Vintage Scoop: 1979 Mustang Indy Pace Car – The 302 Wakes Up


In keeping with this week’s theme, I dug up an article featuring my favorite Mustang body style, the pre-facelift Fox.  And while I don’t necessarily care for the graphics package of this car, its prominent display on the cover of the January 1979 Motor Trend is well deserved, helping to show off the results of Ford’s hard work.


Three of the new Mustangs were made to serve as Indy 500 pace cars, and given the importance of the new model’s presentation in front of thousands of spectators, each of them had to be perfect.  The task of getting it right was contracted to Jack Roush Performance Engineering, who would massage the 302 V8 to provide the performance needed for the job.  Ford was keen to keep the car close to stock to boost the image of the new model and the 2.3 liter turbo Ford was supposedly so proud of didn’t make the cut, which said volumes about what they actually thought of the engine in its erstwhile state.


 The majority of the new engine parts were stock items from elsewhere in the FoMoCo empire, helping it rev to 6000 rpm, making 120 more horsepower for a total of 260 at 5500 rpm, nearly 200% as much as the stock version. Some of these improvements found their way into the 1982 Mustang GT, but the editors at Motor Trend obviously didn’t know that when writing this article (or they managed to keep it a secret).  In what amounted to a farmed-out development of future models, the team even changed the accessory pulleys to avoid overdriving the accessories at the new 6,000 rpm rev limit.  Roush candidly described the new pace car as “the first flicker of light in the darkness since the Boss 351 program of 1971.”


Cars and Concepts of Detroit was called upon to assemble the cars, originally conceived to feature a true Targa-top but which changed to a regular T-top after the firm’s testing showed that the loss in structural integrity would be too great.  Even these, however, presented a challenge, since it required cutting out two of significant structural components and redesigning the window seals.  Oddly enough, after going into some detail about the problems the new T-tops presented, the article fails to mention any of the measures taken to combat the problem.


 The suspension was the dead stock TRX tune, however, which showed how on the ball the mothership was after years of making mini Marks.  It also made the job of making one’s own Mustang Pace Car easier, as the list above shows. While I doubt anyone seriously entertained the thought of doing building their own replica, this was an effort on MT’s part to do some PR for Ford, highlighting the minimal changes needed to get the new car to make such good numbers on the dyno (and presumably, the track).  All in all, a fitting intro for an American legend reborn on a new and excellent platform.