Fox Body Mustang History

Fox Body Mustang History

Last Updated October 19, 2021 | Meghan Drummond
Contents

The Fox Body Mustang is the third generation of Ford's iconic muscle car, lasting from 1979 to 1993. They're referred to as the Fox Body Mustangs since they used the new Fox platform. As one of the longest-running generations, the Fox Body saw quite a few major changes over the years.

Many consider the Fox Body as a return to what worked for the first-generation Mustang. It was a step away from the failings of the Mustang II. The Fox Bodies were popular at the time, but they've grown in popularity even more over the past few years.

The third-gen Mustang has gained a reputation as a wrencher’s dream, and with the right Fox Body mods, it can drive like one too.

What Led to the Fox Body?

The first-gen Mustang was out-of-this-world popular. But in 1973, the oil crisis caused gas to shoot up 55 cents per gallon. That may not seem like much, but it amounts to almost three dollars after adjusting for inflation.

The Mustang had been increasing in size and weight since its debut. By 1973, it had gained 500 pounds, tanking the fuel efficiency. The Mustang II cut through all that fat, but a lot of performance was also lost. The Mustang no longer felt like a muscle car. People were hungry for a machine that felt the same way as the first-generation Mustang.

The oil crisis was over by 1975, and people were back to buying full-sized sedans. But the shadow of the 1979 energy crisis was already forming. It was clear that even though Americans wanted power, they also wanted fuel efficiency. To meet both needs, Ford went back to the drawing board to prepare for the next generation of Mustangs.

Who Designed the Fox Body Mustang?

Jack Telnack standing next to the Official Pace Car Mustang

Three design teams, two from Michigan and one from Italy, worked tirelessly on sketches and clay models for the Fox Body. Some of the designs were based on the Mustang II, while others drew inspiration from the popular wagons of the time. It was Jack Telnack's influence, though, that encouraged the team to take risks with the new design.

Jack Telnack was the vice president of design at Ford of Europe. Plus one-third of the team worked at the Ghia studio in Italy. So it shouldn't be a surprise that the Fox Body Mustang shows some European influence.

While the Mustang II looks like a shortened variant of the first-gen models, the Fox Body is unique. It was also about 100 pounds lighter than the Mustang II, which improved fuel efficiency and reduced drag.

Mustang II vs Fox Body Mustang
Specification 1978 Mustang II 1979 Fox Body Mustang
Wheelbase 96.2 inches 100.4 inches
Length 175 inches 179 inches
Curb Weight 2,646-2,751 pounds 2,530-2,672 pounds
Base Price $3,731 $4,494
Production Numbers 192,410 369,936

Fox Body Mustang Years

The Fox Body generation spanned over a decade, beginning in 1979 and ending in 1993. Fox Bodies made between 1979 and 1986 had four squared headlights around a slanted grill. This feature gave them a unique look that led to their affectionate “Four Eyes” nickname.

Here are some of the differences between each model year.

1979 - The First Fox Body

1979 Fox Body Mustang parked on the street in front of a white house

A refreshed running horse logo and quad headlight arrangement adorned the new Fox Body. The logo looked more like its muscular old-self than on the Mustang II.

The convertible had still not made its reappearance in 1979. So the only two body styles available were the coupe (notchback) and the fastback (hatchback).

The interior of the 1979 Mustang was also completely redesigned. There was enough space to comfortably seat four, even with a smaller back seat. There was also a larger engine bay, along with added trunk space. A full instrumentation bezel displayed a trip odometer, tachometer, ammeter, and oil pressure gauge.

The Mustang community praised the new Fox Body design. For the first time since 1964, the Mustang was chosen as the official Indy 500 Pace car. Ford celebrated this accomplishment by making 10,478 “Official Pace Car” hatchbacks, which featured a flip-up sunroof over the T-top.

1980

In the early Fox years, there were some cosmetic and interior changes. Updates included high-back bucket seats, full color-keyed interior trim, and brighter halogen headlights. A pricey optional carriage roof was available for the notchback, simulating the top-up look of a convertible. Replica Recaro bucket seats from the Pace Car were available for both the coupe and fastback.

Ford developed a Sport Option for the 1980 Fox Body. It touted styled-steel wheels and a black rocker panel along with window moldings, wide body side moldings, and a sporty steering wheel.

1981 - Hatchback Models Outsell Coupes

The 1981 Fox Body didn’t feature many changes or upgrades. The interior trim improved some, and a T-bar with twin lift-off glass panels was offered. 1981 was the first year that hatchback models outsold coupes. This trend continued through the rest of the Fox Body years.

1982

1982 Fox Body Mustang advertisement with tagline 'The Boss is Back'

The 1982 GT was a particular favorite, as it had the most potent small-block V8 engine in recent Ford history. “The Boss is Back” became the tagline for the ‘82 GT. It was the fastest Mustang in years with its high output 302 cubic-inch V8.

Other features included a two-barrel carburetor, a more aggressive camshaft, a bigger and smoother exhaust system, and a four-speed overdrive manual transmission. Though this GT was celebrated, it did result in a temporary retirement of the Cobra Package.

