Hagerty’s Editor-at-Large Sam Smith takes a look at the Fox-body Ford Mustang and offers a general overview of the highly affordable but highly variable third-generation pony car. With an easy-to-modify structure, Sam not only covers the pluses and minuses of the Mustang’s massive aftermarket, but also the nuances of owning, buying, and maintaining this iconic classic.
A new Mustang GT hit the ground galloping in 1982 and Ford shouted its return with the slogan: “The Boss is Back!” Hitching the Boss legend to this new pony made good marketing sense, but the Fox was no retro-themed throwback. It would go on to inspire a new generation of enthusiasts and launch dedicated magazines and websites, as well as become a darling of the aftermarket.
Old-school, American rear-drive performance mounted a comeback in the 1980s, ushered in by cars like the Buick Grand National, the Chevrolet Monte Carlos SS, and the Camaro IROC-Z. But, when new, these vehicles were priced out of reach of many young people on entry-level salaries. Also, the GM contingent offered manual transmissions only as exceptions rather than the rule.
Not so the 5.0. Ford priced the Mustang GT affordably and, beginning in 1983, offered a real-deal Borg-Warner T-5 fives-peed manual transmission. For ’86, Ford dumped the Holley carburetor and made multiport fuel injection plus a roller camshaft standard—exotic parts for a low-dollar production car back then.
While Chevrolet charged a premium for all the good stuff, Ford lowered the price by offering the el-cheapo LX with a 5.0 powertrain. Not only was it less expensive, but the notch-window body style, exclusive to the LX line, was lighter than the hatchback/convertible GT.
Despite the critical drubbing it now receives from the collector community, Ford sold more than 1 million Mustang IIs over its five-year run during largely awful economic times. It would be easy to screw up that kind of sales record, so any new Mustang had a hard act to follow. Luckily, Ford developed a winner that lasted a decade and a half with relatively minor alterations with bones that lived under Mustangs clear into 2004.
Much as the original Mustang had Falcon underpinnings, the new-for-1979 Fox-platform Mustang used new-for-1978 Ford Fairmont chassis basics, including MacPherson strut front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and sections of the Fairmont’s floorpans. Fairmont was Ford’s new bread-and-butter sedan and had been met with strong positive reaction from both the press and consumers for its overall package of cost, room, efficiency, and driving pleasure; it was a no-brainer to base the redesigned 1979-’93 Ford Mustang upon it. Unusually for the era of gas-crunch-influenced downsizing, the Mustang (no Roman numeral attached) managed to be bigger than the car it replaced: Its wheelbase and overall length stood 4-plus inches larger, while overall height, plus front and rear track, all grew an inch. And yet the new Mustang, without the use of exotic materials like aluminum in the body or engine, weighed 200 pounds less than a comparable Mustang II.
One of the reasons the Mustang II caught so much flack is that, despite wild-looking stripes-and-spoilers versions like the Cobra II and King Cobra, the top engine was a 134-horsepower 5-liter V-8 —a far cry from the Mustang’s ’60s performance image. In truth, the V-8 was more or less a carryover for 1979, and the hot high-tech turbocharged 2.3-liter four made 132 horsepower. But the style and driving dynamics won customers over. Once the GT reappeared for 1982, Mustang never looked back: It renewed its cross-town rivalry with the Camaro, which was going through its own downsizing and performance renaissance, and quickly became the choice for hometown-hero hotshoes. Mustang’s second life, post-1987 as a late-model cheap-thrills machine, was furthered by its combination of robust simplicity and forward-thinking, high-tech, easily manipulated components. It’s fair to say that these cars are still affordable: Even clean examples of the hottest performance models (bar the limited Cobra R, and the best examples of the ’93 Cobra) remain at or below their original sticker price, and if you go the restoration route, there are plenty of unwanted boneyard specials to donate parts to one that will be improved and cherished. But its legacy, serving as a highlight among generations of Mustang, remains strong today. The Fox Mustang lasted for such a long time and sold so many copies over its 15-year life (2.6 million, not including the hundreds of thousands of Fox-based Mercury Capris built from 1979-’86) that breakdowns for individual model years will be impossible. It also means that there are plenty of examples out there in the wild to choose from, and doubtless plenty more that can be scored for a bargain and picked for parts.
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.
Of the 4,993 Fox Cobras produced, 448 Black/black cars were built. Since there is no breakdown of sunroof versus no sunroof, the most accurate anyone can say is this car is 1 of less than 448 cars.
When you are searching for comparable vehicles to compare price, keep in mind this is a Foxbody Cobra, not a Mustang GT or LX 5.0. Being a Cobra, there are not even 12 that are currently on the market so it should be a quick comparison.
For at least the last 12 years, since I’ve owned it and the previous owner, it has always been garaged. The strut towers and torque boxes are solid with no rust.
The hood has been replaced with an OEM take-off, I do not know why; fenders, front bumper, doors, quarters and hatch are original with VIN stickers. There are small dings and scratches that I cannot capture in pictures. There is also a chip in the leading edge of the drivers door that has been touched up.
This might be the missing piece to your Fox-body Mustang rebuild.
In 2019, the Ford Mustang was declared as the best-selling sports coupe in the world for the fourth consecutive time, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the pony car gets the same accolade this year.
A new ‘Stang may be due in 2022 buy out of the Mustang generations, the Fox-body Mustang, which was produced from 1979 to 1993 is probably one of the most iconic versions. It was loved for what it was hated for, particularly because of its deviation from the classic look of its predecessors. It’s also substantially smaller than before.
The Flathead ‘Stang went on to Bonneville and set a world record for the XF/BFALT class by reaching 142.822 miles per hour!
The current crop of Mustangs from Ford has definitely set a new standard for power and performance within the model’s many years of production. And with companies like Roush and Shelby American unveiling pumped-up versions, the potential for serious domination on the track and on the streets seems almost limitless.
But the Mustang has also been a favorite for backyard builders and home mechanics to live out their dreams of wrenching on epic builds. Case in point is a Fox Body Mustang land speed record holder that’s featured on Engine Swap Depot with a turbocharged flathead V8 under the hood.
If the title of this Readers’ Rides feature didn’t already give it away, the 1984 Ford Mustang you see here is not your average Fox Body Mustang. Owner Phillip Landry of Lafayette, Louisiana took his 1980s Mustang build in a very unique direction—the car was put together for land speed racing and is powered by a 1950 Mercury flathead V-8 engine that Phillip can switch between a roots-style supercharger and a turbo depending on the event.
“We race this car at Bonneville where we hold the XF/BFALT record at 142.822,” Phillip told us. He also races with the East Coast Timing Association (ECTA) at Wilmington, Ohio, and Blytheville. With help from his friend Damon Braus and brother John Landry, the trio has the car dialed. So much so, Phillip said, “At Wilmington we would change over from a single four barrel to the supercharger setup while waiting in line.” He also added, “Of course I couldn’t do all this without my wonderful, supportive wife Mary.