Friday, January 16, 2009

1994-1998 Ford Mustang

by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

The 1994 Ford Mustang was a mostly new car that rode in on a tidal wave of anticipation and nostalgia. Ads pictured it with a classic '65 to declare, "It is what it was." Actually, it almost wasn't.

The uproar when Ford considered replacing the classic Mustang design with the front-wheel-drive Mazda-based Probe had shown that Mustang fans would never accept a Japanese-style substitute for their car.

The 1994 Ford Mustang almost lost its classic pony car design to one based
on the front-wheel-drive Mazda-based Probe. Uproar from Mustang fans changed Ford's mind, and ther result was the pleasing new shape shown here.

But with demand for "real" pony cars lagging again by the late 1980s, some in Dearborn began to question the need for another new Mustang. Besides, Ford had more profitable product fish to fry (the Explorer sport-utility for one), and the old Mustangs were still selling pretty well, so why rush?

With that, planning floundered for a good two years. Then Ford learned that General Motors was abandoning a planned front-drive Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird for a new rear-drive 1993 concept. Corporate pride demanded a proper reply, so a new Mustang program was underway by early 1989.

Code named SN95, this effort began with a round of consumer clinics per Dearborn tradition, what PR flacks later called "gallop polls." This time, however, unusual weight was given to the views of Mustang owners. Topping the wish lists were modern styling with hints of the original, a cheap and easily serviced V-8, rear-wheel drive, a low base price, and plenty of options: In short, a brand-new good old Mustang.

Because Ford had become a leaner organization, and with the "team concept" now gospel throughout Detroit, SN95 developed quite differently from earlier Mustangs.

The big departure was the formation of a fairly small, independent multi-profession project group. Key figures included overall manager Mike Zevalkink, business manager John Coletti, designer manager Bud Magaldi, interior designer Emeline King, engineering manager Kurt Achenbach, and powertrain manager John Bicanich. All reported to Will Boddie, then director for small and midsize cars.

Considering the legend entrusted to them, the SN95 team worked on a surprisingly modest budget: $700 million in all, with a mere $200 million earmarked for design and engineering. By contrast, Ford spent an industry-record $3 billion on the trend-setting 1986 Taurus.

Design work for the '94 Mustang was underway by early 1989. Consumer clinics showed strong preference for modern lines blended with traditional Mustang signatures. Early concepts varied from mild to wild (as in this sketch) .

The limited funds ruled out a new platform, even though Mustang was now the sole survivor of the original Fox family and Ford had newer foundations available. (Rumors briefly swirled about a cut-down version of the '89 MN12 Thunderbird.) The timing was also stingy: just 36 months.

It came down to three very different Mustang mockups for the final '94 style, nicknamed "Bruce Jenner," "Rambo," and the winning mockup, "Arnold Schwarzenegger." Keep reading to learn how the '94 Mustang got its good looks.

1994 Ford Mustang Prototypes

For the design team working on the 1994 Ford Mustang, funding was limited and time was tight. Recalling earlier Mustangs, initial SN95 styling concepts did not "clinic" well, being "too smooth, too clean and friendly, too nice," according to project design manager Bud Magaldi.

After much further work, the choice came down to three proposals presented for executive review in the autumn of 1990. All carried the desired "retro" signatures: a running steed in the grille, simulated side scoops ahead of the rear wheels, triple-element taillamps, and, of course, long-hood/short-deck proportions.

SN95 styling came down to three full-size fiberglass mockups examined in fall 1990 by Ford sales, marketing, product development, and management. The "Bruce Jenner" (shown here) was rejected as too tame.

They also shared a new shape: muscular, slightly wedgy, but also "aero" slick in Ford's now-established idiom. The differences were mainly of degree.

The tamest was the "Bruce Jenner," described as a "trim, athletic" design that nevertheless scored low as looking too "soft." At the other extreme was "Rambo," an aggressive, exaggerated interpretation that struck most people as looking too mean. This left the in-between "Arnold Schwarzenegger" to win the day. Only minor changes were made before production.

