Ford Mustang (third generation)

Ford Mustang (third generation)
Third generation
1991 Mustang GT 5.0
Manufacturer Ford Motor Company
Production 1979–1993
Assembly Dearborn, Michigan
San Jose, California
Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela[1]
Body style 2-door convertible
2-door coupe
3-door hatchback
Layout FR layout
Platform Ford Fox platform
Engine 2.3 L (140 cu in) 86hp I4[2]
2.3 L (140 cu in) turbocharged I4
3.3 L (201 cu in) I6
2.8 L (171 cu in) V6
3.8 L (232 cu in) Essex V6
4.2 L (256 cu in) V8
4.9 L (302 cu in) Windsor 157hp V8[3] (marketed as a "5.0" model)
Transmission 4-speed manual
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
4-speed automatic
Wheelbase 100.5 in (2,553 mm)
Length 179.6 in (4,562 mm)
Width 1987–1990: 69.1 in (1,755 mm)
1991–93: 68.3 in (1,735 mm)
Height 1987–1990: 52.1 in (1,323 mm)
1991–93 Coupe: 52 in (1,321 mm)
1991–93 Hatchback: 52.1 in (1,323 mm)
Related Ford Fairmont
Ford LTD
Ford Thunderbird
Mercury Capri
Mercury Zephyr
Mercury Marquis
Mercury Cougar
Lincoln Continental
Lincoln Mark VII

The third-generation Mustang was produced by Ford Motor Company from 1979 to 1993. Built on Ford’s ubiquitous Fox platform, it evolved through a number of sub-models, trim levels, and drivetrain combinations during its production life. It underwent a multi-faceted update for 1987, and for a time seemed destined for replacement with a rebadged import before company executives were swayed by consumer opinions. Enthusiasts group the generation into two segments: the 1979-1986 cars, with their quad headlight arrangement, and the 1987-1993 cars, with their "no-grille" front fascia styling. Production ended with the introduction of the SN95 fourth-generation Mustang for the 1994 model year.



For 1979, the all new Mustang was based on the larger Fox platform, initially developed for the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr twins that debuted in 1978. The interior was completely restyled and could now more comfortably seat four, even with the smaller back seat. The new Mustang also had more trunk space and a bigger engine bay for better serviceability. Body styles included a coupe (notchback) and hatchback (fastback). The only trim level available over the base model was Ghia. There was also a Cobra option available (17,579 produced in 1979) that completed the lineup through 1981. Engine choices included the 88 hp (66 kW) 2.3 L Pinto I4, 109 hp (81 kW) 2.8 L Cologne V6 (made by Ford of Europe), and the 140 hp (104 kW) 302 cu in (4.9 L) Windsor V8. All were carried over from the Mustang II line. Supplies of the 2.8 L proved inadequate leading to it being replaced in mid-1979 with Ford's 85 hp (63 kW) 3.3 L straight six. A new 132 hp (98 kW) 2.3 L turbo four-cylinder, debuted, which offered similar horsepower to the V8. Ford had high hopes this engine would usher in a new era in performance. The 2.3 and 2.3 Turbo and V8 models could also be optioned with the newly developed TRX handling suspension, which utilized Michelin 390 mm tires and specific metric wheels. The Mustang was again chosen as pace car for duties in the Indianapolis 500. Ford commemorated the honor with an "Indy 500" pace car edition. About 11,000 copies were produced in two-tone pewter and black with orange graphics. Available were the 2.3 L Turbo with mandatory four-speed manual transmission or the 302 cu in (4.95 L) V8 with either the manual or three-speed automatic transmission. The three actual Pace Cars were fitted with a T-roof by Cars & Concepts of Brighton, MI. The T-roof option would not become an available option until the 1981 model year. A T-top roof was optional.[4]

Following the second oil crisis in 1979, the 302 cu in (4.9 L) was dropped in favor of a new 255 cu in (4.2 L) V8 due to its better fuel economy. It was the only V8 offered in 1980 and 1981. Basically a de-bored 302 the 4.2 L V8 had restrictive heads and managed to produce 120 hp (89 kW), the lowest power ever for a Mustang V8. Compounding the lack of power, the 4.2 L was mated only with the three-speed automatic transmission. This meant the 2.3 L Turbo 4 was the sole "performance" engine. However, the Turbo 4 was plagued with reliability issues from its release. Inadequate lubrication led to premature turbo failure and even some engines catching fire. It was listed as an option through 1981, but quietly dropped for 1982, although it was still available in Canada. This engine would return in the new-for-1983 Turbo GT. The "Traction-Lok" limited slip differential was available for the first time in 1981, with all engine combinations.

