Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 13, 2011
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

They brought the Mustang out of the doldrums of the 1970s. The '79 Indy Pace Car gave us a glimpse of what could be done with the Fox-body Mustang, but it was the '82 GT, with its new 5.0 HO engine and "Boss is Back" ad campaign, that put Mustang back on the road to popularity. By the late 1980s, an entire industry had blossomed around the lightweight, inexpensive, and amazingly quick 5.0 Mustang, with performance mail-order companies, parts manufacturers, racers, sanctioning bodies, and even magazines springing up to claim their piece of the 5.0 pie. Some describe the '87-'93 Mustang as the 1980s equivalent of the '67-'69 Camaro in terms of aftermarket performance parts.

Now it's 20 years later. And like the '65-'73 Mustangs before it, the Fox-body Mustang has become a nostalgic journey back in time for the people who grew up in the 1980s. If you were 18 in 1989, you're now closing in on your 40s. Maybe you were lucky enough to own a 5.0 Mustang back then and you want to relive those days of 5.0 thunder. Or perhaps you simply admired the Saleen in your neighbor's garage and now you've reached the point in life and career where you can justify adding one to your garage.

Some Fox-bodies are already coveted as collector cars, mainly the low-production, high-performance versions like the SVO, Saleen, '93 Cobra, and even the SSP police cars, which have a fanatical following all their own. Any '82-'93 with a 5.0 is popular, especially the '87 and later coupes and convertibles, and they can still be found in used condition for reasonable prices. The problem, however, is a lack of parts for restorations. But that is quickly changing as mail-order companies and restoration parts manufacturers rev up for what they see as a Fox-body revival.

You only need to look at National Parts Depot's Florida warehouse from the air to see how much the company has invested into Fox-body Mustangs. Last year, NPD completed a 202,000 square-foot expansion at their Gainesville headquarters, so the birds-eye view of the old-versus-new roofs clearly demonstrates that the already huge facility has nearly doubled in size.

Not all of the expansion will house '79-'93 Mustang parts, with NPD also looking to expand into other car lines. But a big part of the investment lies in what they see as a bright future for Fox-body Mustang restorations.

"We've devoted a big section of the warehouse to the late-model Mustang line," says Matt Laszaic, NPD's marketing director for Fox-bodies. "And we're devoted to putting product in as many locations as we can. Right now, we have Fox-body product in three of our four stores around the country; hopefully, it will be in California soon. We've devoted an enormous amount of space so we can facilitate that market no matter where people are."

Earlier this year, NPD released its first catalog for Fox-body Mustangs, a 164-page candy store for Fox-body owners. Laszaic says the first printing is only the beginning; he's continuing to search for new parts that can help '79-'93 owners build, restore, and maintain their cars. For example, NPD is working with their suppliers to fill the void for direct replacement exhaust systems. Remember those factory systems you cut off and threw away?

Shannon Guderian has been ramping up for a Fox resurgence ever since he started his company, Latemodel Restoration Supply, in 1999. The upswing has taken a little longer than expected, but now LRS, like NPD, is ready for a new rise in popularity. Just as the value and popularity of classic Mustangs soared during the 1980s, LRS sees a similar trend for 1980s Mustangs today.

"We're seeing what we think is a similar condition to what the early Mustang guys went through in the late 1980s," says LRS general manager Scott Springer. "The cars are 20 years old now. And the guys who were in high school in 1990 are now at the age where they're ready to pick up a project, and they might choose a Fox-body instead of an early Mustang because that's what they relate to. I'm in that boat. I graduated in 1992. To me, the Fox-body was the popular car of that time."

Laszaic notes that as '65-'73 Mustangs continue to increase in value, many people will gravitate toward the Fox-bodies as a less expensive alternative. "A lot of people can't afford a classic Mustang because they are getting kind of expensive," he points out. "For younger people especially, it's an affordable way to get into the hobby and an opportunity to get involved in something like the Mustang Club of America."

Like the classic Mustangs, Fox-bodies are relatively simple and easy to work on. However, unlike the classics, some predict fewer concours restorations and more drivers restored to look and sound like the 5.0s that everyone remembers.

"People seem to be restoring them to a good 70-80 percent original," says Laszaic. "They paint them the right color and use the correct moldings, emblems, and all that. However, they want to make the car the way they remember them, so they put on a set of performance heads or a cool exhaust system and gears."

