By on August 7, 2017

1979 Ford Mustang Notchback in Denver wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The Fox Mustang replaced the much-reviled (but big-selling) Pinto-based Mustang II for the 1979 model year, and production continued through 1993 (or 2004, if you consider the Fox-based SN-95 platform to be a true Fox).

Today’s Junkyard Find, spotted in Denver, is a triple rarity: it’s a first-year Fox Mustang, it’s a notchback, and it has the 200-cubic-inch straight-six engine. Let’s take a look.

1979 Ford Mustang Notchback in Denver wrecking yard, 200 L6 engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The base engine for the 1979 Mustang was Ford’s ubiquitous “Pinto” 2300 four-cylinder, good for 88 horsepower. Performance-minded buyers could get a 140 hp turbocharged version of the 2300 or the 302-cubic-inch/5.0-liter Windsor V8, also rated at 140 hp. The middle-of-the-road engine option was a 2.8-liter version of the “Cologne” V6, already familiar to Americans as the engine used in the 1971-1978 Capri; Ford ran out of the Colognes late in the 1979 model year and switched to the good old 200-cubic-inch pushrod straight-six. That’s the engine we see in this car. A few years later, Ford sliced two cylinders off this engine and created the HSC, which powered Tempos, Topazes, Tauruses, and Sables.

1979 Ford Mustang Notchback in Denver wrecking yard, Graphic Warning Module - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The future was closing in fast in 1979, and so Mustang buyers could get this optional science-fictiony Graphic Warning Module in their cars. I bought this one, for use at my next Junkyard Boombox Building Party.

1979 Ford Mustang Notchback in Denver wrecking yard, Turbine wheel cover - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
This car got most of the medium-grade options, including the automatic transmission, blacked-out trim, pinstripes, air conditioning, the Interior Accent Group, and these Turbine wheel covers on 14-inch steel wheels. The true high rollers got the Cobra or Ghia versions, adding the leather-and-vinyl interior and a more powerful engine.

32-1979-ford-mustang-in-colorado-wrecking-yard-photo-by-murilee-martin
Most of the early Fox Mustangs were hatchbacks; the notchbacks are a bit lighter and thus more desirable for the multitudes who want to build race cars. This one isn’t rusty, but good sheet metal wasn’t enough to save it from a junkyard fate.


“It’s time to fall in love again, with a beautiful new breed of Mustang.” True enough. Note the slightly Muzaked version of “Swingtown” by the Steve Miller Band, the use of which probably cost Ford a few bucks.

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78 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Ford Mustang Coupe...”


  • avatar
    notapreppie

    I’m so glad to live in an age when my 2.0L I4 makes more power than the 302 V8 available in this car.

    Now I just wish I could get a modern 302 in my Mazda…

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Easy there partner… The “5.0” made lots more power than it appears on paper. Like most V8s of the era, they putout gobs of torque “down low” (not so much at higher rpm) and that gives deceptive “horsepower” numbers, similar to diesels.

      So you’ll ask why they were so slow? Well the 302 V8 came with super “highway friendly” 2.73 (rear end, final drive), gearing. Blame the EPA? If you don’t know what the means, well at launch it would barely chirp the tires!

      Mine was the ’79 “fastback” (bought back in ’85) with the V8, and stock I lived in fear of Honda CRXs and such. I put a 4.10 posi in it and it was a whole other animal! It was a 3-speed automatic and not only would it wildly smoke the tires, but was sideways on the 1-2 shift! It instantly became one of the fastest cars in my area (stoplight to stoplight), but was revving way too much on the highway (and my commute).

      I settled on 3.45 gears, but with a overdrive trans I could’ve gone more aggressive. It’s a shame they didn’t come this way from the factory.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Let me correct, it came with pathetic 2.42 gears stock. I was thinking the mid/late ’80s 302s that were 2.73s standard.

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        DenverMike,
        What changed over the next couple of years? IIRC fuel injection hit around ’85 (when they hit ~225 published horsepower we all thought “well, it isn’t THAT much…”) but those of us with malaise-era F-bodies and G-bodies lived in fear of those little black and red/silver hatchbacks that seemed to go everywhere with at least one rear tire smoking.

