Third Generation Values
Fox Mustangs Getting Attention
Eric Lawrence - May 09, 2014 10:30 AM
Many Ford enthusiasts point to 1979 as the year that saved the Mustang.
Although they actually sold pretty well when new, the 1974-’78 Mustang IIs have become almost universally regarded as the low point of the Mustang’s 50-year history. The arrival of the 1979 models would mark the introduction of an all-new Mustang, one which would somewhat evolve over its 15-year life span into one of the most popular high performance cars of its era.
The 1979 Mustang was built on the existing Fox platform, which enabled Ford to spread out development costs over a number of car lines. The mid-to-late 1970s was not a really good time for the domestic automobile industry, so a few compromises here and there were sometimes necessary.
Mustangs were available as two-door sedans or hatchbacks, the latter being sometimes referred to as a three-door. In addition to the base Mustang, upmarket Ghia and higher performance Cobra models were also offered. The Cobra came standard with the 2.3L turbo (132hp) with the 302 (140hp) optional. The base Mustang engine was a fairly tame 88hp, normally aspirated 2.3L four cylinder, with both 2.8L and 3.3L six cylinders being available at various times during the model year.
The 1980 models were essentially unchanged, but there was some bad news under the hood. The venerable 302 was reduced to 255 cubic inches, resulting in a power decrease to 119hp. The 2.3L turbo was dropped for 1981, leaving only the 255, now rated at 120hp, to carry the performance banner.
Nice base engine cars are currently trading for around $2,500, with really excellent examples up around $4,000. You can add up to $500 for a six-cylinder and $1,000 to $1,500 for a 2.3L turbo or a V-8. Cobras run from $3,500 to $7,000, depending on condition.
Mustang paced the Indy 500 in 1979 and 11,000 replicas were produced, with engine availability being the same as the Cobra. Expect to pay $5,000 to $6,000 for a nice one and up to $12,500 for the best.
If 1979 is considered the year that saved the Mustang, 1982 was the year that the Mustang reasserted itself as a legitimate high performance automobile with the re-introduction of the 302, now known as the 5.0L, and the return of the legendary GT.
The 5.0L was really still a work in progress, rated at 157hp, which was not too bad considering it was fed by a two-barrel carburetor. The GT was only available as a hatchback and came standard with the 5.0L, manual transmission, an upgraded suspension, and some unique bodywork. The base Mustang was now called the L, and there were two nicer models available, the GL and GLX. The base engine was still the 2.3L four cylinder rated at 88hp, and the 3.3L six (94hp) and the 4.2L V-8 (120hp) were in their final year.
The following year,1983, was a good year for Mustang fans. The 5.0L was finally given the four-barrel it deserved, boosting horsepower to a respectable 175. The convertible made its return to the line-up after a 10-year absence. The Mustang looked pretty similar to the previous year, but the front end was given a freshening. Available models were once again the L, GL, and GLX. There was a new six-cylinder available, the 3.8L rated at 112hp. The GT came standard with the 5.0L and could be ordered as either a hatchback or a convertible.
Turbochargers were the “hot new technology” in the early ’80s, so Ford hedged their bets a little and offered a 2.3L turbo version of the GT, rated at 145hp.
The 1984 styling was a carryover from 1983, but the model line-up was slightly reconfigured. The base Mustang was still called the L, but the GL and GLX were consolidated into a single upgraded model called the LX. The GT and GT turbo were essentially unchanged with the exception of an automatic transmission now being offered with the V-8. However, there was a catch … automatics were equipped with fuel injection instead of the four-barrel, which disappointingly dropped the horsepower to 165. The 3.8L also got EFI this year, which bumped it up eight horsepower to 120.
The biggest news for 1984 was the introduction of the SVO Mustang, an all-new model which tried to break into the emerging “Euro”-inspired market. It was essentially a “high class” Mustang hatchback, built around a futuristic 175hp intercooled turbo four-cylinder and a performance-tuned suspension. It was the most expensive Mustang ever offered; at $15,500, it was almost $6,000 more than the GT and $2,000 more than even the GT convertible. To help justify the higher cost, and give it some separation from the GT, Ford gave it several unique features, including an offset hood scoop and dual level rear spoiler.
Styling was updated again in 1985, stealing a few design cues (as well as the Quadra-Shock rear suspension) from the SVO. The base L models were dropped, leaving only the LX, GT, and SVO. The base four- and six-cylinders were unchanged from the previous year, the Turbo GT was discontinued, and the 5.0L and 2.3L turbo SVO engines were dramatically improved, jumping to 210hp and 205hp respectively, although the automatic GT was still limited to 165hp. LX models were available as sedans, hatchbacks, or convertibles, GTs could be hatchbacks or convertibles, and SVOs were once again only available as hatchbacks.
The 1986 models were essentially unchanged in appearance, although there were some modifications under the hood. This would be the last year for the SVO since the GT was just so much cheaper that it was hard to justify the huge price difference. The 5.0L was switched over from carburetion to EFI, which resulted in a slightly lower rating of 200hp.
Nice four-cylinder sedans and hatchbacks are currently selling for between $2,750 to $3,000, with really super ones reaching as high as $5,000. You can add $500 to $750 for a six -cylinder. Convertibles, which came standard with the six, start at $4,500 to $5,000 for nice drivers and can run up to $8,500 for truly excellent examples. Nice GT hatchbacks from this period typically bring $5,000 to $5,500, with the best sometimes getting up to $10,000. GT convertibles start around $6,000, and can go as high as $11,500. Knock off about 25 percent for the turbo GT models from 1984-84, and 15-20 percent for LX 5.0s.
