By on July 11, 2013

05 - 1979 Ford Mustang Indy 500 Pace Car Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin1979 was the first year for the Fox Platform Mustang, and Ford celebrated by grabbing the rights to show off their new machine at the 1979 Indianapolis 500. You could buy a street version of the Indy 500 Mustang pace car, and many did. Many others, a few years later, bought the galloping-horses-and-tape-stripes decal kit for their non-Pace Car Edition Mustangs. I’m pretty sure that this car— which I found in a California self-service yard— belongs in the latter group… but not completely sure.


This car was so much better than the Pinto-based Mustang that preceded it (not to mention the bloated early-70s monstrosities that preceded that car) that Jackie Stewart had no problems finding nice things to say about it.
08 - 1979 Ford Mustang Indy 500 Pace Car Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe true pace car ’79s were all painted in “pewter,” which this suspiciously primer-looking paint might have been, 34 years ago.
01 - 1979 Ford Mustang Indy 500 Pace Car Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou can see a bit of the crazy op art upholstery that was used in all the 1979 Pace Car Editions.
06 - 1979 Ford Mustang Indy 500 Pace Car Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPace Car Edition ’79 Mustangs came with a choice of the 302-cubic-inch V8 or the turbocharged 2300 “Pinto” engine. This here is the non-turbocharged Pinto engine. You decide— is this a garden-variety four-banger Fox Mustang, worth scrap value, or a genuine special edition pace car, worth twice scrap value?

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66 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Ford Mustang “Indy 500 Pace Car Edition”...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    For a blistering output of a 140 HP on the 302… Yawn!

    • 0 avatar
      lowsodium

      It was very light, which helped. When I had an 82 with 155hp it at least FELT fast. With those old 14″ tires you could roast them like crazy. The chassis was pretty terrible and could get scary quick.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Maybe, compared to everything else in ’79 it would seem fast

        • 0 avatar

          I think I read somewhere that the fastest American vehicle sold in 1979 was Dodge’s Lil Red Express truck. the Z28 was in there along with a 454 powered Chevy truck and a Corvette. I don’t think any of them broke 7 second 0-60 times.

          Such as it were a 140hp Caprice could just about run with a 140hp Mustang, there’s about 400 pounds difference between the two I think.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            The Chevy weighed 3700 lbs with the largest 5.7L engine producing 165HP, 0-60 time was 12.2 sec. The Mustang was just over 3000 lbs and 0-60 was just under 9 sec

          • 0 avatar
            wumpus

            Chevy also offered the 305 in the Malibu. Presumably it was lighter than the Capris, but not as heavy or sporty as the Camaro. Presumably it was still offered with at least 4 on the floor (people could still drive), but I can only vouch for a 3 speed auto. With 140hp, it would be largely due to which driver got the jump, although the Mustang would always be a little faster [of course before ECUs, don’t ever thing that power is remotely reproducible] (I think the actual car had 160hp with a 4 barrel carb, but that may have been 1978. I suspect that the scales would tip either way depending on the year).

            Not sure about the wiki (or my own memory, for that matter). At one time I inherited a 1979? Chevy Malibu Classic wagon. 5.0l (presumably 305), 4 barrel carb (which doesn’t agree with some of the stuff I’ve seen on the net for that year. Maybe it was a 78). I’m pretty sure that the 305 varied in power between 1978-80 (largely by bouncing from 2 barrel and 4 barrel carbs), regardless of what wiki says (presumably it was too busy with slap fights).

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Here’s a scan of a ’79 Trans Am road test:

            http://tinyurl.com/pll5w8w

            It ran a 6.7 0-60 and a 15.3 quarter mile. The L82 Corvette was maybe a tenth faster. So not rockets, but not a Ryder truck either.

            If the Dodge LRE truck was faster than those two then it was actually faster than a lot of current trucks and SUVs.

            1980-82 is when things really went to hell.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            @ wumpus The ’78 Malibu 305 V8 was a 2-barrel, the ’79 was 4-barrel

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Mine was a ’79 “5.0” Mustang that was a stone cold Fiat killer. This was the early ’80s, but I knew a trans guy that said he had the ‘fix’ in his parts bin. 4.10 gears and a posi. I just had to hand over the aquarium he wanted.

