Earlier this month, the Ford Mustang turned 49. It’s no grand anniversary, but this time next year we’ll be so busy vocalizing our love and/or hate for the redesigned 2015 Mustang that we won’t have time for too many memories. So 49 is the new 50, and since we’ve already covered the great classics through the dark years and the Fox, it’s time to bring everyone up to date.
What that fuel crisis did for power in the ‘70s, the motivation crisis did for styling in the ‘90s. We wore, nay, bought jeans with gigantic holes already in place, we donned our wrinkled flannel and grew our hair longer than Joseph Gordon Levitt’s in 3rd Rock From the Sun. After the extreme design consciousness of the ‘80s, we stopped caring.
So like our poor midsections, our cars got flabby and bloated. Lines softened to the point that the 3rd gen Taurus looked like something that wouldn’t be uncomfortable to pass if accidentally swallowed, and “ergonomics” were the new cocaine.
Thankfully, the Mustang, though sporting far softer lines than the Fox-body, managed to keep itself together when it was restyled for the 1994 model year. The hatchback disappeared, and the short deck and long, sloping hood gave the new Mustang, on a chassis dubbed “SN-95,” a look of low-slung malice.
As with previous ponies, the power took some time to grow its new clothes. The 94 V6, a 3.8 liter, only produced 145 hp, and the 5.0 GT topped out at 215. In 1996 Ford archived the 5.0 to bring out the 4.6 V8, which offered the same power without the thirst, though the Cobra version got a reworked block and new heads, offering an admirable 305 hp. The ’98 GT got another 10 hp due to some fuel delivery tweaks, and, more importantly, a larger exhaust, whose sonorous notes can still became a staple for the brand.
Unlike the aforementioned Taurus, as the Mustang prepared to leave the 20th century, it tightened up its lines via the “New Edge” design language. The ’99 Mustang was recut for the 35th anniversary (though, as we mentioned last week, it was technically the 34th). With the sharper trim came sharper performance, the 4.6 cranked up to 260 hp out of the gates. Even the V6 got a decent boost to 190 hp. And it 2004, the last year of the 4th generation, the Cobra erased all doubts, wearing an Eaton supercharger and a water-air intercooler, all good for around 400 hp.
But as fresh as the New Edge Stangs were, we all just sortof forgot about them when we saw the 5th generation Mustang. It was like one of those movies where the protagonist’s best friend dies young, but his son survives to come back and visit the protagonist 20 years later. Designer Sid Ramnarace specifically went with what Ford’s design chief called “retro-futurism,” but we all just started calling “throwback.”
The hood leveled off into a high, brutish shelf, and the grille opened wide enough to be classified as a singularity. The headlights and grille were particularly evocative of the original ’65, and the Kammish rear finished a pair of bulky, threatening shoulders. The B-pillar was thickened and colored to accentuate a “fastback” look, the fenders were flared with a tasteful definition, and many examples even came with a pair of grille-mounted fog lights to keep us classic fans geeking.
Things only got better when you opened the hood. The 4.0 V6 base was up to 210 hp, and the 4.6 in the GT just dropped all pretense and started kicking out 300 hp. 2010 saw a mid-cycle design refresh, and as the Camaro and the Challenger had also opted for the throwback, Ford had to keep the fanboys sated with even more retro design cues. Just as the Mustangs of the ‘60s bulked up and got tougher as that decade wore on, so the 2010 gained a wider grille, pumped up shoulders, and more power. Ford took the 5.0 back out of mothballs, and the V6 shot up to 305 horses, while the GT made 410.
We’d be remiss not to mention the 2012 Boss 302, a scalpel of a track car and possibly one of the best muscle cars of all time; and the simply postal 2013 GT500, which has 662 hp and is the first stock Mustang to be able to reach 200 mph.
So here we sit, torque-drunk and happy in an era of the maddest Mustangs in history, piled up like empty bottles, with the power and presence of the mid-first-gens and all the safety and handling tech 2013 has to offer. Almost. With this most recent generation, Ford was criticized for sticking with a live rear axle. Virtually every other sports car on the road has switched over to IRS.
Some say this sole element is what makes the Mustang the last true American muscle car. But Ford says they did it to keep the cost down, noting that IRS would add $5,000 to the price of every Mustang. So though the rear tends to skip around a little on our antiquated LRAs, we have to thank Ford for keeping the Mustang in the “cheap thrills” department. Indeed, every time a new sports car debuts that’s a little low on power and high on price, office-chair pundits from De-troit down to Houston light up the blogs with cries of, “Do you know how many used V6 Mustangs you could get for that?” The base-Stang is now a unit of measurement.
Still, with the 2015 redesign on the horizon, Ford has promised IRS, along with other modern innovations like smart turbocharging and direct injection.
So of all generations, all redesigns, and all engines, what’s your favorite? Better yet, if you could mix and match bodies, engines, transmissions, and other features, across all the years, what would you put together? A King Cobra Mustang II with SVO suspension and the new GT500’s drive train? A 65 convertible with a 2.3 Turbo and a six-speed auto? A 79 four-eye with a supercharged 429? Drop your perfect frankenStang in the comments and we’ll dream while we wait for the 2015 reveal.