This is the Mustang nobody wants to talk about
The third-generation Ford Mustang remains an easy target for those who judge a car on looks alone. But delve under the bodywork and the Mustang III suddenly becomes more interesting...
Although those blinded by history and ingenuity may view the third-generation Ford Mustang as nothing more than a fraudulent gimmick boasting heritage badging – a plastic mess boiled for maximum profit – it’s easy to forget that the 'Mustang III' first introduced the Fox Platform to the muscle market.
More akin to a sporty European number than its leviathan predecessors, the third-generation Mustang offered a modern touch where other American submissions festered as cut-rate imitators branded with a bygone persona. It may appear square and boxy to those who don’t understand it, but the Jack Telnack-penned third incarnation delivers stance and presence like no other Yank Tank.
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Offering improved fuel economy driven by slicker aerodynamics amid the influx of sophisticated import rivals, the Mustang of 1987-1993 provided a huge step towards conventional ride comfort, quality control and even took a stab at improving the unruly handling.
No longer did wet intersections or sudden changes of directions result in fiery oblivion and a trip home via screaming ambulance. The Mustang II may have sold by the bucket load, whereas the original 1960s variant boasted genesis status, but these vehicles were unforgiving. The leaner third incarnation could be used as a daily car without hitting the gym to gain the necessary upper body strength.
Taking Ford’s rear-wheel drive Fox platform, first utilised with the 1978 Ford Fairmont, the Mustang III carried over the four, six-cylinder and V8 engines until a new 132bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit arrived. Launched straight into the oil crisis of 1979, the 5.0-litre V8 was simmered down to a 4.2 for the 1980 model year to prevent sales free falling.
While this may have helped with the frugality cause, it resulted in a damp 120bhp – the lowest ever grunt from any V8 Mustang. Purists foamed with disappointment and potential new customers chose public transport instead. With an outright lack of power and fast-dating aesthetics, the Mustang III appeared destined for failure.
Not all was lost, however – Ford reinstated the 5.0-litre V8, even if that resulted in a barely acceptable 157bhp at the rear wheels. Trounced by the European opposition, the SVO landed in showrooms for 1984 with a turbo-four pot – churning out 175bhp.
By the time 1987 rolled around, the Mustang was given an exterior facelift and a new cabin, yet it was not all happy on the frontline. A significant factor in further developing the Mustang came from Ford’s migrating customer base. Vast swathes of customers were developing a liking for front-wheel drive imports; purchasing the likes of a Toyota Celica or Honda Prelude, leaving the Mustang to dwindle on the open market.
In response to this, Ford announced the 1989 model would share a platform with the Mazda MX-6 – a risky strategy. Going against the market blueprint and Ford's loyal customer base, plans didn't work out as bigwigs hoped for.
While Ford tried to kill the Fox set-up for good, the backlash from the faithful was so severe that plans were drastically changed at the 11th hour. Hence, an entirely different car arrived – the Ford Probe. However, the Probe was a different car entirely. If you wanted a true taste of the American dream, only the Mustang would do.
If you are looking to grab a slice of Mustang action, the Mustang III still represents your cheapest entry ticket. A solid introduction to the American car scene for those on a shoestring budget, to avoid disappointment when planting the accelerator, it’s a V8 that calls your name.
They easily lend themselves to further tuning should you have the fuel budget (prepare for single digit return figures), and the higher the trim the better. If you find an example seeking a new owner with leather upholstery and electric everything, it’s the best American motor for your money, without the garage busting girth.
If you seek American heritage without the eye-watering cost, the third-generation Mustang is your ticket to ride. We've got loads of these vehicles seeking new homes in the AutoClassics classifieds - take a look!
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