The aggressive "Rambo" was another of the three full-size fiberglass mockups evaluated in fall 1990, but it too was ultimately rejected.

Like the '79 Mustang, SN95 finalists were modeled as notchback coupes. While a new convertible was never in doubt, engineers and marketers decided against producing a new hatchback body style, despite its past sales importance. Ford's stated reason was the greater difficulty of achieving acceptable rigidity in a structure with such a large opening at the rear, but the decision more likely reflected the fact that Americans no longer cared much for hatchbacks.

Regardless, the coupe ended up with a conventional trunklid and a compromise slantback roof profile faintly reminiscent of the 1965-66 semi-fastback 2+2.

The middle-of-the-road "Arnold Schwarzenegger" mockup ran about even with the aggressive "Rambo" in consumer clinics, but the Arnold was OKed for production with relatively few changes.

Interior designers also strove for a "classic Mustang" feel while incorporating 30 years of government safety mandates, including new requirements for dual airbags and anti-intrusion door beams. The result was a traditional Mustang cockpit with a heavily sculpted new "twin-cowl" instrument panel flowing smoothly into the doors, a faint homage to early models.

While the '94 Mustang styling was taking shape, engineers were faced with the job of developing the rest of the car and making it fit within the new exterior. Keep reading to learn how they accomplished their task.

The 1994 Ford Mustang Chassis

While stylists were working out the sheet metal shapes that would become the 1994 Ford Mustang, engineers were busying developing the rest of the car around a heavily revamped chassis and body structure.

Engineers worked to increase structural strength without adding weight, and they largely succeeded. Against the previous notchback, the SN95 coupe was some 56 percent stiffer in bending (resistance to flex in the horizontal plane) and 44 percent in torsion (lateral plane). Respective convertible numbers were 76 percent and an amazing 150 percent.

This illustration by artist Dave Kimble showcases '94 Mustang packaging on a GT coupe. Cockpit remained a cozy 2+2 affair.

Despite these impressive improvements, curb weights ended up only some 200 pounds higher than for equivalent '93 models.

The SN95 team naturally relied heavily on the latest computer modeling tools but also common sense, their own considerable experience, and no small measure of trial and error.

This led to numerous under-skin alterations that improved crash performance as well as resistance to squeaks and rattles. For example, coupes replaced open-section roof rails with sturdier closed members, frame rails were beefed up, a hefty inverted-U beam was added to link the B-pillars, and there were reinforcements in a dozen other places.

Convertibles added a transverse beam between the rear wheelhouses and a stout underbody X-brace to reduce twist and shake. For the same reason, GTs got diagonal bracing between the firewall and front strut towers.

With all this, the venerable Fox platform was changed so much that Ford renamed it "Fox-4," the number denoting 1994, the targeted model year.

"This is not a carryover platform," project director Will Boddie declared, noting that of 1850 total parts, 1330 were redesigned or significantly modified. To convince skeptical journalists, Ford built full-size cutaway models with new components painted various colors to contrast with white carryover parts.

While Ford highlighted the many changes to the '94 model, steering and suspension were practically unchanged from 1979. To read about the '94 models' suspension and engines,

The 1994 Ford Mustang Suspension and Engines

For the 1994 Ford Mustang, steering and suspension were left basically as they'd been since 1979, Quadra-Shock rear end included, but the stiffened structure allowed slightly softer springs and shock absorbers for enhanced ride comfort.

A repositioned front crossmember and longer lower control arms improved geometry and increased wheelbase by 0.75-inch to 100.3.

For better directional stability, front caster was dialed up from 1.5 to 4 degrees, and tracks were widened at each end -- by a whopping 3.7 inches in front on base models, 1.9 inches on GTs. To save weight, antiroll bars went from solid to tubular, with larger front/rear diameters for 27/21mm for base models and 30/24mm for GTs.

Mustang's long-serving platform changed so much for '94 that Ford renamed it "Fox-4." Four-wheel disc brakes were now standard across the board.