            It unleashed beast. It’s not saying much, but those 2 items made it one of the fastest cars around town. I could burn off the TRXs (used TRX’ were $10) all the way thru 2nd gear. A 5-speed was my next upgrade.

            It came with factory 2.42s and open diff. No wonder!

            Most V8s from the era suffered from extreme fwy-flyer gears plus low compression. But they made gobs of torque, low in rev band if you could set them free.

          • 0 avatar
            AMC_CJ

            Too Wumpus;

            The Malibu late 70’s did come with a 4 on the floor and 4bbl carb; I have one sitting in my garage.

            Slow? Meh, but stock it had no problem moving out of it’s own way….. mine isn’t stock anymore.

          • 0 avatar
            porschespeed

            Good god, doesn’t anyone here know anything about cars anymore? I know this has become a bottom-of-the-barrel site, but don’t any of you kids know how to use that ‘google’ thingie?

            A 1979 Porsche 928 ran a 6.8 0-60, and a top speed of 146.

            Lemme help ya. US stuff is always about 10 years behind the Euro stuff. At most generous. Dry sump LS7? Benz was doing it with the M-100 40+ years ago.

            Mabufalu? Absolute garbage that no one who was a car fan would ever touch. Especially when those visual abortions were ‘new’.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        http://www.motortrend.com/features/archive/112_8109_1982_ford_mustang_gt_302_ho_drive/viewall.html

      • 0 avatar
        dswilly

        Wasn’t 82 the first year for the H.O 5.0 with 168hp? Actually a fast car compared to the competition and arguably the 1st shot of the 80’s version of horsepower wars. The TRX tires didn’t help it much at the drag strip.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Man, that’s a puzzler. The grey paint and non-turbo engine say it’s not a real Pace Car, but the decals, TRX wheels, op-art seat cushion, rear deck where a spoiler has been removed all say it is.

    • 0 avatar
      Hoser

      It’s the real thing. Faded paint, and the carbed turbo setup was replaced with a regular 2.3. Everything else you mention is spot on correct. I don’t know how long it’s been there but the TRXs surprised me. Most people convert to standard (I know I did), the TRX tires are stupid expensive.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I’d say it probably was or someone spent a lot of money to retrofit Recaros with the “hounds-tooth” pattern in an existing Mustang

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Murilee, sure you’re not a Mustang guy? Sure that ’65 Chevrolet of yours isn’t hiding a Fox chassis and SBF under its bodywork. Though I thought I was the only dude who figured real Mustangs stopped in 1970 and didn’t pick up again until 1979, it’s good to read that someone else felt the same way.

    I remember driving a ’79 Mustang hatch 2300cc as a rental, and thinking,
    ‘finally – Mustangs are back’. Even with the underpowered four cylinder, it was so much better than a Mustang II. My avatar? Don’t ask.

  • avatar
    DM335

    In 1979, the Mustang Pace Car replicas started out hot, but Ford overproduced them. The gray paint shown here looks to me like the original Pewter Metallic–after 34 years of fading. All had the black/white cloth Recaro seats. If I remember correctly, the 302 V-8 came as an automatic and the Turbo 4 came as a 5-speed manual, but the Turbo was not available with air conditioning.

    My guess is that this was an original Pace Car and that the Turbo 4 was replaced by a standard 4-cylinder after the original engine died. Surely no one would have spent the money on Recaro seats, spoiler and TRX wheels to convert a standard 4-cylinder Mustang into a Pace Car replica.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      I drove a ’79 Pace Car from about ’89 – ’94. I remember the Pewter Metallic was more of a goldish/silver. This one looks like a much darker gray, IMO. I think it’s not a real pace car. Mine had the 302, and it was the only carburated engine I ever wrenched on. I put on full length headers, dual exhaust (with chromed tips like the then new 5.0LX), Edelbrock “Performance RPM” intake, and Holley 600 double pumper. A little bit overkill with the stock heads and com. It might have had 160-170HP when I was done. But I was young and stupid, and I thought it was awesome!