        Even the ’66 GTO in our town (driven by the one kid whose parents just did not give a fig) was pretty nervous around them.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Fuel injection helped a lot, along with a few other Hot Rod tricks. Roller cam (aggressive profile), higher compression, headers, dual exhaust with crossover, to name a few.

          Except rear-end gearing got steadily more aggressive to the available 3.73s we have today. That was they’re biggest handicap if you ask me. But easiest to fix!

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “The “5.0” made lots more power than it appears on paper.”

        uh, no, it made 140 horsepower. torque is not power, power is power.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          LOL, tell that to the 900+ lbs/ft of diesel pickup torque crowd!!!

        • 0 avatar
          Silence

          (RPM * T) / 5252=HP

          Horsepower is the rate at which torque is being done.

          Torque is a force. Horsepower is the rate at which that force is being done.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            You could’ve simply said “Horsepower is Torque’s B!tch”. Just only knowing “horsepower” leaves you wondering what’s the “torque” figure.

            It’d be even better with both on a graph, just so we know when “power” hits and for how long. It’s just one “power” anyway, unless you’ve got 2 engines, or lots of turbo lag.

  • avatar
    threeer

    There’s something strangely appealing to me about the notchback body style…

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I for one still love the angular and rectilinear styling paradigm of that era. That is why I like current GMC pickup trucks, they are all rectangles and straight lines.
      Lots of contemporary styling looks positively cartoonish in comparison.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    My college roommate bought this exact car (in gray) when we graduated. If was a great car for our post-college adventures. By ’83 it was replaced by a Celica.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I was just about to say that this car was probably some high school kid/twenty-something’s pride and joy for a time.

      Reminds me of when Ferris Bueller said, “I don’t even have a piece of ((deleted)). I have to envy yours.”

  • avatar
    DM335

    I’m pretty sure the interior door handles on the 1979 Mustang were located at the bottom of the door. For 1980, there were raised to the more logical level. They seemed sportier and more stylish mounted low, but were not as easy to reach.

    I can’t be certain, but I think the headlamps even on the base model had a bit of bright trim for 1979.

    • 0 avatar
      namesakeone

      I think you’re right on both counts. This may be a 1980 or 1981 or 1982–but from a second look, it appears that the headlight frames have been taken.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Yes, the 79s had the interior handles at the bottom of the doors. A buddy of mine had one back in the day, I thought it was cool. My mother had a 1981 Mustang Ghia, but it had different door cards than the other ‘Stangs, it seems to me they looked more like Fairmont Futura door cards than the ones shown on this car.

      I also use the headlight bezel ID on these cars too, but these seem to be missing on this car.

      In 1979, a six cylinder Fox would have come with the 2.8 Cologne motor, and have a callout (usually). There was a shortage (IIRC) of these motors, so in late 1980, FoMoCo started substituting the 3.3L six instead of the 2.8 V6. IIRC, all six cylinder Fox body Mustangs and Capris were 3.3L sixes after 1981 production started.

      Based on all this, I’m positing a guess for a 1981 mid level Mustang.

      • 0 avatar
        la834

        Yes, the 1979 Mustangs had the inside door release at the bottom of the door panel below the window crank, as seen at 0:21 in the video posted here and also in the brochure that’s linked to. Apparently intended to feel sporty, they were unpopular and moved to the location seen on this car in 1980 and thereafter. The door panels seen here I think were used through 1981 or thereabouts – the round circle around the window crank probably looked silly once power windows started becoming popular. I’m guessing the car featured here is a 1980 despite what’s written on the flanks.

        The other unique feature of first-year Fox Mustangs was the rear deck lid which was a bit thinner at the bottom. Starting in ’80 they had a small built-in spoiler lip which also changed the shape a bit when seen from behind. I can’t recall if this change was only made to the notchback or the hatchback as well.

        The early Cologne-engined ’79s also got a chrome “2.8” callout on the front fender, in the same size and font as the far more famous “5.0” badge.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          I owned an ’81 hatchback. It neither made much power or good MPG. It got maybe 20 mpg on the highway.

          As I recall my ’66 Mustang with the same 3.3L six made 120 HP. By 1981 it made 90HP.

