1980 was the second year of the Fox Body Mustang’s fifteen-year reign. Emissions standards meant that fuel economy went up considerably this year, with an approximately 23 percent mpg increase over the 1979 Mustang’s performance. But the same emissions standards meant that the 5.0L engine from the 1979 year wasn’t returning, a change which affected the Mustang’s sales considerably.
While 1979 was one of the best years of Mustang sales in history, at 370,000 units, 1980 only saw 271,250 Mustangs sold. The sales numbers would continue to decrease for the next several years.
1980 Ford Mustang Specs
|2.3L turbo 4-cyl.
||Adj. for Inflation 2019
|Medium Grey Metallic
|Light Medium Blue
|Medium Blue Glow
|Dark Chamois Metallic
|Dark Cordovan Metallic
Interior Trim Colors
Because of the 5.0L engine’s early retirement, the most powerful engine for the 1980 Mustang was a 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder. A non-turbocharged version of this engine came in the base model of Mustang.
The turbo four-cylinder was, at the time, considered the best of the engine options, but since then a cloud of reliability and performance issues has hung over it. The turbo would only continue to be an option for one additional year before being dropped in favor of a more reliable turbocharged engine.
The V8 engine that was available in 1980 was a 4.2L 2-barrel carburetor model that made 118 hp. This was the least horsepower that a V8 Mustang had ever produced, and people were vocally disappointed.
The 3.3L inline-six engine was also new for the 1980 lineup. In 1979, the six-cylinder was a 2.8L V6 that produced 109 horsepower. Naturally, people were disappointed by discontinuing one six-cylinder for another that made only 89 horsepower, but the Cologne V6 from 1979 was difficult to keep in supply. The choice to replace the six-cylinder was a pragmatic one since an engine that’s never in stock wasn’t satisfying to customers or to Ford.
Though the engine lineup was a major stumbling block of the Fox Body Mustang at the time, since then, it's become something of an asset. You can confidently say that if you’re removing the engine from a 1980 Mustang in order to do an engine swap, you’re not actually removing anything of value.
Because the Mustang needed to move relatively quickly despite slightly anemic engine values, the Fox Body Mustangs are some of the lightest ever made, and when fitted with a modern engine, like a Coyote, they can gain some serious speed.
Because the engines of the 1980 Mustang were underwhelming in terms of power output, it’s no surprise that the transmissions from that year were equally underwhelming. Most of these transmissions weren’t rated for significant power, which means that any serious horsepower or torque upgrades to a 1980 Mustang will need to be mirrored in transmission improvements.
The standard manual transmission was carried over from 1979 with no changes. The Single Rail Overdrive (SROD) transmission was a four-speed manual with an overdrive gear, and it continued to be in use through 1982. Because these transmissions could only handle up to 200 lb-ft of torque, they are frequently changed out for improved modern transmissions. Starting in 1983, this transmission would be replaced with the T5 transmission.
The T5 was one of the most successful Mustang transmissions of all time, and they’re easy enough to find today. Tremec continues to make versions of the T5, though modern ones can handle significantly greater torque outputs than the vintage ones. Upgrading to a T5 transmission is an easy upgrade if you have an SROD transmission.
For automatic transmissions, the C3, C4, and C5 were all in production and use during this time. A frequent mistake that enthusiasts make with regards to the C-series transmissions is assuming that the sequential numbers imply a linear distinction. Though this is a logical conclusion, it’s not true. These automatic transmissions were used simultaneously and the differences between them are slight.
The C4 had been in use in the Mustang since the first years of production, though it was sometimes referred to as a Cruise-o-Matic transmission.
The biggest change for 1980 was that all Mustangs were equipped with steel-belted radial tires and came with improved halogen headlights. This was the end of the awkward transition from bias ply to radial ply tires, and though it didn’t make a huge difference in terms of appearance, it affected handling and ride.
Though 1980 didn’t see the return of the convertible, some Mustangs were outfitted with “carriage roofs.” This roof option made a coupe look like a convertible by covering the top in a diamond grain vinyl. The $625 price tag on this option make it prohibitively expensive, especially since it carried no practical benefits, so not a lot of these were ordered.
