Y’know Mustang? You really lucked out here! Because if Mustang had taken up this fantastically space-age design back in 1979, the Mustang RSX could have become one of the most desirable cars of the early 1980’s. Instead, Ford’s decision would prove near fatal to this mighty motoring brand, as the 3rd Generation ‘Fox Mustang’ (a nickname poking fun at the somewhat mundane Ford-Fox platform on which it was built) garnered a reputation for being one of the most tepid cars ever attached to an established sporting marque.
By the late 1970’s, the 2nd Generation Ford Mustang was starting to look its age, a design from 1971 that had been altered slightly, but kept a majority of the underpinnings from the original Mustang. Mustang needed to act, and in 1978 the range was replaced by a car that most consider generic, boring and bland, a far cry from the original raunchy Mustang from Steve McQueen’s Bullitt. The ’78 Ford Mustang was hastily put together in response to the energy crisis, a time when large luxury monsters like the Lincoln Towncar, and gas-guzzling sports cars like the Mustang and Camaro, suddenly seemed highly expensive and highly inappropriate. The result was a major downsize, and in the case of the Mustang this downsize nearly cost Ford one of it’s most cherished and beloved brands. The new Mustang was based on the underpinnings of the humble Ford Fairmont, an angular body with bland external features and not a hint of chrome, it essentially was just a Fairmont hatchback. Could have been worse though, Ford at one point proposed basing the Mustang off a Mazda, and not even a good one like the RX-7!
However, behind the scenes, Mustang did have a few good ideas stewing as to getting their baby properly back on the road. In 1979, the company turned to Italian styling house Ghia, and commissioned a concept two-seater rally car that would be known as the Ghia RSX, RSX meaning Rallye Sport Experimental. The RSX consisted of a two-seat coupe design once again based off the company’s Fox-Platform with a 2.3L Four-Cylinder turbo engine and stock suspension. Compared to the ’78 Mustang, the car had its wheelbase shortened by 5.6 inches to make it more agile, a trick learnt from the insanely superb Lancia Stratos that dominated the European rally scene. In addition, the track was widened by almost an inch at the front and over an inch in the rear. The rear seats from the previous model were removed to make way for a lightweight fastback body, while the doors, designed to look like they were made entirely of glass, were actually bonded plexiglass over regular metal door panels, a truly futuristic design. The car was also fitted with 7.5 inch wide, 16 inch wheels wearing 205 55 VR x16 Pirelli P7 tires.
Internally, the car harped back to the raunchy spirit of the original, with black leather interiors surrounding a plush red trim with a dash-mounted gear-change derived from contemporary Alfa Romeo’s. The ride height of the car was increased for its Rally usage, though for a sports car it was preferred to lower the suspension and ride height to reduce drag. But this car wasn’t built for speed, it was built to conquer the rally circuit.
If Ford had followed through with this plan, not only could they have killed off the ’78 Mustang for the 1980 model year, but also had a contender for among the greatest rally cars ever built! In the early 1980’s, American car builders didn’t have any real representation on the European Group B rally scene, with Peugeot, Lancia, Audi, Porsche, heck, even British Leyland, representing their respective nations in spectacular style. The closest any American builder came to competing was Chrysler, who at the time owned Talbot, which produced the legendary Talbot Sunbeam. With a little tweaking, Ford could have created a road-going monster, something that could have truly put it in the running against the likes of the Audi Quattro, the Lancia O37 and the Peugeot 205 T16 GTi.
Instead, after it was unveiled at the 1979 Chicago Motor Show, and while receiving acclaim for its styling, the car slipped very quickly into obscurity and was never heard from again. Instead, Ford continued with the ‘Fox Mustang’ until 1993, and today these Mustangs are very rare and largely unloved because of how humdrum they were. As for rallying, Ford would eventually blow millions on developing the RS200, a purpose built Rally Car that would end up destroying Group B rallying forever after a series of horrendous accidents.
Personally, I feel that if Ford had not wasted this golden opportunity, the Mustang RSX could honestly have been a rival for fame against the likes of the DeLorean! It was an insanely beautiful and extremely practical car, but instead it disappeared into the void without a trace.
What a criminally bad waste!