Sleek and redesigned, the 1979 was the first Mustang to be built on the new Fox platform, thus kicking off the third generation of the vehicle. The ’79 Mustang was longer and taller than the Mustang II, although in weight, it was almost 200 pounds lighter. Engine offerings included a 2.3L four-cylinder engine, a 2.3L engine with turbo, a 2.8L V-6, a 3.3L inline-6, and a 5.0L V-8. In all, the ’79 Mustang was more European visually, with less traditional Mustang styling cues throughout.
In 1980, Ford dropped the 302-cubic liter V-8 engine from the Mustang lineup. In its place they offered a 255-cubic inch V-8 engine which produced close to 119 hp. The idea was to create an engine that was economical and sporty, although many die-hard Mustang enthusiasts found the engine to be underpowered. In addition to the new 4.2L V-8, Ford replaced the 2.8L V-6 with a 3.3L inline-6.
New emissions standards resulted in additional engine changes in the 1981 Mustang. The 2.3L engine with turbo was removed from the lineup. In addition, the 255-cubic inch V-8 engine, which had previously produced close to 119 hp, was redesigned to produce approximately 115 hp. The V-8 engine was at an all-time low in regard to power output.
For many enthusiasts, 1982 was the year Ford brought power back to the Mustang. In addition to the return of the Mustang GT, Ford once again offered the 5.0L V-8 engine, which was capable of producing 157 hp this time around. In all, the Mustang featured an improved intake and exhaust system, making it one of the fastest domestic cars in America. In ’82 the Mustang also saw the return of the T-top option.
The Mustang had not been available in convertible form since the early 1970s. That changed in 1983 when the convertible option returned to the Mustang lineup. The year also saw an increase in power from the Mustang GT’s 5.0L V-8 engine, which was capable of producing 175 hp. The Mustang was so well admired in ’83 that the California Highway Patrol purchased 400 Mustangs to be used in high-speed pursuits.
In 1984, nearly 20 years after its debut, Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations released the Mustang SVO. An estimated 4,508 were produced. This special-edition Mustang was powered by a turbocharged 2.3L inline-four cylinder engine. It was capable of outputting up to 175 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. There’s no doubt about it, the SVO was a car to contend with. Unfortunately, its high price of $15,970 made it out of reach to many consumers.
A special 20th anniversary edition of the Ford Mustang was also released in 1984. This GT model Mustang featured a V-8 engine with an Oxford White exterior and Canyon Red interior.
In an effort to improve upon its engine lineup, Ford introduced a 5.0L high output (HO) motor in 1985. In all, it was capable of producing up to 210 hp when coupled with a manual transmission. In addition, the Mustang SVO was once again an offering. In 1985 an estimated 1,515 SVOs were produced. Later that year, Mustang modified the SVO slightly and released 439 additional SVOs. These 1985 ½ Mustangs were capable of producing 205 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, making them highly sought after by many Mustang enthusiasts.
The Mustang said goodbye to the carburetor in 1986 when Ford introduced the first sequential multi-port fuel injection V-8 engine. This 302-cubic inch V-8 was rated at 225 hp. The Mustang SVO remained in the vehicle lineup for one more year. In 1986 an estimated 3,382 SVOs were produced. Only a few changes were made to the vehicle such as a reduction in horsepower from 205 hp to 200 hp and the addition of a federally mandated third-brake light added to the rear spoiler.
In 1987, Ford created a completely restyled Mustang that was aerodynamic in design. Although still built on the Fox platform, the 1987 Mustang featured a heavily restyled exterior and interior. It was the first major redesign of the vehicle in almost eight years. The 5.0L V-8 engine was now capable of producing up to 225 hp. While the V-8 engine increased in power, the V-6 engine was no longer an offering. Consumers had the choice of either a V-8 engine or the new 2.3L four-cylinder fuel-injected motor. Although the SVO was no longer offered, Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) created a special edition SVT Cobra which featured a 302-cubic inch V-8 engine capable of producing 235 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque.
There were few noticeable changes to the Mustang in 1988. The Mustang GT had become an extremely popular car, with the production of 68,468 units produced in 1988 alone. As for available options, T-top production ceased early in the model year. In addition, California Mustang GTs featured a new mass airflow sensor instead of the older speed density system featured in previous models.
In 1989, all Mustangs featured a new mass air system. In addition, Ford celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Mustang by inscribing a Mustang Pony and the words “25 Years” on the dash of all vehicles produced between April 17, 1989 and April 17,1990.
Extending the celebration of the Mustang’s 25th anniversary, Ford released 2,000 limited edition jet-black Mustangs in the 1990 model year. Ford also introduced the first driver’s-side airbag as standard equipment.
In 1991, Ford increased the horsepower of the base Mustang by offering an improved 105 hp twin-plug 2.3L four-cylinder engine with a distributor-less ignition. In addition, all V-8 Mustangs featured five-spoke 16x7-inch cast aluminum wheels.
In 1992, Mustang sales were on a decline. In an effort to increase consumer enthusiasm, Ford released a limited-edition Mustang in the later part of the ’92 production year. Only a couple thousand of these limited-edition red convertibles with a special rear spoiler were ever produced. In addition, the Mustang LX outsold all other models combined in ‘92. The LX featured Ford’s 5.0L V-8 engine in a scaled down body style. The base model Mustang could be distinguished from the LX by its lack of dual exhaust pipes.
Ford’s Special Vehicle Team made headlines again in 1993 when Ford introduced the limited-production SVT Mustang Cobra. A Cobra R version was also created. The Cobra R, which used the same engine as the Cobra, was designed by Ford as a complete racing machine. The vehicle was absent of air conditioning and a stereo system, and sold out prior to production.