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Thread: 1979-2004 Ford Mustang (non-SVT)

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    Ford Guru FORDboy357's Avatar
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    Sep 2006
    Green Creek, North Carolina

    1979-2004 Ford Mustang (non-SVT)

    Let me start off with what everyone is thinking: These are not good cars (from the factory). They're not bad per se, you could do much, much worse from the Detroit Big 3 in the 4 decades this chassis existed, but they leave much to be desired from enthusiasts.

    I've owned 6 Mustangs, 5 of them being the Fox/SN platform so I know my way around them and what needs to be improved or outright eliminated.

    Speaking of the platform...


    Following the disappointing (but significant) Mustang II, Ford sought to reinvent the Mustang image. With high quality cars coming out of Germany and Japan in the late 70's, Ford wanted a more sporty image for the pony car. The Mustang II utilized rack and pinion steering and they said they had to keep it, the one aspect that Ford did not want to keep from the II was the leaf spring live axle. Of course, they kept it a live axle, that's a cheap and proven, they got rid of the leaf springs.

    The 79-04 Mustang is a unibody design making the roof and floorpan stressed and supporting the thin frame rails. Fox and SN chassis are very weak and flexible in all the wrong places. Putting the car on 4 jackstands near the wheels and taking one away, you can watch the unsupported corner droop.

    The 1979 Mustang introduced a triangulated 4-link rearend with 4 lugs and drum brakes. The worst thing about this rear (besides being solid), and this goes all the way up to 2004, are the bushings. Ford used extemely soft rubber articulation bushings. This allowed the rearend to not only move laterally, but also in yaw. This made for sketchy handling at the limits (which were not very lofty) to say the least.

    Very few changes over the years, the biggest being in 1994 with a wider track, 5-lugs, and disc brakes throughout the range.

    1979-2004 also had a modified macspherson strut front suspension. It used a typical single lower control arm and strut but did not have the coil on the strut itself. Instead, it sat inboard.

    Again, the ridiculous soft rubber bushings are present here as well. Huge amounts of deflection changed suspension and steering geometry mid corner.

    Confidence-inspiring for sure.

    The downside to the inboard springs are a relatively high rate and small amount of travel before bottoming out.

    I'm not going to go into specifics since nothing really deserves it apart from the hand-built SVT powerplants. The Fox/SN Mustang had a 2.3 SOHC 4-cyl (wuth a carb, turbo and carb, EFI, and turbo EFI), a 200 cu-in OHV I-6 (pretty rare actually but still pretty shitty), a 2.8L OHV V6 (which had been around since 1962 and lasted until 2012 in one form or another), a 3.8L OHV V-6 (in both carbureted and fuel injected guise), an abysmal 4.2L V8 in the early-80's, the fairly overrated 5.0 OHV V-8, the boat anchor iron block SOHC 4.6 V8. Absolute max power from the non-SVT cars was 265 hp rated from the factory (Bullitt).

    The best engines for the chassis are the V8's (it could be argued that the turbo-4 from the SVO, but it lacks the grunt). The 5.0 has good low end torque but runs out of steam past 5,000 rpm and the modulars have the opposite problem. Nothing down low but can pull past 6,000.

    I will mention the 2003/2004 Mach 1 which were rated at 305hp but I still classify them as SVT engines

    I'm only going to talk about the manuals since the autos are not worth wasting the time to type about them.

    From 1979-1982, the Mustang had a 4-speed manual. It's so obscure, I don't even know who made it. Probably Borg-Warner. In 1983, it got the Borg Warner T-5 which is a sweet little 5-speed. Very smooth with excellent ratios. The Mustang kept this transmission behind a V8 up until 1995 and behind the V6's until 2010. Ford changed to the Tremec T-45 in 1996 to put behind the new-for-the-Mustang 4.6L. This transmission used an integrated bellhousing and kept the same ratios as the T-5 (even used the same shifter). In mid-year 2001, the Tremec T-3650 was introduced and stayed there until the end of the bodystyle.

    The T-5 is my favorite Mustang 5-speed. It's very light and very smooth though a bit weak. I'm not a fan of the 3650. It's clunky and unrefined. Some people like them, I don't.

    Holy shit. What can I say about Mustang brakes? They exist. That's about it. They didn't even get to decent until 20 years after the chassis was introduced and even then, the brakes weren't made by Ford. From 1979 to 1998, all Mustangs used cast iron, single-piston floating calipers. They're pretty horrid. In 1999, the Mustang got aluminum twin piston calipers from Australian company PBR which had made the brakes for the Cobra since 1993 and the Chevy Corvette. The rotor diameter varied from 10" to 11" with the Bullitt and Mach 1 variants getting the Cobra's 13" front brakes.

    The rear brakes were drums for most of the chassis' life. The only Fox Mustangs to get rear discs were the SVO and 1993 Cobra. 1994 saw the Mustang getting discs all around until 2004.

    1979-1986: These are known as the "four-eye" Foxes. They have quad old-school headlights and very much look like they're from the 80's. They're becoming more popular in recent years. These are also the lightest with a minimum of just under 2,800 lbs.

    1987-1993: These are the "aero-nose" Foxes. Dual headlights with normal bulbs. This bodystyle, especially the non-hatchback LX variant, have exploded in popularity recently. They have admittedly aged well.

    1994-1998: This is the SN95 bodystyle. It was a major departure from the previous boxy Fox cars with swooping lines and wider stance. These are stuck in the 90's but can look very good with little effort. This bodystyle is by far the cheapest as well.

    1999-2004: The New-Edge bodystyle. This is my favorite. Much more modern lines than the SN and you still see them on the road when you notice them. They still blend in with cars that are at least 10 years newer.


    1979-1986: Hard plastic and awful. Dash WILL be cracked if you're looking for one. Terrible seats.

    1987-1993: Hard plastic with awful quality with a little bit of charm. Switches in weird places. Terrible seats.

    1994-1997: Hard plastic with a little bit of soft plastic on the dash. Hasn't aged well. More padding does not make better seats, Ford.

    1998-2004: The exact same interior minus a clock on the dash. 2001 got a minor update with better switches and 2-din radio. Seats are better but still pretty bad.
    Driving dynamics:

    The lighter, the better. You're still going to understeer all day. Very good steering feel though. All manual Mustangs have a cable-actuated clutch which is fantastic. I love being able to feel the clutch engage through my feet. Ergonomics are all wrong. You have to stretch to change gears even if you're over 6' like me.
    In summation, the stock cars leave much to be desired, but the platform and modifications are very cheap. I'll probably do a follow-up to this post with fixes for all the problems I listed.
    Last edited by FORDboy357; 03-06-2015 at 11:00.
    "I know what I'm about, son"

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