S197 Mustangs (2005–09) are a compelling pony-car bargain
Full disclosure, the closest I’ve come to owning a Mustang was tossing out a lowball offer on a fairly nice ’86 SVO, the Mustang that “Mustang people” despise. I’m clearly an outsider with an outsider’s perspective on the desirability/collectibility of post-1973 Mustangs. I must confess, I just don’t get the cash that 1979–93 Fox-body Mustangs attract at the moment, especially not when 2005–2009 (chassis code S197) Mustangs can be had for less money.
I mean no disrespect. As a Gen-X child of the 80s, I appreciate the huge role the ‘Stang had in tapering the Malaise Era; it was big news in 1985 when the V-8 Mustang’s rated horsepower (in SAE net, no less) again climbed above the 200 waterline. And, the styling certainly warps you back to that time and place, although I’d have to say designer Jack Telnack’s big moment was the 1986 Taurus, not the 1979 Mustang. As a bonus, Fox ‘Stangs are stupendously easy to modify and can be made stupid powerful on the cheap.
Except now they’re no longer cheap. Even a stock GT in good condition sets you back close to $15K these days, and exceptionally cared for examples can go for close to $50K. How about those coveted tuner models, like the 1993 Ford Saleen Mustang SC Convertible? Forget about it.
Look instead at the 2005–2009 model years of the fifth-gen S197 Mustang, a “retro-styled” car that is now becoming vintage in its own right. It’s a Mustang that looks like an actual Mustang—and it goes like hell in almost every iteration. Even in today’s white hot market, fifth-generation cars strike me as the place where savvy Mustang buyers should be looking.
Right around the time the SN-95 (fourth-gen Mustang) was running its course with a fairly handsome “New Edge” facelift, I started thinking about the possibility of a rebooted Mustang that recalled the ’65 Fastback. (For the record, I also called the deftly re-booted James Bond franchise that happened a year after the new Mustang went on sale, but I digress.) The concept car previewing the S197 debuted in Detroit at the 2003 North American International Auto Show, and was in most respects a production car.
It was probably the most successful piece of automotive retro-futurism attempted up to that point. Designer Sid Ramnarace—working under the supervision of J Mays—succeeded where others had failed, capturing the essence of an iconic car without veering into caricature. Praise was almost universal. Car and Driver editor John Phillips joked that for model year 2005, Mr. Ed had turned into Secretariat. You could quibble about the quality and finish of some of the interior materials and the retained live rear axle, but it worked just fine; composure was so contemporaneously impressive, the aforementioned C&D first drive concluded that “the GT exhibits a blend of compliance and response worthy of a BMW. Nice job guys.”
While there’s nothing particularly hateful about the base V-6 cars—and in fact they make more power than many of the Fox-body-era GTs—you don’t need me to tell you that it’s the V-8 that you want. The 4.6-liter three-valve, SOHC modular V-8 in the standard GT cranks out 300 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, significantly brawnier than even the hottest non-Saleen Fox-body variant, the SVT Cobra R from 1993. Of course, things got even better in 2010 with the second coming of 5.0-liter V-8 power. That said, those late-model Mustangs seem to have exited their depreciation cycle early and are already creeping out of fun-money territory.
Not so for the 2005–2009 S197 Mustangs. Like all used cars, their values are up, but a quick look at ads for Mustang GTs wearing under 100,000 miles reveal prices in the low-to-mid teens, which corresponds to the Hagerty Price Guide’s current value for one in #3 Condition. In comparison, nice Fox-body cars seem to start exclusively in the high teens, and climb quickly into the twenties for cars with better equipment and lower mileage. Manual S197s bring a premium, as do the California Special and the Bullitt versions, but not huge ones.
You’ll still likely pay less for a 2008-2009 Bullitt Mustang with a manual than you would for a really nice Fox-body LX or GT. And that’s perfectly OK. If ’80s nostalgia is your jam, by all means, go for the Fox. But if it were me, I’d be stocking up on every low-mileage, manual Dark Highland Green Bullitt I could find. With cold-air induction, a higher redline, an extra 15 horsepower, and a specially tuned exhaust, they’re undeniably special cars.
The all-new seventh-generation Mustang is about to break cover on September 14. It will undoubtedly be significantly faster, but larger, probably heavier, and far less traditional looking than the fifth-gen car, which might just be remembered as the last right-sized, analog Mustang—a worthy successor to the original from 1964.
Rob Sass is the Editor-in-Chief of Porsche Panorama, the official publication of the Porsche Club of America. The opinions stated are his, and not necessarily those of the Club.