If you are going to suffer high fuel and repair bills, you may as well own something interesting. After buying an almost new Honda Civic for its fuel economy and reliability, both of which it failed to deliver, we wanted something a little more fun. This was how we ended up with my wife’s favorite vehicle of all those we’ve owned.
We seriously looked at two cars this time around, the first of which was a very funky Subaru SVX. I really enjoyed its oddball sliding windows and lovely interior, and it ran and drove very nicely to boot. My wife liked it but didn’t love it, and there were some lingering doubts that it could break down and leave us with a very expensive repair bill. At the time, I wasn’t all that mechanically savvy, so we kept looking.
That weekend there was a multi-dealership sale going on at the local mall. A big department store, Eaton’s, had just gone out of business and their empty space had been turned into a large interior car mall. At the time we were avid campers, and my wife fawned over a brand new Pontiac Aztek and its built-in tent. Luckily, its price tag was well beyond our budget. I eyed up an early 1980s Cadillac in yellow, complete with a vinyl roof. While I’m a small-car guy at heart, I’ve always had a soft spot for that generation of full size Cadillac, for reasons I can not readily explain. It was well under our budget but my wife, in no uncertain terms, vetoed that one.
We eventually found something we could both agree on in the form of a 1996 Ford Mustang GT. It had an automatic, which was a little bit of a bummer; however, that’s something I’ve always thought was much more acceptable on a big-engined car, making it a reasonable concession. A pair of racing stripes ran the entire length of the car. If it had been yellow and not red, I think it would have been my wife’s ultimate dream car.
What sealed the deal was that the dealership waived the inspection of our ailing Civic and its again-failing gearbox. When I asked if they needed to test drive our car, the salesman declined, actually saying that there was no need since Hondas never break–and this was a Ford dealer! They agreed to a straight trade: our 1998 Civic for their 1996 Mustang GT. We celebrated by taking a weekend road trip to Calgary and I, of course, got my first speeding ticket in years on the way back. A red Mustang is not subtle and does not blend into traffic.
While new for the Mustang in 1996, the 4.6 L OHC V8’s horsepower rating was a slightly lame 215, but the car proved to be great fun nonetheless. As a bonus, it actually managed to turn in better highway mileage than our faulty Civic. Even better, our Mustang was anvil-reliable and we never had even a hint of an issue with it.
I still owned my 1978 Z28, so for a time we owned two pony cars. Even though they were almost two decades apart in age, we took the opportunity to compare and contrast. The Mustang was a base, stock GT, and the Z28 had had a few power train modifications, namely headers, dual exhaust, aftermarket intake filter, ported valves and some sort of mild aftermarket camshaft. I never had the Camaro on the dyno but I’d suspect it was making roughly the same amount power as the Mustang, perhaps with more torque. The Z28 did, however, feel faster, but that was likely due to its lower seating position, louder exhaust and manual transmission. The Z28 felt more composed in the corners, with less body roll; still, I suspect the Mustang actually had superior abilities that it demonstrated with less drama. The Mustang was very much more of a sedan-like experience, and it beat the Camaro in fuel economy and highway cruising hands down. A close-ratio four-speed gearbox and a performance 3.73:1 rear axle meant the Z28’s engine was spinning very fast at highway speeds, while the Mustang felt like it could glide along for hours at any speed.
In the end, we sold the Mustang before we moved back to the big city of Calgary. Our insurance would have tripled in cost which I, as a recent university graduate, couldn’t afford. For a short time we once again used my Z28 as our sole summertime vehicle and took public transit in the winter. However, it wasn’t long before we bought something else. Stay tuned.
I’d LOVE to own an Aztek, if I could find one with the tent option in good condition included. Maggie and I are huge at attending races (NASCAR – her, sports car and motorcycle – me) and an Aztek has always been a really nice idea to me for a weekend RV without getting into the ownership issues of a full-blown RV.
Mustrangs were always easier to live with as a daily driver while the camaro was always better at the track. As usual ford had the better approach led to more sales and the stang never ceased production.
I also thought about getting one of those subies back in they day but I wanted a stick and Subaru sold the us version automatic only.
A common SVX conversion is to put a manual into it, so you ought to look again, converted ones can be had pretty cheap if you search for them. The other issues (brakes and transmission) have long been resolved. I’d buy one tomorrow if I had the coin, that’s on my bucket list of cars I’ve always wanted.