The beginning of a performance revival began in 1982 with the return of the 302 cu in (4.9 L) (called "High Output", or H.O., for the first time), last seen in 1979, and the GT trim level. Now producing 157 hp (117 kW), the re-engineered 302 consisted of new valves, a more aggressive cam (from a 1973 351W Torino application), a larger 2-barrel carburetor, as well as a better breathing intake and exhaust system. The 4.2 L, now in its final year and available only with an automatic, could be substituted in the place of the 302 resulting in a US$57 credit to the buyer. Trim levels were also revised to now included L (base), GL, GLX, and GT. The Cobra option was no longer available. The 3.8 L Essex V6 replaced the 3.3 L I6, as the 3.3 L engine had little demand and was dropped after 1982.


While most of the Mustang internals and externals were carried over in 1983, there were some changes and improvements on the now five-year-old model. Both the front nose piece and rear taillights were restyled. A more "aero" look, which was becoming more common on various Ford products of the era, replaced the egg crate-style grille seen the past four years. New taillights with dedicated amber turn signals replaced the similarly styled vertical Ford Fairmont units. Ford added a convertible to the Mustang line in 1983 in response to the 1982 Chrysler convertibles, this after a ten-year absence. The majority of the convertibles were equipped with the new V6 in GLX form, though 1,001 (993 for US, 8 for Canada) V8 GT models were also produced. The Mustang GT received a four-barrel carburetor and a new intake manifold, bringing power to 175 hp (130 kW). The turbocharged 2.3 L four-cylinder also returned, now fuel-injected, and producing 145 hp (108 kW).

1983–1986 Ford Mustang

For 1984, the GL and GLX were dropped, leaving L, LX, GT, Turbo GT, and a new addition, the SVO. Ford also recognized the 20th Anniversary of the Mustang with the G.T.350, which consisted of a limited run of 5,260 hatchback and convertible models all trimmed in Oxford White exteriors and Canyon Red interiors. They could be equipped with either the 2.3 Turbo or 302 V8. Two 302 V8s were available, the four-barrel or a new 165 hp (123 kW) electronic-fuel injected engine. A new "Quadra Shock" rear suspension, which replaced the slapper bars with horizontally-mounted axle shocks, became available after a few months of production. After 1984, the TRX option was retired.

The new Mustang SVO appeared first in 1984 and was produced through 1986. Carrying a far more powerful and refined 2.3 L turbocharged inline-4, it produced initially 175 hp (130 kW) for 1984, uprated to 205 hp (153 kW) for a few 1985 models, and ending with 200 hp (149 kW) for 1986. It sported handling and braking abilities that would humble a Mustang GT. Four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch specific wheels, and an SVO-specific bi-plane rear spoiler were just a few of the notable differences between the SVO and the rest of the Mustang line. However, the steep price, which was thousands more than a comparably equipped V8 GT, put off most potential buyers.

In 1985, the Mustang GT got new E5AE cylinder heads, a revised Holley four-barrel carburetor, a new and more aggressive roller camshaft (only in models with the manual transmission), less restrictive exhaust manifolds, and a pseudo dual exhaust which brought more power to a conservatively rated 210 hp (157 kW) engine. This would be the last carbureted V8 in the Mustang. Also, 1985 saw the departure of the L and Turbo GT, leaving the LX, GT, and SVO. In 1986, Ford released the first multiport fuel-injected 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8, rated at 200 hp (150 kW). With high swirl E6SE heads, the early production High Output EFI engine intake possessed higher compression and dual exhausts.

