What Is a Fox Body?
The third-generation Mustang is frequently referred to as the Fox Body Mustang since it used the new Fox platform. Fox Body Mustangs were produced between 1979 and 1993, the longest generation of Mustang to date, though there were several significant body updates made throughout this generation.
The Fox Body Mustangs were seen by many as a return to what worked for the first generation of Mustang, and a step away from the failings of the Mustang II. Though the Fox Body Mustangs were popular at their release, they’ve gained popularity in the years since then. The Fox Body has gained a reputation as a modders dream, and with the right modifications this fox can fly.
The Creation of the New and Improved Fox Body
The first generation of Mustang was out of this world popular, but then, in 1973, the oil crisis caused gas to shoot up 55 cents per a gallon. Though that may not sound like much, when adjusted for inflation, it amounts to around three dollars. The Mustang had been increasing in size and weight since its debut, as was the trend at the time. By 1973, the Mustang had gained 500 pounds since its launch, which brought down its fuel efficiency considerably. The Mustang II cut through all of that fat, but a lot of performance was also lost. The Mustang no longer felt like a muscle car, and people were hungry for a machine that felt the way the first-generation Mustang did.
Though the oil crisis was over by ‘75 and people were back to buying full-sized sedans, the shadow of the ‘79 energy crisis was already forming, and it was clear that even though Americans wanted power, they also wanted fuel efficiency. In order to meet both needs, the Mustang had to go all the way back to the drawing board to prepare for the third generation. Three design teams, two from Michigan and one from Italy, worked tirelessly on sketches and clay models. Some designs were modeled on the Mustang II. Some designs were based on the popular wagons of the time (think on that possibility and shudder). Thankfully, with the influence of Jack Telnack, the team took risks.
Jack Telnack was the vice president of design at Ford of Europe, and one-third of the team worked at the Ghia studio in Italy, so maybe it’s not a surprise that the Fox Body Mustang borrows some European influence. While the Mustang II looks like a shortened variant of first-generation Mustangs, the Fox Body is its own thing entirely.
It was also about one hundred pounds lighter than the Mustang II which improved not only fuel efficiency but also reduced drag.
A refreshed running horse logo, which looked more like its muscular old-self than on the Mustang II, adorned the new Fox Body, along with a quad headlight arrangement. 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, adding more 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.
Spec Changes Between Mustang II and Fox Body Mustang
|Specification||1978 Mustang||1979 Mustang|
Engine options for the ’79 Fox Body included a 2.3L four-cylinder and a “Lima” turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder, along with a 2.8L V6, a 3.3L six-cylinder, and a 5.0L V8.
The new Fox Body Mustang was met with praise from the Mustang community. For the first time since 1964, the Mustang was chosen as the official Indy 500 Pace car. Ford celebrated this accomplishment by running 10,478 “Official Pace Car” hatchbacks, which featured a flip-up sunroof over the T-top.
Timeline of Changes by Year
Four Eyed Foxes
The first group of Foxes are sometimes affectionately called Four Eyes because they feature four squared headlights around a slanted grill. These Mustangs were manufactured between 1979 and 1986. You’ll find many online who loudly proclaim their four-eyed pride, and it’s hard to deny that it’s a unique looking Mustang.
In those early Fox years, there were some cosmetic and interior changes which 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, along with replica Recaro bucket seats from the Pace Car for both the coupe and fastback versions.
Ford developed a Sport Option for the ’80 Fox, which touted styled-steel wheels, black rocker panel, and window moldings, wide body side moldings, and a sporty steering wheel.
For the first few years, there were few upgrades. The interior trim improved slightly and a T-bar with twin lift-off glass panels was offered. 1981 was the first year that hatchback models outsold coupes, and this trend continued through the rest of the Fox Body years.
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, and it was the fastest Mustang in years with its high output 302 cubic-inch V8. It also featured 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 mean a temporary retirement for 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, and it was available as an optional engine for any ’82 Mustang at a pretty steep price.
The convertible returned in 1983, which marked the first time in ten years that it was an option for Mustang buyers. Some cosmetic changes to the ’83 Fox include a rounded nose bearing a narrower, sloped, horizontal-bar grille. This created a 2.5% reduction in aerodynamic drag, making Fox Body even sleeker.
The running horse logo changed to a blue Ford oval on the grille, and 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, and it was Ford’s re-engineered version of the turbocharged “Lima” 2.3L 4-cylinder engine offered in ’79. While in theory, this GT was marketed to sell, it was largely a flop due to it being overpriced and without air-conditioning and an automatic transmission option.
For the standard ’84 line-up, the entry-level L notchback and hatchback, LX model, and the newly standard V6 convertible were available. Ford brought in a lineup of Special Mustangs that included favorites like the GT350 and new legends like the first SVO Mustang.
In 1985, however, the economy L model was dropped. 1985 was also the last year for carburetors on Fox Bodies. The next year saw the swap to electronic fuel injection (EFI).
1986 brought a decade-high sales total of 224,410 for the model year, underscoring the Fox Body 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 ’85 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.
The Fox Body went under a major redesign in 1987, receiving aerodynamic headlights, a smoother nose, triangular inboard parking lights, wrap-around turn signal lamps, and most of the exterior moldings were finished in black.
