The announcement of the “all new” 2014 Mustang brought back my memories of another “all new” Mustang, which was my first new car purchase in late 1978.
As virtually everyone knows, the original 1964 ½ Mustang was an unprecedented success, with over 20,000 orders coming in the very first day, and over 400,000 sold the first year. But even a fresh, innovative design was subject to the good old American “bigger is better” mantra and we watched over the next decade as it grew into a bloated caricature of itself. Ford’s answer was the automotive equivalent of gastric bypass surgery with the 1974 introduction of the new “Mustang II.”
The iconic car lost more than size. No one I knew considered the newly dubbed “Mustang II” cool. Can you really imagine the Chase scene in Bullitt with Steve McQueen at the wheel of a Mustang II? Instead it was derided as the dressed up Pinto it actually was.
Ford did a good job creating anticipation for what was a truly new model upgraded to the Fox platform. The brochure is here, and includes this cutaway illustration:
I had not quite completed a full year’s employment as a flight attendant for Ozark Air Lines, but with deregulation around the corner and the company growing more quickly than it ever had in its history, I was feeling pretty optimistic and after three used Volkswagens I was ready for my first new car.
We had a good family friend who was a salesman at a local Ford dealer. I went in to see him and he came back with the news that the dealer was going to make a flat $350 profit on the car, but I was free to order options from the cost list. For what I was looking for, I could have easily just ordered the Cobra, but the exterior colors did not extend below the belt line and interior color combinations were limited.
I wound up with a Dark Jade Green three door with tan interior, equipped with the 2.3 liter turbocharged four, a four speed, the much-trumpeted TRX tire, wheel and suspension system, and literally every available option except power steering and power brakes. I learned to drive without these amenities and as I used to joke, people get in their cars with power steering and brakes and drive to the gym to exercise. Go figure. To me, the decision to go without power assisted steering at the very least was a good one.
I wish I had a better memory for figures, but I’m pretty sure the total was less than $7,000. I placed the order in October of 1978 and obtained a loan from the OAL credit union. I’ve also forgotten what the interest rate was, but we’ll return to that later.
Back in those days, you could generally expect delivery in six to eight weeks. My first clue that things had gone awry was that the dealer could not come up with a solid date after that time had elapsed. I still had my 1969 Karmann-Ghia convertible so as far as transportation I was covered, but it was a bit disconcerting. The next word was the Garrett TO-3 turbocharger units were in short supply.
Christmas came and went as did New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day and I was getting more and more impatient, though not impatient enough to cancel my order. I had high hopes. Ford was really pushing the image of the new Mustang as a performance car and it was chosen as the official pace car for the 1979 Indianapolis 500.
Thankfully my new car arrived on April 4th, almost two months before the Memorial Day Weekend motorsports event. As I mentioned, I had obtained a loan from the airline’s credit union and had locked in my rate when the car had been ordered. For those of you old enough to remember interest rates at the end of the 1970s you may not be surprised that in the five months between order and delivery I was now getting a higher rate on my passbook account than I was paying on my new car loan. Within a year of purchase I could have paid off the loan, but of course that would not have been the best economic choice.
But back to the car itself. To this day I love air-cooled Volkswagens but after three I was really happy to have a car that had some power, and in this area the Mustang delivered. Not necessarily off the line, but when that turbo began its vacuum cleaner whine and the green “Boost” light illuminated, it was time to hold on. Thanks to a well-designed suspension system, lightweight alloy wheels and the Michelin TRX tires (and also I think because of the lack of power steering) it handled very well except when the pavement became uneven. Then the live rear axle hopped around and the rear tires lost their grip. And when it came to snow, well, best to just hope the road had been plowed. Gas mileage was somewhere in the 25 mpg range, but was greatly effected by how hard the car was driven. However, with a fuel capacity of 11.5 gallons range was limited, something that became a concern following the second oil embargo, when the price of a barrel of crude went from $15.85 to $39.50 and the gas station lines first seen in 1973 returned for a time.
In what should have been a hint as to what the future of the airline industry held for me, the Ozark Air Lines flight attendants went on strike in August of 1980. Having time on my hands and a friend who had a winter home (a double-wide trailer) in Sarasota I decided a road trip was in order. The two of us departed St. Louis with the intent to overnight in Atlanta. However the Mustang proved to be an above average “road machine” and we made Atlanta early in the afternoon, postponing our overnight stop to perhaps Macon. Macon, then even Valdosta were put in the rearview mirror and ultimately we shut it down in Lake City Florida.
The next morning, refreshed, full of coffee and with perhaps a three hour drive ahead of us, nearly unlimited visibility and very little traffic, I decided to see just how fast this thing would go. For those of you old enough to remember, for a period of time that included that year’s model, speedometers were limited to read a maximum of 85 MPH. I will leave it to others to debate the purpose of that particular regulation, but suffice it to say, “burying the speedometer” as we used to say, was not a challenge. Later, after calculating speed based on the RPMs, I think we reached a high of around 110 mph. This was my first experience with a turbocharged engine and while at steady normal highway speeds it was not operating in a “boost” condition, it certainly was as we were holding speeds above the century mark. There was still pedal left, but it felt as if the car was beginning to float. I could literally feel the steering effort and control decrease as the car seemed to ride slow waves of air current. That’s when I lost my nerve, and after all we really weren’t in that much of a hurry.