Proposed replacement

Ford Probe

By the mid-1980s, Mustang sales were slumping. Sales were over 100,000 units a year, but were nothing compared to previous numbers. Ford thought that the Mustang had lost its place in the market. They subsequently announced that they would replace the rear-wheel drive Mustang with a Mazda-derived front-wheel drive version. Mustang fans quickly responded and sent Ford hundreds of thousands of angry letters, asking them to save the rear-wheel drive Mustang. Ford responded and gave the rear-wheel drive Mustang one more chance and proceeded to rename the front-wheel drive version as the Probe, which was a replacement for the Escort-based Ford EXP.[5]


In 1987, the Mustang received its first significant redesign since being introduced in 1979, incorporating both interior and exterior changes. The exterior design was reminiscent of the earlier SVO and gave the car more of an "Aero" look, in keeping with Ford's overall styling direction. With the end of the SVO in 1986, the models were now pared down to LX and GT. Taillights on the LX were slightly revised, while the GT now wore a specific louvered treatment. Rear quarter glass windows on LXs and GTs lost their louvered treatment and now sported a single piece of glass reading "Mustang" at the bottom. GTs retained foglights and new turbine style 15-inch (380 mm) wheels were introduced. LXs came without foglights but added the GT-specific alloys from 1985–1986 on LX 5.0 models. This particular Mustang represents the longest run on any platform and the popularity of the Mustang remained high due to its low cost and high performance. The 302 cu in (4.9 L), marketed as "5.0", Mustangs became popular with the aftermarket performance industry.[6] The V6 option was discontinued while the 2.3 L four-cylinder gained fuel injection, leaving only the 2.3 L four cylinder and the 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8.

For 1987, the Mustang received E7TE heads and a more capable intake manifold. The E7 cylinder heads were sourced from the truck line after the 1986 swirl-port design demonstrated performance problems. Power ratings jumped to 225 hp (168 kW) and 300 ft·lbf (410 N·m) of torque. No major changes were seen in 1988, although the T-roof option for hatchbacks was discontinued midyear. In 1989, the Mustang's speed density air system was replaced with a mass air system (1988 Mustangs sold in California also had the MAF system). This change slightly reduced factory horsepower, but it made Mustangs much easier to modify. With the mass air system, changes made to the intake, engine, and exhaust system would be recognized and compensated for by the ECU, resulting in a correct air/fuel ratio and optimum power. A driver's-side airbag became standard starting in 1990. Ford's only gesture at a 25th Anniversary Mustang was small, a passenger-side dashboard emblem with galloping-horse logo affixed to all models built between March 27, 1989, and the end of model-year 1990.[7]

By 1990, Ford resources began to focus on the next Mustang, due to debut in 1994. There would be few changes in the model line through its retirement in 1993. Most changes would be visual. For 1990, a limited run of about 5,000 emerald green exterior, and white leather interior 5.0 LX convertibles. Similarly, in 1992 and 1993, three special-edition 5.0 LX convertibles were released in the spring. These models sported with Vibrant Red exteriors with Oxford White leather interiors in 1992, and Canary Yellow exteriors with Black leather interiors or Vibrant White exteriors with White leather interiors for 1993. For 1991, the 2.3L I4 engines received an increase in horsepower, from 88 to 105, due to a revised cylinder head with two spark plugs per cylinder.

With the end of the run near in 1993, Ford switched to cast hypereutectic pistons for all 302 cu in (4.9 L) engines and also re-rated the 5.0 GT at 205 hp (153 kW) and 275 ft·lbf (373 N·m) of torque. This estimate was more accurate because the previous power ratings were made before the addition of the mass air flow system, a minor revision in the cam, and other various changes.

Under the newly established Ford SVT division, the 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra was offered with the 302 cu in (4.95 L) V8 that produced 235 hp (175 kW) and 280 ft·lbf (380 N·m) of torque. Featuring more subdued styling than the GT, the Cobra used Ford's new GT-40 high performance engine equipment, which could send a Mustang through the 14 miles (0.40 km) in low 13 seconds. A Cobra R model was also produced in 1993 that used the same engine as the regular Cobra. It featured larger brakes, Koni shocks and struts, an engine oil cooler, a power steering cooler, and a factory rear seat delete. Since the Cobra R was race oriented, options such as air conditioning and a stereo system were not offered.


  1. ^ "1981 Ford Mustang "Sport" (VE)" (in Spanish). Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  2. ^ World Cars 1982. Herald Books. ISBN 0-910714-14-2. 
  3. ^ World Cars 1982. Herald Books. ISBN 0-910714-14-2. 
  4. ^ World Cars 1982. Herald Books. ISBN 0-910714-14-2. 
  5. ^ Performance Probe Ford — Probe history
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Ford Mustang 25th Anniversary Celebration by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, retrieved on August 14, 2007.

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