Springer concurs, "Back then, 5.0 Mustangs were not stock cars. They had Flowmaster mufflers, gears, a cam, etc. Those cars had deeper roots in drag racing than the vintage Mustangs. It's like nobody restores a '69 Camaro back to stock unless it's a Z28 or something. That's what people are doing to the Fox-body cars. The restomod movement that has been happening with the classic cars is going to be super-strong for the '79-'93s. Some will restore them to the way they came off the line but more people will be interested in making them quick, more like the 5.0 they wanted back when the cars were new."

Ford built nearly 2.6 million Mustangs from '79-'93, almost as many as '65-'73. And like the early cars, the popular, rare, and high-performance versions will likely lead the way in terms of value and restoration.

"From what we're seeing, people are restoring SVOs, '93 Cobras, and anything with a 5.0, especially the coupes and convertibles," says Laszaic. "Right now, they're having to scavenge parts off four-cylinder cars, like getting a full interior so they can put it in their 5.0-liter. The big difference between Fox-bodies and classics is that you don't have the big selection of engines, from six-cylinders to 428s in 1969. With Fox-bodies, you pretty much had the 5.0 V-8 and right now that's what people are going for."

Springer adds, "The '87-'93s are the most popular. They're the '65-'66 Mustang of the Fox-body era. I think the Saleens, '93 Cobras, and SSPs are going to eventually bring big money because they represent the lower production out of a wider group that was essentially the same. We've got a lot of customers with SSP Mustangs. Those guys want stock Goodyear Gatorback tires and the original police equipment that's correct to where the car served. I think that's the future of the hard-core Fox-body restoration movement. It's still in its infancy but it will happen."

With a large national mail-order company like NPD devoting so much resource to the Fox-body, parts manufacturers see an opportunity to spur sales with new Fox-body product. TMI Products, best known in the classic Mustang industry for their high-quality seat upholstery, began investing in Fox-body Mustangs several years ago and now they're seeing the numbers to back up their decision.

"It has quickly become our fastest growing segment," says TMI's Director of Sales and Marketing Dean Satterfield. "Throughout last year, we saw double-digit growth in the number of people buying Fox-body interiors. It's an encouraging sign, almost like there's a groundswell of pent-up desire for the product."

TMI has tripled its offerings for '79-'93 Mustangs. In fact, nearly 16 pages of the new NPD catalog are devoted to TMI, including seat upholstery, door panels, headliners, and sun visors. It's been a complicated process due to the variety of materials and colors used back then.

"The '82 Mustang alone has nine different seat styles and a myriad of colors and patterns," explains Satterfield. "I thought I was going to go crazy breaking that out, but I had help from some very good people in the industry, like Matt Highley from Fox Mustang Restoration in North Carolina and Matt Laszaic at NPD. We got original parts to work from and some of our initial patterns from Highley. And Laszaic took it even further by drilling down and getting everything identified for the charts in the NPD catalog."

Classic Auto Air is another well-known company in the classic Mustang restoration industry. For Fox-bodies, they already offer a Sanden compressor swap, along with an engine compartment upgrade that adds all-new parts, including hoses that eliminate the factory's troublesome spring-lock connections. CAA is looking to expand into more offerings for '79-'93.

"It's still an affordable car," says CAA's Tim Cordileone. "People can get into a Fox-body at the ground level. There are tons of them out there and now they are getting popular. We're going to offer a little bit of everything. Much of it is still being made, like replacement hoses and evaporators. Right now, I can't speak intelligently about the interior portions of those cars, but in another year, I'll be up to speed."

Another name from the vintage Mustang side, Kevin Marti at Marti Autoworks, is also ready for the Fox-body onslaught. Last year he began offering '79-'86 Mustang factory invoices, the same "Eminger" invoices that have been available for years for many first-generation Mustangs. The invoices provide important documentation info for restorations, like factory equipment and options.

Will the Fox-body Mustangs ever reach the same popularity as the '65-'73s? That remains to be seen. For the moment, it appears that mail-order companies and parts manufacturers will be ready if it happens.

"We're really excited," says CAA's Cordileone. "It's new for us, not the same old thing. We see Fox-bodies everywhere. Many of them are still being driven every day."