It’s certainly a bold proposition. And it’s only been 35 years since Ford proclaimed “The Boss Is Back” in ads announcing the Mustang GT’s 1982 revival. Yet, those Fox-body models, built through 1993, remain affordable performance machines for a fresh generation of enthusiasts.
Furthermore if you’re looking for a precedent to this Mustang’s enduring appeal, you’ll only find it on a short list of icons including the ’32 Ford and ’55 Chevrolet. Like those cars, the Fox Mustang, named for the Ford platform it shared with the Fairmont, remained a popular starting point for easy-to-build performance even many years after production ceased. Unlike those cars, however, all 1982-93, 5.0-liter V-8-powered Mustangs were high-performance machines straight from the factory.
Revving up the 1982 Mustang’s performance was Ford’s strategy to counter the all-new Camaro and Firebird introduced for 1982, said Jim Campisano, editorial director for RTM Productions, which produces “Detroit Muscle,” “Engine Power” and other enthusiast TV and web shows. From the late 1980s, Campisano chronicled the 5.0-liter Mustang phenomenon while he was a staffer and then editor of Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords magazine. The core of the 5.0 Mustang’s success, he said, has always been cheap speed.
“In 1987 it had 225 horsepower, which was a lot in a 3,100-lb. car,” Campisano said. In stock form, a 5.0-liter, five-speed Mustang could run the quarter-mile in the mid-to-high 14s at around 96 mph.
Although the third-generation Camaro outsold the Mustang for its first three years, the Mustang turned the tables, in some years doubling Camaro sales. Roughly half of Mustang sales, after the 5.0 was added as an LX option in 1987, were of hot V-8 cars.
“The Mustang cost much less than the Camaro and Firebird because it was already an old platform by the mid-1980s. You could get a Mustang LX 5.0 for $12,000-$13,000,” Campisano said.
The LX was the basic Mustang trim line, a stealthier and somewhat lighter steed than the flashier GT. With the 5.0 V-8, the performance hardware, including a beefed-up suspension and a Traction-Lok axle with 2.73 or 3.08 ratio, was identical for both models.
While traditional automotive publications conducted the expected Camaro vs. Mustang road tests, niche magazines spotted and stoked the trend of modifying and racing 5.0 Mustangs.
“The 5.0 created a new generation of enthusiasts,” Campisano said. “They learned that they could easily modify fuel-injected ‘computer cars’ for more performance without hurting drivability.”
New aftermarket suppliers sprouted, providing Mustang hop-up parts, and, as it did for the 1955 Chevy, drag racing fueled the Mustang hobby.
“Super Ford magazine was doing its 5.0 Mustang shootouts, and the fire grew quickly,” Campisano said. “Sanctioning bodies later formed for this one car, with huge national meets.”
Founded in 1999, the National Mustang Racers Association today holds six national events. Stephen Wolcott, president and chief executive of ProMedia, the NMRA parent company, said Fox Mustangs still account for about a quarter of the approximately 400 racecars and 250 show cars that attend each event.
Ford readily acknowledges and supports the 5.0 Fox Mustang’s persistent popularity.
“Calls to our Ford Performance Info Center on mods for the Fox-body Mustang quickly surpassed SN-95s and have stayed high for several years now,” said John Clor, Ford Performance Enthusiast Communications Manager, referring to the 1994-98 body style that replaced the Fox. “Major suppliers such as Mustangs Plus, CJ Pony Parts and others can vouch for the spike in demand for Fox parts and requests for typical restoration items.”
Clor added that interest in Fox Mustangs is also increasing among Mustang clubs, a community that has typically preferred the earlier models. Young enthusiasts, though, see 5.0-liter Fox Mustangs the same way their 1940s and ‘50s counterparts viewed the 1932 Ford: a cheap gateway to V-8 muscle and speed.