3rd GENERATION – 1979-1994

by Jeff Burgy

The third generation of the Mustang started in 1979, and this generation ran for fifteen years. This was one of the most popular body styles they had. It is commonly known as the “Fox body” Mustang. The nice thing about the Fox body was the 302 engine was built for it – the platform was made to handle it. There was an increase in the axle size over the prior models. And each year they improved the 302 cubic inch V8 engine.

In 1979 they were asked to pace the Indy 500 race. Three cars were souped up by Jack Roush with 302 engines with altered cam shafts, carburetors, cylinder heads, and exhaust plus T-roofs were installed. Ricky Mears won the race and received one of those three Pace Cars. About 9,900 Pace Car replicas, which had the same Pewter Silver paint scheme with Orange and Black graphics, with a sunroof instead of a T-roof, were produced and sold to the public. The ’79 Pace Car replicas were offered with either the Turbo 4 cylinder or the 302 V8 engine.

In 1983, Ford brought the convertible back. It had been missing from the line-up since the introduction of the Mustang II in 1974.

In 1984, the Special Vehicle Operations people introduced a special model called the SVO Mustang. It had a turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine in it, 4-wheel disc brakes and 15-inch wheels. It was a great little car. They didn’t make very many – they ran for three years – but it set the stage for future generations of the Mustang to run smaller, more efficient turbocharged engines.

In 1985 they put a roller camshaft in it, the 302, in ’86 they went to fuel injection, and in ‘87 they added different cylinder heads that were more powerful. All of these changes made the engine easier to work on and soup up. They had to be computer-controlled because increased government emissions regulations. But the cars were meeting emissions standards and still getting faster, which was surprising because a lot of us thought the performance car era had ended.

Also in 1987, the GT was modified, adding extra cladding and stripes to make it look a little different from the base car. In prior years, the GT aesthetic difference was a simple stripe package. Now, the body featured front fender scoops, side skirts, and a spoiler on the back.

About this time aftermarket derivatives of the Fox body Mustangs were being created that were quite popular with collectors. ASC McLaren produced a McLaren version, where they took a coupe made by Ford and converted it into a two-seat convertible. Steeda created a special edition Mustang, as did Steve Saleen. These cars usually used the base V8 chassis, added some suspension and cosmetic upgrades, with a souped-up engine.

In 1993, the Special Vehicle Operations department reorganized and became Special Vehicle Team (SVT). A new Mustang Cobra was introduced with a 302 cubic-inch engine that produced 235 horsepower. It still had 15-inch wheels, and featured GT40 heads, a better cam, different intake system, 4-wheel disc brakes, and suspension improvements.

The Cobra R version had a bigger engine and bigger brakes, but no back seat, air conditioning or radio – it was designed for racing. They built 107 of those cars, all painted in vibrant red.

It ended an era of very successful cars that were easy to maintain, and today, they’re still some of the most popular cars at the drag strip.




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