When I first saw the new 1979 Mustang, I was a bit shocked. It seemed so…pragmatic. As in what it all-too obviously was: a slightly shorter Fairmont two door sedan with two inches knocked off its roof and a sloping front end. Well, there was a bit more than that to it, obviously, but not a whole lot more. Which is perfectly fine, form a pragmatic point of view: the Fox platform was conceived to play host to whatever the Ford planners and designers and engineers could come up with, although I strongly doubt they imagined it being the basis of a Lincoln Continental and Mark. Obviously the budget for the new Mustang was modest, given Ford’s very precarious finances at the time.
After the flamboyant Mustang II, the new Mustang seemed so sedate, introverted and practical. But unlike the MII, it sat on a proper new chassis. Given the rather modest drive trains available at first, who could have imagined that it would become such a hot little number? But then it was hard to imagine a lot of things in 1979, at the start of another energy crisis followed by a very nasty recession.
These early Fox Mustangs have become very rare hereabouts. They just never caught the eye of Mustang enthusiasts like the later GTs. This one’s owner picked it up for $600 fairly recently, and lo; it’s only got 78 k miles on the odometer. Where have you been hiding all these decades?
And with a trailer hitch, to boot. Given its 91 hp 200 cubic inch Falcon six, I’m guessing it wasn’t pulling a horse trailer back in its day. Shetland ponies, perhaps?
The new mustang’s interior was not exactly a high point either, reminding all too much of its Fairmont relative. This one has lost some parts along the way, which might explain the $600 price. The original 1965 Mustang was of course a Falcon relative, but the family genes were well hidden. Its exterior and interior were truly new and able to raise the pulse a bit, even with a six under the hood. And all too many couldn’t see a Pinto hiding inside the Mustang II. But this did rather reek of a Fairmont, inside and out.
But it managed to excite a healthy number of buyers; 370 thousand of them, almost double of the outgoing MII, and very close to the MII’s big first year. Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived, as was so common with first year American cars. Sales dropped steadily, and by 1983, a mere 120k Mustangs were adopted. After that, thanks to new found muscle and buyer interest in such, things steadily improved a bit, but the Mustang would never see such numbers again, as that 370k in 1979. The days of the Mustang as a truly popular car car were truly over; it survived as an enthusiast’s car, as well as those looking to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. And of course as the rental convertible of choice in certain scenic locations, but that came a bit later.
How does one explain 370 thousand Americans going for the new 1979 Mustang? Well, of course there was the somewhat sleeker hatchback, but even it looked a bit dorky from the side, even with a hood scoop for its less-than stellar gen1 turbo 2.3 four. Don’t look at that massive C-pillar too long, or you’ll be wondering what the designers were thinking. And what they would all-too soon be making it look less massive.
The answer presumably was that Americans were eager to revive Mustang fever one more time, even if it wasn’t remotely as contagious as before, and apparently the symptoms wore off all-too soon.
It’s nice to know that there’s still one young guy out there who was smitten, even if it was 43 years later. But then for $600 and those low miles, that probably wasn’t hard. It’s a mighty cheap way to get into an icon, even if the dash cover is gone.
This is not the first CC to cover the ’79 Mustang: