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A Short History of the Ford Mustang 1979-2004

1980 Ford Mustang convertible

The second-generation Ford Mustang soldiered on through the 1970s as a smaller re-interpretation of the original. This post-oil crisis gelding was underpinned by a platform similar to the Pinto, but found more than 1.1 million customers during the its run. Not much loved now, it was the right car for the right time, but like disco the Mustang II was on its way out.

The third-generation Mustang was created from the bones of the humble Ford Fairmont in 1979 and much of that platform remained under it for 25 years. Here’s a brief overview of the third- and fourth-generation Ford Mustangs, covering models years 1979 through 2004, and found in Chilton Manuals 26606 and 26608.

Fox Body Mustang – 1979-1993

1993 Ford Mustang GTHenry Ford II wanted the new Mustang to be a radically different breed of pony compared to the second-generation. The modified MacPherson strut front end, four link rear suspension, and light unibody design gave them a head start. Three design teams from the United States and Italy went head-to-head-to-head, with Jack Telnack’s Dearborn, Michigan team’s design chosen.

The new exterior design introduced quad-headlamps to the face of the Ford Mustang, and a sloped aerodynamic nose. Fans had their choice of notchback coupe or hatchback, and two trims available: the base model (later dubbed the L), or the more luxurious Ghia (GL and GLX trims would come in 1982). Special editions included the Cobra (replaced by the GT trim in 1982) and 1979 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car replica.

Engine options carried over, with the 2.3 liter four cylinder, 2.8 liter Cologne V6, and 5.0 liter V8 (actually just 4.9 liters) available. A straight six dating back to 1964 was offered due to a V6 shortage, with less power but more torque and smoother than the four cylinder. New for 1979 was a carbureted turbo 2.3 liter with nearly as much power as the V8, and more power than the 4.2 liter V8 offered in 1980 and 1981.

The first styling refresh came in 1983, with a new, more-rounded nose and reshaped grille and wider, horizontal taillights. Also new was a convertible, the first one in nine years. The 5.0 liter V8 was back as well, newly fitted with fuel injection for cars with an automatic transmission.

In 1984, the special turbo Mustang SVO was born. Created by Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations Department, it was powered by a fuel injected, turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter good for 175-205 hp (depending on year). The SVO also had a bi-plane rear spoiler, four-wheel discs brakes, 16-inch wheels, and (except for early ones) aerodynamic composite headlamps.

The front end for all Ford Mustangs would be revised in 1985, dropping the egg crate grill in favor of a horizontal slot under the famed Blue Oval. Ford would no longer offer the “TRX handling package” with its unique metric sized Michelin TRX wheels and tires after the middle of the 1985 model year. After 1987 all Mustangs took more aerodynamic, modern appearance from the now-departed SVO. Trim packages were LX and GT, though the Special Vehicle Team would re-introduce the Cobra trim as the 1993 SVT Cobra with a 5.0L V8 good for 235 horses. The track focused Cobra R took it all to the next level with larger brakes, coolers for the oil and power steering, and rear-seat delete.

Throughout the third generation, power came from a handful of engines, but only two remained at the end: the 2.3 liter four, and 5.0 liter V8. Transmission options included 3- and 4-speed automatics, and 4- and 5-speed manuals.

SN-95 Mustang – 1994 – 2004

2001 Ford Mustang GTUpon this platform Ford tested three potential designs: The Jenner (sleek with soft lines), The Rambo (ultra-aggressive), and the Schwarzenegger (somewhere between the two). The Schwarzenegger won out, and became the fourth-generation Ford Mustang look we all know.

The new Mustang pulled styling cues from its past (like the three-slot vertical tail lights and indented side scoops), applied to convertible and fastback body styles; the hatchback was gone. The base model arrived in December 1993 with a 145 hp 3.8 liter V6, followed by the GT in January 1994 with the pushrod 5.0 V8. That motor was not long for this world, replaced in 1996 with the new Modular 4.6 liter SOHC V8 which produced 215 horses at the start, and gained 10 more in 1998.

A major refresh in 1999 debuted the New Edge look that would closed out this generation. The design sharpened the majority of the curved edges, leaving only the roofline untouched. The revised 3.8 liter V6 was good for 190 horses, while the 4.6 liter V8 got a big jump in power, putting out 260 horses and 302 lb-ft of torque. The 2001 model year introduced the first Bullitt Edition Mustang, powered by a 265-hp version of the V8, and available in two addition colors besides its famed Dark Highland Green.

The Cobra returned for most of the the fourth-generation, originally powered by a 240 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 in 1994, and ultimately a 390-horsepower, supercharged, 32-valve 4.6 liter V8 in 2004. A new limited edition Cobra R took the Cobra’s place for 2000, delivering 385 horses. The 1999-2004 Ford Mustang Cobras are also unique because of their independent rear suspension, bolted where the four link solid axle would be.

Transmission options included the Tremec T5 five-speed manual with the V6 models, T-45 behind the V8, and the higher spec TR-3550 in the later GT and Cobras. Automatics include the AODE and 4R70W four-speeds powering both V6 and GT models.

The Fox body Ford Mustangs carried the torch for the original pony car and its enthusiasts across two centuries, from the pushrod and carburetor era to the modern DOHC fuel injected day. There will likely never be another never be another enthusiast vehicle like the third- and fourth-generation Ford ponies.

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