In 1979, Ford produced the Mustang Pace Car, which came with a Recaro seat option. Though the Pace Car didn’t return for 1980, the Recaro seats were offered as an option. These seats could be ordered in Black, Medium Wedgewood Blue, Caramel, and Medium Vacquero.
The Sport Option was added for 1980 and was primarily an aesthetic package. This option included: Black window frames and rocker panel moldings, body side moldings with silver inserts, and 13” sport wheels. The only interior modification was that it came with a sports steering wheel.
Though the Ghia package is often considered exclusively the territory of the Mustang II, in fact the first three years of the Fox Body Mustang had a Ghia package available.
The Ghia package was intended to be the most luxurious of the Mustang packages. The Ghia package added low-back bucket seats, color-keyed low pile carpet, a four-spoke steering wheel and several other minor additions meant to convey luxury and comfort.
“Cobra” was sold as a package for an additional $1,482. The Cobra package came with front and rear spoilers as well as a nonfunctional hood scoop. This package included TRX tires, a sport tuned exhaust, dual black mirrors, and was a prerequisite if you wanted to get the Cobra hood graphics.
The Cobra package was available with either the 2.3L Turbo or the 4.2L V8 engine options. Pretty much everyone wanted the turbo since the V8 that year was so nerfed no one thought very much of it. Car and Driver ran a scathing review of the 1980 Cobra that said that it was undriveable at almost any configuration but was at least more tolerable with the Turbo.
The 1980 Mustang may not have come with much power, but with just a few modifications it’s easy to make this Mustang live up to its heritage.
Though many elect to do an entire engine swap, there are ways to upgrade the existing engine so that it has a little more power. Upgrading the carburetor alone can increase the power significantly. That’s because one of the issues impacting Fox Body Mustangs in these years was an inability to breathe deeply. Carburetors, improved Fox Body headers, and new intake manifolds are all great ways to improve the engine’s breathing, and it’s an easy way to improve power. Even a throttle body spacer can help improve the fuel to air ratio and show minor horsepower improvements, and it’s an easy install.
Because the SROD transmission isn’t particularly hearty, you’ll need to upgrade if you plan on doing substantial engine improvements. Upgrading to a T5 is an easy enough swap. Though even a vintage T5 will be an improvement over the SROD transmission, there are modern T5s that have an even greater torque capacity for those interested in truly upgrading their Fox Body Mustang to the peak of its capability.
The Fox Body Mustang is known for having a little too much body flex, which can make the handling feel sloppy. Adding a triangular strut brace is a great way to create a little additional chassis stiffness, and is one of the easiest modifications. To further upgrade a 1980 Mustang’s suspension, coilover suspensions or even just improved coils will improve responsiveness, especially around corners.
In terms of modifications that add both looks and performance, upgrading your Fox Body Mustang’s wheels from the tiny stock ones can give it a whole new look, and improve its grip as well. One of the most popular modifications for third generation Mustangs are functional hood scoops, which look great and improve performance.
Though the 1980 Mustang year was underwhelming in terms of performance options and power, it was a remarkably attractive and lightweight car that can be found relatively inexpensively and upgraded. Even if the 1980 Mustang had come equipped with an incredible engine and transmission combination, nearly forty years later these components would likely need replacement.
As is, the 1980 Mustang is a great candidate for an engine swap, since its lack of features makes it one of the lightest Fox Body Mustangs and the lack of limited special editions or performance options means that there’s little chance of accidentally destroying a rare collectible.
The four-eyed Fox Body Mustangs are some of our favorites in terms of appearance, and the 1980 year saw some minor refinements in the grille and headlights that make it a little more stylish than the 1979 year. The Recaro seats are a great find, and the Ghia luxury options are dated, but fun.
It’s good that these kinds of serious performance downgrades didn’t last, or else the Mustang legacy might not be what it is today, but having a year like this is a happy accident for enthusiasts looking for a Mustang to restomod into a modern-day sleeper.