The engines offered for the 1982 Fox Body included a 2.3L 4-cylinder, 3.3L 6-Cylinder, 4.2L V8, and a 5.0L V8. The H.O. (high-output) V8 engine package wasn’t tied to the GT, either. It was available as an optional engine for any ’82 Mustang at a pretty steep price.

1983 - The Mustang Convertible Returns

The convertible returned in 1983, the first time in 10 years that it was an option for Mustang buyers. Cosmetic changes included a rounded nose bearing a narrower, sloped, horizontal-bar grille. This created a 2.5% reduction in aerodynamic drag, making the Fox Body even sleeker.

The running horse logo changed to a blue Ford oval on the grille. The taillights wrapped around the sides, closer to the central license plate. Seat and door trim was added, along with more legible gauge graphics.

The 1983 Mustang GT came with wider tires, a slightly larger rear anti-roll bar, stiffer bushings for the front control arms, high-effort power steering, and a wide swathe of matte-black paint on the grille.

The Mustang Turbo GT was added mid-year in both hatchback and convertible form. It was Ford’s re-engineered version of the turbocharged “Lima” 2.3L 4-cylinder engine offered in ’79. Ford marketed this GT to sell, but the high price cost along with a lack of air conditioning and an automatic transmission caused it to flop.

1984 - The Mustang SVO Is Released

The 1984 standard lineup included the entry-level L notchback and hatchback, the LX model, and the new V6 convertible.

Ford also offered a few special editions, which included favorites like the GT350 and new legends like the first Mustang SVO.

1985

In 1985, the economy L model was dropped. This was also the last year for carburetors on Fox Bodies. The next year saw the switch to electronic fuel injection (EFI).

1986 - Fox Bodies Switch to EFI

The Fox Body saw a decade-high sales total of 224,410 for the 1986 model year, underscoring it as a hit among American muscle car enthusiasts.

The V8 and V6 engines offered smoother driving due to the viscous (fluid-filled) engine mounts, which were copied from the 1985 SVO design. It was also the first year for the third brake light on the Mustang, but there were very few other changes to the car. Unfortunately, it would be the last year for the SVO.

White 1986 Fox Body Mustang with black detailing on hood driving down street

1987 - The Fox Body Gets a Makeover

The Fox Body underwent a major redesign in 1987. It received aerodynamic headlights, a smoother nose, triangular inboard parking lights, and wrap-around turn signal lamps. Most of the exterior moldings had a black finish.

The 1987 LX featured a simple slot on the grille with a horizontal bar that featured a small Ford oval. Other features included a body-color bumper, color-keyed rear bumper, and integral rear spoiler.

The GT boasted sculpted rocker panel skirts, a dummy scoop ahead of each wheel, “cheese-grater” tail lamps, and a grille-less front. There was also “Mustang GT” lettering on the rocker extensions and rear bumper cover.

1988

The 1988 model year saw few changes. Yet, the Mustang's popularity continued from the renewed Fox design through 1988. The success was mostly due to the fact it was a high-performance car available at a low cost.

The 1988 GT made it on Road and Track’s “Ten Best Cars in the World” and Car & Driver’s “Ten Best” lists.

1989 - Foxes Get More Moddable

Two changes that occurred in 1989 included a higher capacity battery for the LX model and the deletion of the T-bar roof as an option. Ford also shifted from "Speed Density" induction to “Mass Air” induction the same year. This offered no performance increase but made the car more receptive to aftermarket mods and tuning.

Mustang’s LX V8 package was switched to the LX 5.0L Sport in 1989, featuring the GT’s multi-adjustable sport seats. The convertible received standard power windows, and Saleen made 160 SSC Competition Mustangs.

White 1990 Fox Body Mustang convertible with top off

1990

Ford added an airbag to the Fox Body's steering wheel in 1990 due to federally mandated "passive restraints" that came into effect that same year. The addition of the airbag effectively eliminated the tilt-wheel option. Door map pockets and clear coat paint became standard on the 1990 Fox Body. Optional leather interior trim was also available.

Although prices began to rise, they still remained competitive as gas became more available and other muscle cars hit the market.

1991

The base Mustang price broke $10,000 for the first time in 1991, followed by a drop in sales. A new power top for the convertible was added that year, which folded closer to the body for a cleaner look. The V8 received new alloy, five-spoke wheels that were 16-inches in diameter.

1992 - The 1992 1/2 Limited Edition Is Released

The slow sales in 1991 continued throughout 1992. There also weren’t many cosmetic and performance changes. The only notable change was the addition of color-keyed body side moldings and bumper rubber strips to the LX model.

During the middle of the year, Ford released a 1992 1/2 Limited Edition Mustang. It was a Vibrant Red convertible with white wheels, a white interior, and a special rear spoiler. There were only 3,333 models produced.

1993

Despite virtually no changes, the last year of the Fox Body Mustang saw a large turnaround in sales. However, Ford did release a 1993 Limited Edition, which was an LX convertible available in either Chrome Yellow or Vibrant White.

Yellow 1993 Fox Body Mustang COnvertible with top off

Special Edition Fox Body Mustangs

Ford introduced several special edition models over the course of the third generation. These are some of the more rare Fox Bodies out there.