SVO were made in much smaller quantities than their GT siblings and they command a slight premium, roughly $1,000. Most buyers prefer the T-5 manual transmission, but there are many who appreciate the convenience of an automatic for day-to-day driving, so I have not really noticed a consistent price difference between automatic and manual cars, even with the automatic’s lower horsepower rating. There were about 5,000 20th Anniversary Edition GT350s made in 1984, all GTs or GT turbos. They are not really all that different and only command a premium of $750 to $1,000.
The Mustang’s front end was updated, going to a single flush mounted headlight design to more closely resemble the new aero look of the rest of Ford’s model line-up. The interior was given a major restyling, resulting in a cleaner and more modern look. The GT was set apart by a large plastic front air dam with built-in fog lights and ductwork. Although the 3.8L six was dropped, the venerable 88hp 2.3L four remained as the base engine. The only optional (standard on the GT) power plant was the 5.0L, now rated at an impressive 225hp, due to the addition of higher flowing cylinder heads.
There were really no significant changes to the Mustang from 1988 through 1992, with the exception of the LX 5.0L being made a separate model in 1989 and the four-cylinder finally being upgraded in 1990 to EFI, resulting in a new horsepower rating of 105.
1993 would be the last Mustang of its generation, with the substantially redesigned SN-95 being introduced in 1994. The only real news was that the 5.0L was now rated at 205hp, a reduction of 20.
I remember at the time there was a huge outcry, but according to noted Mustang expert Scott Yarbrough, there were no dramatic changes to the engine, just an adjustment to the horsepower rating that took into account a few running modifications that Ford had made over the past several years.
The 1993 was not noticeably less powerful than the 1992 model (I had friends with one of each, and drove them both many, many times.) The most exciting news was the introduction of a special model, the Cobra. Rated at 235 hp, it was the most powerful Mustang engine since the early 1970s, and accounting for the differences in how ratings were calculated over the years, perhaps one of the most powerful Mustang small-blocks of all time. The Cobra was a complete package and included improved handling and braking capabilities. There were even about 100 stiffly sprung Cobra R models produced for competition purposes. I had the opportunity to toss one around Summit Point for a few laps, and I can say with certainty that it felt much more like a race car than anything I had ever driven before.
2.3L LX sedans and hatchbacks in nice condition are currently selling for $2,850 to $3,150, with the best up around $5,500 to $6,000. 2.3L LX convertibles run $5,000 to $5,500 for nice drivers and can reach as high as $9,000. The years with EFI are a bit more desirable, so add about $500 across the board. GT hatchbacks run $5,500 to $6,000, and a much as $11,500 for the best. GT convertibles start at $6,500 and can reach $12,500. Deduct 10 to 15 percent for LX 5.0L models.
There were a few “limited edition” LX 5.0 convertibles produced in the later years to try to generate some buzz: Emerald Green in 1990 (4,103), Vibrant Red in 1992 (2,019), and both Canary Yellow (1,503) and Vibrant White for 1993 (1,500). I have seen asking prices all over the board for these models, but I think that a $1,500 premium would be appropriate. Cobras are very popular with collectors, so expect to pay anywhere from $13,000 to $21,500, depending on condition. The ultra-rare Cobra R starts around $22,000 for nice cars, and tops out around $40,000. Many of these cars were run hard, so be sure to do your homework before buying one.
VIN and Engine Codes
As I said throughout the article, many model years look very similar during this time period. You can use the following information to help you determine exactly what it is you’re looking at. I’ve include a breakdown of some of the more interesting engines as well. For 1979 and 1980, the first digit is the year (9 for 1979, 0 for 1980). The fifth digit is the engine code (F for 302, D for 255). For 1981-1993, the 10th digit is the year (B for 1981, C for 1982, D for 1983, E for 1984, F for 1985, G for 1986, H for 1987, J for 1988, K for 1989, L for 1990, M for 1991, N for 1992, and P for 1993). Note that “I” and “O” were not used to avoid confusion. The eighth digit is the engine code. For 1981-1982 “D” = 255 and “F” = 5.0L. The 5.0L was designated “M” from 1983-1990 and “E” from 1991-1993. The 1993 Cobra engine was a “D”. The 1984-86 SVOs were “W”s, and the 1983-84 GT turbo was a “T”.
The Mustang GT and LX 5.0 were without question the most popular muscle cars during the 1980s. They were relatively inexpensive, easy to modify, and seriously fun to drive. You can pick up a decent one today for less than the cost of a first-rate paint job on a vintage Mustang … just make sure to take a good look at it first, as most of these ponies were “ridden hard and put away wet”. Also, many, if not most, 5.0L Mustangs were “upgraded” with various performance parts at some point in their lives, so make sure that everything works together like it should.
I’ll end this with a quick shout out to the Mustang II crowd that I’m sure I offended in the opening paragraph. Believe it or not, Mustang IIs are currently worth just about the same money as similar 1979-1986 models, and Cobra IIs are actually a couple of thousand more expensive than 1982-86 GTs. Won’t that make for some interesting debate at your next bench racing session?
Eric Lawrence has been the editor of the CPI Collectible Vehicle Value Guide since 1988, and has written monthly columns for various car enthusiast magazines since the early 1990s. He can be reached at ELawrence@BlackBookUSA.com.