Another Mustang memory of that trip that had little to do the intrinsic value of the car took place on Turtle Beach, located on Siesta Key. Jimmy Buffett’s “Volcano” was about to debut, and one of the local radio stations played the entire album (with of course a break in between as it was flipped; these were the vinyl days after all) and I sat on the beach with the hatchback open, listening to the new sounds. Any time I hear a tune from that record I’m back on the beach with my feet in the sand.
Some of the things that stand out, good and bad: to honk the horn, you had to push a stalk identical to the turn signal inboard towards the steering column. VERY counter intuitive. The windshield washer was a single outlet that oscillated a single stream back and forth 60 times a second. A great improvement over the old single stream nozzles. The optional glass moon roof had to be manually removed and stored in back, like T-tops. Kind of a pain, but at least you didn’t lose headroom as you did in many other cars if you wanted that option. It was not, however, a well-engineered option. I was waiting for someone one sunny afternoon, following a rainy day, and killing time reading a John MacDonald paperback (The Empty Copper Sea) until she emerged from the building and I tossed it behind the passenger seat. When I retrieved it later that day, it had swelled to three times its size, soaking up water from the rear carpet that had been drenched by leakage from the moon roof.
That pretty much described the car as a whole. Some thoughtful design and engineering coupled with some slapdash execution and assembly. No surprise that a few years after this Ford adopted the advertising slogan “Quality is job #1” because in 1979 it was probably job # 17. As an example I went through three throwout bearings in the first 10,000 miles, always questioned by the service manager about my clutch habits until on the third go around they discovered the pressure plate was warped. The four-speed transmission had to be rebuilt at around 25,000 miles and the engine (thankfully covered under the extended warranty I had wisely purchased) had to be rebuilt north of 35,000 (to be fair what was initially diagnosed as piston slap turned out to be a faulty fuel pump cam).
I owned it for over four years and had some fun with it, but sold it when the first generation Rabbit GTI hit the market in 1983. I still see a lot of eighties versions of the Fox platform Mustang on the road, but it has been a long, long while since I’ve seen what I half jokingly call my trial and error car. Ford’s trial and my error.
Ford made a splash with the turbo 4 in 1979 and 80 and then it disappeared for a few years. From what I understood, there were lots of service problems. There can’t be many still in existence.
A friend bought a new Mustang in 79, but he went the other direction and got the V8. Frankly, it didn’t do much for me at the time. These eventually grew on me but at first, the car seemed to be in an odd place – too European for an American car and too American to have the appeal of a European car.
However, I certainly enjoyed your tale of your first new car.
I think your opinion is dead on. It really was a “Europeanized” American hybrid. Regardless of the curb weight it felt light and the suspension was taut and precise. I think the choice of the four also helped balance the weight distribution as well.
As for the service problems, having a carbureted turbo system is bound to be problematic. In addition the waste gate was activated mechanically (by air pressure through a complex linkage of vacuum hoses) and limited boost to six pounds. I later subscribed to a Mustang aficionado magazine that showed how to bypass the waste gate activation plugging just two of those hoses with golf tees. I only did this a few times without detrimental results, but a fellow flight attendant I knew with a later SVO turbo installed a valve controlled by a knob below the instrument panel that allowed you to adjust pressure. She wound up cranking it all the way up and blew the engine.
I too bought my Cobra TRX in Oct 1978 but did not get it until March 1979. Paid 7700, 8 track tape deck, sun roof, 4 speed, TRX, Cobra option. Out of the box it was a disappointment, slow, decent mileage, 19.5, bought an adjustable wastegate, bumped the boost to 10 psi, it would chirp the tires but only got 14.5 mpg. Only had it 17000 miles, sold it for my first honeymoon for $4000, kept my 1967 GTO instead. Winter was a nightmare, bought a cover and parked it until spring 1980, even with snow tires, it had absolutely no traction.
I found it hard to accept this body style as a “Mustang”, but if I put things in perspective, I didn’t have (much) of a problem when the Camaro changed with the 1970½ model. Chevy bias, clearly.
I only got to drive this style of Mustang once – as a rental in 1993 on a business trip to Salt Lake City. I enjoyed it very much, I must confess! Not a bad little scoot-around-town car. I also had fun taking it for a beautiful early fall drive in the nearby mountains.
I think we’ve all had several of these Fox platform Mustangs. Cheap and fast. The tri-5 cars of my 30’s and 40’s. I’ve always wanted to visit slip F-18 at Bahia Mar and drink some Plymouth to Travis, Meyer, and the gang on the Bama Gal. Permanent floating party. I sure miss the guy who used to look forward to JDM’s books. He’s gone now, but we’re still remembering. I miss the perspective and wisdom of the men who had lived through two wars and the depression. They intuitively knew what was good for the body politic. Thank you
Olddavid, thank you for that comment. I miss their perspective and wisdom also.
wow, in ’79 you could still get an AM-only radio.
My Father-in-Law’s 1982 Reliant had only an AM radio, too.
