'87-'93 Mustang Price Range:...
Price Range: $1,000-$3,500
Pros: The ultimate in cheap speed, lots to choose from, huge following, great aftermarket support, neo-iconic status
Cons: Flimsy chassis, lots of rough examples out there
This was the car that really signified the second coming of the muscle car era. With 225 hp on tap, the '87 5.0L LX or GT Mustang was a rocket and, at just over $12,000 new, was the best bang for the buck on the market. Enthusiasts also discovered that the engine responded extremely well to speed parts and it wasn't long before these cars were running as fast, if not faster than their hallowed '60s predecessors. However, this popularity and performance meant that a lot of these cars were used up, crashed, poorly modified, or simply beaten into the ground. There are plenty of them out there, but most are in rough shape. Still, a used LX or GT 5.0L remains the cheapest way to get into a real performance car, and these things are reliable, easy to work on, and boast one of the largest performance aftermarket industries dedicated to a single car. For $3,500 you'll be able to get yourself a running, driving 5.0L, but it will likely boast high miles and be in need of cosmetic enhancement. Make sure you check the body for stress cracks and rust, as the lightweight unibody isn't the strongest out there and in dire need of extra stiffening if it hasn't already been done. Another option is to pick up a base four-cylinder LX (no V-6s were offered between '87 and '93), since these low-po cars seldom, if ever, suffer from body flex and you can find mint ones for well within our budget. There are a growing number of people who are taking these four-cylinder bodies and installing 5.0L drivetrains and suspension in them, turning them into their own personalized hot rods. In some respects, it can actually work out cheaper to buy a solid four-cylinder car and a wrecked 5.0L parts car and transfer everything over than buying a tired and running 5.0L in the first place. One of the great aspects about Fox Mustangs is their parts interchangeability, so you can pretty much do anything with them--like make an '87 LX into a '93 GT or retro-fit older '79-'86 parts onto an '87-'93 car and vice versa.
'94-'95 Mustang Price Range:...
Price Range: $2,000-$3,500
Pros: Improved handling and ergonomics over early Fox cars, getting very affordable now
Cons: Heavier weight affects performance, 3.8 engines prone to head gasket failures, 5.0L cars require some specific parts
On the cusp or qualifying for our price guide, particularly the base 3.8L V-6-equipped models, these cars are in many respects an improvement over the original Foxes in terms of their suspension, chassis stiffness, and brakes (all disc, versus front disc/rear drum on all but the Fox SVO and Cobra). However, they also have their share of nuances. The 3.8L engines in these cars feature aluminum heads and are prone to blowing head gaskets. There are also fewer specific parts available for them than the Fox cars, though in terms of driveline swaps it is still relatively easy to take a base Mustang and install a V-8 driveline. The '94-'95 GTs featured 5.0L engines, but with less torque and more weight making them less quick than the Fox cars. They also suffer from parts issues and can be a bit tricky to work on--requiring specific parts (particularly for the engine and driveline) such as unique exhaust and intakes, and often suffer from electrical gremlins. You can now find well-used '94-'95 Mustangs (including GTs) for just under our price ceiling. As time marches on, they look to become cheaper as these cars are still depreciating in value.
Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is
Sure it's easy to say go forth and find your next project car running and ready to take home for $3,500 or less when we're creating this story. But to show you it can be done technical editor Wayne Cook and his brother Miles set out to find an interesting project that we could use in Modified Mustangs & Fords. With the $3,500 limit in force they certainly weren't going to find any '67 Mustang fastbacks (not that we need another Mustang project around here) but what they did find is the '67 Fairlane bodied Ranchero on this month's cover. Yup, this is a real deal here, $3,500 and Wayne and Miles were driving it home. Small-block powered with only a few minor issues, even the paint was in presentable condition. All the Cooks did was upgrade the rolling stock when they got the Ranchero home. So don't feel discouraged, you can find a nice ride within your budget, and be looking for more on the Ranchero in 2009 as we start playing with it in the pages of Modified Mustangs & Fords.-Ed.