by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide
The 1982 Ford Mustang launched on the strength of momentum that had been building since 1979. Now the pace was accelerating, and the 1982-1986 design generation would show America that Mustang could once again furnish real power to the people.
Looking back, the Fox family of Mustang that made its debut for 1979 was a happy turn of events for fans of Ford's sportiest car. Its predecessor, the Mustang II, was timely and popular, but it was not a genuine pony car, even if it served the noble purpose of keeping the Mustang spirit alive through the dark and difficult Seventies.
Mustang again listed several roof options for 1982, including a flip-up sunroof and this T-bar roof with twin liftoff glass panels.
By the 1980s, however, Detroit had pretty much come to terms with with government-mandated emissions limits, crash-performance standards, even Corporate Average Fuel Economy. This meant they could literally afford to return to more interesting things, like head-turning style and truly vivid performance. The "New Breed" Mustang reflected this by offering many qualities of the '65 original in a more sophisticated package appropriate for challenging new times.
Actually, pony cars shouldn't have survived to the Eighties in any form -- and most didn't. Mustang's Mercury sibling, the Cougar, was puffed up into a personal-luxury midsize after 1973, while the Plymouth Barracuda, Dodge Challenger, and AMC Javelin were all dumped after '74.
But against all odds, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird managed to hold on to decade's end -- and with surprisingly few changes after 1970. They even enjoyed a strong sales resurgence. The main reason, of course, was that after the first energy crisis, they were about the only American cars (other than Chevy's Corvette) offering anything like Sixties-style performance. The fact that their hottest models, the Z28 and Trans Am, also became the hottest sellers didn't go unnoticed in Dearborn.
A New Era of Ford Management
Ford Motor Company needed to be on its toes, because its financial situation by 1980 was almost as dire as Chrysler Corporation's. Echoing the late Forties, Ford faced another change of leadership at a time its future looked anything but rosy. Chairman Henry Ford II resigned, leaving many to wonder if his successors could turn things around.
Inspiration in the executive ranks was sorely needed. Though Ford had enjoyed good sales in recent years, its bottom line was hurt by the high costs of a product overhaul, begun with the '78 Fairmont/Zephyr and the '79 Mustang. When the economy and the car market tanked with "Energy Crisis II" in mid-1979, Ford suddenly found itself facing a major cash crisis.
Stockholders needn't have worried, because 1980 ushered in two experienced go-getters: Philip A. Caldwell as chairman and, to replace him as president, Donald E. Petersen. A bit later, Eugene Bordinat retired after some 20 years as design vice-president, replaced by Donald Kopka, whose tastes closely mirrored those of North American design chief Jack Telnack. It was also in this period that a younger generation of Fords began to take a hand. Among them was Edsel B. Ford II, son of the departed chairman and a Mustang fan, who managed Ford Division market planning.
Other rising talents included Harold A. "Red" Poling, executive v-p of North American Operations. Edsel called Poling "a quality freak," so few were surprised when corporate advertising adopted a new slogan during 1980: "Quality is Job 1."
A late-August 1980 comparison of the rare and racy '81 McLaren Mustang (left)and two workouts for the production '82 GT with rejected hood-scoop and lower-valence ideas.
All of this would prove good for Ford, but the press took particular note of Petersen's promotion. He was an avid, knowledgeable "car guy" (having served in product planning for years). And he had definite ideas about Ford's future, particularly in design and performance. Petersen's enthusiasm would soon be evident in a dramatic new fleet of Ford vehicles.
Meantime, he put his stylists and engineers to work on imbuing existing models with some of the old "Total Performance" flair that had worked sales magic in the Sixties. As a direct descendant of those times, the Mustang was one of the first Fords to benefit.
The 1982 Ford Mustang GT
Donald Petersen was shaking things up at Ford, and the Mustang line was no exception. The first benefit of the changes at Ford headquarters, in particular the new focus on performance, appeared with the 1982 Ford Mustang GT. The revised car packed the most potent small-block V-8 in recent Ford history.
"The Boss is Back!" ads declared. And it was. At its heart was a new H.O. (High-Output) 302-cubic-inch V-8 with 157 horsepower, up a solid 18 horses from the last 302 of 1979. Contributing to this gain was a more aggressive camshaft adapted from a marine version of the long-running V-8, plus a larger two-barrel carburetor, a bigger and smoother exhaust system, a more durable double-row timing chain, and low restriction twin-snorkel air cleaner.
Teamed exclusively with four-speed overdrive manual transmission, it made for the fastest Mustang in years. Claimed 0-60-mph acceleration was below eight seconds, but most magazines clocked closer to seven, and Jim McCraw reported 6.9 seconds in tests at Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds for the September 1981 Motor Trend.
This brochure for the 1982 Ford Mustang GT shows the mature, sophisticated GT styling, aimed at more "adult" Mustang enthusiasts.