As part of a summer stint with the local Highway Department, I drove an ’84 Ford F-350 flatbed with AM-only radio, 300 I6, 4-speed w/ granny gear, and that was about it. It did have power steering, though; I suppose on something that big (about 20 feet long and 7 feet wide), it’s a necessity unless you have a semi-style upright steering wheel that you can really put your arms into.
I think an AM only radio was standard on the S10 Chevy until 1991 or so. I remember my friends grandmother had an 87 Dodge Shadow with a digital display AM radio.
The newest vehicle I’ve seen with a factory AM-only radio was a 1990 Chevy Cheyenne 2500. It was a decently optioned truck otherwise (extended cab, 350, auto, 4×4) but the original buyer must not have been into FM or cassette tapes.
Those old AM radios with a mechanical tuner get much better reception than the newer electronic radios, FWIW. AM reception on newer sound systems is just terrible, even on most higher end models.
Travis McGee, Florida, and a powerful Fox-bodied Mustang. Of such things are wonderful memories made.
I’m about ready to run thru the entire Travis McGee set for the third time. About every twenty years the mood strikes again.
I am a fan and also of the late Ross MacDonald as well. I always say I wish the medical profession could master selective amnesia so I could read his Lew Archer novels for the first time each year.
I have had a couple of Fox body Mustangs and this article brought back some fond memories. I had an ’84 GT (with the TRX tires/wheels) and an ’88 GT convertible; the ’84 had a carburettor and a 5 speed while the ’88 was fuel injected and had the AOD transmission. Retrojerry is right about the front end getting light at speed; I decided to see how fast the covertible would go one morning on the way to work. It was around 6:00 AM and I was on a stretch of road that was deserted at that time of day. I got up to around 125 (extrapolated from the tach) when it felt like the front wheels were no longer touching the road. I promptly backed off and let it coast down to normal speed. If I could go back in my past and not get rid of one car it would be the 1988 GT convertible, I still have regrets about trading it away.
I had a basic ’80 2.3 with the 4 speed, and an ’84 GT with the 5 speed.
The ’80 would barely get out of it’s own way, but it was a fairly well-balanced and practical car. It was bright red with an orange rainbow stripe down the side and featured spoke hubcaps. I did get it looking nice though after removing the stripe, repainting, putting chrome wheels, louvers, window tint, and smoked headlight covers. I even put a bra on it, which was fashionable at the time but truly a dumb idea. “Nice” of course is relative for a college kid in the 90’s.
The ’84 GT didn’t handle as nice, but it was a fun car. I also used to wonder how fast it went. The speedometer ended at 85 at 3:00, and I managed to peg the needle against the trip odometer shaft at about 6:00 if I remember right. From what I have read it was probably around 135, not bad at all for something from 1984. I had the standard aluminum wheels thank goodness, not those 3 spoke metric ones that were hard to find tires for. It had the flat black center stripe on the hood, which was impossible to keep looking nice. It also had the moon roof that was removable and featured a wide lip that drained away water…until the drains got plugged.
Both were terrible in snow. Tired of getting the GT stuck in 2 inch snowdrifts, I ended up getting a Mercury Colony Park wagon for a winter beater.
At some point I’d like to own an 80’s Mustang GT again, either in convertable or t-top form with the T-5 trans. I’d REALLY like an SVO but don’t know if I’d want to deal with the maintenance of it.
Your comment makes me feel vindicated. When I was shopping an 85 Mustang GT, my biggest gripe about the car was that huge flat black area on the hood. I had seen enough 70s era Tape GTs with flat black trim that looked like crap after a few years of weather, that I knew I didn’t want it on my first new car. I asked a salesman if the car could be ordered without the flat black on the hood. He looked at me like I was a six year old and said “why would you want a GT without the special appearance hood?” When I pressed him, he told me that it was impossible (I don’t think he wanted to put any time in on it) and I left. Now, your experience with the hood looking bad most of the time confirms that I was right.
Yeah, that’s why I don’t understand the current trend with flat paint. Can’t wax it, can’t buff it, only way to bring it back is to repaint it.
Maybe today’s paints are better and don’t oxidize as bad, but I have a feeling it’s more of a matter people not giving it any consideration.
You were married to Michelins until two or three years after the car was introduced. Goodyear then produced a similarly sized Eagle that was a good tire as well. However either way it was expensive. I had a friend in the tire business who gave me a real deal on the Eagles and it was still over $200 (1982 dollars) per tire.
Yes, the TRX’s were very expensive. I remember the Goodyear fitment, but IIRC, there was a tire you could buy from Sears that would fit also. But Sears also retailed Michelins, so it’s possible it may have been a Michelin-made off-brand tire.
The Sears ones were cheaper than the OEM Michelins and the later Goodyear replacements, but not by a whole lot. I would occasionally look for them in catalogs long after I got rid of the 1980 Capri, just to see if the prices came down. They really didn’t come down much.
Indeed you’re correct about the Sears TRX tire – made by Michelin, they went for around $115-120 each. I sold tires at Sears back then. Ridiculously expensive for back then, especially if you didn’t realize you had the TRX option. I believe it was also available on the Fairmont/Granada/LTD back then as well.
I didn’t know the early Fox Mustangs had a stalk-mounted horn. I thought that was purely a quirk of British cars.
