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
4.95 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 Fox platform (and is thus commonly referred to as the "Fox" Mustang), it 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 front wheel drive Mazda platform. However, company executives were swayed by consumer opinions and the rear wheel drive Mustang stayed, while the front wheel drive version became the Ford Probe. Enthusiasts group the generation into two segments: the 1979-1986 cars, with their quad headlight arrangement (manufactured in the United States), and the 1987-1993 cars, with their aero composite headlamped front fascia styling. Production ended with the introduction of the fourth-generation Mustang (SN-95) for the 1994 model year.


The 1979 model year Mustang was based on the larger Fox platform that was initially developed for the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr twins that debuted in the 1978 model year. The larger body meant the interior offered more space for four passengers, especially in the back seat, as well as a larger capacity trunk and a bigger engine bay. Body styles included a coupe (notchback) and hatchback. Two trim levels were available and included the base model and the more luxurious Ghia model.

In addition to the base & Ghia trim levels, a Cobra appearance package also made its debut and would continue through both the 1980 & 1981 model years. The all-new 1979 Cobra (17,579 produced) featured black trim and grille area, chrome door handles, stainless steel lock sets & antenna, aluminum roof drip rail, body colored sail panels, black lower body-side paint, colored coordinated dual pinstripes in the wraparound body-side moldings and bumper grooves, an optional snake decal for the hood and Cobra lettering on the doors. There was no rear spoiler on the 1979 models (except on the mid year introduction of the Indianapolis Pace Cars). The 1980 Cobra (5,550 produced) and the 1981 Cobras (1,821 produced) had a makeover in the appearance department as a new front bumper and air dam (complete with fog lights), full length cowl type hood scoop, and rear spoiler were added (all carried over from the 1979 Indy Pace Car). Also included in the '80/'81 Cobra package were colorful body length decals, COBRA hood decal, COBRA side window decals, and a COBRA decal on the rear spoiler. All trim was now "Blacked out", including the door handles, keylocks, antenna, and sail panels.

On May 27th, 1979, the all-new Mustang was chosen as the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500. Ford commemorated this event with a mid-year addition "Indy 500" Pace Car model (10,478 produced). The two-tone Pewter and Black colors were complimented with Orange and Red graphics. The front end featured a unique front air dam with fog lights, and a full length cowl type hood scoop, while the rear end got the new for '79 rear spoiler (all of these additions carried over to both the '80 & '81 Cobra). The black interior featured Recaro seats with patterned Black and White inserts. Available were the 2.3 L Turbo with mandatory four-speed manual transmission or the 5.0 L V8 with either an overdrive 4-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. The production cars included a sunroof. However, 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]

In 1982, the Cobra model was dropped in favor of the Mustang GT, which returned after 13 years. The new GT featured a re-engineered 157 hp (117 kW; 159 PS) 302 cu in (4.9 L) "5.0 L" engine with 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 GT included the front air dam with fog lamps and the rear spoiler from the '79 Pace Car and the 1980 & 1981 Cobras. However, the full length hood scoop from those models did not carry over and the smaller 1979 Cobra hood scoop made its return on the GT. Only four colors were offered on the GT model and they consisted of Dark Red, Bright Red, Silver, and Black. As in many previous years, the 5.0 engine was not tied only to the performance flagship GT. It was available on lower trims, and also formed the basis for the "SSP" (Special Service Package) cars that were used by government and police law enforcement, and were almost exclusively ordered in the 2-door sedan bodystyle. The 4.2 Liter V8 was available for the last time on all Mustang models and only with an automatic transmission. Trim levels were also revised to now include the L (base), GL, and GLX under the GT model.

Engines for the 1979-1982 models 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 Germany), and the 140 hp (104 kW) 302 cu in (4.9 L) Windsor V8; which was marketed as a 5.0 L engine and front fenders badged as such. All were carried over from the Mustang II line. Shortly after the model year started a 85 hp (63 kW) 3.3 L straight-six engine was available. Supplies of the 2.8 L V6 proved inadequate leading to it being discontinued in late 1979. A new 132 hp (98 kW) 2.3 L turbo four-cylinder, debuted that offered similar horsepower to the V8. The automaker had plans this engine would usher in a new era in performance. The 2.3 and 2.3 Turbo, as well as the V8 models could also be optioned with the newly developed TRX handling suspension that included Michelin 390 mm tires and specific metric wheels.

