San Jose, California
Metuchen, New Jersey
Cuautitlán Izcalli, Mexico City, Mexico
Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela
|Designer||Jack Telnack (1976)|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door convertible|
|Platform||Ford Fox platform|
Continental Mark VII
Lincoln Mark VII
|Engine||2.3 L (140 cu in) 86 hp I4|
2.3 L (140 cu in) turbocharged I4
3.3 L (201 cu in) I6 85 hp
2.8 L (171 cu in) V6
3.8 L (232 cu in) Essex V6
4.2 L (256 cu in) V8
4.94 L (301 cu in) Windsor V8 (marketed as a "5.0" model)
|Wheelbase||100.5 in (2,553 mm)|
|Length||179.6 in (4,562 mm)|
|Predecessor||Ford Mustang (second generation)|
|Successor||Ford Mustang (fourth generation)|
The third-generation Mustang was produced by Ford from 1978 until 1993. Being built on Ford's Fox platform, it is commonly referred to as the Fox-body Mustang. It evolved through a number of sub-models, trim levels, and drivetrain combinations during its production life. It underwent updates for 1987, and for a time seemed destined for replacement with a front-wheel drive Mazda platform. However, company executives were swayed by consumer opinion and the rear-wheel drive Mustang stayed, while the front wheel drive version was renamed the Ford Probe. Enthusiasts group the generation into two segments: the 1979-1986 cars, with their quad headlight arrangement, and the 1987-1993 cars, with their aerodynamic composite headlamps and front fascia styling. Production ended with the introduction of the fourth-generation Mustang (SN-95) for the 1994 model year.
The 1979 model year Mustang was based on the Fox platform. This chassis was "Ford's initiative to build a one-size-fits-all car to serve as a two-door sports car and a four-door family car" with its initial use by the larger Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr twins that debuted in the 1978 model year. "Ford built the 1979 Mustang around a platform it would share with more humble cars in the Lincoln-Mercury-Ford corporate family in order to keep development and construction costs down." Body styles for the Mustang included a coupe (notchback) and hatchback. Two trim levels were available: the base model and the more luxurious Ghia model. The wheelbase dimension was 4 inches shorter than the Fairmont/Zephyr series at 100 inches (the same as the outgoing European Ford Capri and 6 inches longer than the Mustang II).
The Cobra appearance package also made its debut in 1979 and would continue through both the 1980 and 1981 model years. The 1979 Cobra (17,579 produced) featured black grille, trim and moldings, as well as black lower body paint. The door handles, locks, antenna, and roof drip rail were bright. Color-coordinated dual pinstripes in the wraparound body-side moldings and bumpers, as well as COBRA decals on the doors were standard. All Cobras came equipped with a small, center mount non functional hood scoop (to provide clearance for the air cleaner due to the turbocharged 2.3's extra height), and the Cobra hood decal was optional for 1979. Rear spoilers were not included on the 1979 models, as they made their debut on the mid year introduction of the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car replica. The 1980 Cobra (5,550 produced) and the 1981 Cobra (1,821 produced) received a new front bumper and air dam with fog lights, non functional cowl-type hood scoop, and rear spoiler (all carried over from the earlier Pace Car replicas). Graphics included belt-line stripes, a redesigned hood decal, and "COBRA" decals on both the side quarter windows and the rear spoiler. Exterior trim on both the 1980 and 1981 Cobras was black, including the door handles, key locks, antenna, and sail panels.
Interior Cobra specific parts on all '79-'81 Cobras included "Engine Turned" dash bezels and three COBRA emblems - one in each door panel and one on the passenger side dash bezel.