Cobra Fox Body Mustangs

The Mustang’s first generation was famous for its many special editions, and Ford finally returned to that in the third generation. The Mustang II really only had one special pony: the Cobra. Thankfully, Ford decided to take the Cobra into the third generation.

1979 Cobra Mustang

The 1979 Cobra carried the egg-crate style grill over from the Mustang II. Yet in 1980, that grille was replaced with a Pace-Car style slat grille. It also was updated to feature a rear-facing hood scoop plus front and rear spoilers. The optional V8 was no longer available.

1993: Return of the Cobra

The last year of the Fox Body Mustang saw the return of the Cobra, but this time it brought friends. Ford released the 1993 Mustang SVT Cobra and Cobra R. The SVT Cobra ran on a higher output Cobra 302 engine. The 302 had special big-port “GT40” heads, a revised cam, and a stronger five-speed manual gearbox. It also featured rear GT stock interior and rear disc brakes rather than drums.

The Mustang Cobra R was meant for racing, and that’s exactly how it was designed. It came with no back seat, no air conditioning, and no power accessories to cut curb weight by 60 pounds. Ford made only 107 units and sold to licensed racers only.

In 2019, the 11th 1993 Cobra R sold for $132,000 at auction, the most expensive Fox Body Mustang ever sold.

Special Services Mustangs

1982 was the first year for Special Services Mustangs, made specifically by Ford for law enforcement agencies.

The Mustang SVO

Ford developed the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division during the Fox Body generation. The SVO's mission was to develop high-performance cars with a focus on motorsport.

The 1984 Mustang SVO was a turbo 4-cylinder hatchback with the first air-to-air intercooler. The SVO team made a few modifications to increase torque and max horsepower. They revised the chassis and added a pair of shock absorbers called “Quadra-Shocks.”

GT350

In 1984, the GT350 made its return. The GT350 was available in either a hatchback or convertible. It featured an Oxford White body, a Canyon red interior, and side stripes with the GT350 markings. These 20th Anniversary GT350s came with either the 2.3L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine or the 302 cubic-inch V8.

Saleen Fox Body

Saleen Automotive designed its first Mustang in 1984. Since then, they've become synonymous with performance-oriented Mustangs. The first Saleen Mustang featured aerodynamic body panels and racing suspension components.

Twister II Mustang

In 1985, Ford made 90 Twister II Mustangs to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Twister Special. There was also a short-lived revival of the Turbo GT.

7-Up Promo Mustang

Around mid-January 1990, Ford announced a “Special Edition” LX 5.0L convertible. The LX featured a Deep Emerald Green clearcoat metallic paint, GT aluminum wheels, a white leather interior, and the GT’s sport bucket seats.

There was an optional Special Value Package available for these models. The package consisted of air conditioning, a premium AM/FM cassette stereo, and a clock.

The 1990 “Special Edition” was actually a failed 7-Up promo, where fans had to sink a half-court shot at the NCAA basketball finals. But, the promo was canceled at the last minute. These Mustangs were in production from March 1989 to April 1990.

Ford only built between 3,600-3,800 “Special Edition” LX 5.0L convertibles.

Legacy of the Fox Body Mustang

Fox Body Mustang with hood up to show Coyote-swapped engine

Ford’s Fox Body Mustang was the first ever to use a MacPherson style front suspension. This was a massive step toward making America’s favorite pony car better at cornering. This style of front suspension is still used today in many modern vehicles including the Mustang.

Due to the newer style front suspension, the Mustang became flexible in the types of engines that could fit under the hood. During the Fox Body’s run, you’d see various I-4 engines, including the SVO’s turbocharged four-cylinder, straight-six, and many variations of everyone’s favorite pushrod 5.0 V8.

Now, many enthusiasts favor Coyote swapping their Fox Body’s engine. The nimble and light Fox is the perfect partner for the raging power of the Coyote engine. Combining the two gives you the best of both worlds.

Technically, the SN95 Mustang is also built on the same Fox platform as the Fox Body Mustangs. That’s why you see many people who are able to swap 1999-2004 Mustang SVT Cobra IRS setups over to their Fox Body.

In all, the Fox platform spanned 15 model years and involved 11 nameplates. But the Ford Mustang was the best-selling and longest-lasting model in the bunch.

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Meghan Author Photo

About the Author

Meghan is a Classic Mustang geek with a soft spot for four-eyed Foxes. She has over 300 in-depth articles to her credit that have been cited by some of the top news sites in the US. Read full bio →

Sources: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 Ford Mustang, How Stuff Works | Reluctant Revolutionary: History of the Fox Body Ford Mustang, Motortrend | 1982-1993 5.0 H.O. History Highlights, The Mustang Source

Image Credit: Creative Commons

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.

Fox Body Mustang History

The Fox Body was produced from 1979-1993, the longest stretch for any Mustang generation. It earned its “Fox Body” nickname because it was built on the Fox platform. These Mustangs are well-known for being a modder’s dream, and with just a few upgrades they can hold their own with more modern ponies.