1982 Ford Mustang GT Styling
The reborn GT was not a package but a distinct hatchback model with a top-of-the-line $8308 base price. Effectively, it replaced the Cobra package as a more "adult" enthusiasts' Mustang but retained much of its styling.
"Existing body add-ons are used," noted AutoWeek's George D. Levy, "but with greater discretion than in the past. The spoilers and [hood] scoop are there, for good reason, but the stomach-grabber colors and yahoo graphics are gone, replaced by a few small GT emblems. Exterior colors are limited to [dark red], black, and silver."
Whatever the hue, most exterior chrome went noir, while the grille, headlamp frames, and bumpers were tastefully left in body color. The interior was resolutely black except for cloth seat inserts with jazzy op-art white striping. Bucket seats flanked a standard shift console (still housing a pull-up handbrake as well) but were more heavily bolstered than in lesser models.
A new powerhouse was under the hood for '82 Mustang models.
1982 Ford Mustang H.O. V-8 Engine
Reflecting separate but parallel development tracks, the Mustang's new H.O. engine was not tied to the GT model, being available in other '82 Mustangs for $402 with the TRX suspension or $452 without. Those prices seemed steep, but the engine came with its own bundle of good stuff.
Beside the four-speed tranny, Ford threw in a 3.08:1 Traction-Lok differential, power steering, power brakes with enlarged front discs, and the baseline "handling" suspension, which was also a stand-alone option tagged at just $50. The TRX suspension cost $533-$583 this year except on the GT, where it added a mere $105 -- another reason to choose the top horse, as most V-8 buyers did. Incidentally, the tame 4.2-liter (255-cubic-inch) V-8 was available for the GT as a $57 credit option, though few buyers were likely penny-wise and performance-foolish this way.
The '82 Mustang's optional H.O. V-8 engine didn't come cheap, but it did come with a host of goodies, such as power steering and power brakes.
McCraw noted that the GT got "the nod from the highest echelon of management and [was first slated] as a 1982 1/2 addition. But the swell of enthusiasm at the marketing and engineering levels, and the speed with which engineering problems were solved, have pushed the program up to an October 1 startup, only a couple of weeks after introduction of the 1982 Ford line."
The 1982 GT hatchback was the quickest Mustang in years. At $8308 to start, it also was top of the line.
The GT was a showroom symbol of Ford's renewed commitment to competition, chiefly road racing, begun in 1981. Both were part of what McCraw termed a "new marketing strategy. Public reaction to this return to big-league racing has been overwhelmingly positive; a whirlwind of mail has told the company to start building something that's quick, fast and fun to drive…."
Ford happily lavished much attention and money on its newest H.O. V-8. For example, the intake manifold was switched from steel to lightweight aluminum, and the exhaust system was redesigned for quicker warm-up -- so the catalytic converter would start burning off nasty pollutants that much faster -- and for less performance-sapping back pressure.
Impressively, there was no muffler, yet the car was fully street-legal noise-wise. A new accessory drive reduced power losses by declutching the air-conditioning compressor and radiator fan at full throttle. The result, as McCraw relayed from engine engineer Jim Clarke, was more power to the rear wheels than most cars managed.
The '82 Mustang GT's TRX suspension delighted drivers -- it earned high marks for handling and performance.
1982 Ford Mustang GT Performance
Most every '82 Mustang GT delivered for magazine road tests had the TRX suspension --a sensible PR ploy, even if the tires didn't like dragstrip work. "The Michelins provide superb cornering grip," said AutoWeek's Levy, "but they're poorly matched against the Mustang's torque. Delightful. Full-throttle acceleration is a rush job, quick and satisfying…. Braking is just as sure. A fine match. Try a turn. Brake, commit, now steer with the throttle. That's right, steer with the throttle. It works. The TRX suspension guys have been vindicated.
"Unlike the testy 2.3 turbo or weak-kneed 4.2 V-8," Levy continued, "the 302 has more than enough guts to take full advantage of the suspension, and the suspension responds in kind, sticking to its Twilight Zone limits, then breaking away smoothly and progressively."
The '82 GT hatchback announced Ford's sudden but welcome return to hot street cars.
Buttoned-Up, Suddenly Young
McCraw reported that a GT piloted by vehicle development engineer Dan Rivard set a new course record at Ford's Dearborn track despite a still nose-heavy weight distribution of 58/42 percent front/rear.
McCraw himself then took to a tight, twisty low-speed section replicating the world's worst pavement. "We simply gave up after four bone-jarring laps; [the car] didn't generate enough thump and shudder to complain about. After three years of experience with the Mustang, the engineers have managed to dial out all but a few noises and harshness sources. This GT is one buttoned-up automobile."
Both reviewers came away raving about the '82 GT. McCraw termed it "the best-balanced, most capable Mustang ever done." Said Levy: "It's as if the car's entire personality is derived from the pulse underhood. The engine makes everything all right. Suddenly the Mustang is young again."
This good-looking L notchback was the most affordable '82 Mustang, starting at $6345 as a four-cylinder, $7062 as a six.