    • 0 avatar
      chubbster72

      Correction. I do currently own a ’79 Pace Car with the turbo 4 and it does have air. If I am correct, you could not get a v8, automatic with air. Ford said that combination took away too much power from the engine. (?)

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    My cousin had one of these. He was 20 years old, paid cash for it with the money he got when his father died. He actually wrecked the car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because he was inebriated in the snakepit. Oh the irony.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    All the stickers are exactly where they’re supposed to be, and combined with the cushion matching, and special wheels, spoiler – I’m gonna say legit.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I think it is legit. The engine swap makes sense because it was a turbo. One of these days I may buy the nicest SVO on the market and do a V8 engine swap. The money saved on bodywork, paint, interior upgrades, brake upgrades, and suspension upgrades will make it the bargain Fox Mustang build of the decade. You can pick up super low mileage SVOs that their owners thought were investments, or that couldn’t be bothered driving them, for about half as much as a remotely as nice GT would go for. Everything about them is better than on any other Fox, except the engine.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr Wednesday

        The EFI and intercooled turbo-4 on the SVO is a good engine. I wouldn’t be so quick to dump it.

        (Not to be confused with the carbed, non-intercooled, oil-cooled-only-turbo turbo-4 that was original on this car, which made less power and I’m sure was more finicky.)

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          To each their own when it comes to engines, but the fact remains that nobody actually likes the turbo SVO enough to pay for it and drive it. I was looking at a super low mileage, preserved SVO that was a detail job away from a show car and was sitting on the market for well under $10K a few months ago. I probably see one every four months, and I’m not even looking for them. The market seems to agree with me that the engine was a mistake in what was otherwise the best Mustang of its era. Since they’re not collectible, why not pay the paltry price and make the car I want? If people see my car and the idea catches on, I will have accomplished what no amount of wishing, hoping, hoarding, or fanciful claims about how good turbocharged engines can be managed to achieve. I’ll make the SVO a collectible car, probably about the point there are only 3 left with the original engine.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            People don’t know what they have when they dump the SVO 2.3T for a V8. That’s no Pinto engine. Similar except for the high-nickle content block and all forged internals. Ford was entering uncharted territory and really overbuilt the 2.3T.

            It’s a popular ‘harvest’ engine for ’30s Hot Rods and sandrails. Racers are cranking them up to 700+ HP with little more than a huge turbo & downpipe, O-ringed head, etc. Others are pushing the 2.3Ts past 1000 HP with a 2.5 stroker crank and a Volvo DOHC head.

            But if you want to ‘boat anchor’ a 2,500 lbs SVO that turns/stops on a dime, that’s on you.

          • 0 avatar
            Mr Wednesday

            I’m not saying you shouldn’t do what you want with the car. I have no special love for the SVO and don’t particularly care if otherwise collectible ones get altered in heathen ways.

            I’m just questioning your reasoning for wanting to dump the turbo-four engine that’s native to the SVO. It’s a solid engine, it’s rated for almost as much power in stock trim as the 302, and it’s very easy to make more power. (I have no special affinity for the SVO, but I do happen to like its power plant.)

            If you just plain don’t like turbo engines, or you have a special love for the 302, that’s fair enough.

            @DenverMike, did they do something different with the SVO block? The turbo-2.3 used in the Turbo Coupe is very similar to the normally aspirated version. Same block, except for an added tapped hole in the side for oil to drain from the turbo, same bottom end. Replace the cast pistons (normally aspirated) with forged (turbo), and otherwise there are no additional significant differences in the short block to my knowledge.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            The high nickel content 2.3T block makes it much stronger and wear resistant than the standard Pinto cast.

            It had to be most aggressive boost of any turbo 4 of its day. I’d driven every turbo known to man, back then when I worked at a Ford/Toyota used car dept. Other turbos gave a small bump in power, but the SVO doubled the HP of the standard 2.3. By far the loudest.

