team Mustang set up shop in an old Montgomery-Ward service center building to create an all-new Mustang for 1994.

The '94 Mustang was a refreshing change with plenty of nostalgia in its execution-a mouthy fascia, a galloping horse, three-element taillights, a twin-pod instrument panel, and a throaty dual exhaust system for GT and Cobra. A stiffer Fox-4 platform eliminated a lot of shortcomings, yielding a smoother ride and better handling. With a stiffer platform came a weight penalty, making the car feel underpowered. In its first two years, the SN-95 Mustang had the carryover 3.8L V-6 and the proven 5.0L High Output for GT models.

For '96, Ford fitted the Mustang with more traditional three-element taillights and 4.6L Overhead Cam Modular V-8 power in the GT and Cobra.

In '96, Ford put the 4.6L SOHC and DOHC V-8s into the Mustang GT and Cobra, respectively. This improvement, coupled with more true-to-mark three-element taillights, gave the car a whole new demeanor. It became the most advanced Mustang ever, with a smoothness the car had never had before. On the downside, Mustang GT had less low-end torque than it had with the 5.0L engine. On the up-side, the 4.6L Modular V-8 was smoother with improved high-rpm performance.

Ford reskinned the SN-95 Mustang for '99 with New Edge styling. Fresh styling, coupled with minor platform improvements, put Mustang back on the map. In the years spanning '99-'04, there were several Mustang models worthy of comment. The '01 limited-edition Bullitt Mustang GT has a great following along with value. In '03-'04, Team Mustang brought us the Mach 1 with 32-valve DOHC power and a Shaker hoodscoop. In '03, Ford produced a limited number of 100th Anniversary Mustang GTs. A year later, in '04, all Mustangs had 40th Anniversary badging as well as a limited-edition model celebrating the Mustang's 40th.

Should you buy an SN-95 Mustang? Limited-edition models such as the Bullitt, Mach 1, and anniversary cars will always hold their value if maintained in factory original condition. As with other '79-'04 Mustangs mentioned, you're better off buying a low-mileage, well-cared-for original you can enjoy right away. True value comes from a purchase with a well-documented history that's in showroom condition or something that needs only minor cosmetic work.