          Incidentally that was the same as my /83 Rabbit with a 1.8L four cylinder.

          The Mustang was good to me though. Cold a/c through a big piston compressor, and reliable. Comfortable too.

          About that time my father bought a Celica. It was an ’81 or an ’83 – I can’t remember.

          Night and day improvement over the Mustang. Five speed. It had a willing little four cylinder. Good brakes, handling, etc. Sunroof too. Had an AM/FM/cassette stereo that seemed modern compared to the AM/FM radio in the Mustang.

  • avatar
    MBella

    With how popular these have become, I’m surprised it didn’t get saved. Especially since it’s a notch back.

  • avatar
    JMII

    This was my FIRST car back in 88. I believe mine was a later model, maybe an ’81? It was a GLX which was not a V8 GT, but not the 4 banger LX either. The straight 6 drank gas like a V8 but accelerated like the 4. I know this because a friend had the 4 (with the manual and hatchback configuration) and my 6 with an automatic couldn’t catch him. It had a cheap red vinyl interior (hot & sticky) with a boring, ugly metallic tan (gold? faded brown?) exterior. Thankfully it was stolen some 8 months after I got for reasons I’ll never know… guess they wanted the stereo system because it was worth more then the car.

    The thing was a POS: it often over-heated, that “information center” was a Christmas tree of lights that came on randomly as you drove along, that little reset button proved Ford knew it didn’t work. Plus the gauges bounced wildly too (I’m doing 40, no I’m doing 60 mph now, nope back to 40). It got stuck in park if you were not careful: basically you had to stop, shift into N then into Park – if not the car would not start later, due to some safety lock out. If this happened the cure was to rock the car back and forth between N and P until things “clicked” which allowed the engine to fire up again.

    I hated this car mostly because I wanted a small, quick hatchback, but instead got stuck with a slow coupe with a trunk. I know Mustangs have a great following (my dad had a ’65) but these years weren’t desirable at all. My next car was a Honda Civic S1500 hatchback which was like Ferrari in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      My Camry’s neutral start safety switch went out. It refused to start. A used one for $100 solved it for one day. A piece of speaker wire that bypassed it solved it from then on, I traded it in not long after. I told them it would start in gear, hope they passed it on.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I had the ’81 too and had zero problems aside from a transmission rebuild and a new heater core.

      The heater core required disassembly of the whole dash. Took all day for my teenage self.

      No electrical gremlins in my car.

      You described the engine perfectly. Drank gas like a V8 and made power like a four cylinder.

      I had the hatchback and really wanted a five speed manual over the three speed auto. Went all over the southeast with that car.

  • avatar
    kinsha

    My ex had a 79 ghia hatchback when I started dating her in 84. Also had this straight 6 in it. The door handles were indeed low on the bottom of the door cards. Liked the car, but she was having a hard time starting it when I met her. I changed the oil, plugs, and a few other things. It ran much better after that. It seemed the body was built well. She sold it, and bought a TR7 – ughhhh thats another story.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Does any one know? Was the HSC engine a combo with the manual 5 speed transmission in the Taurus to make the MT-5 option code? Thanks. Also, was this 5 speed used in the SHO to make the 20K mile transmission?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      What?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think these shared anything with the Taurus except maybe the blue oval badge.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Yes, the MT 5 Taurus was a loss leader-high fuel mileage car for folks who wanted a Taurus but didn’t need/want to pony up for the V6 models. With the nasty old HSC in front of it, those Taurii were not fun to drive. At least with any passengers and/or cargo in them.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Friend of mine’s Dad in HS had a Taurus MT-5. It was sloooooow. My ’82 Subaru would leave it for dead. It was, however, infinitely better than the 4spd Pontiac Phoenix (X-car version) that it replaced. That car was not very affectionately known as the “dungmobile”.

