Tom Wilson
March 1, 2009
Photos By: From The 5.0 Archives
That trusty Fox has been a good sport and wears its bolt-ons well, but now it's time to step up. Take your time deciding what sort of Fox you'll build, generate a plan, and stick to it. Moving from general driver to more specialized hobby car means getting more serious at the parts counter. Bumping an old Fox up the performance chain is the natural way of things, but think it out first to avoid financial wheelspin.

Horse Sense:
We knew we were in trouble when the 20-something dyno operator said, "Nice old Mustang!" when we pulled our '91 onto his rollers--and that was five years ago. Yes, the Fox Mustang has moved from current to classic.

There comes a time to move up or move on, and for Fox Mustang enthusiasts, the major step is getting their ride past the bolt-on level. It's a surprisingly involved decision, especially this late in the Fox life cycle, so let's get to it.

First of all, you probably have a Fox Mustang ('79-'93); if you're considering buying a project Fox, chances are good that it has all of the usual bolt-ons. By that we mean a large throttle body, short-tube headers, a big mass air meter, the intake air silencer is removed, and a K&N panel filter or even a cold-air intake is in place. There may be some lowering springs and rear lower control arms under the car. Often the wheels have been changed, and the stock tires aren't even memories any more.

It's a fun place to be, but it's time to refresh the cosmetics and definitely step up performance. Since the Fox Mustang was born to modify, booting an old Fox into its second millennium is an excellent hands-on automotive exercise.

All but the most pampered Foxes can use TLC in the headlights, switches, and other touch points around the interior. Working with a dealer, wrecking yard, and specialists such as Latemodel Restoration Supply can get you nearly any part you desire.

Decision one is writing a master plan. Adding bolt-ons is the cheap and easy part of car building; making a Fox into a tight driver with respect-demanding performance is considerably more expensive and exacting. At the bolt-on level, typically only the powertrain gets a few doodads as moving up means upgrading the whole car, from engine to brakes, body to interior. So, decide right now if you're building a daily driver, fun weekend street car, a weekend drag toy, an open track mount, or what have you. Get as specific as you can, such as mid-11s at the strip or 450 hp. Setting the goal will define what parts you need and avoid killjoy budget-busting false starts and deadend modifications. At this level, you don't want to be changing your 'Stang in the middle of the modification stream.

The next step is likely the most difficult, and that's critically examining your project Fox. We assume you're starting with Old Paint, the bolt-on Pony you've had for years and want to spruce up, but our comments also apply to anyone considering buying a project Fox.

So is your intended Fox worth fixing up? Ouch--that hurts when talking about an old friend, but today a good Fox Mustang is a $12,000 car, and you're getting ready to spend $10,000 on it.

Don't think so? You might be right if you're starting with a rare, clean car, but the average Fox upgrade will eventually consume around 10 large these days. The greedy folks in the financial sector have just schooled us on what it's like to get upside down in a house; you don't want to get hopelessly inverted in a toy car. Sure, it's going to cost something--this is not much of an investment--but the point is that it's worth every penny to start with a half-decent Fox rather than a roach.

Fox Mustangs were made to drag. Start with an upgraded rear suspension using parts from a single chassis tuner. Stiffen the chassis with subframe connectors and a rollbar; then add power as possible. Getting the chassis safe and consistent (good shocks, slicks, upgraded control arms, and reinforced torque boxes) is the secret to developing a Fox that's repeatable enough for you to learn the driving game.

Look at it this way: You're going to either do the mechanicals in a major way, or spend on the paint, body, and interior, but you really can't do both completely. Yes, you'll do some work in all areas, but starting with a fender-bendered, 200,000-mile heap that took three teenagers through high school will take too long and cost far too much. You can't afford to start with a roach, and if that means selling Old Paint and buying a cleaner Fox, then that's the smart thing to do. You may even decide to move on to a newer SN-95 or S197 Mustang, but the important point is to accurately assess your goals and work with the appropriate vehicle. Often the lightweight and no-nonsense 5.0 demeanor carry the day.

So, where to start? Let's check out the restoration pieces, because replacing standard body and interior wear items is a 5.0 concern typically not required in newer Mustangs. After all, the newest 5.0 is now 16 years old.

The obvious choice here is Latemodel Restoration Supply, which warehouses all those rubber, vinyl, and plastic bits old Foxes need these days. Of course, precisely which parts you'll spend for depends on the starting point, but it's safe to budget for carpet, floor mats, and likely an upholstery kit.