Mighty men come from humble origins; oaks grow from mere acorns. Ford’s long-lasting, unit-bodied, rear-drive Fox chassis started as the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr, a pair of compact sedans (with coupe and wagon variants) that got the automaker in fighting shape for the ’80s. They arrived at a time when high performance was on no one’s mind, or at least, very few in Detroit. Instead, these models were created in the wake of the first oil crisis and arrived just in time for the 1979 sequel.
Horsepower wasn’t Ford’s focus then. But even when sheer grunt wasn’t available, Ford hyped performance: Fox’s rack-and-pinion steering, grippy Michelin TRX tires (on special suspensions, tuned for handling), and wide availability of a four-speed (and later, five-speed) manual transmission. As circumstances allowed, output improved: ever-larger power figures for both the 5.0-liter V-8 and the turbo 2.3-liter four would be advertised.
Now calling itself “America’s most popular sports car,” the 1980 Mustang is mostly trading on its rakish body and cornering excitement, both called out and implied—though the prominent fuel-mileage figures replace power ratings.