            And 500 streetable/reliable HP can be attained much easier and far cheaper that a 400 HP V8 conversion.

  • avatar
    Easton

    It was actually a good-looking car for 1979.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Donna Summer did pretty good music for 1979.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        So did the Bee Gees… (roll eyes)

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          Fat bass!

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            @chicagoland

            My band was in LA the summer of ’79 getting doors slammed in our faces because we weren’t remotely disco.

            We finally gained a little traction with one of the majors that had a 5 member A&R staff who had to unanimously vote on funding new talent. Twice we pulled 3 out of 5; not good enough, went home broke and burned.

            What did we keep hearing? “You need to throw in some disco.”

            Oops.. need to jump dis here down 3 slots.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          Staying Alive is a guilty pleasure, I admit it! So is a nice aero foxbody with a set of shorty headers, off-raod H-pipe and two chamber flows.

          • 0 avatar
            chicagoland

            By 1979, disco was on its last legs. Look up ‘disco demolition at White Sox Park’. Was in summer 1979, in Chicago.

            And Donna Summer went on and had a career long after the 70’s. Bee Gees? Not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      No it wasn’t. It was b-f c-stain ugly, and that’s if you were 12.

      It was just another POS that any union hoosier (at the time)would have sitting in his driveway. Just like every 60s ‘musclecar’. Nobody who actually knew cars wanted one – why would they?

      Did you really aspire to what the butcher and the miner drove? Really?

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I say it’s a replica. That is not faded pewter, first of all. I also can’t imagine someone dropping a non-turbo four into a genuine pace car, and the rest of the stuff was actually easily sourced. During the late 80’s it was popular to put replica decals & parts on more plebian ‘Stangs. In fact, I would not be surprised if a dealer did it.

    Oh – I should mention that I built Fox Body Ford Mustang Convertibles (line assembly worker for Cars & Concepts) for a few years a decade later, so I’ve seen a LOT of these cars, even the pace editions which were C&C cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I don’t know. the turbo probably died a natural death, and it wasn’t much to get excited about on its best day. If you just wanted to keep the car going, dropping in a junkyard non-turbo 4 would be the best way to go. I can see somebody adding the decals aftermarket, but the wheels and upholstery? I guess maybe a dealer who scored some bargain-basement overstock parts might do it, but otherwise it seems pretty silly.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    But…I like the 1971 Mach 1 Sportsroof…

    I even plan on owning one someday.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Second biggest Mustang ever (the current car holds the record), I always thought they were pretty good looking cars myself and I wonder compared to the earlier cars if they are a pretty good bargain with the exception of the Boss 351?

  • avatar

    Yikes! Looks like a Chevy Monza (Brazilian).

  • avatar
    autojim

    Looks like either someone swapped in a non-turbo motor into a pace car or slapped the decals & very hard to source interior into a non-pace car.

    Even in 1987, getting the fabric for those seats was a stone bitch.

    • 0 avatar
      autojim

      The more I look at this, the more I think it’s a real one with a the topcoat pretty much gone — you can see the pewter paint in the clear backdrop of the side decals.

      And another one bites the dust.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m sure those who wanted air conditioning and a manual had the option of a non-turbo engine, so this could be a genuine pace car model. Ford may have called it “pewter”, but a third of a century of fading could have turned it into anything. Is it impolite to mention the early fox bodies’ tendency to rust?

  • avatar
    rudiger

    There’s enough oddball stuff with that car to almost make it worth checking the VIN to verify what it once was.

    • 0 avatar
      WildcatMatt

      Ford didn’t break out the Pace Car into a separate model code for the purposes of their 11-symbol VIN. But the color and trim codes off the warranty plate should tell the tale.

  • avatar
    lon888

    My gosh, there must be 4 miles of vacuum tubing on that engine. No wonder the output was so low.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Makes you wonder how much power the car would regain simply by removing all of the emissions equipment.

