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Home/Technical Info/Ford/ 11. Car Models Described/
Muscle for the Street Returns - The Fox Body Mustang:
Part 01: 1979 - 1981

The 1979 Mustang "Cobra" was the performance option for 1979, due to its TRX suspension system, as the V8 and Turbo were available in all models.
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Part One: The Fox Body Mustang: 1979 - 1981
by Tony Ray, Wild About Cars Ford Brand Manager

By 1979, the times were changing at Ford. Jack Telnack, formerly Ford of Europe 's VP of design, had returned to the States and his influence was felt immediately in the design of the new Mustang. Aside from the long hood/short trunk proportions, the new Fox chassis 'Stang shared very little with its ancestors. No more side scoops or triple segmented taillights, the Fox was a clean sheet design of the German minimalist school and reflected everything Telnack had learned during his Euro stint.

Engines were essentially carried over from the outgoing Mustang II with the exception of a new turbocharged four cylinder. However, despite the rather anemic horsepower ratings, the enthusiast press was almost universally positive in their view of the new car. Writers praised the clean styling, inside and out, along with handling that once again made the car fun to toss around a corner. This was due to a new McPherson strut front end, along with a new four-link/coil-spring system in the rear.

Ford 's emphasis with this set-up was on handling, but it was a decision that would prove fortuitous for reasons that almost no one at Ford envisioned at the time. The car launched with three suspension settings: Standard, Handling, and the TRX system. While the TRX suspension would prove somewhat troublesome in real-world use, due to its odd metric sized tires, the fact that the system was also in use on contemporary exotics such as Ferrari 's 308 and 512 gave Ford a boost amongst the leather-driving-glove crowd at magazines like Car and Driver and Road & Track.

Engines included a 5.0 liter V8 making 140 horsepower, a 2.8 liter V6, and a naturally aspirated, 2.3 liter inline four. The German-supplied V6 proved difficult from a logistical standpoint, and was replaced late in the year with the old 200 cube straight six. New this year was a turbocharged version of the 2.3 engine. Non-intercooled and carbureted, it still managed to make horsepower comparable to the available 302. Where it suffered was in the area of reliability. Issues with the turbochargers themselves led to many factory turbo cars being converted back to natural aspiration (or even having a V-8 swapped in place of the four) early in life, and this led to Ford 's eventual (and temporary) withdrawal of the forced-induction engine from the option lists.

Trim offerings in 79 were, again, largely carried over from the II; offerings were base, Ghia, and Cobra. The Ghia was a luxury edition with vinyl roof, special interior trim, and extra sound deadening. The Cobra was the performance version and mandated the TRX suspension system, along with either the turbo 4 or 5.0 V8. The 5.0 was available with automatic transmission, while the turbo engine mandated the four-speed.

The 79 Mustang was chosen to pace the Indy 500, and, to commemorate the event, Ford issue a special Pace Car edition. It came with special two-tone black and pewter paint with orange stripes, and "Official Pace Car" stickers were shipped in the hatch to be installed at the buyer 's discretion. The car featured a special (non-functional) cowl induction-style hood and deep front air dam with Marchal fog lights. Otherwise, the pace cars were mechanically identical to the '79 Cobras with a choice of either the 302 or turbo 4 along with standard TRX suspension.

Ford essentially stood pat for 1980 and 81, other than in the engine lineup. Ostensibly due to emissions concerns, the already-weak 302 was dropped from the option lists and replaced by a hideously under-powered, de-bored Windsor V8 of 255 cubic inches. Ford would learn that this was a poor move and the 255 would never return to the Mustang lineup.

The 255 was basically a de-bored 302, but worse, the engine had restrictive. This combo managed to produce only 120 HP, the lowest power ever for a Mustang V8. Compounding the lack of power, the engine was only available with the three-speed automatic transmission. The result of this fiasco was that the 2.3 L Turbo 4Â became the "performance" engine for the Mustang.

Unfortunately, the Turbo 4 was plagued with reliability issues, due to inadequate turbo lubrication that resulted in many turbo failures, and in some cases, these engines engines were known to catch fire. The Turbo 4 was listed as an option through 1981, but quietly dropped for 1982, although it was still available in Canada. Perhaps the key new option for 1981 was that the "Traction-Lok" limited slip differential was available for the first time, with all engine combinations.

To see Part Two, click Here.

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The 1980 Mustang Coupe could be "perky" when equipped with either the 302 V8 or the Turbo 4.

The Mustang Ghia, the luxury model line, would disappear from 1982 onwards, when Ford went to the "G" nomentclature (GLX, GL and GT).




















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