COAL: 2003 Mustang GT – Finale for the Fox Body

I’ve always found it easiest to learn by doing. Whether it’s studying verb conjugation for a foreign language, how to grill up a proper hamburger, or a humble oil change, in my experience there’s just no better way to get to grips with a task than by jumping in and getting your hands dirty. So after spending years reading about, watching videos about, and generally fantasizing about the idea of a true-blue rear-wheel drive V8 powered slice of American cheese, I was more than happy to dive right in and see what was what.

I picked up this 2003 Mustang GT last August, after spending basically all of COVID getting more and more bored with my Accord (COAL here for the curious). It was and still is a lovely daily driver – comfortable for my 6’8″ frame, roomy enough for 4 adults, and possessing of that trademark Honda sturdiness. All of that math adds up to a reliable and practical vehicle, but not a particularly exciting one and after a few years with it I was getting increasingly envious of the brash V8 cruisers sharking around my area.

Because I’m that stereotypical car enthusiast, I couldn’t justify plunking down $40,000 on a brand new car, so I started looking around Craigslist to see if a less wallet-damaging entry into this segment could be found. It wasn’t an easy decision as I really like the current gen Camaro and if I hadn’t have found this car I may very well have decided to go whole-hog and pick one of those up. As it turned out, though, I was lucky enough to find this 2003 Mustang GT for sale in a nearby suburb for a very reasonable price and jumped on it.

The story of the SN-95 Mustang has already been told quite well here in a CC by Greg Beckenbaugh, and it’s not my place to rehash it. Suffice it to say that my 2003 Mustang, as a descendant of those squared-off Fox bodies of yore, was certainly an adjustment coming from my Accord. Aesthetically, this era of Mustang is my favorite – not sure why, probably just because I’m a 90’s kid and grew up with these things being everywhere. I know a lot of folks prefer the S197 generation of ‘Stangs, but I find the neo-retro styling kind of gauche.

In terms of difference between my Accord and Mustang, the big things are pretty obvious – much louder exhaust (and what a great note these 4.6s have!), a clutch pedal that feels stolen from a Planet Fitness leg machine, and a steering wheel you can slice up a large pizza on, least of all that drift-happy oversteer that is mostly absent from my front wheel drive Honda. Then there are the smaller dazzling details that no one tells you about – the pathetically wimpy horn, the interior dome light that is turned on via manual toggle rather than when you actually open the car door, the flimsy plastic headlight toggle that my dad accidentally ripped out of it’s socket minutes after I bought the car… I could go on. I can’t tell how much of this was intentional nostalgia-bait by Ford to harken back to “the good ol’ days” of the rougher character of cars of that era or just simple penny pinching, but I have my suspicions…

Thankfully, the exhaust note of that 4.6 firing up goes a long way towards forgiving the lack of creature comforts. And speaking of that engine, paired with a 5 speed manual transmission and 275 width tires (the previous owner had 225’s on the car for some reason), it’s really been a joy to get to know the rear-drive/V8 mystique. Is it fast? By modern standards, not at all. But it sounds great, looks great, and gives me those Mad Max V8 growls. Even for someone who isn’t a huge Mustang “fan”, the ubiquity and accessible nature of these cars is really something special.