Drivetrains consisted of the 2.3 L (140 cu in) four-cylinder Turbo with mandatory four-speed manual transmission (131 horsepower) or the 4.2 L (255 cu in) V8 (115-122 hp) with either an overdrive 4-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
The Ford Mustang was chosen as the Official Pace Car of the 1979 Indianapolis 500. Ford commemorated this event with a mid-year "Indy 500" Pace Car version (10,478 produced). All were finished in two-tone pewter and black with orange and red graphics. The front end featured a unique front air dam with fog lights, and a full length cowl type hood scoop, while the rear end got the new for 1979 rear spoiler (all of these additions carried over to both the 1980 and 1981 Cobra). The black interior featured Recaro seats with patterned black and white inserts. Available were the 2.3 L (140 cu in) four-cylinder Turbo with mandatory four-speed manual transmission or the 4.95 L (302 cu in) (The "5.0")V8 with either an overdrive 4-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. The production cars included a sunroof. However, the three actual pace cars were fitted with a T-top by Cars & Concepts of Brighton, MI. The removable panel roof option would not become an available option until the 1981 model year. A registry of these pace cars is available at 
In 1982, the Cobra model was dropped in favor of the Mustang GT, which returned after 13 years. This would garner the slogan, "The Boss is Back!" This new GT model featured a re-engineered 157 hp (117 kW; 159 PS) 302 cu in (4.9 L) "5 Liter(The "5.0")" engine with new valves, a more aggressive cam (from a 1973 351W Torino application), a larger twin-barrel carburetor, a revised firing order, and a better breathing intake and exhaust system. The GT included the front air dam with fog lamps and the rear spoiler from the 1979 Pace Car and the 1980 and 1981 Cobras. However, the full length hood scoop from those models did not carry over and the smaller 1979 Cobra hood scoop made its return on the GT. Only four colors were offered on the GT model and they consisted of dark red, bright red, silver, and black. The 5.0 engine was available on lower trim models. It also formed the basis for the "SSP" (Special Service Package) cars that were used by government and police law enforcement, and were almost exclusively ordered in the 2-door sedan bodystyle. The 4.2 Liter V8 was available for the last time on all Mustang models and only with an automatic transmission. Trim levels were also revised to now include the L (base), GL, and GLX under the GT model. The Ghia model was discontinued.
Engines for the 1979-1982 models included the 88 hp (66 kW) 2.3 L Pinto inline-four, 109 hp (81 kW) 2.8 L Cologne V6 (made by Ford of Germany), and the 140 hp (104 kW) 302 cu in (4.9 L) Windsor V8; which was marketed as a 5.0 L engine and front fenders badged as such. All were carried over from the Mustang II line. Shortly after the model year started an 89 hp (66 kW) 3.3 L straight-six engine was available. Supplies of the 2.8 L V6 proved inadequate leading to it being discontinued in late 1979. A new 132 hp (98 kW) 2.3 L turbo four-cylinder, debuted that offered similar horsepower to the V8. The automaker had plans this engine would usher in a new era in performance. The 2.3 and 2.3 turbo, as well as the V8 models could also be optioned with the newly developed TRX handling suspension that included Michelin 390mm tires and accompanying metric-sized wheels.
Following the second oil crisis in 1979, the 302 cu in (4.9 L)(The "5.0") engine was dropped in favor of a new 255 cu in (4.2 L) V8 due to its better fuel economy. The 255 was the only V8 offered in 1980 and 1981. Basically a sleeved-down 302, it produced 120 hp (89 kW), the lowest power ever for a Mustang V8. The 255 was mated only with the three-speed automatic transmission. This meant the 2.3 L turbo was the sole "performance" engine. The turbo 2.3, plagued with reliability issues, was an option through 1981. It was dropped for 1982 in the United States, while remaining available in Canada. An improved version would return in the new-for-1983 Turbo GT. The Traction-Lok limited-slip differential was available for the first time in 1981, with all engine combinations. A five-speed manual option arrived late during the 1980 model year, originally only in the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines. The T-top option debuted in 1981.
While most of the Mustang was carried over in late 1982 for 1983, there were some changes and improvements on the then five-year-old "Fox-platform" model. The front fascia was restyled with a more rounded nose and reshaped grill. New, wider horizontal taillights with dedicated amber turn signals replaced the vertical sectioned units. This was also the first Mustang to the use the "Blue Oval" Ford emblem on the exterior, both front and rear. Ford added a convertible to the Mustang line for 1983, after a nine-year absence. The majority of the convertibles were equipped with the new 3.8 L V6 in GLX trim, though 993 GT models were also produced. The Mustang GT received a four-barrel carburetor and a new intake manifold, bringing power to 175 hp (130 kW). The turbocharged 2.3 L four-cylinder also returned mid-year 1983, now fuel-injected, and producing 145 hp (108 kW). Sales of the Turbo GT were hurt by a higher base price but lower performance than the 5.0, and the lack of available air conditioning with that powertrain. The 3.8 L Essex V6 replaced the 3.3 L I6, as the 3.3 L engine had little demand and was dropped after 1982.
For 1984, the GL and GLX were dropped, leaving L, GT and Turbo GT while adding new additions, the LX and SVO. Ford also recognized the 20th Anniversary of the Mustang with the GT350, essentially a limited run of GTs and Turbo GTs. 5,260 hatchback and convertible models were built, all trimmed with Oxford White exteriors and Canyon Red interiors. They featured red GT350 rocker stripes and tri-bar Pony emblems on the front fenders.
Two 302 V8s were available, a carbureted version (manual transmission cars), or a new 165 hp (123 kW) electronically fuel-injected engine (automatic-transmission cars). A new "Quadra-Shock" rear suspension, which replaced the slapper bars with horizontally mounted axle shocks, became available after a few months of production. After 1984, the TRX option was retired for the Mustang.
