Curbside Classic: 1989 Ford Mustang LX – Our Dirty Little Secret


(First Posted October 12, 2013)  Since I’ve started to post here at Curbside Classics, I’ve probably driven by 40 of these ’87 to ’93 Fox body Mustangs, and never even thought about picking up my camera. I drove by this particular one several times, and suddenly thought “This car is the right era, has the right patina, and is an iconic nameplate. Why don’t I think of it as good CC fodder?”

I think one word explains it: Ubiquitous.


Merriam Webster defines ubiquitous thusly:

ubiq·ui·tous-  adjective \yü-ˈbi-kwə-təs\: seeming to be seen everywhere.

Since Ford built the Fox body Mustang for fifteen years, and maintained the basic elements of the 1987 restyle up through 1993, we’ve all seen this car. Hell, we’ve probably all rode in one. To us, the upright coupe roofline reads “secretaries car,” and the single bar grill identifes it as an LX.


Overall, very boring. The only way this car becomes interesting is by equipping with the LX 5.0 package. If this car did have the multiport 302 under the hood, I would have written it up months ago, under the heading “Ford’s Highway Patrol Special.”


But no, the single tailpipe identifes this as a 2.3 liter “Lima ” 4-banger. Starting in 1987, the Fox body Mustang came with this boat anchor as the base engine, and the 5.0 liter V-8 as the only available upgrade. I can’t think of any other manufacturer that offered a base engine with less than 50% of the premium motor’s displacement (Suddenly, I hear the CC faithful rushing to their keyboards to try and identify another example).

Having owned a number of Fords with ths engine, I’m not surprised to see this Mustang still on the road; the Lima engine is tough as nails. If my daughter needed a cheap set of wheels, one of these 4 banger Fox bodies would serve her well. With an acquisition cost in the range of $ 1,200-1,500, it’s a tempting equation.


Having owned a couple Fox Body Mustangs (and one Fox body Capri RS), I’m very familiar with the overall package. Ford worked hard to provide flashy looking content on the cheap, as is evidenced by this composite wheel. While it looks like a cast aluminum wheel, it is in fact composed of a steel center hub and outer rim, with the body of the wheel composed of PLASTIC. In fact, you can use your fingers to squeeze those “spokes” together. I did that trick for a used car salesman one day, while he was expounding the wonders of those fine “alloy” wheels. It got him to quiet down for a good two minutes… quarter-glass

This shot shows another trick Ford used to refresh the look of the Fox body on the cheap. By laying the quarter glass over the top of the existing C pillar opening, they created the appearance of a new and bigger quarter glass, but did not increase the actual window opening. Since glass is (relatively) cheap, and this change eliminated several trim pieces, this new look probably saved Ford a few pennies as they updated the Mustang’s appearance for ’87.


The ’87 refresh also included a new dashboard with Taurus style HVAC controls, and a new gauge binnacle with exterior light switches at your fingertips. The shift lever establishes that this 2.3 LX is an automatic, which makes it darn near undrivable. The Lima engine produced an underwhelming 88 or 90 HP in these cars, and pushing so little power through a slush box turns the impression of acceleration into the delusion of acceleration. The 4 cylinder also came with the Borg Warner T5 transmission (just like the 5.0 GT), so manual fans could at least row the stick to control power output. Automatic drivers? Condemned to the slow lane.

The interior picture also narrows down the model year- Fox bodies came with a driver’s side air bag starting in ’90 (and lost the tilt wheel option), so this beauty is a MY ’87 to ’89.


By now you’re thinking “Gee, Dave, this is all very interesting and all, but where’s the dirty little secret?

How about this- Despite all the terrible things enthusiasts say about the 2.3 Lima engine, Mustang buyers bought them, and bought a lot of them.

Here are the 4 cylinder production numbers for the years 1987 to 1993 (as a percent of total Mustang sales):

’87- 63.5% (!)  ’88- 49.6%  ’89- 48.7%  ’90- 36.4%  ’91- 37.0%  ’92- 49.6%  ’93- 57.6%

We’ve all heard the phrase “I can’t believe Ford didn’t offer a V-6 in the Fox body for seven years.” My response- Believe it! Four cylinders were typically 50% of total Mustang sales over that entire run. I’m guessing fuel prices and Probe sales cut down the percentages in ’90 and ’91, but these numbers show that the 4 cylinder Mustang wasn’t an anomaly, it was a business plan.

Ubiquitous indeed.