In our latest Mustang History post, we walk you through the history of the Fox Body, from its induction into the Mustang world in 1979, to its final year in 1993.
The Third Generation Mustang arrived in 1979 on the new Fox platform. This Fox Body Mustang was much sleeker than we’ve seen in previous years, appearing much more visually European and less like the traditional Mustang of the past. It was also a whopping 200 pounds lighter than the Mustang II, which both improved mileage and reduced drag.
A refreshed running horse logo, which looked more like its muscular old-self than on the Mustang II, adorned the new Fox Body, along with a quad headlight arrangement. The convertible had still not made its reappearance in 1979, so the only two body styles available were the coupe (notchback) and the fastback (hatchback).
The interior of the 1979 Mustang was also completely redesigned, adding more space to comfortably seat four, even with a smaller back seat. There was also a larger engine bay, along with added trunk space. A full instrumentation bezel displayed a trip odometer, tachometer, ammeter, and oil-pressure gauge.
The new Fox Body Mustang was met by the Mustang community with much praise. For the first time since 1964, the Mustang was chosen to the Indy 500 Pace car. Ford celebrated this accomplishment by running 11,000 “Official Pace Car” hatchbacks, which featured a flip-up sunroof over the T-top. As for sales that year, the Fox surpassed its 1978 counterpart by 150,000 units.
The 1980 Mustang wasn’t much different than the 1979 model. However, the 5.0L V8 was changed to a 4.2L V8, with fewer horsepower. This smaller V8 engine was meant to be more economical and sporty, as fuel economy was still a priority for a majority of the population.
Some cosmetic and interior changes included high back bucket seats, full color-keyed interior trim, and brighter halogen headlights. A pricey optional carriage roof was available for the notchback, simulating the top-up look of a convertible, along with replica Recaro bucket seats from the Pace Car for both the coupe and fastback versions.
Ford developed a Sport Option for the ’80 Fox, which touted styled-steel wheels, black rocker panel and window moldings, wide body side moldings, and a sporty steering wheel.
The Cobra continued from the Mustang II into 1979 with an egg-crate style grille. Yet in 1980, that grille was replaced to a Pace-Car style slat grille. It also was updated to feature a rear facing hood scoop and front and rear spoilers, and the optional V8 was no longer available.
Also this year, the Mustang celebrated its 15th anniversary and Ford developed the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division. The SVO was created to develop high-performance cars with a focus on motorsport.
Only modest changes were made to the Fox Body in 1981, including slight upgrades to the interior trim. Also, an optional T-bar with twin lift off glass panels became available for both body styles.
To note, though, is that 1981 is the first year that hatchback models outsold coupes, and this trend continues to the end of the Third Generation Mustang in 1993.
The boosts to the Fox that had begun in 1979 had continued throughout the 1982-1986 models. The 1982 GT was a particular favorite, as it had the most potent small-block V8 engine in recent Ford history. “The Boss is Back” became the tagline for the ’82 GT, and it was the fastest Mustang in years with its High Output, 302 cubic-inch, V8. It also featured a two barrel carburetor, a more aggressive camshaft, a bigger and smoother exhaust system, and a four-speed overdrive manual transmission.
The GT was quite the sophisticated Mustang compared to the base Fox versions, catering to the more “adult” Mustang enthusiasts of the time. It featured plenty of (tasteful) body add-ons, bucket seats, and smaller GT emblems. With this new GT, however, the Cobra package was no more.
The engines offered for the 1982 Fox Body included a 2.3L 4-cylinder, 3.3L 6-cylinder, 4.2L V8, and a 5.0L V8. The HO V8 engine package wasn’t tied to the GT, either, and it was available as an optional engine for any ’82 Mustang at a pretty steep price.
The convertible returned in 1983, which marks the first time in ten years it was an option for Mustang buyers. Some cosmetic changes to the ’83 Fox include a rounded nose bearing a narrower, sloped, horizontal-bar grille. This created a 2.5% reduction in aerodynamic drag, making the sleeker Fox Body even more so.
The running horse logo changed to a blue Ford oval on the grille, and the taillights wrapped around the sides, closer to the central license plate. Seat and door trim was added, along with more legible gauge graphics.
The 1983 Mustang GT came with wider section tires, a slightly larger rear antiroll bar, stiffer bushings for the front control arms, high-effort power steering, and a wide swathe of matte-black paint on the grille. The Mustang Turbo GT was added mid-year in both hatchback and convertible form, and it was Ford’s re-engineered version of the turbocharged “Lima” 2.3L 4-cylinder engine offered in ’79. While in theory, this GT was marketed to sell, it was largely a flop due to it being overpriced and without air-conditioning and an automatic transmission option.
Two new models of the Fox Body appeared in 1984: the SVO Mustang and the 1984 ½ 20th Anniversary GT 350.
The SVO Mustang was a Turbo 4-cylinder hatchback with the first air-to-air intercooler. Other modifications were made by the talented SVO team at Ford to increase torque and gain maximum horsepower, including chassis revisions and an extra pair of shock absorbers called “Quadra-Shocks.”
The GT 350 was available in either a hatchback or convertible and featured an Oxford White body, a Canyon red interior, and tape side stripes with the GT 350 markings. These 20th Anniversary GT 350’s could either be equipped with the 2.3L 4-cylinder turbocharged or the 302 cubic-inch V8.