The layout of major controls that’s now pretty much standardized across all cars was still in flux in those days. Cars built in the 60s and 70s commonly had a button on the floor near the driver’s left foot for toggling between high- and low-beam headlamps. But on my father’s ’70 Opel GT, an identical-looking button operated the windshield washer.
It wasn’t just Mustangs, those were pretty much across the whole FoMoCo lineup. IIRC, my father’s 80 Town Coupe had it as well. It was a feature that I hated.
yeah, another one of Ford’s “better ideas” that wasn’t, but I’m sure I can apply that sentiment to all OEMs at some time!
I don’t know, it was different but I didn’t think it was necessarily bad once I got used to it.
It wasn’t just Mustangs, those were pretty much across the whole FoMoCo lineup. IIRC, my father’s 80 Town Coupe had it as well. It was a feature that I hated.
I don’t distictly recall the horn positon on my 78 Merc Zephyr Z7, but the stalks also controled turn signal, wipers, with adjustable delay, and headlight dimmer, though the headlight switch was still a chrome pull out knob on the dash.
Guess there’s one thing I should be thankful for. The wire harness in that steering column shorted and turning on the low beam headlights would also give me high beams (dimly), left turn signal and wipers. Good thing the horn didn’t get into the act too.
A coworker had a 79 Mustang coupe, bought new, with a 302, which ran just like the 302 in my Z7, stumbling, sputtering and blowing vast quantities of carbon out the exhaust. He dumped it in a year.
I preferred the looks of the Capri version of the hatch. Just seemed a bit cleaner, until they went to the bubble rear window, but my experience with the Z7 had me running as far away from Ford as my feet could take me.
The turn signal stalk mounted horn debuted with the ’78 Fairmont/Zephyr.
I had a lot of exposure to Fox bodies from 1978 until 1991, either owning one (or more) myself, or various close relatives. The older ones had the horn on the stalk, it was very odd at first. Once you got used to it, no big deal. To be honest, I didn’t miss it when it went away.
Ford justified the stalk mounted horn as a “European styling touch.” I think they were really trying to save money on the horn parts and avoid warranty claims related to the sliding horn contacts on the back of the steering wheel.
A stalk mounted horn switch did reflect European design- Several European cars came to America with this feature. What Ford missed (or chose to ignore) was that stalk mounted horn switches were a hallmark of CHEAP European cars. Top line models like Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar mounted the horn switch in the center of the wheel, where God intended.
Intended indeed. My ’01 Trooper had horn buttons and I hate that. The new car has it front and center on the wheel…as you say, where God intended.
As I recall the horn was moved to the signal stalk in anticipation of air bags. Initially they had not figured out how to wire the horn and air bag so you could press on the bag container to honnk the horn. Early Chrysler cars with air bags had small buttons beside the bag cover to work the horn.
From what I can recall, Ford’s excuse for the stalk-mounted horn was that it was more ‘European’. This may, in fact, be the case as, from what I’ve read, horn use in Europe is so prevalent that people drive around with one hand on the horn stalk at all times (and they use it, too). The use of the car horn in the US is not nearly so frequent as to require the use of the left hand and the stalk-mounted horn didn’t last very long.
My guess is the real reason was it was a cheap way to prepare for upcoming airbag installation.
It was cheaper to build, more failure proof and easier to replace than a steering-wheel mounted horn. Also, it was more secure with the sport steering wheel used then, instead of having to move a hand off the steering wheel to reach the horn as on the Mustang II, the stalk-mounted one was available on a finger-tip.
What I don’t understand is why Ford moved back the horn on the steering wheel in 83 when they finally decided to integrate the flash-to-pass on the stalk, they had all the room for that in the switch (did the mod on my 79, really easy). I many EU cars, horn and flash-to-pass were combined on the same stalk, giving you all the attention-getter functions on a finger.
My 1986 Hyundai Stellar did as well but it pulled from the British Ford parts bin.
Ford made ONE set of switch gear and shipped it all over the world like GM had been doing for decades.
My family’s Citroens from my youth all had stalk-mounted horn switches. Seemed perfectly normal to me 😀 .
My 79 Mercury Marquis Brougham had it also. It was weird that what would have been the tilt on a GM or Chrysler car did the wipers. Was not bad just different.
The stalk mounted horn was a bit quirky, something like the ignition key on the left side of the instrument panel on pre ’65 Fords. I guess it was Ford’s idea of being a bit European.
My ’73 Cougar had the rim blow horn on the steering wheel. Always thought that was a great idea. Dittto with the floor switch high beams. What could be simpler?
Pre-65 GM intermediates also had the left side key switch. The first time I drove a ’64 GTO, it took me a few minutes to figure our where to put the key. All the GM cars in my family were ’65 and up models.
That Tan interior shot brings back memories. Mom had a ’79 White two door with the same interior, along with the flip-up sunroof, wire wheel covers, and Chamois vinyl top. You aren’t kidding about the quality control on these early Mustangs, they were not all that great, even for the times. Dad eventually got tired of picking mom up from work when it refused to start back up (this never happened when the car was parked at home), so one afternoon after grabbing Mom, he drove her straight to Midway Chevrolet and bought her a new Cavalier coupe.
