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The third-generation Mustang was produced by Ford from 1978 until 1993. Being built on Ford’s Fox platform, it is commonly referred to as the Fox body Mustang. It evolved through several sub-models, trim levels, and drivetrain combinations during its production life. It underwent updates for 1987, and for a time seemed destined for replacement with a front-wheel drive Mazda platform. However, company executives were swayed by consumer opinion and the rear-wheel drive Mustang stayed, while the front-wheel drive version was renamed the Ford Probe. Enthusiasts group the generation into two segments: the 1979–1986 cars, with their quad headlight arrangement, and the 1987–1993 cars, with their aerodynamic composite headlamps and front fascia styling. Production ended with the introduction of the fourth-generation Mustang (SN-95) for the 1994 model year.
V8-powered Mustangs received E7TE heads and forged aluminum pistons with valve reliefs in 1987, as opposed to the flat-tops used in the previous year. The E7 cylinder heads were sourced from the truck line after the 1986 swirl-port design demonstrated performance problems. Power ratings increased to 225 hp (168 kW) and 300 ft⋅lbf (410 N⋅m) of torque. No major changes were seen for 1988, although the T-top roof option for hatchbacks was discontinued midyear.
For 1989, the Mustang’s speed density computer system was replaced with a mass air system (1988 Mustangs sold in California also had the MAF system). This change slightly reduced factory horsepower, but it made Mustangs much easier to modify. With the mass air system, changes made to the intake, engine, and exhaust system would be recognized and compensated for by the ECU, resulting in a correct air/fuel ratio and optimum power. Ford’s only gesture at a 25th Anniversary Mustang was a small, passenger-side dashboard emblem with galloping-horse logo affixed to all models built between 27 March 1989, and the end of model-year 1990. Finally, in 1989, Ford resources began to focus on the next Mustang, due to its debut in late 1993. Through its retirement in 1993, there would be few changes in the model line, but the changes would be visual.
For 1990, Mustang added a new steering wheel featuring an airbag, and a revised lower driver’s-side dash panel with knee bolster. The available tilt-steering wheel, however, was discontinued in favor of the revised airbag-equipped steering column. A limited run of 4.9 L (302 cu in) equipped LX convertibles – all painted Emerald Green metallic with white convertible tops, Oxford White leather interiors featuring GT seats, and 15″ turbine alloy wheels – were produced for an NCAA half-court shot contest, sponsored by soda brand 7-Up, but the event was canceled shortly before it was scheduled to begin. Ford, already having produced 4,103 vehicles (2,743 with the AOD four-speed automatic overdrive, and 1,360 with the T-5 five-speed manual transmission), released them for dealer availability. Revamped interior quarter panels for the 1990 model year did away with the side armrests for rear seat passengers, but gained large speaker panels. Door map pockets and clear coat paint also became standard for the 1990 Mustang, along with the availability of optional leather interior trim.
The 1991 model year changes to the 2.3 L I4 engines included an increase in horsepower (from 88 to 105) due to a revised cylinder head with two spark plugs per cylinder. Base-model Mustang prices exceeded $10,000 for the first time, and sales began to drop. A revised roof for the convertible allowed the top to fold closer to the body. V8-equipped models received new 16″ five-spoke ‘star’ alloy rims.
In 1993, Ford switched to cast hypereutectic pistons for all 302 cu in (4.9 L) engines and also re-rated the GT to 205 hp (153 kW) and 275 ft⋅lbf (373 N⋅m) of torque. This estimate was more accurate given the previous power ratings were made before the addition of the mass airflow system, minor revisions in the camshaft profile, and other various small changes made throughout the production run. The individual rear power window switches, mounted within the quarter panel speaker grilles in the back seat of convertible models, were removed. Control for the rear power windows was now relegated to the driver’s door switch panel.