The Birth of the Fox Mustang

Categories: Collector Cars.

Stephen Cox Blog Presented by McGunegill Engine Performance

They won’t get any cheaper than they are right now. Ford’s famous Fox Mustangs, built from 1979 through 1993, are now at the bottom of their value curve.

The Fox Mustangs derived their nickname from the 1978 Ford Fairmont, which had been internally designated as the “Fox Project” within Ford’s management and design teams. Since the Mustang borrowed the Fairmont’s platform, the “Fox” name was naturally adopted for the 79-93 Mustangs within Ford and eventually by the public as well.

Ford president Lee Iacocca had overseen the design of the original Mustang in 1964 as well as its replacement, the Mustang II, a decade later. Although Iacocca was fired shortly before the introduction of the third-generation 1979 “Fox” Mustang, his influence still kept the car true to its mission. The 1979 Mustang would remain a sporty, long-hood, short-deck design with plenty of options to personalize each car for its new owner.

Industry standards in the late 1970’s (as well as the federal government’s disastrous CAFE regulations) prioritized economy over performance and the Mustang was no exception. The original 1979 Mustang engine lineup featured an 88 horsepower inline four cylinder engine that satisfied CAFE regulations but no one else. The engine was proven and durable, but produced very little torque and left Mustang owners craving more power.

Even worse was the return of the German 2.8-liter V6 that powered many of the Mustang II’s of the mid-1970’s. Although mostly forgotten today, it is a fact that the engine was available in the early 1979 Mustangs. However, this offering ended midway through the model year due to supply shortages. Few people today realize that it was ever available in a Fox Mustang at all, which is just as well, as the 2.8-liter V6 was underpowered and unreliable.

The most prized Mustangs from 1979 were either turbocharged or V8 powered. The turbo models were all based on the same inline four cylinder engine and equipped with powerful but undependable Garret turbochargers and two-barrel Holley-Weber carburetors that boosted the four-banger to 131 horsepower.

The few V8 models produced in ’79 were outfitted with a downgraded version of Ford’s venerable small block 302 engine that produced just 140 horsepower after all emissions standards were met.

Despite the fact that the V8 Mustangs made more horsepower, they were actually slower from 0-55 mph than the turbocharged four cylinder models. This was largely because the four cylinder models were some 70 pounds lighter.

Ford made extensive use of plastic, aluminum and lightweight materials for the new Fox Mustang. The front fascia was a one-piece, plastic design that saved front end weight although the paint on the plastic surfaces faded much quicker than the surrounding sheet metal when exposed to sunlight. Not only was the turbocharged, four cylinder Mustang quicker and lighter than the 1979 V8 model, it was also lighter than the previous generation Mustang II by nearly 200 pounds.

Not surprisingly, the turbo Mustangs were in high demand in 1979 and actually outsold the V8 model. The new Fox was well received by the public and automotive press, and was named the pace car for the 1979 Indianapolis 500 mile race. Ford built 10,000 special edition pace car replicas, all of them painted in a base silver color called “Pewter” with red, orange and black trim, and all of them powered by either the 302 V8 or the turbocharged four cylinder.

Since the first Fox Mustang did not feature a GT or Mach I option, the most desirable ’79 models on the market today are the pace car replicas, the coupes (which featured a traditional trunk rather than a hatchback), the few 302-powered models and those with the TRX package (special wheels, metric Michelin tires).

The 1979 Mustang has reached the bottom of its value curve. It will never be cheaper than it is today. For those in the market for a mildly collectible car that is basic, affordable and a unique representation of its era, this is the time to buy.

Stephen Cox

Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

Driver, FIA EPCS Sports Car Series & Super Cup Stock Car Series

Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN

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