Dad eventually got tired of picking mom up from work when it refused to start back up (this never happened when the car was parked at home),
My benighted Z7’s 302 had a habit of refusing to start when it sat for maybe a half hour. Turned out that the metering needle in the carb was such a sloppy fit in it’s seat that, when parked, gas would drool out of the float bowl and into the manifold. How clever, a self flooding car. That was one of the few issues that the dealer did manage to fix. He said that, looking down the carb with the engine off, he could see the stream of gas running into the manifold.
love that last picture–of the UAW Ford Escort assembly crew. The crossed arms and sneering faces seem to say “Go ahead Ford, just try to lay me off”!
I think actual exterminators would have more pleasant expressions on their faces, even if you photographed them at the end of a hot, humid summer day of spraying in crawlspaces.
Funny….and probably a lot of truth to that statement!
They were laid off two years after that ad ran. San Jose closed in 1984 and is now a shopping mall.
That stupid horn button was the same as the Ford Granada I had to drive in high school Drivers Ed class. Terrible idea.
My dad had access to fleet work cars. Usually Oldsmobiles. The main exception was a ’79 or ’80 LTD mid grade wagon the company had for mail runs and such. It was occasionally pressed into customer service use when all of the Oldsmobiles were already on the road.
My dad showed me that stalk horn. Just unbelievably bad!
The “stupid horn” was, as I recall, moved to the stupid place in anticipation of mandatory air bags. I think they hadn’t yet figured out how to put a horn switch in an airbag, so they moved it to the stupid place.
Which makes me wonder… GM built a few airbag-equipped full-size cars way back in ’74, wonder where the horn switch was on them? Only saw one, way back in the early ’80s, a ’74 LeSabre 4dr sedan sitting forlornly on the back line of a seedy westside Cleveland used car lot. I was young and searching for a derby car at the time.
The horn buttons were on the steering wheel spokes.
Had a few 4-eyed, currently own a 79 Pace Car but freshly rebuild V8 broke last year (one faulty stud can do a lot of damages) and drive a friend’s 80 Cobra with 2.3l Turbo as I wait to build another engine.
As much as I loved my V8 when it ran, I also like this little Turbo engine. Sure, it doesn’t sound as good and with a C3 transmission, leaking exhaust manifold and the spark retard modules lost sometimes in its busy life (it’s a DSO 89, might have been used by Ford for some tests, spent some times on an island), it’s not a traffic-lights queen, but with its lighter engine, it handles better than mine and you can’t beat the feeling provided by the lag of the Turbos of those days.
Also owned a 79 2.3l n/a 4-speed Mustang and a 80 2.3l n/a C4 Mercury Capri. Those were not speed traps of course, but I won’t say they’re anemic engines. Sure compared to V8s, the 88hps are ridiculous, but the 4-eyed was a light car and that power is more than adequate for highway insertions and cruising.
This is a car that has grown on me. I had no use for this Mustang when it came out in ’79, starting with the framed door glass, the lack of Mustang styling, etc.
Over time, and with some of the tweaks the car got, I came to acceptance. Besides, it fit in with industry trends and this was the way a lot of ’80s cars looked.
In ’93 we were car shopping for my wife to be, and looked closely at a late model notch coupe with the 5.0. I can’t remember my Mustang detail well enough. I think this was an LX – a sort of conservative sleeper version, and not a GT.
It was dark maroon and was as close to an anti-brougham as I had been in in years. We went with an immaculate low mile ’89 T-Bird V-6. Not a terrible car, but not stellar. But, it was practical enough that we could hang on to it for a few years after we had kids. I’m not sure how the Mustang would have fared after the kids started to arrive.
Strangely, this now looks like a Mustang to me. This body was such a long part of its history, that it can’t be denied. But, wow, the ’94 was such a dramatic improvement!
My kids saw this body in a Mustang retrospective and declared it, along with just about any ’80s car, to be ugly.
Another great piece! Sorry to hear about your issues with the trans and engine.
1979 marked the beginning of the final depths of the malaise era for cars (even Jimmy Carter gave his famous, or infamous, ‘malaise’ speech). The price of gas almost doubled — I remember the pumps sold by the half gallon.
Despite the idiotic horn, the Mustang was brief streak of brilliance. It looked good, you could get a 302 V8 with all of 139 horsepower AND a 4-speed–and since it was a fairly light car, it moved. It looked good–arguably better than most new cars today.
1979 was the last year of a 220-hp Corvette; of a 400 cubic inch Trans Am, or a 350-cid Z28. In 1980, the darkness set in–and it would be the 1982 Mustang 302 V8 4-speed and 1983 Rabbit GTI and Honda Prelude that would mark the beginning of the dawn of the greatest era of auto history.
We’re now living in the sunset. The excessive safety and ludicrous economy standard (in lieu of the much more intelligent gas tax to make people use less), and electronic crap that so many people just have to have will make cars increasingly expensive utilitarian devices with less ‘performance’ available–and it will be even less usable as big brother is hooked up to all of them.
So enjoy the present crop of superb (albeit boring and sterile) autos before the price goes up and performance goes down. Just like it happened in the 1970s……the malaise era.
