|• Unusable back seat
• Finding one that hasn't been abused
Few other cars in automotive history have caused the sensation that the original Mustang did back
in April 1964. Introduced at the World's Fair, people were instantly taken by the clean, attractive styling, the aura of fun-loving
youthfulness the marketing campaign assured, and the value price. No one seemed to care--or even knew--that the car was based on the
stodgy, economical Ford Falcon.
The nation went crazy. Initially, people were bidding on the cars in dealers showrooms and paying way over sticker. There were reports
of tempers flaring and even fist-fights broke out -- all in the pursuit of being one of the first to own the new dream car.
Ford had created an entirely new market segment, and it paid off handsomely. The Mustang could be ordered from plain-jane economy right
on up to an outright performance car. It took Ford only 12 months to sell almost 420,000 Mustangs. The one millionth Mustang was sold in
April 1966, only two years after its introduction. The best selling sporty coupe today (surprise - the Mustang) found about 170,000 new
buyers last year.
Over the years the Mustang got bigger, heavier and more luxurious -- and lost touch with the original concept. An attempt to recapture
the original spirit of the Mustang resulted in the drastically downsized, and very successful (in terms of sales), Mustang II of 1974.
But it was a slug.
For 1979 an all-new Mustang was again created, this time sharing the platform and many mechanical components of the new Falcon, the Ford
Fairmont. Again, it could be outfitted mild to wild (for the day) and was the basis for the Mustang for the next 15 years.
By this time, despite constant improvement and upgrades, the Mustang was clearly outdated in the marketplace compared to all of it's
Japanese competition. Even the arch-rival Carmaro/Firebird twins had been updated. But it remained popular, mainly because it's lack of
sophistication enabled owners to easily take advantage of a smorgasbord of aftermarket performance parts. Plus, it's
power-induced, tail-out handling (oversteer) was great fun.
When the new '94 model debuted, many Mustang fans thought the body looked way too much like it was styled in Japan. And it still was
less-than-sophisticated, but that was a conscious decision by Ford -- they wanted to retain the appeal to the traditional Mustang
following, and avoid "techno-creep".
Like the first Mustang, the model can be tailored towards sporty, relatively economical transportation, or a pretty serious performance
Available as a 2dr coupe or convertible, regular production model choices were initially limited to base and GT. The Base model employed
a 3.8 liter V6, while the GT got the venerable 5.0 liter V8. Both could be had with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.
A more powerful and performance-oriented Cobra model bowed well into the model year, equipped only with a 5-speed.
- 1994 Completely restyled and updated; Cobra model added mid-year
- 1995 GTS model makes only appearance
- 1996 Busy year for Ford. The famous "5.0" is replaced by a modern SOHC 4.6 liter V8 in the GT; The Cobra gets a DOHC version with 305hp;
3.8 liter V6 adds 5hp; all models get 100,000 mile platinum-tipped spark plugs; taillamps go vertical and a new black mesh screen sits
behind the grille opening; new coded key anti-theft system; all models recieve new, stiffer front crossmember and slightly revised
- 1997 Ford takes a breather. A couple new colors; new wheels
- 1998 4.6 Liter SOHC V8 gets horsepower boost to 225.
- 1999 Major restyle with "New Edge" styling and more power
A slightly decontented and less expensive GT, the GTS, was a one year only offering. It had all the GT performance pieces, but dumped
the power accessories, and some trim. For 1996, the old pushrod 5.0 liter V8 in the GT gave way to a thoroughly modern (and
silky-smooth) 4.6 liter overhead cam V8. Also for the '96 model year, the Cobra got an extremely potent double-overhead cam version of
The last year of this body-style brought an extra 10 horsepower to the GT.
To us, the Mustang possesses one of those designs that is first forgettable and then begins to grow on you. There are some traditional
Mustang design cues, such as the scalloped sides with the fake brake vents and the three-light taillamps. Of course, the galloping pony
badge is present, too.