1982 Mustang GT versus Chevy Camaro Z28
Several months later, Road & Track drove a GT against a pair of redesigned 1983 Chevy Camaro Z28s -- and was reminded of 1970: "For today we once again have a super-stylish new Camaro, featuring a newly refined chassis…pitted against a now somewhat dated Mustang with a chassis that's hard-put to handle its engine's generous torque. A Camaro that offers…moderate power with a manual transmission and somewhat better power only with an automatic. A Mustang that specializes in good old-fashioned straight-line performance against a Camaro that revels in curves."
Though these editors ultimately picked the new over the familiar by a small margin, they admitted others might disagree. "Chevrolet has not revolutionized the Camaro, but merely updated it," R&T concluded. "If brute performance is a top priority, then the Mustang GT 5.0 gets the nod."
Lusty H.O. aside, there was little excitement in Mustang '82. Model nomenclature was revised, with L, GL, and GLX hatchbacks and notchbacks arrayed below the GT in ascending order of price and luxury. Prices ascended greatly, ranging from the L coupe at $6345 to the GLX hatchback at $7101. And that was with four-cylinder power. The 200-cubic-inch six added $213; the 4.2-liter V-8 cost $263.
Mustang offered a slightly broader '82 lineup with new L, GL, and GLX titles for notchbacks and hatchbacks, plus hatchback-only V-8 GT. GLX trim and features basically duplicated those of the former Ghias.
At least the extra dough included a few new standard items: a larger gas tank (up from 12.5 to 15.4 gallons), wider wheels (now 14-inchers), steel-belt radial tires, and remote-control driver's door mirror. After compiling a poor reliability record, the turbo-four was withdrawn, though it would soon return. Remaining powerteams were reruns except for the 4.2-liter V-8, where the "mandatory option" automatic transmission got a fuel-saving lockup torque converter effective in all three forward gears, a device we'd see more of in the future.
The market slump that began in 1979 bottomed out in '82, when Mustang sales plunged by about a third to 130,418 units. Helped by an early sendoff that spring, Chevy sold some 179,000 of its new third-generation Camaros; Pontiac retailed 116,000 of the sister Firebirds. They cost more too, but at least they were visibly new.
One bright spot for Ford was that model-year V-8 Mustang sales soared no less than five-fold over '81. To learn whether Ford was able to keep up that success for the 1983 model year, keep reading.
1983 Ford Mustang Reviews
Though General Motors' new entries for 1983 were formidable competition, they did not cripple Mustang's appeal. To be sure, later "buff book" comparison tests echoed Road & Track's initial verdict, lauding the GMers for superior handling and more modern styling but usually picking Mustang as the more practical choice for day-to-day use. And where V-8s were concerned, the 'Stang was the clear performance choice.
In a showdown of 1983 models, Car and Driver reported 0-60-mph times of 8.1 seconds for the GT against 8.6 for a fuel-injected V-8 Camaro with automatic transmission, and a comparatively sluggish 10.6 seconds for a carbureted V-8 Trans Am with four-speed. Writing for the magazine's August 1982 issue, technical editor Don Sherman declared that "...in terms of sheer visceral appeal, [the Mustang] is right up there with the Porsche ."
The '83 Mustang GT received some mixed reviews from the experts, with concerns about steering in particular.
Consumer Guide® Weighs In
Not all was bliss, however. In testing the GT's sister ship, the RS version of the Mercury Capri (the domestic Mustang twin replacing the European Capri for '79), Consumer Guide® editors judged the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering irritatingly vague, overly light, and lacking in feel.
Wet-weather traction suffered from the V-8's ample torque of 240 pound-feet, peaking at a low 2400 rpm. The editors weren't able to evaluate handling fully because the test car arrived during one of the coldest weeks at their Chicago home base, and conditions were far from ideal. Even so, they found it easy to light the back tires in brisk takeoffs, accompanied at times by rear-end jitter through bumpy corners.
Sherman had similar complaints: "In left-hand sweepers, the gas pedal acts as a power-oversteer switch....That smooth two-step unfortunately turns into a jitterbug in right-hand bends, where power hop conspires to make life difficult."
The interior of the '83 Mustang was roomier and more comfortable than the competition's, and testers preferred Mustang's manual gearbox to the Camaro/Firebird's linkage.
But Dearborn's pony cars still had much to recommend them. Their interior was not only roomier but was more comfortable than that of the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. All were hatchbacks, but Ford somehow managed to provide a good deal more usable luggage space than GM. Most testers also preferred Mustang's manual gearbox for its lighter shift action vs. the truck-like Camaro/Firebird linkage.
There was division over the driving position, some preferring the snug, low-slung stance of the GM cars to the more upright "vintage" openness of the Ford products. Yet most agreed the Mustang/Capri was a far better compromise for the daily grind, where the manual-shift Camaro/Firebird could be tiring.