Competing for the spotlight from Ford’s special Mustangs this year was Saleen, who created their first Mustang in 1984. The Saleen Mustang featured aerodynamic body panels and racing suspension components.
For the standard ’84 line-up, the entry level L notchback and hatchback, LX model, and the newly standard V6 convertible were available. In 1985, however, the economy L model is dropped.
The 1985 Fox Body received a cleaner front fascia, as the egg-crate front grille shifted to a nose that more closely resembled the fresh look of the SVO. The SVO model, itself, changed a fair amount, shifting the headlights from recessed to being flush with the corner lights. The SVO’s horsepower increased from 175 to 205, which was the result of a hotter cam and exhaust, larger fuel injectors, and a revised turbocharger.
The next year brought a decade-high sales total of 224,410 for the model year, underscoring the Fox Body as quite the hit among American muscle cars. The previous year was the last for carburetors on the Fox Body engines, instead swapping to EFI (electronic fuel injection).
The V8 and V6 engines offered smoother driving due to the viscous (fluid-filled) engine mounts, which were copied from the ’85 SVO design. It was also the first year for the third brake light on the Mustang in 1986, but there were very few other changes to the car. Unfortunately, it would be the last year for the SVO.
The Fox Body went under a major redesign in 1987, receiving aerodynamic headlights, a smoother nose, triangular inboard parking lights, wrap-around turn signal lamps, and most of the exterior moldings were finished in black.
The ’87 LX Fox featured a simple slot on the grille with a horizontal bar and bearing a small Ford oval, a body color bumper, color-keyed rear bumper, and integral rear spoiler. The GT boasted sculpted rocker panel skirts, a dummy scoop ahead of each wheel, “cheese-grater” tail lamps, and a grille-less front. Also, “Mustang GT” lettering was fashioned to the rocker extensions and rear bumper cover.
From 1987-1993, the two engine options available were the customer-preferred 2.3L 4-cylinder and the 5.0L V8.
The next two years for the Mustang were to be rather stagnant in terms of changes to the car or the lineup. Yet, the Mustang’s popularity continued from the renewed Fox design through 1988, particularly due to such high performance at the low cost. The 1988 GT was named to Road and Track’s “Ten Best Cars in the World” and also made the Car & Driver’s “Ten Best” list.
Two changes that occurred in ‘89 include a higher capacity battery for the LX model and the deletion of the T-bar roof as an option. The ’89 brought a shift from ‘Speed Density’ induction to “Mass Air” induction. This offered no performance increase, but made the car more receptive to aftermarket performance additions and tuning.
Mustang’s LX V8 package was switched to the LX 5.0L Sport in 1989, featuring the GT’s multi-adjustable sport seats. Also in ’89, the convertible received standard power windows and Saleen made 160 SSC Competition Mustangs.
Due to federally mandated “passive restraints” that came in effect in 1990, the Fox Body added an airbag in the steering wheel, effectively eliminating the tilt-wheel option. Door map pockets and clear coat paint also became standard for the 1990 Mustang, along with the addition of an optional leather interior trim.
Around mid-January that year, Ford announced a “Special Edition” LX 5.0L convertible, which featured a Deep Emerald Green clear coat metallic paint, GT aluminum wheels, a white leather interior, and GT’s sport bucket seats. When ordering this Special Addition, you had the option to add the Special Value Package, which consisted of air conditioning, a premium AM/FM cassette stereo, and a clock. The 1990 “Special Edition” was actually a failed 7-up promo, where fans had to sink a half-court shot at the NCAA basketball finals. However, the promo was canceled at the last minute. They were produced March ’89-April ’90.
Prices began to rise on the 1990 Fox Body Mustang, yet still remained competitive as gas became increasingly available and other muscle cars hit the market.
In 1991, the base Mustang price crossed the $10,000 for the first time, and coincidentally, sales began to drop. A new power top for the convertible was added that year, which folded closer to the body for a cleaner appearance. And, the V8 received new alloy, five-spoke wheels that were 16-inches in diameter.
The slow sales in ’91 continued throughout ’92. It was also slow in terms of cosmetic and performance changes for the Fox Body, as the only notable change was the addition of color-keyed body side moldings and bumper rubber strips to the LX model. Mid-year, Ford released a 1992 1/2 Limited Edition Mustang, which was a Vibrant Red convertible with white wheels, a white interior, and a special rear spoiler. Only 3,333 were produced.
The last year of the Fox Body Mustang saw a large turnaround in sales, although the Mustang was virtually unchanged. Ford did, however, release a 1993 Limited Edition, which was an LX convertible available in either Chrome Yellow or Vibrant White.
Some other special Mustangs released that year included the 1993 Mustang SVT Cobra and the 1993 Mustang Cobra R. The SVT Cobra ran on a higher output Cobra 302, with special big-port “GT 40” heads, a revised cam, and a stronger five-speed manual gearbox. It also featured rear GT stock interior and rear disc brakes rather than drums.
The Mustang Cobra R was meant for racing, and that’s exactly how it was designed. It came with no back seat, no air conditioning, and no power accessories in order to cut back curb weight by 60 pounds.
Many of our customers and those in the Mustang community have fond memories of the Fox Body, and it’s definitely made a name for itself throughout its production. If you have a 1979-1993 Mustang, make sure you check out our large selection of Fox Body parts at CJ Pony Parts!