Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor
By the late 1970s, Ford’s Mustang was no stranger to controversy. The 1974-1978 Mustang II –while a best-seller for the nameplate and arguably the ideal car for its time– had lost a lot of the genuine performance this model was once famed for. Its replacement would be something fresh, breaking away from heritage styling cues and embracing the aerodynamic wedge shape that would define the next decade.
The Mustang for the 1980s would ride on a shortened version of the Fairmont‘s “Fox” platform, and it would be styled by the team working under the talented former Ford of Europe styling VP/future global design head, Jack Telnack. Like its predecessors, it would be available in 2+2 notchback coupe and fastback/hatchback body styles, both of which would share a European-influenced focus on efficient design.
These cars would usher in Ford’s aero era, being followed by the influential 1983 Thunderbird and 1986 Taurus. While the 1979 Mustang hatchback’s drag coefficient of 0.44 seems brick-like today, this figure was, at the time, the best ever achieved by an American Ford product. A wide range of available engines meant the new Mustang could be economical or reasonably powerful, too.
The base powerplant was a naturally aspirated, 2-bbl.-carbureted 2.3-liter (140-cu.in.) four-cylinder making 88 hp; that engine could be fitted with a turbocharger (think SVO) to make 140 hp. Depending on the build date, one of two six-cylinder engines could be optioned- the German-built 2.8-liter (170.8-cu.in.) V-6 making 109 hp, or the US-built 3.3-liter (200-cu.in.) straight-six making around 85 hp. And a stronger V-8 returned to its rightful place on the options list, that being the 4.9 (AKA 5.0!)-liter (302-cu.in.) that made also 140 hp, and proper Mustang noises.
As this brochure from 1979 reveals, pony car buyers could select nearly any engine with each body, save for the hottest Cobra trim, which came standard with the 2.3 turbo. The luxury-themed Ghia could be had in either body style, as well. Pricing was reasonable, starting at $4,071 for a base, four-cylinder notchback, and topping out around $5,338 for a V-8-powered Ghia hatchback- those figure are roughly equivalent to $14,110-$18,500, today.
The Mustang’s arch-nemesis, Chevrolet’s Camaro, wouldn’t receive a redesign until the 1982 model year, leaving it heavy (indeed, the lightest 1979 Camaro weighed 874 pounds more than the equivalent ‘Stang!) and arguably looking dated, although the top-trim GM car was more notably expensive and powerful ($6,115 and 220 hp, vs. $5,338 and 140 hp). Regardless of specifications, both sold well, with the fresh Ford taking the win at roughly 370,000 units vs. the Camaro’s circa 282,600.
Knowing how the Fox-platform Mustang would evolve into an undisputed performance icon through the 1993 model year, do you think the 1979 model continued the Mustang II’s brief to be the right car for its time?
Click on the images below to enlarge.