In its initial 9 years, the Mustang amassed significant popularity in the automotive scene. It brought forth a new innovation and niche: the American muscle car. In all those years, Ford managed to scrape almost 3 million Mustang sales. Truly it was an extraordinary status-symbol vehicle.
But most of that changed in the early 1970’s, when the Oil Crisis dealt a severe blow to the automotive industry, and, ultimately, Big Oil. Ford Motor Company, in an effort to conserve fuel consumption and meet strict government-mandated emissions standards, transitioned Mustang production to be based on the downsized Ford Pinto platform. It was model year 1974 when the “Mustang II” debuted for the public. It was Ford’s belief that customers were seeking rather smaller cars in this era, instead of the “intermediate-size” vehicles of which many were wary of. A television commercial for the then-new 1974 Mustang stated that they “made luxury standard in a small personal car. Maybe that’s why [it was] already outselling [the] Camaro, Firebird, Barracuda, Challenger, and Javelin combined.” The commercial continued: “Mustang II gives you a gas-saving four-cylinder engine and gas-saving steel-belted radial-ply tires standard. The Camaro doesn’t even offer a four-cylinder engine, and you have to pay extra for their radials.” In other words, Ford put the emphasis on “gas-saving”, not only for the Pinto, but the Mustang as well.
Ford decreased the wheelbase from the past Falcon-based 108 inches to the Pinto-spec 96 inches. Exterior length measured 175 inches. As said television commercial stated, the Mustang II got power from a 4-cylinder engine; the same 140 cubic-inch (2.3L) unit found in the Pinto. This engine was unofficially nicknamed the “Ford Pinto engine“, and it produced 85 horsepower. Ford subsequently introduced larger V6 and V8 engines for the Mustang.
One year earlier, Ford ditched the convertible body-style, leaving a 2-door hardtop coupe and hatchback. This re-designated “economy car” competed against the likes of import economy sports cars like the Toyota Celica, Datsun 240Z, and Mazda RX-3. Ford introduced four trim levels for the Mustang: the standard hardtop, 2-plus-2 hatchback, a vinyl roof “Ghia”, and Mach 1. There were no V8 offerings for 1974. Only the standard 4-cylinder and the 171 CID (2.8L) V6 were offered. That year, Mustang sales amassed 386,000 units. The following year, in 1975, Ford eased up to the idea of reintroducing a V8 engine into the Mustang lineup. Thus, the top-of-the-line V8 was a 302 CID (4.9L) Windsor unit, which was also colloquially referred to as a “5.0L” engine. Although it produced only 140 horsepower, it firmly bolstered the Mustang’s performance image once again. 1976 through 1978 saw the release of some Ford in-house performance variants. Ford put the small-block Windsor V8 to good use: for 1978, they produced the King Cobra, in which sat the V8. Other features included an air-intake dam, body-side stripes, and a large snake decal on the hood.
Ford’s economy conscious continued for model year 1979. At this point, they based it on the compact Fox-platform, which was in development since late 1973 under the supervision of Lee Iacocca. The first vehicles to use the Ford Fox-platform were the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr, which both debuted a year earlier, in 1978. In an attempt to maintain itself as a worldwide economy-car, the Mustang’s exterior dimensions followed suit with those of the Fairmont and Zephyr: a wheelbase of 100 inches (2553 mm) and an exterior length of 179.6 inches (4562 mm). Besides the base 140 CID (2.3L) inline-4 shared with the Fairmont, the Mustang also came available with the top-of-the-line Cobra variant, which came optional with a 122-horsepower 4.2L V8 in addition to the standard 2.3L unit. 1982 saw the introduction of the GT lineup, which replaced the Cobra. The main feature of the 1982 Mustang GT was the 157 horsepower 4.9L V8 with a two-barrel carburetor. For more fuel-efficiency, it came with a larger-diameter exhaust system. Cosmetic goodies included a revised body-color front fascia and a front air dam from the 1979-1981 Cobras. America’s law-enforcement ordered some Mustang SSP (Special Service Package) models for highway patrol use.
The Mustang was re-engineered in late 1982. Notable cosmetic changes included a slightly more rounded profile, front grille redesign, and placement of Ford’s blue oval badge in front and behind the vehicle. The convertible made a comeback to the lineup. Power for the GT changed over to the 2.3L engine, making 175 horsepower and 210 ft/lbs of torque. Ford introduced a turbocharged variant of the same model, called Turbo GT, with 145 horsepower at its disposal. 1984 saw the release of the limited-edition Mustang SVO (Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations Department). This special model was supposed to fill the gap left by the then-discontinued Shelby variants, and it featured an upped 2.3L turbo engine. It produced roughly the same 175 horsepower as a lesser GT, but kicked that power up to 205 horsepower in mid-1985.
The 1985 Mustang GT was slightly facelifted along with the rest of the Mustang lineup that year. Power came from the 4-barrel carbureted 4.9L V8, which produced 210 horsepower and 270 ft/lbs of torque. This was the Mustang’s last-ever carbureted engine. For 1986, this engine would be replaced by an electronically fuel-injected (EFI) 4.9L V8, producing 200 horsepower and 240 ft/lbs of torque. The SVO was discontinued.
Model year 1987 saw the second refresh of the Ford Mustang. Front and rear fascia were rounded out to resemble the aerodynamic styling of the discontinued SVO model and came available as either the LX or GT. The 4.9L V8 was refreshed with a revised header and forged aluminum pistons, good for developing 225 horsepower and 300 ft/lbs of torque. Very little of this final iteration of the Fox-body Mustang was changed over the next few years, save for some cosmetic tweaks. 1989 saw the addition of a mass airflow system (MAF) for optimized engine efficiency. In 1990, the Mustang gained a steering-column-mounted airbag and interior door pockets standard. 1987 sales topped 170,000 units, with 1988 sales beating that with over 211,000 units. In 1989, Ford managed to sell 210,000 Mustangs, with 1990 sales sharply falling to 128,000 units. With the fourth-generation Mustang on the horizon, the ageing Fox-body Mustang seemed no longer a priority in terms of sales figures; which it didn’t: sales of the Mustang kept falling until 1993.
The ageing Fox-body Mustang would be holding onto its last ropes throughout its production run in the early 1990s. In 1991, the 2.3L engine gained dual ignition, upping its power from 85 to 105 horsepower. For the Mustang’s footwear, 16-inch five-spoke wheels were thrown into the mix, and P255/55ZR16 all-season tires were made standard on the LX 5.0 models. For 1993, the LX 5.0 and GT models were given a different power rating: 205 horsepower and 275 ft/lbs of torque. Ford’s recently started performance arm, Special Vehicle Team (SVT), produced limited copies of the top-of-the-line Cobra and Cobra R variants, which utilized the same 5.0L V8 to SVT’s advantage. Power sat at 230 horsepower and 285 ft/lbs of torque, pushing out 25 more horsepower and 10 more ft/lbs of torque than the LX and GT. Upgrades to the Cobra included upgraded cast-iron engine heads, tuned exhaust system and a Cobra-specific modified Borg-Warner T-5 transmission. The Cobra R was closely related to the ordinary Cobra, except for the deletion of a radio, A/C, fog-lamps, and rear seats. Mustang production between 1991 and 1992 fell from 99,000 to 79,250, but rose to 114,250 units for 1993. These sales figures – and the introduction of the Cobra – reflected the hype for the upcoming all-new fourth-gen Mustang for 1994.