Other exterior dimensions went up a bit, the SN95's measuring 181.5 inches long, 71.8inches wide, and 52.9 inches high. Helped by a "faster" 60-degree windshield, the new styling was measurably more "aero," with stated drag coefficients of 0.34 for base models, 0.36 for GTs -- small but useful gains.

Larger rolling stock was a growing industry trend, and the new Mustangs got their share. Base models, no longer called LX, came on 6.5 3 15-inch steel rims with 205/65Eagle GA touring tires and offered three-spoke 7.5-inch-wide alloys at extra cost. GTs were treated to standard 7.5 3 16 five-spoke alloys with high-speed Z-rated P255/55 all-season tires; 8 x 17 five-spoke rims were optional.

Wheelbase and most exterior dimensions changed little with the 1994 redesign, though track was significantly wider. Convertible tops, as on this GT,were power-operated and now folded nearly flat.

Brake upgrades were extensive. All-disc brakes were standard (at last) and quite large with diameters of 10.9 inches for the vented front rotors, 10.5 inches for the solid rears. Also new were a larger brake booster, asbestos-free brake pads, and an optional Bosch antilock brake system (ABS).

1994 Ford Mustang Engines

There was welcome news under the hood of the redesigned 1994 Ford Mustang.

In base model, the anemic four-cylinder engine gave way to a 3.8-liter V-6. This was basically the same overhead-valve engine last offered in '86 Mustangs but with all the interim improvements made for its use in the Taurus and other newer Dearborn models. Horsepower was 145, up 38 percent from the final four-cylinder figure. Torque swelled no less than 59 percent to 215 pound-feet.

The 1994 Mustang GT's 5.0-liter V-8 gained 10 horsepower, to 215. Note the engine-bay bracing that improved structural rigidity.

The GT's venerable 5.0-liter V-8 got a low-profile intake manifold (to clear the lower new hood), plus aluminum pistons and Ford's latest EEC-V electronic engine controller, all of which upped horsepower by 10 to 215. Torque improved to 285 pound-feet, the same output as the 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra.

Both engines teamed with five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic, but the latter was Ford's latest "AOD-E" unit with electronic shift control.

Prices for '94 Mustang models jumped significantly, but critics claimed the cars weren't all that changed from previous years. Keep reading to get the specifics on 1994 Mustang pricing.

1994 Ford Mustang Prices

Overall, the redesigned 1994 Ford Mustang represented the kind of thorough modernization that Ford had already lavished on its family sedans. Still, some critics huffed that after such a long wait, this "all-new" Mustang wasn't really all new. Ford defended the car on two grounds.

First, it pointed to all those new and modified parts. Second, as project overseer Will Boddie pointed out, a ground-up redesign would have forced Ford to raise prices. "When we talked with Mustang owners... they kept saying, 'What can you do to keep it affordable, to give us value?' We listened to them."

Fair enough, but some buyers must have suffered sticker shock anyway.

At $13,365, the base-model 1994 Ford Mustang coupe had a V-6 and started some $2500 higher than its four-cylinder predecessor.

The 1994 Ford Mustang entry-level coupe, for example, jumped from $10,810 to $13,365, though the extra money admittedly bought a larger engine, much better brakes, and the dual airbags, plus a tilt steering wheel and four-way power driver's seat that had cost extra before.

The 1994 Ford Mustang GT coupe started at $17,280 vs. $15,850 for its '93 counterpart, but it boasted all the same upgrades, plus bigger wheels and tires and expected standards like front foglights, rear spoiler, sport seats, and leather-rim steering wheel. The base convertible looked like a fine value at a little-changed $20,160; the GT version stickered at a reasonable $21,970.

All '94 models had a "twin-cowl" dashboard with full gauges and dual airbags.

For the first time since 1973, ragtops were built entirely in-house, right alongside coupes. A power top with glass rear window remained standard, joined by a rear-window defogger. Recalling the 1963 Mustang II show car was an announced Corvette-style liftoff hardtop. Though too bulky for one person, it weighed a manageable 80 pounds and had the same look as the coupe's fixed steel roof. It was a nice idea, but production glitches delayed availability to model-year '95, by which time buyers had apparently lost interest, and the option was canceled after only 499 installations.