Many changes to the '83 GT addressed road-testing criticisms from auto reviewers. Keep reading to learn how Ford fine-tuned the '83 Mustang GT.
The 1983 Ford Mustang GT
Ford folks must have been stung by road-test carping, because the 1983 Ford Mustang GT received a number of changes that made it more competitive with the 1983 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird in the renewed pony car performance wars.
They began with wider-section tires, including newly optional 220/55R390 Michelin TRX covers, plus a slightly larger rear antiroll bar, softer rear spring rates, stiffer bushings for the front control arms, and revised shock valving. Higher-effort power steering was also included for better high-speed control.
Recalling Mach 1 days, the '83GT wore broad patches of black on its slicker new hose, as well as on the hood and lower bodysides.
Speaking of speed, the 302-cubic-inch H.O. V-8 went to 175 horsepower via a deeper-breathing four-barrel carb, plus minor valvetrain and exhaust system tweaks. Just as welcome, the engine now mated exclusively with a new Borg-Warner T-5 close-ratio five-speed gearbox, the same one available in Camaro and Firebird. This answered complaints about poor gear spacing on the wide-ratio four-speed it replaced. All this plus a shorter final drive (3.27 versus 3.01:1) made for stronger takeoffs.
Elsewhere for '83, the never-impressive 4.2 V-8 was dropped, and the 200-ciubic-inch straight-six was replaced as the step-up power option by the new lightweight "Essex" V-6 introduced the previous year in several other Ford model lines. A 3.8-liter (232-cid) overhead-valve design with two-barrel carburetor, the Essex arrived with a claimed 105 horsepower (versus 88 for the old straight six) and 181 pound-feet of torque (against 158).
The H.O. V-8 added 18 horses for 1983 via internal tweaks and a deeper-breathing four-barrel carb instead of a 2V. A new close-ratio five-speed transmission further improved performance.
The 2.3-liter four, still standard for all models except the GT, exchanged a two-barrel carb for a more efficient one-barrel unit and adopted long-reach spark plugs for quicker combustion, a move aimed at reducing emissions while improving warmup and part-throttle engine response. Curiously, these changes boosted reported output by five horsepower, to 93, but the rating would fall back to 88 the following year.
Newly standard for all manual-shift '83 Mustangs was a Volkswagen-style upshift indicator light. Reflecting the fuel jitters of 1979-80, this economy aid signaled drivers when to shift to the next higher gear, based on the fact that an engine is usually most economical when running at relatively low revs on wide throttle openings. It was useful, if hardly in the free-spirited Mustang tradition.
The Mustang lineup received a facelift for '83, with styling changes to improve both looks and aerodynamics.
1983 Ford Mustang Styling and Convertible
Nineteen eighty-three brought the first facelift for the new breed of 1982-1986 Ford Mustangs. The most obvious change was a rounded nose bearing a narrower, sloped horizontal-bar grille, good for a claimed 2.5-percent reduction in aerodynamic drag.
The '83s boasted a smart new "aero" face and many detail improvements. That year's two-tone paint option was revised, as shown on this notchback.
The running-horse hood emblem gave way to a blue Ford oval in the grille (another graced rear decks), and taillights were revised to wrap around from the sides and hug the central license-plate "shadow box." GTs sported a wide swathe of matte-black paint on the grille and the hood's modest central bulge.
Other '83 alterations included revised seat and door trim, a canceled standard roller-blind cargo cover for hatchbacks, more-legible gauge graphics, and less interior brightwork.
The base handling suspension was canceled, while the TRX suspension was divorced from its Michelin tires to make two options respectively priced at $252 and $327-$551. The pricey Recaro seats hadn't been popular, so Ford substituted more-affordable low-back front buckets with cloth seating surfaces and mesh-insert headrests ($29-$57). Leather upholstery (with the low-back buckets) was still available at just over $400.
Reflecting its new emphasis on aerodynamics, Ford deleted the hatchback's optional liftgate louvers and rear wiper/washer.
Sun-lovers cheered the first Mustang convertible in 10 years on its early-1982 debut as an '83 model. The reborn regtop was first sold only in luxury GLX trim, as shown, but a V-8 GT soon followed.
The 1983 Ford Mustang Convertible
The notchback Carriage Roof option was also missing, but it wasn't missed because the real Mustang convertible was back after 10 long years. Since the early Seventies, a number of small aftermarket converters had been doing good business by snipping the tops from Mustang notchbacks (and other cars) to satisfy a small but steady demand for top-down motoring. Ford wanted a piece of this action for itself.
Unlike the Buick Riviera and Chrysler LeBaron ragtops announced at about the same time, the Mustang was engineered in-house and mostly built at the factory. Only top installation was farmed out, Ford tapping Cars & Concepts of Brighton, Michigan, which more or less built those other two convertibles.
This '83 GT V-8 convertible followed the GLX luxury version. First-year sales way outstripped Ford's estimates
"We decided that we wouldn't let the vendors do our job," Edsel Ford II told Car and Driver. "We would make sure that when someone buys a Mustang convertible, it lives up to our standards of quality."