      Compression would still be crap, but I bet you would pick up like 30 horsepower.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        I’d say something about LA air, except I’m not certain that ripping out that stuff would actually increase pollution. Maybe it would, but I suspect that slightly better mileage tricks (could a carb handle an ultra-tall gear?) would even things out.

        EPA standard encouraged dilution of exhaust with even more fuel-rich air. Go figure.

      • 0 avatar
        chicagoland

        Instead of ‘ripping off’ smog equipment, how about dropping in a 1987-95 5.0 from a newer Mustang? WITH smog equipment.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr Wednesday

        @NoGoYo, the main issue is the lack of an intercooler. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the engine was rated for 132 bhp at the crank, and I never really hear of anyone making much more power with this block without intercooling. I think they used the same heads throughout the lifetime of the engine, with 8:1 compression. There isn’t much emissions stuff on the later editions, just an EGR system and, obviously, the catalytic converter.

        @Chicagoland, I’d rather recommend dropping in the EFI version of the turbo engine from an ’87 or ’88 turbo coupe than a 302. I don’t know if the older transmission would stand up to it, but it ought to be easier to put in as flywheel and bellhousing ought to bolt up and engine mounts could be reused. (But, per above, I’m a little partial to the turbo-2.3 engine.)

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Well I was just talking in general…take for example, the 1976 Oldsmobile 350 rated at 165 horsepower with a 4 barrel carburetor. Theoretically, removing the emissions junk would leave you with a still low-compression but much more powerful engine.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Also noteworthy was that The Pace Car had a unique front spoiler with built-in fog lights. Although the fog lights are gone, there appears to be indentations where they once were.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      The spoiler might have been unique in 1979, but the exact same spoiler (with fog lights) would reappear in 1982 on the new, much less expensive Mustang GT.

  • avatar
    Bif

    It’s legit. Look at the original paint showing through the mask job around the decals on the doors. Looks like the PO painted it with flat black interior house paint…..

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Also, the missing air dam shows the factory bracket. The GT also had the 2-piece nose, but the rest came with a 1-piece, no bracket. The exhaust tips are GT or pace car. Same as the missing deck spoiler.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I always thought that these early Fox-body Mustangs were good looking cars, for their time and now. As for this one being a genuine pace-car replica (a genuine replica?), the pewter paint shows up in the interior shot under the (missing) interior door panel. The Recaro-pattern is on the rear seat cushion (the Recaro seats were an option for the following year, as was the chin spoiler, though I don’t know if the seats were available with that upholstery.) The car has a sunroof–which was standard on the replicas (to compensate for Ford being unable to put the T-roof of the genuine pace car into mass production–at least for two years). And the decals are where they should be, so this may be the real thing. Unfortunately, that probably doesn’t matter–this car is way too far gone to restore.

  • avatar
    MoDo

    Real, you can tell by the paint under the rear spoiler, whats left of the recaro interior and the steering wheel.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Looks legit to me. In high school one of the “popular” girls was given one of these pace cars as a 18th birthday gift. Pretty hot for the day, as was the girl. She actually took good care of it…

  • avatar
    skor

    The steering wheel is 3 spoke and wrapped in leather. You should have grabbed it, they will fit just about any Ford product from the mid 70s to the the late 80s.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    “Grey primer”?

    It looks real and it was totaled and sent to bone yard. Can’t assume anything without asking experts, the posters here, first.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    The VIN would tell the truth…

  • avatar
    holmd90

    Whomever looked at the car and said it was a non-turbo should take a closer look at the intake side of the motor, I can clearly see the exhaust scroll of a turbo poking out… These cars had a turbo that mounted to the intake manifold in a very inefficient fashion, and is likely to cause a huge amount of heat-soak. My old ’80 turbo mustang had the paint literally cooked off of the hood directly above the turbocharger due to this.

    Pretty sure this is a Pace Car, considering the remnant of a recaro seat in the car, 8K RPM tach, presence of a turbo motor, original-appearing paint and decals, and TRX wheels.

  • avatar
    holmd90

    ^Original-appearing being a reference to the inside of the door and the engine bay, the rest is a horrendous respray including a very saddening masking job on the decals.


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