Lack of horsepower and of any real innovation in the model year were some of the complaints auto experts had for the '94 Mustang lineup. Keep reading to see what the reviewers had to say.

1994 Ford Mustang Reviews

To its creators' undoubted dismay, the 1994 Ford Mustang garnered mixed reviews. While road-testers lauded the many changes, there was general head-scratching over the GT's 60-horsepower deficit against the latest 275-horsepower Camaro Z28 and Firebird Trans Am.

"The carryover power may challenge the loyalty of some [Mustang] fans," mused Car and Driver, "[though] with substantial improvements in braking and body structure, the Mustang [GT still] offers tremendous performance for the dollar."

The 1994 Ford Mustang garnered mixed reviews. Experts said the car wasn't changed enough, and that it should have more power. The base '94 Mustang convertible is shown here.

Proving the point, C/D's five-speed V-8 coupe ran 0-60 mph in a brisk 6.1 seconds and the standing quarter-mile in 14.9 at 93 mph, not bad for an engine now well past middle age.

The automatic version was no slouch either, Consumer Guide® timing a brisk 7.4 seconds. But as Road & Track pointedly noted: "A 60-horsepower shortfall is a lot of horsepower." Ford shot back that Mustang aimed at those who valued overall finesse, not just straight-ahead thrust. Going toe-to-toe with GM power was not the first priority.

The '94 Ford Mustang GT coupe had a 60-horsepower deficit against the latest 275-horsepower Chevy Camaro Z28 and Pontiac Firebird Trans Am..

So what was? Well, several team members admitted the main mission was to satisfy the 6.1 million folks who'd bought Mustangs since day one. While that implied sizable demand for the new models, it also suggested that sights hadn't been set very high. As Motor Trend observed: "Mustang fans have been deprived of a new platform for so long they would've accepted almost anything with a chrome horse on it."
Of course, they did accept it, and with enthusiasm. And why not? They had helped to design it. And after MT's editors surveyed the field, they choose the 1994 Ford Mustang as "Car of the Year."

"Mustang," they wrote, "is once again a car to be coveted.... Viewed from both an industry and buyer's perspective, we weighed technological advancement, value and performance to determine the one standout car for '94. The Ford Mustang is that car."

Helping mark Mustang's 30th anniversary was an appointment as the 1994 Indy pace car. The red pace convertible is shown here with the 1965 and 1979 Mustang Indy pace cars.

Ford Mustang 30th Anniversary

The MT award was a nice kickoff for Mustang's 30th anniversary year. Ford hosted several big parties on Sunday, April 17, 1994. One was staged in conjunction with the Mustang Club of America at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Among the throng of people and cars on hand was one William Jefferson Clinton. The President of the United States showed up with his rather well-used '67 convertible.

The event also welcomed 200 cars driven from as far away as Sacramento, California, in a six-day "Mustangs Across America" rally. Down L.A. way, the "Fabulous Fords Forever" show, then in its ninth year, was the end point for a cross country "International Mustang Roundup" comprising 16 cars from three European countries.

The celebrating didn't stop there. Recalling 1964, Ford got Mustang selected as Indy 500 pace car. Engine master Jack Roush souped up a trio of new Cobra convertibles for Memorial Day track-wheeling by Ford CEO Alex Trotman and legendary drivers Parnelli Jones and A. J. Foyt. It was the first public outing for the '94 Cobra, though it had started production in February and was always part of SN95 planning.

Again for 1994, the Ford Special Vehicle Team produced the powerful Mustang Cobra, with exclusive speed-oriented features and stylish touches.

The 1994 Ford Mustang Cobra

Like its 1993 predecessor, the 1994 Ford Mustang Cobra was the work of Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT). Exclusive features began with a unique front fascia and rear spoiler, 17-inch five-spoke wheels with gumball P245/45ZR Eagle GS-C tires, another discreet chrome snake on each front fender, and a leather-lined interior with trendy white-faced gauges (including a 160-mph speedometer).