This Mustang presented a much softer, more sophisticated look than Mustang's past. Sure, the GT had many of the "muscle car" cues -- the
big wheels and tires, the spoilers, bulging hood, driving lights, dual exhausts and the GT emblems -- but it was more restrained and far
less "boy-racer" looking. It may be a stretch, but even "tasteful" comes to mind.
We really like the 17-inch wheel option -- it seems to give the car a better balanced and more sure-footed look, although they don't
offer a noticeable handling benefit over the standard 16-inchers. The early 3-spoke alloys on both the base and GT looked lame, in our
One thing that seems strange is the amount of body seams that adorn the car. There just seem to be too many of them. It may be part of
the reason the Mustang looks better in a dark color - the seams blend in to the color better!
Significantly upgraded in this Mustang, the interior lost most of it's "taxicab" look. Materials were better, colors were richer and
better coordinated, and the overall quality jumped a couple notches.
The overall theme inside can best be described as modern retro. Two large arches confront both front seat occupants, reminiscent of a
'69-'70 model or a mid-sixties Corvette.
Instrumentation is both plentiful and well-done. In fact the entire dash is smartly executed, with all controls, including the radio,
easily reached and logically arranged.
Room & Comfort
Another area of great improvement over the previous model, two adults and all their weekend luggage can get quite comfortable in the 'Stang.
If they're 6 feet and shorter, that is. Legroom gets a bit tight for taller drivers, but at least their heads won't be hitting the
headliner as on many sporty coupes. That's owed as much to the low seating position as the intelligently designed roofline.
Good visibility, however, is a victim of the low seating position. Unlike most import sport coupes with their bright, airy cabins, the
Mustang feels cozy and insulated with high sills and thick pillars. The view out the back is lousy -- you'll be using the side mirrors a
The front seats are acceptable on the base model, and despite an obvious upgrade, not much better on the GT. Wider passengers feel a bit
too much of the side bolsters in their backs. Cloth is standard, leather optional.
The rear? Forget about it. You can throw young children back there without feeling guilty, but don't put clients, or your mother-in-law,
back there. It's cramped. And that's the coupe -- the convertible is worse. But at least there is plenty of headroom in the latter!
Trunk space is pretty generous for this class, although you'll lose some space in the convertible to the top mechanism. The split rear
seat folds down for long cargo.
Power windows and locks were standard on GTs and all convertibles, and came with all Mustangs beginning with the '98 model. A power
driver's seat was also available. Perhaps because of it's strong youth following, a wonderful stereo system (Mach 460) was available.
Strangely, a sunroof was never available on any of these Mustangs.
Ride, Handling and Performance
Whereas the previous generation Mustang required you to put up with a terrible ride as the price paid for its "fling-it-about" handling,
this model actually delivers a fairly comfortable ride while maintaining the fun-to-drive factor. The suspension is compliant, and stays
firmly planted to the pavement on all but the roughest surfaces, where the live rear axle will finally betray its presence by skittering
over bumps in the corners.
As you would expect, the GT is clearly superior in the handling department, but gives up little in ride comfort compared to the base
model. When pushed, you can still extract the pedal-to-the-metal, tail-out disposition that is so enamoring to street racers but unlike
the previous model, you really have to try!
Acceleration is very brisk with the V8, and sufficient with the V6. You'll feel the torque of the eight push you right back into your
seat when you dip into the throttle, and you'll gather speed effortlessly. All the enthusiast rags complained about a lack of response
past the 5000 rpm range for the 5.0-liter pushrod V8, but in the real world it's the 1500-4000 rpm range that matters, and the 5.0
responds with vigor here.
The new overhead cam engine introduced in 1996 had the same horsepower and torque ratings and admittedly performed better in the upper
rpm range, but didn't really add anything to the performance figures. You'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference driving them
side-by-side, but the 4.6 is certainly a more modern engine. The 5.0 currently enjoys a huge advantage when it comes to the aftermarket
though, and you can bolt on all kinds of additional horsepower.
As a point of interest, in 1999 the six got a whopping 45 horsepower increase, while the V8 received an additional 15 horses.
