Ford Mustang (third generation)

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Third generation
Ford Mustang convertible.jpg
Manufacturer Ford
Production 1978–1993[1]
Model years 1979-1993
Assembly Dearborn, Michigan
San Jose, California
Metuchen, New Jersey
Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela[2]
Designer Jack Telnack (1976)[3]
Body and chassis
Class Pony car
Body style 2-door convertible
2-door coupe
3-door hatchback
Layout FR layout
Platform Ford Fox platform
Related Ford Fairmont
Ford LTD
Ford Thunderbird
Mercury Capri
Mercury Zephyr
Mercury Marquis
Mercury Cougar
Lincoln Continental
Lincoln Mark VII
Engine 2.3 L (140 cu in) 86 hp I4[4]
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
4.9 L (302 cu in) Windsor   V8[4] (marketed as a "5.0" model)
Wheelbase 100.5 in (2,553 mm)
Length 179.6 in (4,562 mm)
Width 1987–1990: 69.1 in (1,755 mm)
1991–93: 68.3 in (1,735 mm)
Height 1987–1990: 52.1 in (1,323 mm)
1991–93 Coupe: 52 in (1,321 mm)
1991–93 Hatchback: 52.1 in (1,323 mm)
Predecessor Ford Mustang (second generation)
Successor Ford Mustang (fourth generation)
Main article: Ford Mustang

The third-generation Mustang was produced by Ford from 1978 to 1993. Built on Ford’s widely used Fox platform, it was much lower to the ground than in previous generation Mustangs. These Mustangs 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 rebadged import before company executives were swayed by consumer opinions. Enthusiasts group the generation into two segments: the 1979-1986 cars, with their quad headlight arrangement, and the 1987-1993 cars, with their "no-grille" (aero) front fascia styling. Production ended with the introduction of the fourth-generation Mustang (SN-95) for the 1994 model year.


The new 1979 model year Mustang was based on the larger Fox platform, initially developed for the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr twins that debuted in 1977. The larger body meant the interior was restyled with more space for four passengers, even with the smaller back seat, as well as a larger capacity trunk and a bigger engine bay. Body styles included a coupe (notchback) and hatchback (fastback). The only trim level available over the base model was Ghia. There was also a Cobra option available (17,579 produced in 1979) that completed the lineup through 1981. Engine choices 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 Europe), and the 140 hp (104 kW) 302 cu in (4.9 L) Windsor V8. All were carried over from the Mustang II line. Supplies of the 2.8 L proved inadequate leading to it being replaced in late 1979 with Ford's 85 hp (63 kW) 3.3 L straight-six.

A new 132 hp (98 kW) 2.3 L turbo four-cylinder, debuted that offered similar horsepower to the V8. The automaker's had plans this engine would usher in a new era in performance. The 2.3 and 2.3 Turbo and V8 models could also be optioned with the newly developed TRX handling suspension, which utilized Michelin 390 mm tires and specific metric wheels. The Mustang was again chosen as pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Ford commemorated this with an "Indy 500" pace car edition, of which 10,478 were produced. The two-tone pewter and black colors were complimented with vibrant Orange & Red graphics. Available were the 2.3 L Turbo with mandatory four-speed manual transmission or the 302 cu in (4.95 L) V8 with either the manual or three-speed automatic transmission. The three actual Pace Cars were fitted with a T-roof by Cars & Concepts of Brighton, MI. The T-roof option would not become an available option until the 1981 model year.[4]

Ford Mustang Ghia notchback of the pre-facelift design

Following the second oil crisis in 1979, the 302 cu in (4.9 L) was dropped in favor of a new 255 cu in (4.2 L) V8 due to its better fuel economy. It was the only V8 offered in 1980 and 1981. Basically a sleeved down 302, the 4.2 L V8 had restrictive heads and managed to produce 120 hp (89 kW), the lowest power ever for a Mustang V8. The 4.2 L was mated only with the three-speed automatic transmission. This meant the 2.3 L Turbo 4 was the sole "performance" engine. The Turbo 4 was plagued with reliability issues from its release. Inadequate lubrication led to premature turbo failure and some engines caught fire. It was listed as an option through 1981, but dropped for 1982, although it was still available in Canada. This engine 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.[5] New for 1981 was an optional Traction-Lok rear axle (all engines), and a T-bar roof.[5]