A small area of the big Dearborn plant was set aside for turning notchbacks into convertibles. As C/D's Michael Jordan related, this involved removing the roof; reinforcing the windshield pillars and cowl/dashboard area; substituting stiffer rear-quarter panels; and adding side members (just above the rockers), a thicker taillight panel, and a stiffening crossmember between the rear wheel arches.
Like the Riviera ragtop but unlike the LeBaron, the Mustang convertible featured roll-down rear quarter windows and a tempered-glass rear window, plus standard power top operation. Any drivetrain was available save the four-cylinder/automatic combination, and any trim level at first so long as it was top-line GLX.
Despite a slightly intimidating $12,467 base price, sun-loving Mustangers happily snapped up 23,438 of the new '83 ragtops. Again, Ford had underestimated itself, having predicted only about 7000 sales for a long model year starting in mid-'82. A GT convertible was inevitable, and it bowed as a midseason '83 priced at $13,479.
The 1983 Mustang Turbo GT was a midyear addition that came in hatchback and convertible form.
The 1983 Ford Mustang Turbo GT
Accompanying the reborn 1983 Ford Mustang convertible to showrooms as a midyear addition was the 1983 Ford Mustang Turbo GT.
The Turbo GT came in hatchback and convertible form and with a reengineered version of the turbocharged "Lima" 2.3-liter four-cylinder developed for the slick new 1983 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.
Ford revived a "blown" Mustang in mid-'83, but the mechanically improved four-cylinder Turbo GT was a poor seller, being slower and costlier than the similar V-8 GTs.
The principal changes here involved junking the carburetor for Bosch port electronic fuel injection and positioning the turbocharger upstream of the induction system so as to "blow through" it rather than "draw down" from it. Also new was Ford's latest EEC-IV electronic engine control system, which governed injector timing, idle speed, wastegate operation, supplementary fuel enrichment, engine idle, and emissions control.
Other upgrades included forged-aluminum pistons, valves made of a special temperature-resistant alloy, lighter flywheel, die-cast aluminum rocker cover, and an engine-mounted oil cooler. Per usual turbo practice, compression was lowered from 9.0:1 to 8.0:1, and premium unleaded fuel was recommended for best performance. The result: 145 horsepower at 4600 rpm -- only 5 horsepower more than the previous version, but better than the magic "1 horsepower per cubic inch" ideal for this 140-cube mill. Torque was 180 lb-ft peaking at a relatively low 3600 rpm.
Aside from different nameplates, Turbo GTs were visual twins to the V-8 versions. All came with black exterior moldings, beefy Eagle GT performance radials, aluminum wheels, sport bucket seats, and five-speed manual gearbox. Suspension was tuned to match engine weight and power characteristics.
Despite its small size, the turbo-four packed the same horsepower advertised for the base 1983 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 V-8. With that, the revived Turbo Mustang could run 0-60 mph in well under 10 seconds and the standing quarter-mile in about 16 seconds, and return 25 mpg overall. But the T-Bird Turbo Coupe could match all those numbers, and the fortified 5.0-liter Mustang now flew to 60 in near six seconds flat.
The '83 Turbo GT didn't capture sales, probably because of its price. Turbos were $250 more than comparable V-8 GTs, yet the V-8s were faster.
Tough to Drive, and to Sell
Although it seemed to offer the best of both worlds, the improved Mustang Turbo GT laid a sales egg. The lack of available automatic transmission and air conditioning probably cost more than a few sales, but the real problem was price. The Turbos started some $250 above comparably equipped V-8 GTs, yet they were slower. Also, their peaky engine was relatively weak on low-rpm torque, so it had to be caned most all the time.
The V-8, by contrast, was a traditional, relatively lazy American engine with muscular low-end thrust, and it just loafed along easily at highway speeds. Ford said a late introduction and slow production ramp-up limited Turbo GT sales, and only 483 of the '83s were built. But the real damper is best expressed by that time-worn Detroit adage: There's no substitute for cubic inches. Not even high technology.
Ford's Special Vehicle Operations unit unveiled the Mustang SVO in 1984, which was basically a Turbo GT hatchback with racing-inspired modifications. To learn all the details about the Mustang SVO, keep reading.
The 1984 Ford Mustang SVO
The 1984 Ford Mustang Turbo GT suffered poor sales and was cast as a performance underachiever, but that didn't turn Ford away from the turbo faith. Witness the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO.
Fearing a deepening of the energy crisis (which didn't materialize), Ford massaged its 2.3-liter turbo-four even more for '84. The result was a very different performance pony, the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO.
The 1984 Ford Mustang SVO was a modified Turbo GT hatchback, fine-tuned with an eye for racing.
Engineered by Ford's recently formed Special Vehicle Operations unit (hence the name), this was basically a Turbo GT hatchback with enough modifications to satisfy the most confirmed devotees of European machinery.