Shifting chores fall to a smooth automatic or a somewhat notchy, but pleasant, 5-speed manual with well-spaced ratios. The clutch
required moderate effort.
Neither the base nor the GT are particularly quiet cars, with both road and wind noise noticeable at highway speeds. You'll hear the
engine, too, and both the V8's sing sweetly. And the deep, rumbling -- but muted -- exhaust is music to our ears. The six makes sounds
far less pleasant when called upon to do anything more strenuous than normal acceleration.
Despite 4-wheel disc brakes, braking felt mushy on the base coupe, with pronounced nose dive. The example we drove also exhibited a
tendency to premature rear wheel lock-up. The GT performed much better -- short, straight and true stops with far better balance. We
didn't test either's ability to resist fade, but the GT had earned top marks in most new car test reports.
All Mustangs have dual airbags and met all the usual federally-madated safety requirements at time of manufacture.
Adjustable shoulder belts were not available. ABS brakes were optional on both the base and GT models, standard on the Cobra.
NHTSA frontal crash ratings for a 1998 model came in at an excellent rating for the driver and very good for the front seat passenger.
Side impact tests resulted in three stars, or a "good" rating for both occupants. A '95 model also went through the frontal crash
testing and received a very good rating for both front seat occupants. Those are good scores for a sports coupe.
The Mustang is a relatively simple car, and despite all the performance it is capable of delivering, service schedules and costs are
quite low -- about on par with a family sedan such as a Taurus.
Other than a normal schedule for belts and fluids, there's nothing to do other than routing inspection of your typical check points. All
the engines use timing chains instead of belts, saving you a good $300-$500 dollars over competitive import coupes at your 60, 75, or
90,000 mile service interval.
Mustangs are not the most trouble-free cars around. Part of the problem is simply that so many of them get driven quite hard. For many,
it's hard to resist extracting all the performance at hand. Young drivers just love these things, and we all know what that means!
Clutches and axles are common casualties, as are brakes and front suspension pieces. Remember, much of this is the result of abnormally
hard driving - even abuse - so it's not all of Ford's fault.
The 3.8 liter six has recently come in for criticism for its high failure rate of head gaskets on engines built in '94 and '95. Although
Ford is offering generous relief to some, at the time of this article it wasn't clear if Mustangs were included in the incentive and/or
buy-back program. Check with Ford or your Ford dealer. Regardless, this is something that simply should not be happening.
An example that had been well-taken care of and driven normally will provide years of reliable service.
The nice thing about this Mustang is that it performs so well without shouting "look at me"! Older drivers can feel perfectly
comfortable in it -- and do. Ever notice how many are driven by 50ish and 60ish men and women?
Due to the previously mentioned gasket problem, it's probably best to avoid 1994 and 1995 models with the V6.
Because of the nature of this car, consider your purchase carefully and look for previous damage, amateur performance modifications, and
other tell-tale signs of a hard life. Our favorite model would be the '98 GT with the slightly stronger 225hp motor. If you want to hot
rod it, and many people do, you might be best off with a '94-'95 model with the 5.0-liter V8,
but by now the aftermarket is full of upgrades for the 4.6.. Have fun!!
What They Said When New
"New look, new feel--it's better in almost every way." Road&Track 11/93
"The interior is an unqualified success. A retro twin-cowl (and twin airbag) cockpit works well and looks terrific." Car & Driver
"It will still twist the rear tires loose at your whim and loft you to 130mph and higher with impressive haste. Only next to the Z28
does it feel less than ferocious." Automobile 11/93
"Like the best European GTs, the Cobra is docile at low speeds, thrilling to drive fast, and remarkably mature." Automobile 10/95
"The base 3.8-liter V6 feels sluggish on takeoff, and it nosedives severely during braking." Consumer Reports 4/94
Emeline King, Mustang interior designer, said "....We wanted to give drivers and passengers a taste of earlier models in a modern
way." Motor Trend 11/93
Current Mustang values
(this article originally appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Used Cars