Tom I will have to respectfully disagree. I spent the balance of the day at a funeral where I encountered a friend I don’t see very often. We’re both in our mid fifties and car guys to the core. We both agree that while we have a nostalgic respect for older cars, some that we had, others we just admired, what was once impressive performance back in the day can be reproduced by today’s econocars. I loved my GTi but a decade later the Neon I drove could drive rings around the old VW. Zero to sixty times we salivated over way back in the day are commonplace now, as is precise handling. Automakers are getting more out of less (while conversely motorcycle manufacturers are getting less from more. A “big” bike when I was in high school in the seventies was a Honda 750 and that displacement is what is recommended for beginners.)
I think the best is yet to come. The new C7 Corvette is a great example.
Hear hear! The old cars certainly had style; today’s cars have substance, safety, ergonomics and technology. I marvel at the differences between my ’04 Saab and my new Outback.
These are the good old days.
“We’re now living in the sunset. The excessive safety and ludicrous economy standard (in lieu of the much more intelligent gas tax to make people use less), and electronic crap that so many people just have to have will make cars increasingly expensive utilitarian devices with less ‘performance’ available…”
In the mid 70’s air bag requirements were deemed “excessive” and 12 MPG in a family car was the order of the day. Now cars are infinitely safer and more economical that ever due to great advances in automotive technology. Less performance? A 2013 Honda Accord V6 (0-60 in 6.1 per Edmunds) will smoke a 1967 GTO, or just about anythng else from that era. The sad truth is that it took the federal government’s foot up the auto manufacturer’s behind to get them moving. Once they did, great strides were made.
Future safety and economy standards might now seem “excessive and ludicrous”, but only with today’s eyes. I have faith the auto industry will deliver, albeit kicking and screaming every step of the way.
Which Detroit suburb was the first photo taken? I’m guessing Warren or Livonia. Typical day, bare trees and overcast. Brick houses. Those winters were brutal, like now.
We didnt get those Mustangs new however Aussie Ford racer Dick Johnson brought in two DTM prepped Mustang race cars built by Zakspeed with built 302s, practice at the mountain was a disaster his remark they couldnt pull a sailor off you sister, luckily for him Ford later began making the Sierra Cosworth after Ford pulled their V8 from local production, Sierra turbos were fast, Mustang V8s not so much
Not that it matters, but this is a particularly well thought-out, well-written article IMO. The illustration type, balance, whatever-you-call-it, etc. made it a real pleasure to read. Interesting car that’s seldom seen.
I look forward to your next submission.
Thank you for the compliment but I can only take credit (or blame as the case may be) for the words and dumping just a few of the photos in Perry Shoar’s lap due to my apparent inability to grasp the basics of WordPress.
Besides the stalk-mounted horn, in a similar, half-baked attempt to save money, the other thing about those early Fox-chassis Mustangs was the 4-speed transmission. More than a few reviewers accurately pointed out that the gear ratios had been spaced in such a manner that it acted like a 5-speed with a missing third gear. It was a lame attempt to improve fuel mileage without spending the dough to develop and install a real 5-speed transmission.
It took Ford until 1985 to finally rectify both the horn and manual transmission issues by moving the horn switch to the steering wheel where it belonged and offering a ‘real’ 5-speed manual transmission.
They started offering the T-5 five speed in 1983. My ’84 had that as well as a horn on the steering wheel.
I knew the T-5 showed up for ’83 but didn’t think the steering wheel horn made it until 1985. The biggest change for ’85 must have been the dual exhaust for the 5.0L. Seems like it was the last year for a 4-bbl carburetor on the manual cars, too.
85 wasn’t a true dual-exhaust … you had an Y-pipe after headers and another one before mufflers. True dual-exhaust came with EFI in 86.
Yeah, that’s right. Everything on the 1985 was dual except the pipes were routed through a single inlet/outlet catalytic converter. There was even an ‘off-road-only’, ‘test’ converter elimination pipe available from the aftermarket.
Dual converters came the following year.
Yes, I read the EXP ad from a later post that described the 4 speed as having an overdrive 4th. Wheeeee – a 3 speed/OD. Suddenly it’s 1960. All that was missing was the inline 6 or V8 engine.
Interesting choice of aircraft to represent Ozark, especially given that the two 727-200s they ordered were built in 1979 and were sold to Pan Am upon delivery due to the spike in fuel prices at the time.
OZ ordered them in anticipation of post-deregulation expansion, primarily for the St. Louis-San Diego route for which they already had approval under the old CAB rules. The DC-9s they had on hand didn’t have the legs to do it and the MD-80 was still a few years down the road. Boeing gave them a great deal on the 727s, but by the time they were rolling down the line in Renton pax loads were down and fuel prices were through the roof. Also, McDonnell Douglas had a new long range version of the DC-9-30 (the mainstay of Ozark’s fleet) capable of doing STL-SAN nonstop. OZ ordered some (for a time OZ’s STL-SAN run was the longest scheduled DC-9 flight in the world) and the 727s were history.
Ozark sold the 727s to Pan Am, but not before they were painted in OZ’s trademark Nightshade Green. The aircraft pictured, (tail number N720ZK) was flown to STL and depending on which Ozark alumni you ask, may or may not have flown one charter flight. The second aircraft (N721VK) never left Renton in Ozark colors. What is certain is that neither aircraft ever carried a single paying passenger for Ozark.
