Fox-Body Mustang History (Part One)
Article by Mark Trotta
Improved mileage, improved performance, and most say better overall looks from the 1974-1978 Mustang II, the Fox-Body Mustang was also longer, wider, and lighter.
The Fox-Body Mustang was produced from 1979-1993. This article covers the years 1979 through 1983 (early four-headlight models).
Fox-Body Platform Name
The third-generation Mustang was built on Ford Motor Company's Fox platform, which began with the 1978 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr models. Curiously, the term "fox body" refers to the chassis which the cars were built upon. By having multiple cars sharing a platform, Ford was able to produce them quicker and cheaper.
Overall, Fox Bodys were six-inches longer and four-inches wider than previous generation. This moved exterior dimensions back closer to the original 1964 Mustang. Two body styles were originally offered, coupe and hatchback.
The new design featured MacPhearson front struts, which not only performed better than conventional shocks, they also allowed more room inside the engine compartment. The rear axle and suspension from the previous generation was retained.
Engine choices for 1979 Mustangs were essentially 'leftovers' from the Mustang II, a 2.3L 4-cylinder, 2.8L V6, or 302 cubic-inch V8. The 302 V8 (now called the 5.0) was available with a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission.
Later special editions featured a turbocharged 2.3L 4 cylinder engine producing 131 horsepower.
High Output 5.0
The popular Cobra model continued into 1979 with a distinct "egg-crate" grille. Although factory output was relatively modest, the 5.0 V8 was easily capable of more.
The Mustang celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1979, along with Ford developing a Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division. The SVO was created to develop high-performance cars with a focus on motorsports.
1979 Mustang Pace Car
For the first time since 1964, the Mustang was chosen to be the Indy 500 Pace Car. The exterior was painted 'Pewter Polly' with a flat black hood and top stripe, and on the lower half of the car. Red and orange stripes accented the hood, C-pillar, and taillights. Other features included a front and rear spoiler. All 1979 Mustang pace cars came equipped with Recaro Seats.
Although the 5.0L V8 was standard, the Mustang Pace Car was also available with a 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder with a four-speed manual transmission. In all, Ford produced 11,000 official Pace Car hatchbacks.
1979 Mustang Sales
Ford had hoped to make up for lost sales (and performance) to the Camaro, which they did, outselling Camaro by 150,000 units. Whereas the two cars had similar power and torque, the Mustang's lower weight gave it a slight performance advantage.
Slight changes over the 1979 model included a grille redesign.
Early Fox Body Convertibles (1980-1982)
Beginning in 1980, customers could special order a Mustang convertible. Initially these were made by outside sources. Once ordered, Ford would send two-door coupes, minus the glass and headliner, to Cars and Concepts in Brighton, Michigan (among other places). The steel roof would be removed, the floor pan would be reinforced, and a convertible top assembly was installed.
These outside convertible conversions added quite a bit to the standard Mustang price. For this reason, many of the the 1980-1982 conversions kept the base six-cylinder engine.
Ford 4.2 V8
The 5.0 V8 was dropped, and in it's place was a new 4.2 litre (255 cubic-inch) V8. Designed to deliver better gas mileage over previous V8's, the 4.2L V8 was fitted with an emission-calibrated two-barrel carburetor and available with a three-speed automatic transmission only. Combined with small-port cylinder heads, power output was just 120 horsepower, which was actually less than some current six-cylinder motors of the time.
First seen on 1979 Mustang pace cars, lift-off roof panels became optional. Other minor changes for 1981 included interior trim upgrades. This was the first year that hatchback models outsold coupes, a trend that continued until the end of the FoxBody Mustangs in 1993.
Available engines included the naturally-aspirated (non-turbo) 2.3L engine and a 3.3L (200 cubic-inch) I6 engine. Complaints of engine bogging and oil leaks prompted Ford to discontinue the 4.2 after just two years of production. The return of the 5.0L V8 was much heralded.
Ford discontinued the Cobra package and brought back the GT option group, which first appeared on the 1965 Mustang. With its High Output, 302 cubic-inch V8, the 1982 GT was the fastest Mustang in years. Other features included a four-speed overdrive manual transmission, body add-ons, bucket seats, and GT badging.
The HO V8 engine was available as an extra-cost optional engine for any 1982 Mustang model.