Notable was the first air-to-air intercooler in American production. This chilled the pressurized air for a denser, more powerful charge. A world first was electronic control to vary boost pressure, which could reach 14 pounds per square inch, said to be the highest of any production turbo engine to that point. There was even a cockpit switch for "tuning" the engine electronics to allow running on regular or premium-grade fuel.
With these and other racing-inspired ideas, maximum horsepower jumped by a claimed 20percent to 175 at 4500 rpm versus the 1983 Mustang Turbo GT. Torque increased some 10percent to 210 pound-feet at 3000 rpm. Putting it to the ground was a five-speed manual gearbox with special Hurst linkage driving to a Traction-Lok limited-slip differential with 3.45:1 final drive.
The SVO program had three tasks: to develop and manage various motorsports programs, to expand Ford's racing and high-performance parts business, and to develop hot limited-edition street cars.
SVO chassis revisions were no less thorough. The 9.0-inch rear drum brakes of other Mustangs were swapped for beefy 11.25-inch-diameter discs, and the front discs swelled from 10.06 to 10.92 inches across. New "aero-style" cast-aluminum wheels measuring 16 3 7 inches wore V-rated European Goodyear NCT radials, later exchanged for P225/50VR16 Goodyear Eagle GT50s with unidirectional "gatorback" tread (as on the '84 Corvette).
Spring rates and bushings were stiffened, premium Koni adjustable shocks replaced the stock dampers, the front antiroll bar was thickened (from 0.94 to 1.20 inches), and a rear bar was added along with an extra inch of front wheel travel. The stock rack-and-pinion power steering went from variable-ratio to fast constant-ratio gearing but retained high-effort valving to optimize road feel.
Last but not least was "Quadra-Shock," a nifty idea borrowed from the T-Bird Turbo Coupe (and easily adapted from that Fox-based relative). The name referred to an extra pair of shock absorbers sitting almost horizontally astride the differential between the axle and the body structure. The idea was to minimize jittery axle "tramp" in hard acceleration, and it worked. Intriguingly, Quadra-Shock had been sort of promised for the V-8 GT back in '82 but was delayed for various reasons that are still not entirely clear.
Unfortunately for Ford, the overpriced Mustang SVO was doomed to be a sales failure. Keep on reading and find out what went wrong for the SVO.
Driving the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO
One thing was clear: The Ford Mustang SVO was definitely not your father's pony car. Setting it apart were a distinctive "biplane" rear spoiler made of polycarbonate plastic, a specific grille-less nose (engine air entered from below the bumper and through a small slot above).
A large hood air scoop fed the intercooler, and dual square headlamps replaced the normal Mustang's smaller quads. A deep front air dam incorporated standard foglamps, and small fairings at the leading edges of the rear wheel openings helped smooth airflow around the fat tires.
The SVO was a driver's car, drawing rave reviews from enthusiasts and experts.
Inside, the SVO boasted such driver-oriented accoutrements as a left "dead pedal" footrest, relocated brake and accelerator pedals for easier heel-and-toe shifting, an 8000-rpm tachometer, turbo-boost gauge, and multi-adjustable seats like those in the T-Bird Turbo Coupe. Also included were electric rear-window defroster, tinted glass, AM/FM stereo radio with speaker/amplifier system, leather-rim tilt steering wheel, and the familiar Mustang console with graphic warning display. Only six major options were listed: air, power windows, cassette player, flip-up glass sunroof, and leather upholstery.
The SVO was an enthusiast's dream come true. Handling was near-neutral, cornering flat and undramatic, steering direct and properly weighted, braking swift and sure. Performance? Exhilarating for the day, with 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, the quarter-mile in just under 16 seconds at around 90 mph, and top speed near 135 mph.
The SVO's interior featured the familiar Mustang console, along with adjustable seats, tinted glass, and a leather-rim tilt steering wheel.
Road & Track, long an advocate of Euro-style American cars, was ecstatic. "Given the existing Mustang platform, the Ford SVO team could hardly have done a better job of improving [it] to world-class GT standards. Almost all of the things that R&T has stressed as important in a well balanced, universally drivable GT coupe have been incorporated [with] few serious compromises…. [The SVO is] suitable for sustained fast driving on any [road] you're likely to find…giving comfort and assurance all the while…. This may be the best all-around car for the enthusiast driver ever produced by the U.S. industry; we hope it's just the start of a new era."
But R&T was doomed to disappointment. So was Ford. In the end, the SVO it was just another sophisticated screamer that "buff books" liked and buyers didn't. And at over $16,000 out the door, it looked way too expensive next to the V-8 GT, which delivered similar style and sizzle for a whopping $6000-$7000 less. Ford thus retailed fewer than 4000 SVOs for model-year '84, though it had the capacity to build some four times that number.
In the end, the SVO was a sales disappointment. Ford retailed fewer than 4000 SVOs for model-year 1984.