I have an ’02 Mustang GT that is stock. The 4.6 for my year is rated at 265hp. These SN95 Mustangs are durable great cars that are fun, easy to work on & parts are pretty cheap. You’re better off having the 4.6 anyway because the 3.8 V6 is a slow boat anchor of an engine.
That 3.8 v6 was fords attempt to copy the Buick 3800. While the Buick 3800 is a gold standard for reliability the ford 3.8 sucked.
The Ford 3.8L has some issues with headgaskets as well.
The Ford 3.8 finally became a decent engine in the 99 and up Mustangs actually. it had split port induction for more power and the headgasket issues were solved. My wife and I owned a 2001 v6 Mustang and it was one of the better cars that we ever owned. Perfectly reliable, good power and decent fuel economy. But yes, the older 3.8 engines were not great. The 95 and older ones were the worst with the head gasket issues.
Yup a V8 Mustang has almost always been a better daily driver than a V8 Camaro. There are enough around here I get to observe their antics in bad weather. Even driving gingerly the Camaro divers always seem to have more issues staying on the road. I know it can’t be tires because when you are looking at 2nd and 3rd owner machines they almost universally have all-season tires on them.
Yeah, but all season tires suck in the rain.
Yeah but what I’m saying is that the old V8 Mustangs still are more planted than the old V8 Camaros. I’m sure traction and stability control have negated this.
How do you port a valve??? Just askin…thats something new to a cylinder head guy like me.
Hey, do you work at a machine shop? One of these days, I’m going to take a basic machine class at the local Vo-Tec school, just out of interest. I’m on a first name basis with two of my local machine shops, so I get to live in that world a bit, just because I’m always taking old stuff there.
I wish more of high school students would take an interest in the machine trades, out of those two above mentioned machine shops, I know of only one guy under 50.
There is a resurgence of manufacturing in the US happening, they are calling it “reshoring”. To meet that demand there is a need for more skilled “blue collar” workers. To help fulfill that need and for the engineers that will be needed I’m heavily involved with an organization known as FIRST usfirst.org that gives students the hands on experience with tools ranging from screwdrivers and wrenches to mills, both manual and CNC and the CAD software to design those parts.
I’m sure David meant “ported heads” when he wrote “ported valves”. 🙂
Yes indeed that is what I meant. I’d probably remember better if I was the one who’d had the work done but that was the previous owner.
My housemate at the time bought one of these new. The engine may only have had 215hp, but it had plenty of torque and sure sounded good, especially with the tires spinning. Certainly better than the Jetta I was tooling around in at the time. You are a very rare person that owned a Camaro and a Mustang at the same time, usually they are competely mutually exclusive…
I should have got bumper stickers that said “My other car is a Mustang/Camaro”!
I only drove one of these once, and it was a 5.0 powered one, but I’m sorry to say I thought it totally sucked compared to the Fox body Mustang. I don’t think one GT was faster than the other, but the Fox ‘stang felt like it could be driven with the pedal to the floor 100% of the time – sideways, backwards, upside down – and it was totally manageable and easy to control. The SN95 GT was a total handful in comparison and felt way bigger than it actually was, unless you were just mashing it in a straight line. I’m sure with a professional driver behind the wheel, they could turn identical times around a track, or the SN95 may even be faster, but I thought the earlier one was way more enjoyable and easy to live with. I should also confess that the Fox Mustang is also the only one I really like, out of all Mustangs ever.
I like these but wasn’t keen on them when new.My brother had a V6 auto which his girlfriend now has.No problems with it in 3 years,I’d definitely have one as it’s probably the last Mustang that can be had for sensible money.
I always liked this generation of Mustang. A sister in law got one of these new, black with a 5 speed. It lived in my driveway for a week while she and my brother were away. He had told me it was OK for me to drive it, but the look on his new bride’s face told me that he may have lacked that authority. So, I drove it only once, for just a couple of miles. I smiled the whole time.
I hated this generation of Mustang. Yes I like many other folks were briefly attracted to this generation because the square body Fox Mustang hung out so very long BUT unlike the Fox body mustang, this body style did not really age well and looked dated by 1998. Then as if Ford was saying “who gives a crap about the Mustang anyway” they simply warmed it over in 1999 and sold it till 2004 when mercifully somebody at Ford had a great idea to offer a retro Mustang and the 2005 Stang was born. and that looks so much better
Worst Mustang ever. The early 4.6 cars sucked. Dog-slow, under geared, combining all the downsides of the Fox coupes (space, outdated chassis, tiny trunk) with the three-legged dog of the early 4.6 engine.
Mustang malaise was 1996 to 2004.