Following the second oil crisis in 1979, the 302 cu in (4.9 L) "5.0 L" engine 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 produced 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]


While most of the Mustang was carried over in late 1982 for 1983, there were some changes and improvements on the then five-year-old "Fox-platform" model. The front end was restyled with a more rounded nose and a V-shaped grille which resulted in the headlamp openings being revised to follow the grille shape. New wider horizontal taillights with dedicated amber turn signals replaced the vertical sectioned units similarly styled to the Ford Fairmont. Ford added a convertible to the Mustang line for 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 993 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). Turbo GT sales were hurt a higher base price than the 5.0, the lower performance, and the lack of available air conditioning with that powertrain. 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 featured red G.T.350 rocker stripes and tri-bar Pony emblems on the front fenders. 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 for the Mustang.

1984 Mustang SVO

The new Mustang SVO appeared first in 1984 and was produced through 1986. The 2.3 L turbocharged inline-four produced initially 175 hp (130 kW) for 1984, uprated to 205 hp (153 kW) beginning halfway through the 1985 model year, and ending with 200 hp (149 kW) for 1986. 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 unique front end featured an offset hood intake duct for the turbo intercooler and a grill-less nose with sunken single rectangular sealed beam headlamps, flush inboard parking lamps and wraparound outer turn signal lamps. The front end was intended to use flush aerodynamic composite headlamps with replaceable bulbs, but they were not legally approved in time for production. The aero headlamps finally appeared on the 1985½ SVO and were a precursor to the aero headlamps that would appear later on the 1987 Mustang. However, the high price to a comparably equipped V8 GT, the SVO had less than 10,000 produced over three years.

For 1985, the front end was restyled with a grille-less nose with a horizontal air intake slot. 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 (149 kW; 203 PS). With high swirl E6SE heads, the early production High Output EFI engine intake possessed higher compression and "true" dual exhaust.

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 and 3.8L engines, 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. 1986 was the year of the federally mandated center high mounted brake light which was mounted on a standard rear spoiler for hatchbacks, inside the bottom of the rear window of the notchback and on the rear edge the standard luggage rack on convertibles.


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 4.9 L 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 Dick Johnson purchased two Mustangs built by the German Zakspeed team in mid-1984 for use through 1985 and 1986 Australian Touring Car seasons as Ford Australia did not homologate either the Australian built Ford XE Falcon or its replacement, the XF Falcon, for racing. Johnson had 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.

In Mexico[edit]

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. The 1983-86 Capri bubble glass hatch was also used.

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 ended up being a replacement for the Escort-based Ford EXP.[6]


Ford Mustang 5.0 T-top

The 1987 Mustang received a facelift for both the interior and exterior. 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. The interior received an all new dash, center console and revised seat and door trim. With the end of the 1986 SVO, the models were now pared down to LX and GT. Taillights on the LX were revised with clear lenses for the turn signals while the GT now wore a specific body-colored triple sectioned louvered treatment. Also for 1987, rear amber turn signals were discontinued on LX and GT models. The rear quarter glass windows lost their louvers and now sported a single larger flush piece of glass lettered with "Mustang" at the bottom rear corners. GTs featured new round fog lamps and gained aerodynamic lower bodyside skirting and new turbine style 15-inch (380 mm) wheels. The 302 cu in (4.9 L) 5.0L 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.

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 27 March 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 LX 5.0 convertibles, and a limited run of 5,897 silver exterior, and grey interior 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 LX 5.0 convertibles were released in the spring. These models had 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 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. 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, engine oil cooler, power steering cooler, and rear seat delete. Options such as air conditioning and a stereo system were not available on the Cobra R. This was the only areo-styled Foxbody Mustang (during the 1987 to 1993 model years) to be manufactured in the United States.

Production of the third generation Mustang concluded in September 1993. The 1993 Mustang was the first for a CD player to be optional from the factory. 1993 also marked the end of the "official" SSP Police/government Mustangs, though some agencies continued buying standard Mustangs for undercover or highway interceptor use.


  1. ^ Leffingwell, Randy (2005). Mustang Forty Years. MBI Publishing. ISBN 9780760321836. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "1981 Ford Mustang "Sport" (VE)" (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Williams, Amie (23 October 2013). "The Fox-Body Mustang Evolution". Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  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. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  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 3 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Farr, Donald (2013). Mustang: Fifty Years: Celebrating America's Only True Pony Car. Motorbooks. p. 127. ISBN 9780760343968. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 

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