The new Mustang SVO appeared first in 1984 and was produced through 1986. The 2.3 L turbocharged inline-four produced initially 175 hp (130 kW) for 1984, uprated to 205 hp (153 kW) beginning halfway through the 1985 model year, and ending with 200 hp (149 kW) for 1986. Four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch wheels, and an SVO-specific bi-plane rear spoiler were a few of the differences between the SVO and the rest of the Mustang line. The unique front fascia featured an offset hood intake duct for the turbo intercooler and a grill-less nose with sunken single rectangular sealed beam headlamps, flush inboard parking lamps and wraparound outer turn signal lamps. The front end was intended to use flush aerodynamic composite headlamps with replaceable bulbs, but these had not been approved by the US DOT in time for production. Aero headlamps finally appeared on the 1985½ SVO.
For 1985, the front fascia was restyled with a grill-less nose with a horizontal air intake slot. The Mustang GT received new E5AE cylinder heads, a revised Holley four-barrel carburetor, a new and more aggressive roller camshaft (only in models with the manual transmission), less restrictive exhaust manifolds, and a pseudo-dual exhaust which brought more power to a conservatively rated 210 hp (157 kW) engine. This would be the last carbureted V8 in the Mustang. 1985 saw the departure of the L and Turbo GT, leaving the LX, GT, and SVO. For 1986, Ford released the first multiport fuel-injected 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8, rated at 200 hp (149 kW; 203 PS).
In 1986, the Mustang GT saw drivetrain including a new 10.5" (from 10") clutch. The 7.5" rear-end was eliminated in V8 models in favor of the stronger 8.8" rear-end, with the 7.5" relegated to the 2.3L (SVO included) and 3.8L applications. Central fuel injection was used on the non-turbo 2.3 in automatic versions, but was dropped the following year in favor of more efficient multi-port fuel injection. The federally-mandated center high-mounted brake light was mounted on the now-standard rear spoiler for hatchbacks, inside the bottom of the rear window of the notchback and on the rear edge the standard luggage rack on convertibles.
The Mustang became Ford's main challenger in the early years of Group A touring car racing in Europe and Australia. The Mustang, using the 4.9 L V8 engine, only saw a limited life as a contender in the various European championships, being replaced by 1985 by the turbocharged Ford Sierra XR4Ti. Australian Dick Johnson purchased two Mustangs built by the German Zakspeed team in mid-1984 for use through 1985 and 1986 Australian Touring Car seasons as Ford Australia did not homologate either the Australian built Ford XE Falcon or its replacement, the XF Falcon, for racing. Johnson had a race win in the Group A support race for the 1985 Australian Grand Prix, as well as several placings in the 1985 and 1986 Australian Touring Car Championships. The Mustang's competitive life in Group A came to an end at the end of 1986 and was replaced in 1987 by the European designed turbocharged Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.
The Fox body Mustang was manufactured in Ford's Cuatitlan Itzcalli plant (located in Mexico City) from 1979 to 1984. Both the coupe and the hatchback body styles were offered. These Mexican built Mustangs had a hybrid appearance from 1981 until 1984, using some Mercury Capri body parts.
1981 and 1982 models (coupe and hatchback) received horizontally-ribbed Capri taillights, plus a Capri front fascia for the 1982 model.
The 1983 model had a Capri front fascia, whereas the 1984 model had the standard Mustang front fascia. A 1984 SVO coupe was also offered complete with SVO taillights.
The Capri body style was used for the 1983-1984 hatchback models which featured a "bubble" glass hatch lift gate, Capri taillights, and Capri wide fenders, although 1984 models had the regular Mustang front fascia. A SVO option was available for the 1984 model.
By the mid-1980s, Mustang sales were slumping. Sales were over 100,000 units a year, but were minimal compared to previous numbers. Ford believed that the Mustang had lost its place in the market. They subsequently announced that they would replace the rear-wheel drive Mustang with a Mazda-derived front-wheel-drive version. Mustang fans quickly responded and sent Ford hundreds of thousands of letters, asking them to save the rear-wheel drive Mustang. Ford responded by continuing production of the rear-wheel drive Mustang, and proceeded to rename the front-wheel-drive version as the Probe, which ended up being a replacement for the Escort-based Ford EXP.