The ’87 LX Fox featured a simple slot on the grille with a horizontal bar and bearing a small Ford oval, 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. Also, “Mustang GT” lettering was fashioned to the rocker extensions and rear bumper cover.
1988 saw few changes, yet the Mustang’s popularity continued from the renewed Fox design through 1988, particularly due to such high performance at the low cost. The 1988 GT was named to Road and Track’s “Ten Best Cars in the World” and also made Car & Driver’s “Ten Best” list.
Two changes that occurred in ‘89 included a higher capacity battery for the LX model and the deletion of the T-bar roof as an option. The ’89 brought a shift from "Speed Density" induction to “Mass Air” induction. This offered no performance increase but made the car more receptive to aftermarket performance additions 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. Also in ’89, the convertible received standard power windows and Saleen made 160 SSC Competition Mustangs.
Due to federally mandated “passive restraints” that came into effect in 1990, the Fox Body added an airbag in the steering wheel, effectively eliminating the tilt-wheel option. Door map pockets and clear coat paint also became standard for the 1990 Mustang, along with the addition of an optional leather interior trim.
Prices began to rise on the 1990 Fox Body Mustang, yet still remained competitive as gas became increasingly available and other muscle cars hit the market.
In 1991, the base Mustang price broke $10,000 for the first time, and coincidentally, sales began to drop. A new power top for the convertible was added that year, which folded closer to the body for a cleaner appearance. And, the V8 received new alloy, five-spoke wheels that were 16-inches in diameter.
The slow sales in ’91 continued throughout ’92. It was also slow in terms of cosmetic and performance changes for the Fox Body, as the only notable change was the addition of color-keyed body side moldings and bumper rubber strips to the LX model. Mid-year, Ford released a 1992 1/2 Limited Edition Mustang, which was a Vibrant Red convertible with white wheels, a white interior, and a special rear spoiler. Only 3,333 were produced.
The last year of the Fox Body Mustang saw a large turnaround in sales, although the Mustang was virtually unchanged. Ford did, however, release a 1993 Limited Edition, which was an LX convertible available in either Chrome Yellow or Vibrant White.
Cobra Fox Body Mustangs
Ford’s first generation was famous for its numerous special editions, and we finally saw a return to that in the third generation. The second generation of Mustang really only had one special pony: The Cobra. Thankfully, Ford decided to take the Cobra into the third generation.
The Cobra continued from the Mustang II into 1979 with an egg-crate style grille. 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 and front and rear spoilers, and 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 the 1993 Mustang SVT Cobra R. The SVT Cobra ran on a higher output Cobra 302, with special big-port “GT 40” 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 in order to cut back curb weight by 60 pounds. Only 107 units were manufactured, and they were only sold to licensed racers.
In 2019, the 11th 1993 Cobra SVT Cobra R sold for $132,000 at auction, making it the most expensive Fox Body Mustang sale ever.
It was during the reign of the Fox Body that Ford developed the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division. The SVO was created to develop high-performance cars with a focus on motorsport.
The 1984 SVO Mustang was a Turbo 4-cylinder hatchback with the first air-to-air intercooler. Other modifications were made by the talented SVO team at Ford to increase torque and gain maximum horsepower, including chassis revisions and an extra pair of shock absorbers called “Quadra-Shocks.”
Special Services Mustangs
1982 was the first year for Special Services Mustangs, made specifically by Ford for law enforcement agencies.
In 1984, the GT350 made its return. The GT350 was available in either a hatchback or convertible and featured an Oxford White body, a Canyon red interior, and tape side stripes with the GT350 markings. These 20th Anniversary GT350s could either be equipped with the 2.3L 4-cylinder turbocharged or the 302 cubic-inch V8.
Saleen Fox Body
Saleen designed their first Mustang in 1984, and they have since become synonymous with performance-oriented Mustangs. Their first Mustang featured aerodynamic body panels and racing suspension components.
To celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Twister Special, Ford made 90 Twister II Mustangs. 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, which featured a Deep Emerald Green clearcoat metallic paint, GT aluminum wheels, a white leather interior, and GT’s sport bucket seats. When ordering this Special Edition, you had the option to add the Special Value Package, which 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. However, the promo was canceled at the last minute. They were produced March ’89-April ’90.
Only between 3,600-3,800 “Special Edition” LX 5.0L convertibles were built.
A Foxy Legacy
Supercharged Coyote-Swapped Fox Body
Ford’s Fox Body Mustang was the first ever to use a MacPherson style front suspension. This was a massive step in making America’s favorite pony car able to handle the twisties a bit better. This style 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 multiple variations of everyone’s favorite pushrod 5.0 V8!
Now, a favorite engine swap of the daring is putting a Coyote engine into a Fox Body. The nimble and light Fox is the perfect partner for the raging power of the Coyote engine, and combining the two brings out the best of both worlds.
Technically, the SN95 Mustang is also considered to be on the same Fox Platform that the Fox Body Mustangs are on. That’s why you see many people who are able to swap 1999-2004 Mustang SVT Cobra Independent Rear Suspension 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 Fox powered model in the group.
Sources: MotorTrend, The Mustang Source, How Stuff Works