The chassis remained stock Mustang GT but was again made a bit softer for "controlled compliance" handling. Antilock brakes were newly standard for much-enlarged disc brakes: 13 inches in front, clamped by new dual-piston calipers, and 10.5 inches in back.

For the 5.0-liter V-8, SVT applied larger valves, higher-flow exhaust manifolds, extruded-aluminum rocker arms with roller followers, low-drag accessory drive, and lightened flywheel. Yet all this yielded just five more horsepower, 240 in all. Motor-noters heaved more sighs. Even this new Cobra was 35 horses shy of a box-stock Z28.

Starting at over $21,000, the 1994 Ford Mustang Cobra was the most expensive '94 Mustang. But with 240 horseower, it was also the most powerful.

The Cobra narrowed Mustang's performance gap with GM, but not much. Car and Driver clocked a five-speed coupe at 5.9 seconds 0-60 and 14.7 at 96 mph in the standing quarter-mile, both timings a full half-second adrift of a Z28's.

The Cobra "is undoubtedly the most muscular Mustang available," C/D concluded, "and at $21,240 for the coupe and $24,010 for the convertible, the most expensive. At those prices, this package will appeal to Mustang enthusiasts, but we have a hard time imagining that a new breed of customers will be flocking into SVT showrooms [some 750 participating Ford dealers]."

Still Out Front in Sales

If Mustang remained second-best in a drag race, it was still first in the sales race, with a '94 model-year total of 137,074 units, a whopping 17,245 ahead of Camaro.

The '94 Mustang Cobra convertible was limited to 1000 units. All were essentially Indy pace car replicas, complete with race-day decals.

V-6 Mustangs predictably outsold GTs but by lesser margins than in recent years. Among Cobras, Ford ended up building about 1000 more coupes than projected, 5009 in all. Cobra convertibles were deliberately limited to 1000, as planned. All were essentially pace-car replicas done in Rio Red with saddle tops and saddle leather interiors, but without the actual pacers' special over-cockpit hoop/light bar. Race-day decals were naturally included.

Once again, Ford made few changes when putting together the '95 Mustang lineup, but sales were up regardless. Keep reading to learn more about the 1995 Ford Mustang and Mustang Cobra.

The 1995 Ford Mustang and Mustang Cobra

Sales of the 1995 Ford Mustang and Mustang Cobra climbed to a combined 185,986 for the year, despite few changes to the cars. However many observers, including Consumer Guide®, were pleased to note tidier detail workmanship and a more solid overall driving feel.

A confusing footnote was an announced GTS model, a GT with base-level trim and a $1200 lighter sticker, which was yanked before '95 sales began. AutoWeek later reported the GTS would be a midyear addition priced $2000 below the GT, but it never showed up on factory price lists, nor did a rumored GTS package for '96.

But Ford had another way to low-frills high-performance. Remember SVO, Special Vehicle Operations? Well, by 1995 it was the Special Vehicle Organization with a new emphasis on developing over-the-counter speed parts.

The 1995 Ford Mustang offered this base-model convertible starting at $20,795, not bad for a sporty four-seat ragtop with a power-operated soft top as standard equipment.

Various kits allowed Mustangers to go as they paid. "If we had to choose just one," Motor Trend advised, "it would be the 3.55:1-ratio rear-end gearset. The stock GT comes with 2.73:1 gears for optimum fuel economy. The Cobra SVT uses a more performance-themed 3.08:1 set. But if you're willing to pay a fuel-economy penalty and $257…the 3.55:1 gears get the most out of the torquey 5.0-liter V-8 engine."

SVO also offered this in a $2995 "GT40" engine kit that upped horsepower to 290 -- 50more than a stock Cobra, 75 more than a stock GT. Featured were big-valve "GT40" aluminum heads (vs. smaller-valve cast-iron units), a new intake manifold with tubular runners, a larger throttle body, tubular exhaust headers, and low-drag accessory drive. So equipped, Car and Driver's GT coupe ran 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 14.2 at 100 mph.