In August 1986, the Mustang received a facelift for the 1987 model year on both the interior and exterior. The front end was restyled to look more like the SVO which gave the car more of an "Aero" look, in keeping with Ford's overall modern styling direction. The interior received an all new dash, center console and revised seat and door trim. With the SVO discontinued, models were now pared down to LX and GT. Taillights on the LX were revised with clear lenses for the turn signals while the GT now wore specific body-colored triple louvered lenses. The quarter glass windows lost their louvers and now sported a single larger flush piece of glass lettered with "Mustang" at the bottom rear corners. GTs featured new round fog lamps and gained aerodynamic lower bodyside skirting and new turbine style 15-inch (380 mm) wheels. The 302 cu in (4.9 L) 5.0L Mustangs became popular with the aftermarket performance industry. The V6 option was discontinued while the 2.3 L four-cylinder gained fuel injection, leaving only the 2.3 L four-cylinder and the 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8(The "5.0").
V8-powered Mustangs received E7TE heads and forged aluminum pistons with valve reliefs in 1987, as opposed to the flat-tops used in the previous year. The E7 cylinder heads were sourced from the truck line after the 1986 swirl-port design demonstrated performance problems. Power ratings increased to 225 hp (168 kW) and 300 ft?lbf (410 N?m) of torque. No major changes were seen for 1988, although the T-top roof option for hatchbacks was discontinued midyear.
For 1989, the Mustang's speed density computer system was replaced with a mass air system (1988 Mustangs sold in California also had the MAF system). This change slightly reduced factory horsepower, but it made Mustangs much easier to modify. With the mass air system, changes made to the intake, engine, and exhaust system would be recognized and compensated for by the ECU, resulting in a correct air/fuel ratio and optimum power. Ford's only gesture at a 25th Anniversary Mustang was small, a passenger-side dashboard emblem with galloping-horse logo affixed to all models built between 27 March 1989, and the end of model-year 1990. Finally, in 1989, Ford resources began to focus on the next Mustang, due to debut in late 1993. Through its retirement in 1993, there would be few changes in the model line, but the changes would be visual.
For 1990, Mustang added a new steering wheel featuring an airbag, and a revised lower driver's-side dash panel with knee bolster. The available tilt-steering wheel, however, was discontinued in favor of the revised airbag-equipped steering column. A limited run of 5.0L equipped LX convertibles - all painted Emerald Green metallic with white convertible tops, Oxford White leather interiors featuring GT seats, and 15" turbine alloy wheels - were produced for an NCAA half-court shot contest, sponsored by soda brand 7-Up, but the event was cancelled shortly before it was scheduled to begin. Ford, already having produced 4,103 vehicles (2,743 with the AOD four-speed automatic overdrive, and 1,360 with the T-5 five-speed manual transmission), released them for dealer availability. Revamped interior quarter panels for the 1990 model year did away with the side armrests for rear seat passengers, but gained large speaker panels for improved sound quality for the stereo. Door map pockets and clear coat paint also became standard for the 1990 Mustang, along with the availability of optional leather interior trim.
The 1991 model year changes to the 2.3 L I4 engines included an increase in horsepower (from 88 to 105) due to a revised cylinder head with two spark plugs per cylinder. Base-model Mustang prices exceeded $10,000 for the first time, and sales began to drop. A revised roof for the convertible allowed the top to fold closer to the body. V8-equipped models received new 16" five-spoke 'star' alloy rims.
In 1993, Ford switched to cast hypereutectic pistons for all 302 cu in (4.9 L) engines and also re-rated the GT to 205 hp (153 kW) and 275 ft?lbf (373 N?m) of torque. This estimate was more accurate given the previous power ratings were made before the addition of the mass air flow system, minor revisions in the camshaft profile, and other various small changes made throughout the production run. The seldom used individual power window switches, mounted within the quarter panel speaker grilles in the back seat, were removed. Control for the rear power windows were now relegated to the driver's door switch panel. The black bumper rub strips and side moldings on LX models were now body-colored. Similar to the 1990 7-Up Mustang, for 1992, Ford produced 3,333 special Spring-edition (1992-1/2) LX 5.0 convertible with a Vibrant Red exterior and Oxford White leather interiors. Also for 1993, Limited Edition models featured a Chrome Yellow exterior with black or white leather interior, or a Vibrant white exterior with white leather interior. Under the newly established Ford SVT division, the 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra was offered with the 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8 that produced 235 hp (238 PS; 175 kW) at 5000 rpm and 285 lb?ft (386 N?m) of torque at 4000 rpm. Featuring more subdued styling than the GT, the Cobra used Ford's new GT-40 high-performance engine equipment. A Cobra R model was also produced for 1993 that used the same engine as the regular Cobra. It featured larger brakes, Koni shocks and struts, engine oil cooler, power steering cooler, and rear seat delete. Options such as air conditioning and a stereo system were not available on the Cobra R. Production of the third generation Mustang concluded in September 1993. The 1993 Mustang was the first for a CD player to be optional from the factory. Finally, 1993 also marked the end of the "official" SSP Police/government Mustangs, though some agencies continued buying standard Mustangs for undercover or highway interceptor use.