Together, the V-8 and SVO killed off the Turbo GT after fewer than 3000 hatchbacks and about 600 convertibles were built for 1983-84. All early-'84 GTs, both V-8 and Turbo, were virtual '83 reruns except for a split rear seatback, also newly standard for most lesser hatchbacks, and substitution of solid front head restraints for the previous open type.
December 1983 brought several welcome changes, including Quadra-Shock rear suspension, a revised front spoiler, and closer SVO-style throttle and brake-pedal spacing to assist heel-and-toe artists. Keep reading to learn about the rest of the offerings in Ford's 1984 Mustang lineup.
The 1984 Ford Mustang Lineup
With the 1984 Ford Mustang GT and Mustang SVO performance models grabbing the headlines, the news was thin for other members of the 1984 Ford Mustang family.
The entry-level L notchback got a hatchback sister, while GL and GLX models were replaced by LX versions with roughly the same features, plus a newly standard V-6 for the convertible. Interiors were spruced up with a new steering wheel and dashboard facing. Dash lighting switched from green to racy red.
Mustang marked 20 years with a modest trim option for the 1984 V-8 GT convertible (here shown with a classic '64) and hatchback.
There was also a second, tamer 302 V-8 for '84, with throttle-body electronic fuel injection (TBI) and 10 fewer horses than the carbureted H.O. (165 total). This was reserved for non-GTs with automatic, which now came in two forms as well: the familiar three-speeder and Ford's corporate four-speed unit, whose overdrive top gear allowed use of a shorter (numerically higher) final-drive ratio (3.27:1 versus 2.73:1) with no ill effects on mileage.
TBI was also applied to the Essex V-6, bringing it up to 120 horsepower and 205 pound-feet; here, three-speed SelectShift was now your only transmission choice. In line with a widening industry trend, all manual-shift Mustangs received a starter interlock that prevented accidental lurching should you forget to depress the clutch pedal before cranking the starter.
By this time, gasoline was not only plentiful again but was even becoming cheaper in some places. Not surprisingly, many folks just had to have a good old-fashioned V-8. This illustrates a peculiar irony of the 1980s: the renewed popularity of relatively large-displacement engines at a time when automakers were discouraged from selling them by government regulations now out of synch with market forces and a worldwide oil glut.
It was all too bad, for the Turbo GT and SVO were honest attempts at reconciling performance with economy, a worthy goal. A shame most buyers didn't care.
The 1984 Ford Mustang GT-350
The 1984 Mustang line stretched beyond the GT and SVO performance models to the L and LX lines.
Mustang reached the ripe old age of 20 in 1984. To mark the occasion, Ford dusted off the GT-350 name from Shelby days for a limited-edition model. It amounted to a trim option for the V-8 GT convertible and hatchback consisting of Oxford White paint, Canyon Red rocker-panel stripes, and matching red interior with "articulated" front seats.
At least it didn't cost much: $25-$144 depending on body style and other options. Ford ads promised no more than 5000 copies, but one source says the final tally was 5260. No matter. For such a milestone birthday, this special was no big deal, except for Dearborn lawyers.
Carroll Shelby claimed that he owned "GT-350" and had been promised that Ford wouldn't use the name without his okay. Carroll, now working again with his old friend Lee Iacocca at Chrysler, may have been thinking of it for one of the hot Dodges he was building at a small-scale facility in California. In any case, he was miffed enough to hit Ford with a copyright infringement suit. Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to be sentimental.
Mustang sales were a pretty good barometer of the mid-Eighties new-car market and national economy. Demand hit bottom for model-year 1983 at 120,873 units, then strengthened to 141,480, followed by 156,514. By contrast, sales of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, initially higher than Mustang's, began trending down and by 1987 would trail those of Ford's veteran pony car.
Which was quite remarkable considering that Mustang was an older design with a less sophisticated chassis and somewhat lower handling/roadholding limits. Yet these apparent minuses were actually pluses.
Many buyers preferred the Mustang's more traditional road manners and generally superior ride. What's more, earlier amortization of tooling costs allowed Ford to keep prices somewhat lower than GM could, even though the end of a decade-long inflationary spiral was helping both companies in that regard. But Ford also seemed to build its cars better each year -- GM didn't -- and kept improving them, too.
Ford continued to enhance the Mustang line's performance while keeping that characteristic pony car charisma that no other car could match. Keep reading to learn about the wide appeal of 1985 Ford Mustangs.
The 1985 Ford Mustang
Sailing into the final seasons of its 1982-1986 design generation, the 1985 Ford Mustang could lay claim to being many things to many people and an uncommonly good sporty-car value for all of them.
The '85 price range ran from just $6885 for the LX notchback to $13,585 for the top-line GT convertible and $14,521 for the slow-selling SVO. Though much costlier in raw dollars, those figures were mighty competitive for the time, especially once a stronger yen began boosting prices of four-cylinder Japanese models that couldn't match the V-8 Mustang for performance or charisma.
