The cars we loved.
The Ford Mustang will probably always be remembered as the classic American Pony Car: Rear wheel drive front engine two door coupe with V8 power (sometimes a 6). That was almost not the case for modern Mustangs. As recently as the late 80’s Ford toyed with the ideal of replacing the Mustang all together with a new style front wheel drive V6 powered sport coupe.
The ideal of a V8 Mustang took a beating in the eighties, as emission laws steadily strangled power from big thirsty V8 engines. Ford’s response was to dabble in European inspired solutions: 4 cylinder turbocharged engines. For a while the most powerful Mustangs were little 4s wit turbos attached. Ford knew that Mustangs fan base could not completely accept life without a V8 in the Mustang stable, so they made one available in the GT model. The top model, the SVO represented a new type of Mustang, one that may have been the future of the Mustang if sales figures did not suggest a revolt.
It became clear to Ford by the mid-eighties that it would need to re-engineer its concept of V8 power to more modern standards if the Mustang was to remain viable. A plan was hatched to replace the car with a Mazda sourced GT that was influenced by the Probe IV concept car. The new as yet unnamed car would replace the Mustang as we knew it with a line of 4 cylinder engines with the top performance option including turbocharging. The news outraged the Mustang faithful and soon Ford was swamped with letters of protest. There was a growing wave of sporty compact GT cars sweeping the nation with Japan leading the charge.
Ford wanted to be part of this market and the Mustang represented old school thinking. Ford made the correct decision of preserving the Mustang and producing it’s would be replacement as a separate model called the Probe. It would appeal to a whole new market more familiar with electronics vs. carburetors and such.
As a result of this change of plans Ford decided to revamp the Mustang. All though still on the old Fox platform there were significant visual and mechanical changes that made it an almost all new car. The 1987 Mustang would now come in two basic versions: V6 powered LX and V8 GT. The biggest news now was that the GT actually had a 5.0 l (actually a 4.9 but 5.0 looked better in ads). The new engine with a new sequential fuel injection and other revisions produced 215 hp. The LX cars now had 112 hp vs. 88 in the base 4 cylinder cars from 1986. Visually the ground effects package of the GT made it look aggressive with its air vents, scopes and cheese grater rear light lens covers. The GT came in either a popular two-tone (always grey bottom half) or single color scheme.
The LX was far more restrained with the same smooth aero headlamp treatment and belt line running along the sides of the car, but without the ground effects and fog lights. Convertibles were back and were available in GT or LX trim. Even with all the substantial changes underneath the Mustang’s Fox chassis still was sprung with an old-fashioned live axle rear suspension using a four bar link with coil springs. This type of suspension would remain until 2005.
Sales of the Mustang were some of the highest they had been from 1987 to 89. One of the reasons for the Mustang’s popularity was the vast array of choices from just two engines: notchback, hatchback, convertible all with either a V8 or V6. Visually there were few if any major changes. Most changes revolved around wheels with no less than three types available for the GT at one time. LX cars could be equipped with GT wheels as part of packages or as profitable markups from dealers. Due to their popularity and the fact that many are still on the road, it can be difficult determining what year a given car is considering the huge performance aftermarket for these cars.
Even when new, Ford assisted in blurring the lines of performance between GT and LX with options of its own. The V8 became a popular option in the lighter weight LX notchback. According to the April 87 edition Automobile Magazine, the LX with the nearly $2k V8 package did out 0 to 60 in 6.2 seconds vs. the GT’s 6.4.The LX offered a certain amount of stealth when trying to avoid the law and when seeking out Camaros. The law by the way did notice the hidden performance of the V8 LX cars and quite a few of them ended up in state highway patrol forces across the country as persuit cars. The post revamp period was a good time for the Mustang, even as it’s sales wained in the wake of an all new car on the way for 1994. Today with the ever growing popularity of America’s first pony car, its difficult to imagine that it almost ended abruptly in the mid eighties. Without the decision to revamp and make the Mustang competitive, there may not have been a rear wheel drive pony car from Ford at all today. As a result at 45 years and counting, the Mustang is the longest running continual pony car model available in the United States.