For those who felt the 1995 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra was underpowred -- and there were many who believed that -- the GT40 engine kit delivered 290 horsepower, 50 more than a base Cobra.

"That puts this garage-built Trojan horse in the speed ballpark with the Z28," said C/D, which noted that "you can pay any Ford dealer the 10-hour flat-rate charge (about $500) to do the installation honors." Still not enough? SVO also listed a factory-approved Powerdyne supercharger with a choice of 6- and 9-psi boost, starting at $2600.

Not to be outdone, SVT whipped up a new Cobra R, this time with a 351 V-8 based on its hot-rod F-150 Lightning pickup engine -- and completely street-legal. Higher compression (9.2:1), a wilder cam, and larger throttle body yielded 300 horsepower and a thumping 365 pound-feet.

Despite that, another stripped interior, and a fiberglass hood (domed for clearance), Car and Driver's prototype managed only 5.4 seconds 0-60 and a 14-second/99-mph standing-quarter, still only even with an everyday Z28. No matter. With only 250 copies, all coupes, this Cobra R was an instant sellout. Most were modified for road-course and drag racing.

The '95 Cobra R was the end of the road for Ford's overhead-valve small-block engine -- it did not return in the 1996 lineup. Keep reading to learn about more changes made to the '96 Mustang.

The 1996 Ford Mustang

The 1996 Ford Mustang ushered in a new engine era when, after nearly 40 years, Ford retired its overhead-valve small-block V-8 and bolted in the overhead-cam "modular" V-8. This basic engine had been introduced five years before in the big Lincoln Town Car.

There were two versions of this 4.6-liter (281-cubic-inch) V-8, one for GTs, the other for Cobras. GTs used a single-cam iron-block iteration with two valves per cylinder in aluminum heads. It didn't look like progress, claiming the same power and torque as the 302. And straight-line performance was down a bit, C/D netting 6.6 seconds 0-60 mph and a quarter-mile of 15.1 at 92 mph. But the "mod" would rev faster and higher, made similar torque at low rpm, and was smoother and quieter. More pointedly, it was able to meet future emissions standards; the old pushrod V-8 couldn't.

The 1996 Ford Mustang GT dumped its pushrod V-8 for a modern single overhead cam iron block V-8 with two valves per cylinder in aluminum heads. Despite lots of underhood changes to make it fit, only a small exterior badge announced its presence.

The largely hand-assembled Cobra version looked more exciting, sporting twin cams, four valves per cylinder, and a special cast-aluminum block. With 305 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet at 4800, Mustangers no longer needed to fear stoplight encounters with GM pony cars.

After testing all three, C/D ranked the Cobra behind a top-power '96 Camaro SS but ahead of a similarly optioned Firebird Formula. "It's the best daily-driver muscle car," C/D asserted. "Its DOHC 32-valve V-8 is the smallest but highest-tech of the engines here. It convincingly makes as much horsepower but less torque than the 5.7-liter powerhouses, [yet the Cobra] turned in darn near the same performance, thanks to its lighter weight. True, it was slower than the Camaro and only marginally quicker than the Firebird in several areas, but it [was] the one car we would most want to drive home at the end of a long day." Some things never change.

Mustang power entered the modern era for 1996 with adoption of Ford's overhead-cam 4.6-liter modular V-8s. The GT's ran a single-cam version, shown here, which had the same 215 horsepower as the 5.0-liter pushrod V-8 it replaced.

Other things did. Because the "mod" engines were taller than the pushrod V-8, Ford had to redesign the front chassis crossmember, reposition the steering rack and lower front suspension arms, change engine mounting points, and devise a more compact brake booster.

Slightly sprightlier handling was a happy benefit of these changes to accommodate the lighter engines. Attaching the alternator, A/C compressor, and power-steering pump directly to the blocks reduced underhood clutter. The "mod" V-8s also introduced modern "coil-on-plug" ignition with no distributor, improving efficiency and reliability.