Mustang got another nose job for 1985, this time with a simple one-slot grille above an integrated bumper/spoiler. Interiors were also freshened, gaining a new steering wheel and trim materials.
Both those qualities were enhanced for 1985. Low-friction roller tappets and a new high-performance camshaft lifted the carbureted H.O. V-8 to 210 horsepower, an impressive 35-horsepower increase. Similar changes brought the fuel-injected 302-cubic-inch V-8 (still restricted to automatic transmission) to 180 horsepower. As before, the H.O. was available only with five-speed manual, which came in for revised intermediate-gear ratios and a more precise linkage.
Also improving the GT were beefier P225/60VR15 "Gatorback" tires on seven-inch-wide cast-aluminum wheels, both lifted from the SVO, plus variable-rate springs, gas-pressurized front shock absorbers, higher-rate rear shocks, and a thicker rear antiroll bar. A three-spoke SVO-style steering wheel freshened the interior (a running change from mid-'84), as did revised dashboard and door-panel trim and comfortable new multi-adjustable bucket seats by Lear Siegler.
In 1985, fuel injection returned for V-8s with automatic transmission, but internal changes boosted horsepower by 15 to 180.
Elsewhere, the cheap L models were canceled and remaining Mustangs got an SVO-style nose cap with integral air dam and a simple air slot above the bumper.
The SVO itself returned at midyear with flush-mount "composite" headlights, newly allowed by the government, plus 30 more horsepower from a hotter cam and exhaust system, larger fuel injectors, and a revised turbocharger with higher boost pressure.
The 1985 SVO made a midseason debut with 205 bhp, up 30, thanks to a hotter cam, new exhaust system, higher-boost turbo, and other "hot-rodding tricks."
This basic 205-horsepower engine was also used for a short-lived revival of the Turbo GT, which vanished again after miniscule sales. Its vastly more popular V-8 brother kept trading points with the 1985 Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird in magazine showdown tests. In all, Mustang attracted about 15,000 additional buyers for the model year.
For the '86 model year, Ford made few changes to the lineup, and still Mustang saw decade-high sales of nearly a quarter-million cars. Keep reading to learn how, at the tail end of this design generation, the Mustang was still making drivers happy.
The 1986 Ford Mustang
The 1986 Ford Mustang achieved a decade-high sales total of 224,410 for the model year, despite few changes to the car or its lineup. That was testament to the idea that Mustang delivered what it's public wanted, and was building a loyal customer base at the same time.
The main alteration for 1986 was adoption of more precise sequential port fuel injection for the lone 302 V-8. It was rated at 200 horsepower and offered with either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
Despite few changes for '86, Mustang notched decade-high model-year sales of nearly a quarter-million units. As before, small "5.0" front-fender badges signaled V-8 horsepower, as in this tame-looking LX notchback.
The rear axle was beefed up to handle peak torque that now stood at 285 pound-feet. Both the V-8 and Mustang's V-6 offered smoother running via viscous (fluid-filled) engine mounts, an upgrade taken from the 1985 Ford Mustang SVO. Buyers this year also enjoyed a longer anti-corrosion warranty, extra sound-deadening material, and a more convenient single-key locking system.
The '86s got the inevitable yearly price hikes, though they were fairly modest all things considered. The notchback LX went up to $7295, the GT convertible to $14,220. The SVO was still around -- and costlier than ever at $15,272 -- but its days were numbered. With demand still far below even Ford's modest projections, it was just too unprofitable to keep around, and it would not return for '87. Respective model year production for 1984-86 was 4508, 1954, and 3382 -- just 9844 in all.
Mustang went to a single V-8 for '86, a new 200-bhp H.O. with electronic port fuel injection that split the power difference between the previous carbureted and throttle-body-injected versions.
If nothing else, the SVO highlighted the adaptability and staying power of the "New Breed" Mustang. But by the seventh year of the Fox generation, some observers felt a replacement was past due.
To be sure, Ford had done an admirable job keeping the Mustang interesting and competitive. Indeed, no less a power than Ford Motor Company president Don Petersen favored "continuous improvement," the strategy that was then helping Japanese automakers make serious inroads into the U.S. car market.
Answering a request from the California Highway Patrol, Ford devised a high-speed Mustang pursuit package in 1983. Within three years, thousands of such cars were catching speeders in 14 other states. This one served in Florida.
But though many journalists were amazed by how good the old Mustang still was, they couldn't help wonder when a new one would appear. Noting how "German" the GT had become for 1985, Car and Driver's Pat Bedard wrote, "You don't expect such refinement this late in the model cycle…. But the Germans keep after their stock, always improving, and the German influence in Ford is being felt. It's a good thing, too, because the Mustang is going to get older still before it's replaced, probably in 1988. But if it keeps aging this gracefully, who cares?"
Bedard was both right and wrong. Though a new Mustang was being groomed for '88, the no-longer-new New Breed still had a long road to travel.