Ford Mustang Generation 3

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Aerodynamics...low drag...fuel efficiency. These became the buzz words at automotive design and styling conferences, in the engineering departments, in their feasibility studies, and during wind tunnel test after wind tunnel test.

Specific planning for the next generation of Mustang may have dated back to 1976, but the concept of developing personal transportation that would meet all foreseen environmental and economic requirements on a global basis dated back to the earliest days of the oil embargo in 1973. The idea of a "world car" factored into the long range planning of most major automotive manufacturers.

For Ford, the search for commonality of parts throughout its vast product line was given the code name "Fox." Possibly the concept reflected early Mustang thinking...the original 1964-65 relied heavily on Falcon components and, later, the Mustang II incorporated some of the Pinto's chassis and parts.

So, the design teams searching for fuel efficiency and interchangeable platforms came together in the late 70s at Ford. Designers found that the Ford Fairmont/Zephyr compact platform could accommodate the Mustang.

Two body styles were developed -- a two-door sedan and three-door hatchback. Sharing Fairmont/Zephyr components, it was the first Mustang to use a modified strut-type front suspension and coil springs in the rear. Three levels of suspension -- "standard," "handling" and "special" -- were offered, each with its own set of tires. "Standard" required conventional bias-ply tire; the next level used regular radials and the "special" package was based on TRX-type radials on matching forged aluminum wheels. Engine availability was a carryover from the Mustang II. The 2.3 liter four-cylinder was the standard block; the 2.8 liter V-6 was optional, and the 302ci, now listed as the 5.0 liter block, was the only V-8 option.

The body reflected a subtle European influence. Its angular wedge-like shape, used a sloping black plastic crosshatch grille flanked by rectangular headlights. Minor changes in styling were incorporated in 1980. For the first time halogen headlights, P-metric radial tires and a maintenance free battery were available. Recaro reclining front bucket seats with adjustable thigh and lumbar supports, first used on the `79 Indy Pace Car replicas, were a fairly expensive option at $531. The special Cobra option also benefited from the Indy experience. The 1980 Cobra inherited the front and rear spoilers; simulated hood scoop; standard 2.3 liter turbo engine and sport-tuned exhaust system.

1981 was relatively uneventful for a Mustang that hardly changed. The model line-up consisted of the two-door and hatchback and their Ghia luxury counterparts. The turbo option, which had proven unreliable, was dropped and 1981 would be the final year for the Cobra package. New options included a five-speed manual overdrive transmission; a new Traction-Lok differential for the rear; reclining backrests for bucket seats; upgraded interior trim; power windows; rear window louvers for the hatchback and the T-roof for both body styles.

Ford advertisements heralded...The Boss is Back! And it was, except it was identified as the Mustang GT -- making its long-awaited return after 13 years and replacing the Cobra and the Ghia. The GT's 302ci V8, called the 5.0 liter "High Output" (HO) engine, was re-introduced bringing with it 157 horses. While available as an option on any Mustang, it was standard issue for the GT.

In keeping with its "Euro" look, management decided to likewise revise the nomenclature and classify Mustang models with the initials "L," "GL," "GLX" and, of course the old standby "GT," in upwardly pricey and option-rich order. The GLX was equal to the Ghia and the GT was the equivalent of the Cobra The engine lineup was a carryover from preceding years, with the exception of the 4.2 liter V-8 with automatic transmission. The 1983 Mustang's front end sported its first major change since 1979. The nose was newly rounded with a sloped-back, slightly V-shaped grille which reportedly reduced air drag by 2.5 percent. The hood scoop reversed itself for 1983, this time facing rearward and, on the GT, a wide black hood stripe was added and fog lights were set more deeply into a less angular, front spoiler.

The convertible returned after a ten-year absence. Available on either GL or GT models , it offered power top, roll-down rear quarter windows and a tempered-glass rear window. Mustang's 1983 model lineup increased to nine, including the convertible and Turbo GT. The V-8 overshadowed the return of turbocharging on the 2.3 liter four-cyl engine, rated at 145hp. The 4.2 liter block was dropped and the straight-six was replaced by a lightweight 3.8 liter V-6. Mustang's model lineup changed and was expanded to ten during its 20th anniversary year. The basic two-door and three-door cars were designated L models; upgraded two-doors and hatchbacks, including convertibles which were now factory-built, were called LX Mustangs; GTs were available in either three-door or convertible body style as were the Turbo GTs.

Fittingly, at mid-year, the SVOs (a product of Ford's Special Vehicle Operations department responsible for developing a performance parts program as well as high-performance street cars ) were introduced as "1984 1/2 Mustangs" (remember the "1964 1/2s"). To many, the SVO was the ultimate third-generation Mustang, a thoroughbred with as much power as the V-8, but on a lighter, better-handling hatchback platform. The heart of the SVO was the 2.3 liter, four cylinder engine, similar to the Turbo GT power plant.
Mustang underwent a little housecleaning in 1985.