Elsewhere for '96, Mustang's V-6 received a stiffer block and 10 more horsepower for 150 total, plus the new V-8's platinum-tipped spark plugs, designed to last 100,000 miles. Transmissions were ostensibly the same, but the five-speed manual was exchanged for Borg-Warner's beefier new T45 unit, and the AOD automatic was swapped for Ford's latest 4R70W transmission with more sophisticated electronic controls.

Outside, the pony grille emblem got a mesh backdrop, and the horizontal taillamps gave way to three-element vertical clusters, which made the car look narrower to some eyes.

The 1996 SVT Cobras switched to a twincam 4.6 whose 305 horsepower finally brought Mustang to performance parity with larger-engine GM pony cars. All '96 Mustangs boasted improved transmissions and minor style changes.

A sign of the times was a new "passive anti-theft system" (PATS) for GTs and Cobras. Optional for base models, this used a special ignition switch that required a matching coded key for starting. In the event of a hot-wiring attempt, the ignition system shut down altogether.

Despite the new V-8s, Mustang sales for '96 dropped a steep 27 percent to 135,620, of which 10,006 were SVT Cobras. For 1997, Ford offered a thoroughly modern Mustang, but sales continued to slip. Keep reading to learn about the sales woes of the '97 and '98 Mustang lineups.

The 1997 and 1998 Ford Mustang

With its modern overhead-cam V-8 and up-to-date safety features, the 1997 Ford Mustang was arguably the most-modern Mustang ever. But that didn't have much effect on sales, which had been slipping through 1996. They plunged another 20 percent for '97 to 108,344, though Cobra volume stayed about the same.

Part of the showroom doldrums might be attributed to the slowing pace of changes that would compel new buyers to saddle up. Among the alterations for 1997, the passive anti-theft system was made standard for base models, and interiors were monotone instead of two-tone, though dashtops remained black. GTs were available with new "diamond-cut" 17-inch alloy wheels. And the base convertible's optional leather upholstery was gray instead of white.

The 1997 Ford Mustang was arguably the most modern Mustang ever. But that didn't have much effect on sales, which plunged 20 percent for '97

The 1998 Ford Mustang

The sales picture brightened for the 1998 Ford Mustang, jumping 62 percent to 175,522. Again, updates were modest.

Retuning took the GT's V-8 to 225 horsepower, and a GT Sport Group arrived offering five-spoke 17-inch wheels, engine-oil cooler, and hood and front-fender stripes for $595.

A new $345 V-6 Sport Appearance Group bundled 16-inch alloy wheels and rear spoiler with body accent stripes and leather-rim steering wheel. All '98s got safer "depowered" dashboard airbags per federal decree.

Sales rebounded for the 1998 Ford Mustang, despite modest changes to the lineup. Sales jumped 62 percent and included this GT ragtop.

Prices were still creeping up, now running from $15,970 for the V-6 coupe to $28,135 for the Cobra convertible. Incidentally, Cobra sales this year were exactly the same as for '97, because SVT was at its yearly limit of around 10,000 units.

Muscle, Memories, and Another Milestone

Mustang by now had been America's top-selling sporty car for 12 straight years and was outselling the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird combined. The achievement was remarkable, but not surprising.

Sales of the 1998 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra matched those of '97 because SVT was turning them out at maximum annual capacity of about 10,000 units.

As Peter Bohr noted in a January 2000 Road & Track owner survey of 1994-98 models: "'Muscle and memories' is how some describe [the] seemingly eternal Mustang. It was…a favorite from the start. And because the folks at Ford have continued to hone the car over the years, the Mustang has earned a fiercely loyal following equaled by few other automobiles." More than ever, there was still nothing else quite like a Mustang.

But the future always beckons, and another milestone Mustang birthday lay ahead in 1999. Once again, the press and loyal Mustangers expected Ford to do something special for the occasion. They would not be disappointed.

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