The Fox-body Mustang finally arrives as a genuine collector car

The rise of the 1979-93 Fox Body Mustang as a collectible has had an air of inevitability about it. The Hagerty valuation team has been predicting it for years. So when a 1990 7Up Edition Mustang 5.0 LX (albeit one with 15 miles on it) sold for $82,500 at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale this past January, it was pretty clear that the car had arrived as a genuine collectible.

Unlike the GM F-body twins, the Camaro and Firebird, the mid 1970s were a complete Mustang desert. Malaise Era Z/28s and Trans Ams have undeniable appeal, while Pinto-based Mustang II Cobras are questionable. So after the first generation 1965-73 cars, there’s really nothing but the Fox Body for Mustang fans—thus, its inevitability as a collectible.

Not that the car wasn’t worthy of admiration on its merits. Built on a modern and competent platform designed for the mid-sized Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr, styling was courtesy of the talented and rather underrated Jack Telnack, who produced a clean, trim and attractive design, even if it lacked many traditional Mustang styling cues.

The Fox Mustang was introduced in hatchback and notchback coupe body styles. A convertible joined in 1983 to much rejoicing, but it wasn’t until 1985 that real excitement returned to the Mustang lineup. That year, a re-designed cylinder head and exhaust saw horsepower exceed 200 for the first time since the early ’70s.

Presaging today’s EcoBoost four-cylinder Mustang, the SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) 2.3-liter turbo Mustang was around from 1984-86. It was about as powerful as the 5.0 V-8 car, but then as now, the pony car crowd wasn’t very interested in a four-cylinder. Those cars are remembered today for the sophisticated aero front end (which predicted the 1987 refresh), a cool biplane rear spoiler (an early effort of McLaren design boss Frank Stephenson) and NACA duct hood.

Ford decided to send the long-running Fox Mustang out with something special: The launch car for Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicles Team) was 1993’s Cobra/Cobra R. Suspension, wheel, and tire and brake upgrades were part of the package, as was a bit more horsepower. The ultra-rare Cobra R (107 built) deleted A/C, rear seat and all power options, saving over 400 pounds.

There’s a split in opinions as to whether the original quad headlight or the post-1986 aero front cars are more attractive. But certainly, it’s the post-1984, higher horsepower V-8 cars that are more desirable. Some people prefer the 1985 model, the last V-8 Mustang with a carburetor. Similarly, there’s disagreement as to trim levels, with some preferring the cleaner LX to the boy racer GT. Hatch and convertible bodies bring more money than the notchback coupe, although an ex-California Highway Patrol black-and-white version would be fun to own.

Clean Fox Mustangs are indeed tough to find. As the standard-bearer for cheap American V-8 performance for so long, most were used up, badly modified, trashed, or wrecked. Interior plastics were cheap and not very durable, and the common white leather or vinyl seats wore badly too. The starting price for a clean, rust-free GT or LX V-8 seems to run in the low teens at this point, and that number rises quickly into the high teens and low twenties for low-mileage original-paint cars with lots of options. Fox-bodies with manual transmissions bring more than those with automatics.

The SVT Cobra and Cobra R are the holy grails. But surprisingly, they’re not bringing stratospheric money yet. As of this writing, one Florida dealer was advertising a Cobra R with only 1,400 miles for a very reasonable $69,000. Compared to the more common 7Up LX convertible from Barrett-Jackson, it seems like a steal.

The last of these cars are nearly 25 years old, so the Fox Mustang phenomenon is just getting started. You’d be wise to start looking before summer is in full swing.

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