The basic L models were canceled; the Turbo GT was similarly dropped, and bodystyle/engine combinations were reduced from ten to six. All three models were given the SVO front end treatment -- the grille was replaced by the large above-bumper air scoop with integral air dam. The two-door, three-door and convertible had LX trim; the GT was either a hatchback or convertible

Engine choices were the standard 2.3 liter; optional was the 3.8 liter V-6 which was standard on the convertible, and the 5.0 liter V-8 with 165hp or a HO-version rated at 210hp. This boost in power came about for a number of reasons. Stainless steel headers replaced cast iron manifolds; true dual exhausts with dual catalytic converters were used; an improved cam shaft with roller lifters was introduced, and a new accessory drive system to run the alternator, power steering and AC.

While the SVO was hailed by many as the ultimate third generation Mustang, it wasn't the expected commercial success. Sales for 1984 and 1885 were 4,508 and 1,954 units, respectively, so management decided 1986 would be its last year. The typical Mustang buyer reasoned why pay extra for the SVO when similar performance could be found in the High Output 5.0 liter engine with its new for `86 sequential port fuel injection. That addition, however, dropped power to 200hp.

The model line-up was simplified -- LX Mustangs could be had in either two-door, three-door or convertible and the GT in either hatchback or convertible. Beside minor trim and color changes, styling remained basically the same. A federally-mandated extra brake light was added to the rear deck, centered just below the spoiler. The GT received ten-hole alloy wheels and, hood graphics, a no-charge option, could be deleted. The rear-wing spoiler for hatchbacks was another no-cost option. The rear was upgraded to an 8.8-inch integral carrier unit.

Ford decided it was time to give the Mustang's Fox platform a facelift for 1987. After all, improved economic conditions in the country, a drop in gas prices brought about by an oil glut and a whole new generation of prospective buyers (the sons and daughters of baby boomers) were generating demand for "hot" cars. The GT acquired a "ground effect" skirt up front that wrapped around the rocker panels to the rear end. The rounded front adopted the SVO's flush-mounted headlights inboard of wraparound parking/turn indicator lights.

The standard engine on LX models remained the 2.3 liter, four-cylinder. With fuel injection replacing the one-barrel carburetor on the four-cylinder for `87, power increased insignificantly to 90hp. The 3.8 liter V-6 was dropped from the engine lineup in 1987. The only option was the 5.0 liter V-8 HO which, thanks to a larger throttle body and better flowing cylinder heads, was capable of 225 horses. Suspension was also improved with the use of SVO technology, notably plastic ball joints, better rear stabilizer bar and modified McPherson struts.

The 1988 Mustang underwent no big changes from the previous year. Some early models were built with T-roofs, although that option had been discontinued in 1987. Both the LX and GT came in both coupe and convertible configuration and, as before, the standard LX engine was the 2.3 liter, four-cylinder with overhead cam. The 5.0 liter, 220hp was optional on the LX and standard on the GT.

Again, the 1989 Mustang offered little change from the preceding two model years. The LX package on all three model types, equipped with the optional 5.0 liter V-8 engine, was designated the LX 5.0 Sport. The GT's adjustable seats were also part of the option. Power windows and power door locks were made standard for both convertible groups and the 85 mph speedometer was upgraded to 140 mph on all GTs. Standard equipment included a five-speed manual transmission; tinted glass; console with arm rest; power steering and brakes; remote mirrors; AM/FM stereo. For the fourth year in a row, no major styling or mechanical changes were introduced to the `90 Mustang. A driver's side air bag was added housed in the steering wheel hub.

Both the LX 5.0 liter and GT Mustang received the 140 mph speedometer. A limited edition LX convertible was offered, 2,000 units in all, that featured a deep emerald green clearcoat metallic exterior with white interior and white top. Again, changes in the basic Mustang were minor for 1991. New 16-inch star-shaped wheels on the 5.0 liter V-8 set the `91 apart from its 1990 predecessor. The standard four-cylinder 2.3 liter, equipped with electronic fuel injection, got a boost from two spark plugs per cylinder, kicking power from 88 to 105 horses.New to the options list were front floor mats at $33 and a cargo tie-down net for $66. Leather seats were a $499 add-on. A graphic equalizer was available with the premium sound system for $139 or $307 for the non-premium system.

For 1992, not much more could be done to tweak the Fox platform that had been serving Mustang since 1979. Styling and mechanics remained the same as in the past few years. At mid-year to generate consumer interest, a Limited Edition of the 5.0 liter LX convertible was introduced that featured a Vibrant Red exterior and either Titanium White or White/Red interior. The top was White with an Ebony headliner. Dealers sold 2,019 of the 1992 1/2 Specials.New options continued to be introduced, a power adjustable seat could be added for $183.

This would be the final model year for the third generation of Mustang, based on the original Fox platform introduced 14 years earlier. The major breakthrough for 1993 was the introduction of the new Cobra which had been unveiled at the 1992 Chicago Auto Show. A product of Ford's Special Vehicle Team, another small, in-house team that kept the performance-minded driver in mind . The Cobra's 5.0 liter V-8 was rated at 235hp. The Cobra received the side skirt treatment; restyled front valance; re-designed rear wing spoiler and Cobra identification on front fenders and grille.

Also see: Mustang Engines, Mustang Highlights, Mustang Prototype, Racebred Mustangs, Mustang Identification
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