In 1982, the 302 cu in (4.9 L) returned. The new 302 cubic inches (4.9 L) H.O. (for High Output) engine, available only with the four-speed manual transmission, was modified from the 1979 version. Now producing 157 hp (117 kW), the re-engineered 302 consisted of new valves, a more aggressive cam (from a 1973 351W Torino application), a larger twin-barrel carburetor, and a revised firing order, as well as a better breathing intake and exhaust system. The 4.2 L, now in its final year and available only with an automatic, could be substituted in the place of the 302 resulting in a US$57 credit to the buyer. Trim levels were also revised to now included L (base), GL, GLX, and GT. The Cobra option was no longer available.


While most of the Mustang internals and externals were carried over in late 1982 for 1983, there were some changes and improvements on the then five-year-old "Fox-platform" model. Both the front nose piece and rear taillights were restyled. A more "aero" look, which was becoming more common on various Ford products of the era, replaced the egg crate-style grille seen the past four years. New taillights with dedicated amber turn signals replaced the similarly styled vertical Ford Fairmont units. Ford added a convertible to the Mustang line in 1982 for model year 1983 in response to the 1982 Chrysler convertibles, this after a nine-year absence. The majority of the convertibles were equipped with the new 3.8 L V6 in GLX form, though 1,001 (993 for US, 8 for Canada) 5.0 V8 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, now fuel-injected, and producing 145 hp (108 kW). 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, LX, GT, Turbo GT, and a new addition, the SVO. Ford also recognized the 20th Anniversary of the Mustang with the G.T.350, which consisted of a limited run of 5,260 hatchback and convertible models all trimmed in Oxford White exteriors and Canyon Red interiors. They could be equipped with either the 2.3 Turbo or 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8. Two 302 V8s were available, the four-barrel, or a new 165 hp (123 kW) electronic-fuel-injected engine. 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.

1984 Mustang SVO

The new Mustang SVO appeared first in 1984 and was produced through 1986. Carrying a far more powerful and refined 2.3 L turbocharged inline-four, it produced initially 175 hp (130 kW) for 1984, uprated to 205 hp (153 kW) halfway through the 1985 model year, and ending with 200 hp (149 kW) for 1986. It provided handling and braking abilities that could outdo a Mustang GT. Four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch specific 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 1985½ SVO also had unique headlights that were a precursor to the aero-headlights that would appear later in the 1987 Mustang. However, the steep price, which was thousands more than a comparably equipped V8 GT, proved unpopular with potential customers and less than 10,000 were sold over three years.

For 1985, 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. The 1985 model year 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 (150 kW). With high swirl E6SE heads, the early production High Output EFI engine intake possessed higher compression and dual exhausts.

1986 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 T-top

In 1986, the Mustang GT saw drivetrain upgrades, that included going from the old 10" clutch, to the new 10.5" clutch system that would be a standard for the remainder the 5.0 would be in the Mustang. The 7.5" rear-end was also eliminated in V8 models in favor of the stronger 8.8" rear-end, with the 7.5" only being used with the 2.3L Mustang, including the SVO. Central fuel injection was used on the non-turbo 2.3 in automatic versions, but was quickly ditched the following year in favor of more efficient sequential fuel injection.


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 4.9L 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 Ford icon Dick Johnson was forced to purchase two Mustangs built by the German Zakspeed team in mid-1984 for use through 1985 and 1986 as Ford Australia had no interest in homologating either the Australian built Ford XE Falcon or its replacement, the XF Falcon, for racing.

Although the cars handled well and had good brakes, the 340 bhp (254 kW; 345 PS) Mustang proved to be reliable, if not fast enough against its main Group A competition which included the V12 Jaguar XJS, the 6 cyl BMW 635 CSi, the V8 Rover Vitesse and Holden Commodore SS Group A, and the turbocharged Volvo 240T and Nissan Skyline DR30 RS. Johnson did manage 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 and later that cars evolution model, the Ford Sierra RS500, though a small number of private teams still ran the Mustang in Group A racing for a number of years without success.


