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Mustangs, and Much More


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Will Smith

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When Ford introduced the 1978 Fairmont, it could not have suspected at the time that it was beginning something that would change the company—and the high-performance aftermarket—forever. While the Fairmont may have been a forgettable mid-sized sedan and wagon platform, the car’s basic underpinnings proved to be an ideal basis for the new 1979 Mustang, just as the early Falcon gave birth to the first Mustang back in 1964-1/2.

It’s not that the ’79 Mustang set the world on fire, either. The car was better than the ’78, but it wasn’t a real performance car. That didn’t happen until the ’82 GT was introduced, which was a step in the right direction, as was the ’84 SVO Mustang. What really made the Mustang great was the 1986 addition of electronic fuel injection, but even that wasn’t initially identified, and wouldn’t become a young man’s performance car of choice until some time after its introduction. 

The Mustang did become the perfect car to upgrade for speed without sacrificing a bit of practicality, and the aftermarket responded to this car (and vehicle platform) like no other before or since. To build the car, Ford used the Fox platform, which was the basis for that earlier Fairmont. Ford used the Fox platform to build other cars as well. The Thunderbird, Cougar, LTD, Marquis and Capri, and even the luxo Lincoln Mark VII, were all spawned from the basic Fairmont architecture. The Mustang’s aftermarket support largely crossed over to these other cars as well, and while none of them became as popular as the Mustang, today, availability, pricing and other considerations make all of them worthy contenders for any potential performance project.

Fox-body cars changed over the years, usually for the better. So, while everyone can spot a Fox Mustang, we decided to take the time to compile photos of some of the more popular Fox variations so that you can tell just what you’re looking at the next time you head to a car show or dragstrip. Sadly, we can’t provide an absolutely comprehensive guide to spotting every Fox-body model produced. Some of these cars, such as the Mercury Marquis, are just too rare in enthusiast circles for us to have a single example of one in our photo library. We’ve also included a few pictures of historic Fox-platform racecars, for no other reason than we like them, and thought you would, too. So, if you don’t know an SVO from a Turbo Coupe from an XR7, study this guide so that you, too, can become a true Fox fan. 

The Fairmont is the car that started it all for the Fox platform, and the Fairmont has remained reasonably popular in drag-racing circles. They are ultra cheap and will accept any engine from a 2.3 turbo to a 460; they are fairly light, too, at about 2,700 pounds. This example is a more upscale Futura coupe.
If you want a sleeper, you’d be hard-pressed to beat this ’80 Fairmont. Steel wheels on a base-model Fairmont make this car a natural for the strip, but you could clean up with a ride like this on the street, too.
The Fox LTD was only built from 1983 to 1986, and finding a solid example might be difficult for those looking to buy one. It’s a typical ’80s Ford product, with an egg-crate grille, quad headlights and a boxy overall shape. Still, it beats most sedans being built today.
Those Mustangs built from 1979 to 1982 are easily identifiable thanks to the egg-crate-style grille that spans the entire distance between the two pairs of headlights. This 1979 Pace Car features an updated drivetrain, but the body remains original.
In 1993 Ford revived the Cobra name on a special version of the Mustang hatchback. This one-year model received an increase to 235 hp, unique front and rear fascias, wheels and taillight lenses borrowed from the old SVO. Those changes, combined with a production run of only 4,993 cars, make it one of the most popular of all Fox bodies.
The regular Capri never received the attention the Mustang did. The only real styling changes were the addition of a bubble-back model in 1983, along with new taillights and a rear bumper. The ’84-’86 RS models also got a new air dam, but that’s about it. A few special models, such as the Black Magic and Crimson Cat, also exist.
The ’83 Thunderbird was a huge leap forward in styling compared to the earlier Fox ’Birds. The ’Bird was smaller, rounder and better in every way, attempting to leap on the European sport sedan look coming into vogue. The ’Bird still showed a family resemblance to the Mustang, though, as it had egg-crate grilles and quad headlamps.
The face of the Fox in NASCAR was Bill Elliott and his Thunderbird. Elliott helped Ford win its sole driver’s championship and only outright manufacturer’s championship during the Fox era, in 1988.
Fox Cougars are relatively uncommon, rarer by far than their Thunderbird cousins. These two examples show what stock and modified versions of the ’87-’88 model looked like, which shares styling cues with the Thunderbirds of the same year. Likewise, the ’83-’86 models have four non-flush lights and an egg-crate grille.
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