The Ozark 727s flew for the “real” Pan Am (as N361PA and N362PA) until its demise in 1991. After two years in storage they were sold to FedEx where they served (as N287FE and N288FE) until April, 2013. At last report the former N720ZK is still sitting in Memphis awaiting her fate, while N721ZK finally came “home” to St. Louis. It was donated to Bi-State Transit (owner of St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, IL) as a firefighter trainer and maintenance trainer for mechanic students at SLU-Parks College. (which unfortunately moved across the river to the main SLU campus in the late ’90s)
Oh yeah, my Dad had an early production ’83 Ranger with that very annoying stalk-mounted horn. I seemed to bump it every time I drove the thing!
When Trans World Airlines acquired Ozark in 1986, the DC9s became part of the TWA fleet. They were retired in about 2000, a year before American Airlines bought out TWA..
Very accurate comment, Mark. Allow me to correct an inaccuracy, the flight attendants went on strike in 1979, it was the mechanics that struck in 1980. Among my other projects I am currently working on a documentary and book about Ozark Air Lines and the pre-deregulated airline world. It’s kind of funny but when you’re involved in something day to day as I was with the airline industry since 1978 it’s hard to realize you’re part of history until you step away from it.
Another interesting corollary to this story that has now essentially become history. I began my first full-time job at the age of 20 without a college degree (I actually dropped out to start) and within less than two years I had purchased a new car and moved into an apartment (while continuing to save at least ten percent of my income) all with a job that paid modestly. I’m afraid anyone that age today will not find such an inviting economy.
Nice story. I remember those John D McDonald paperbacks had nice pictures of females on the cover.
My favorite Fox-Body is probably an ’80 Cobra, which is super uncommon, but I saw one a few months ago in a nearby storage garage.
Dad still has the ’88 Mustang GT convertible he bought Mom in ’90. They let me drive it to high school occasionally, where it was certainly the coolest car in the parking lot. Mom doesn’t much care to ride in it these days, so Dad takes it out pretty often in the summer.
Today, they all scream “80s.” Neat cars for the time, but I’m not sure they aged all that well. I’m still OK with them.
Nice write up Jerry.
I had a ’79 Ghia notch with the 302 and TRX package. It was an oddball build that combined the best aspects of the original car. it was funny to read the car mags go on and on about the Turbo when any enthusiast could tell you the gem of the bunch was the 5.0L V8. In a car that light it was a revelation. Combined with the TRX pack it handled as well as it looked but man did those front tires wear out quickly.
I always preferred the notch styling over the fastback. Most Fox notches you see have base trim while the fastbacks have GT — people are often surprised how nice a well outfitted notch looks. The CHP cars had a really cool look with their oversized tires, black out trim and dual exhaust.
Those were probably an inspiration for this special order 7,000 mile ’87 that was for sale a year ago.
There was a Ford Dealer south of me that had a similar car about a year ago. It was a later burgundy notch with the aggressive wheels and dual exhausts that identified it as a 5.0 car. Although not in the market, I was intrigued.
Hard to say if that’s a genuine SSP Mustang (Special Service Package, officially sold only to law enforcement, but a few new ones managed to end up in civilian hands) without looking for the obvious clues such as the 160 mph calibrated speedo and the trim tag codes.
IIRC, the GT could only be had as a hatch or convertible, while the LX/HO package (GT mechanicals in base LX trim) was available for all three models.
I had a 1980 Mercury Capri RS Turbo, bought as a demonstrator model, in December 1980. It was a left over demonstrator model, and it was *loaded*. It had all the toys, the turbo motor, TRX suspension and wheels (it was a whole system, not just weirdly sized wheels), the louvers, and best of all, the Recaro seats. It was essentially a 1979 Mustang Pace Car with Mercury clothing.
It was essentially a piece of crap. I think I had an easier time getting over my first serious love affair than I did the ownership and consequently selling (trading) off this car for a substantial loss (on a WS6 Trans Am, that was also, a piece of crap).
Now that it’s 30 or so years since all of this took place, I’m real fuzzy on the specifics, but I do remember the phenomenal repair bills for head gaskets, turbo repair, carburetor repair, clutch repair, transmission repair/eventual replacement… How in the hell did Ford screw up a 4 speed manual transmission?
What is so amazing to me, was the depths of which I drank the Quality is Job One Kool Aid after my experience with the “We build Excrement” Trans Am. I went back to Ford, but this time I bought a V8 Mercury Capri RS, thinking the 4bbl 5.0L motor would be much simpler and easier to deal with than the sketchy turbo motor. Although, in 1986 I flirted with buying yet *another* turbo Ford (SVO Mustang), but I could not negotiate a price on that car. I instead bought a *1986* Mercury Capri Sport Coupe 5.0L, to match my wifes 1985 RS.
After about 18 months the 1985 Capri started having similar issues to the 1980 Capri, although the 5.0 never gave me many problems. It wasn’t long until the 1985 Capri was replaced by a Dodge Lancer ES Turbo, a car I kept for 11 years and 160K miles.
I think the worst part about the whole escapade with the turbo Capri was the high price of everything on that car. Of course it was not fun to pay like 15% interest (IIRC) on that car loan, either. But at that time your savings account did better, but only a little bit. If I could, I’d get back the 1986 Capri (sold it off when kids came along), but in the 1980 Capri’s livery and the wonderful Recaro seats!