1982-1983 Ford Mustang Coupé, Mexican market version

In Mexico, the Ford Mustang received a hybrid appearance from 1981 until 1984, using some Mercury Capri body parts. All of these early model year Mustangs received the Capri taillights, while the 1982 and 1983 have the Capri front end as well.

Proposed replacement[edit]

Main article: Ford Probe
Ford Probe

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 was a replacement for the Escort-based Ford EXP.[6]


Ford Mustang 5.0 T-top

In 1986, the Mustang received a facelift for both interior and exterior of the 1987 model year. The exterior design was reminiscent of the earlier SVO and gave the car more of an "Aero" look, in keeping with Ford's overall styling direction. With the end of the 1986 SVO, the models were now pared down to LX and GT. Taillights on the LX were slightly revised, while the GT now wore a specific louvered treatment. Rear quarter glass windows on LXs and GTs lost their louvered treatment and now sported a single piece of glass reading "Mustang" at the bottom. GTs retained foglights and new turbine style 15-inch (380 mm) wheels were introduced. LXs added the GT-specific alloys for 1985 and 1986 on new LX 5.0 models. This particular Mustang represents the longest run on any platform and the popularity of the Mustang remained high due to its low cost and high-performance. The 302 cu in (4.9 L), marketed as "5.0", Mustangs became popular with the aftermarket performance industry.[7] 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.

Also for 1987, V8-powered Mustangs received E7TE heads and forged aluminum pistons with valve reliefs, as opposed to the flat-tops used in the previous year.[8] 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. A driver's-side airbag became standard starting in 1989 for 1990 models. 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 March 27, 1989, and the end of model-year 1990.[9]

In 1989, Ford resources began to focus on the next Mustang, due to debut in late 1993.[10] There would be few changes in the model line through its retirement in 1993. Most changes would be visual. For 1990, a limited run of 4,103 emerald green exterior, and white leather interior 5.0 LX convertibles, and a limited run of 5,897 silver exterior, and grey interior 5.0 GT hatchbacks were produced for a contest held by 7-Up, but the contest was cancelled at the last second. Similarly, for 1992 and 1993, three special-edition 5.0 LX convertibles were released in the spring. These models had with Vibrant Red exteriors with Oxford white leather interiors for 1992, Vibrant Yellow exterior with black or white leather interior, or Vibrant white exterior with white leather interior, for 1993.

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.

With the end of the run near in 1992, Ford switched to cast hypereutectic pistons for all 302 cu in (4.9 L) engines and also re-rated the 5.0 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.

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 (175 kW) and 280 ft·lbf (380 N·m) of torque. Featuring more subdued styling than the GT, the Cobra used Ford's new GT-40 high-performance engine equipment, which could send a Mustang through the 14 mile (0.40 km) in low 14 seconds. 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, an engine oil cooler, a power steering cooler, and a factory rear seat delete. Since the Cobra R was race oriented, options such as air conditioning and a stereo system were not offered. Production of the third generation Mustang concluded in September 1993. 1993 was also the first year that a CD player was offered from the factory.


  1. ^ Leffingwell, Randy (2005). "Mustang Forty Years". MBI Publishing. ISBN 9780760321836. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "1981 Ford Mustang "Sport" (VE)" (in Spanish). Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Automobile Club of Italy (1982). World Cars 1982. Herald Books. ISBN 978-0-910714-14-3. 
  5. ^ a b Hogg, Tony (ed.). "1981 Buyer's Guide". Road & Track's Road Test Annual & Buyer's Guide 1981 (January-February 1981): 97. 
  6. ^ "History". Performance Probe Ford. 2005. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Davis, Earl G.; Perkins-Davis, Diane E. (2004). 101 Projects for your Mustang 1964½-1973. Motorbooks International. ISBN 978-0-7603-1161-5. 
  8. ^ "1987-1993 Foxbody Mustang Engine Specifications". Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  9. ^ Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (25 February 2007). "The Ford Mustang 25th Anniversary Celebration". Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  10. ^ Farr, Donald (2013). "Mustang: Fifty Years: Celebrating America's Only True Pony Car". Motorbooks. p. 127. ISBN 9780760343968. Retrieved 3 April 2014.