Quite possibly the lowest point in the history of America’s legendary Mustang, the Ford Mustang of 1978 truly did take what was once the nation’s most revered car, the very symbol of the USA’s sporting prowess, and turned it into a mundane 2+2, a knee-jerk reaction to the energy crisis that brought an end to the traditional Muscle-car.
To follow the Mustang of 1978, you need to go back to the early 1970’s, and to the Energy Crisis of 1973. Following the start of the Yom Kippur War between Israel, Egypt and Syria, and with the NATO nations selling arms to the Israeli’s, the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), placed an embargo on selling oil to Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. The result was fuel prices skyrocketing almost overnight, and many of the global economies began to suffer, especially the UK and the USA. Both nations were hit by the worst recession since the end of World War II, and with recessions came trouble.
As fuel prices shot up, the desirability of hulky V8 motors fell, and the Mustang began to lose popularity. As such, Ford called an emergency meeting to help keep their most cherished product afloat. In 1976, Jack Telnack was called in to try and save the Mustang, largely by doing the minimum. The result was basically taking the Mustang name and placing it on a Ford Fairmont. A few body styling changes, removal of the rear seats and the fitting of a slightly more sporty Inline-4 for the base model up to a 3.8L V6 and 4.2L V8 resulted in what was quickly dubbed the worst Mustang ever.
Fans of the previous Mustang’s of 1967 and 1973 looked on in horror as what was quickly dubbed the ‘Fox Mustang’ (so named because of it being placed onto the Ford Fox platform, shared with multiple humdrum Ford Sedans) rolled off the production line at Dearborn. Available as both a coupe and a hatchback, the car was somewhat practical compared to the previous model, and with its smaller, high efficiency engines it did provide greater mileage, especially when costs were still skyrocketing, but that’s not what the traditional customer base wanted.
Fans of the previous Mustang wanted a snarling, roaring beast, and this was a yapping puppy dog in comparison. While the car did find new customers, largely people who wanted a sporty car but weren’t willing to pay through the nose to run it, this sadly wasn’t nearly as large as those who had bought up previous Mustangs by their thousands. Even the styling was criticised, with its boxy angles and unremarkable looks being a far-cry from that raw and sporting look that had made the original such a classic.
As such, by the early 1980’s, Mustang sales had slumped at just over 100,000 sales per annum, barely half the sales of previous generations. By 1985, Ford were considering replacing the Mustang with the Mazda-based, Front-Wheel-Drive Ford Probe. The response from Mustang fans was one of absolute horror, they couldn’t stand the current Mustang, but they couldn’t bear to see such a legendary machine go to the wall in favour of something based off a coupe version of a humble Japanese family saloon. As such, thousands and thousands of letters were sent to Ford’s head office, begging and pleading them to keep the Mustang brand going. Amazingly, unlike most big companies that would just ignore the cries of a few jaded fans, Ford actually listened, and brought about the next generation Mustang of 1987.
The 1987 Mustang was more or less just a facelift, with the boxy angles of the previous car replaced by a somewhat more streamlined body, giving the car back a bit of its identity. While no longer looking like the Ford LTD off which it was based, the engines
were re-tuned, and even a 4.95L (marketed as a 5.0L) V8 was made available, the highest engine capacity and horsepower given to a Mustang in nearly 10 years. Base model versions continue to have a somewhat underpowered Inline-4 engine, but these continued to appeal to owners who just wanted a cheap Mustang to impress their friends. Die hard fans could enjoy the top of the range V8 models, and indeed they did, with sales and popularity of the 1987 model being much more than the previous version.
However, Ford still noted that the fandom for this machine was not exactly on par with the original. What was needed was something much, much more spectacular, a revolutionary sports car for the 1990’s that would bring the Mustang brand back into the limelight of the sporting world. The result was unveiled in 1994 as the Mustang SN-95, a
truly magnificent machine with a smooth, low body, grunty power, arrogant but somehow appealing style and just the general aroma of a Ford Mustang. With this now ready to go on sale, the previous 1987 Fox Mustang could be laid to rest, with production ending in 1993 in anticipation for the release of its replacement.
Today, both the Mustangs of 1978 and 1987 are not held with the highest of regard. The 1987 model has something of a cult following, but the 1978 model is almost universally loathed. It does have its fans, and the few cars that remain are quite cheap, but overall there is very little love for what is seen as a car of compromises. Like with so many American machines that were built in a panic to respond to the Energy Crisis, like the Cadillac Cimarron, it’s seen less as a car that was built with love, and more a car that was rushed together to satisfy a need.
Me? I really don’t mind this car. I couldn’t say I love it, but at the same time I do see something appealing about it. The styling is by far the best part though, yes it’s boxy, yes it’s a tad uninteresting, but I do quite like some of those angular American designs from the 1970’s, there’s both a novelty and a bit of a practicality to them, being large enough for the whole family to enjoy. It was the last cry of a car building generation where size
didn’t matter, just build it as big as possible and make it so it goes at 100mph in a straight line from Los Angeles to New York. The smaller, high efficiency engines as well could be seen as something of an advantage if you want to have a sports car to run cheaply, though it does make it half a Muscle-car, but as an introduction to the idea of classic sports cars it’s not really that bad.
I’d say the Mustang of 1978 is the equivalent of British Leyland MG MGB’s (the rubber-bumper ones), yes they’re dull, yes they’re a comparative shadow of the originals, but as cheap runabouts to get you into the hobby of collecting classic cars, they’re perfect!