This was my experience except in reverse order. A Turbo Trans Am that spent a lot of it’s first year at the dealer, and then a Mustang V6. Again too much time at the dealer.
Bought a Celica and haven’t left the Japanese yet….
Also, a running buddy of mine from back then bought essentially your car in black. It has been his museum piece since day 1. I always thought the Capri was better looking than the Mustang…
The Mustang and Capri were identical under the sheetmetal, and pretty much identical anyway. However I did not care for the fender bulges added to the Capri.
The “black metal” was identical under the skin, but there were myriad changes on the body and in the interior. Even with equivalent trim levels, the Mercury generally had nicer fitments.
There was a reason why I bought Mercurys… 😉
FWIW, the fender bulges on these cars really didn’t look good until Ford started issuing the cars with the 225/60 tires. They looked really muscular then. But of course, the car was cancelled after one more year…
Great story! I might be the lone weirdo here….
But I seriously like the Fox Mustangs best from ’79 to about ’86. The ‘aero makeover’ definitely fubared the styling in my mind. The blackout grille and 4 sealed beams with the semi-louvered quarter windows put the character into this car. That was lost on some level afterwards.
Back in the 1980s and early 90s, the Fox based 5.0 Mustangs were used by the California Highway Patrol as pursuit cars. The CHP bought the Stangs because the 4-door patrol cars with the California smog equipment didn’t have the power to catch up with speeders.
The ’87 9C1, with 180 hp, was the start of the end of bad times. Still a carbed LM1 350, but 25 more hp than before and an honest 118 mph. The prior cars were always around 115 and died below 4,000 rpm. They re-did the jetting, timing, everything they could, and went to roller rockers. The torque curve was actually raised as well.
The ’89 added fuel injection and 190 hp, and was much faster simply due to smoother delivery and 3.42 gears. This one was up to 122 mph. They went aero in ’91 and hit 130 mph with the same LO5 as the ’89-90. They got the LT1 in ’94 and went 140 mph. Chevy kept improving their car to the point where it was as fast as SSP Mustangs!
Always found it odd that only the ’79 Mustang/Capri had the interior door handles mounted so low on the door. From ’80 onwards, they moved them higher, up beside the top of the grab handle. Seems odd that they would design an entirely new car for 1979, only to decide to redesign the door mechanicals and inner stampings a year later.
And the 2.8 litre “Cologne” V6 was also a ’79-only offering. Seems to me they could have better developed their European tie-ins by keeping it around through the 80’s, perhaps with improving power levels…..rather than replacing it after the inaugural year with the “boat-anchor” 200 cid straight-six. Talk about your 1960 Falcon connections. The less said about the combination of that inline six and the 3+OD manual transmission, the better….!!
I remember that oddball placement too. A high school buddy of mine had a 79 5.0L, and I always found that door handle location odd, too. It’s like they were trying to emulate an exotic car. I wonder if there was feedback from the public and they changed it quickly…
Another acquaintance of mine had one of the 2.8L cars (it was actually a Capri), as I recall, it wasn’t a bad little driver. IIRC, the 2.8 V6 was production constrained and was coming over from West Germany at the time; it would have been expensive, too. But the old Falcon six was smashed in there, kind of like AMC stuffed the 258 into the Pacer. At least with AMC they had a desperate need to shove that big six in there, you would think with the resources Ford had (compared to AMC), they could have found another way to power the car…
I absolutely loved this post, Jerry – so much so that today marks probably the third time I’ve come back to it. I have more appreciation for the early Fox Mustangs now than ever, given their scarcity, and really – they had a purity of line and a coherence to their design that was lacking in some later refreshes.
Thank you so much for the kind words. Writing about it made me recall what a fun time in my life this was. It was a very well designed car that suffered from execution errors that were certainly not unusual for the time. I was at a car show yesterday and found a 1979 Pace Car replica. Even in black (never my favorite interior color) I was struck by how spartanly ergonomic the interior was with a few exceptions like the horn stalk, the low internal door handles and the fact (unimaginable today) that even though I had the four-way seat manual adjustment option (fore and aft, up and down) the seatback angle was not adjustable.
Fox-stangs are one of those cars where things never quite lined up to me. As far as styling, I prefer the earlier (85 and earlier) variants. The 1979 coupes are especially nice to my eye, clean and distinctive. After 1985 the GTs went WAY overboard with the plastic aero-nonsense an cheese-grater tail lights.
On the other hand, late-70s and early-80s was not a good era for Ford powertrains, either the V8s or the Lima turbos. And the lack of the Quadrashock rear end made any real power questionable, to put it mildly.
I’d love a 79, 80 or 81 coupe with a proper FI Lima turbo, T5 and later rear suspension.
RetroJerry thank you for reminding me what a great car my 79 Cobra fastback was.
Mine also had the TRX suspension and turbo 2.3. You mentioned some things I now recall very well. One of the best cars I have ever owned.
Another perspective: https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/1980-ford-mustang-cobra-review
Every option except power steering and brakes? I’m not seeing air conditioning either… (which I wouldn’t fathom buying a car without)