        Another HS friend had one of these I6 Mustangs. Yup, power of a 4 while sucking gas like the V8. Awesome.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Cast irons straight six sucking the gas of a V8… Here is malaise era car anecdote that many of the B&B can relate to:

          My first car had a slant 6. On any snowy, wintry morn, it always depressed me a little bit to notice that the gas gauge never quite got up to where it pointed when I shut the car off the night before. If I had exactly 3/4 the night before, the needle would slowwwly make its way to just a bit less than that but never again touch the 3/4 line. Fuel consumption was atrocious during those first few minutes in the cold weather, and during that time the needle always took its sweet time, moving off the peg past E and alllll the way across the lines to whatever the present level was in the tank (that’s just how old gauges worked). By the time the needle got there, there was always much, much less than before. All that for just 95 ponies at 3,600rpm.

          It makes me sad just reminiscing about it.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            My old Camry and Tercel fuel gauges were so slow. I could fill up the Tercel and drive about 5 miles home. The needle might have made it to F by the time I got home and shut it off, often times not.

            With well over 100 cars having passed through my hands (and driven hundreds more), that’s the only been a trait of those 1980s Toyotas.

            I always thought the crooked-looking fuel gauge was over styled and needlessly complicated-looking compared to the simple and legable ones in a period Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          After I sold the I6 I moved to Europe for several years. What an education!

          I latched on to the Alfa Romeos and BMWs and Fiats and saw what could have been. Here were rev happy engines that were frugal enough I could afford to drive them.

          My mind drifted back to the Ford I6 and I mentally re-engineered it all. It cost 3 times more but sounded good, made power relative to its displacement, and got reasonable fuel economy. It was no longer an antique truck engine.

          Day dreams are great, aren’t they?

          Gauges: better a slow needle than the spastic needle my father’s Austin Healey had. It never would settle on a level. Yep, something was wrong but we never did the homework to solve it.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        Thanks for the confirmation on the MT-5 option, I was in my early teens so memories are hazy. I remember the rubber lower trim on the fender behind the front wheel had molded in the designation “MT-5”.

      • 0 avatar
        la834

        The 4 cylinder was also available with a 3-speed automatic (not a 4-speed as with the usual V6) in the low-end L model. It was never popular and probably only existed to advertise a lower base price.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      “Was the HSC engine a combo with the manual 5 speed transmission in the Taurus to make the MT-5 option code?”

      Yes, the 2.5 HSC (based on the Tempo/Topaz 2.3L, which was based off the 3.3L I-6 we see here) paired with a manual transaxle, coming with a standard console and tachometer (that was optional in the
      V-6 -powered GL), was the Taurus MT-5.

      “Also, was this 5 speed used in the SHO…?”

      The manual transmission used in the MT-5 is not the same as the one used in the SHO, it was used on 4 cylinder Tempo, Topaz, Escort and Lynx. There was a 3.73 final drive version used in sportier 4 cylinder derivatives like Tempo GLS and Escort GT. I don’t know if this final drive was used on the Taurus MT-5, but given the sporty way it was equipped otherwise (it was not a base model car like the 2.5L/3spd Taurus L), its possible.

      The only car the SHO shared its exact (it was related to the I-4 versions) manual transaxle with were the 1992-1994 V-6 Tempo/Topaz, with a specific flywheel. This is due to the fact that the SHO engine was based on the Vulcan’s block, making it possible to convert any Vulcan Taurus or Tempo to manual using a Tempo flywheel and an SHO/V-6 Tempo transaxle.

      The manual transaxles are clunky and cheap, they were pretty much a Mazda unit.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        JohnTaurus. Thanks for the inside baseball on 80’s FoMoCo history. Wow, maybe a possible swap is a Yamaha SHO powered AWD Tempo! That would be the definition of not only a sleeper, but waking of the dead! Driveline would last about 20 miles.

        Mine was a MY88 Sable 3.8L Essex. On Transmission #3, I was done with FWD, moved on to B-Body.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Heh yeah, I’ve owned many examples of these cars.

          The Tempo’s AWD was for not intended dry pavement, and only available with the 2.3L HSO (higher output version otherwise only used in the sport trims) and the 3 speed FLC automatic. The automatic was modified (as the manual was) to work on the Vulcan, its not interchangeable with the 4 cylinder version ATX. I don’t think you’d be able to do it, nor would it be worth it.

          Tempo’s AWD was designed to get you unstuck, up a bad road in snow/etc, it is by no means a bargain priced Quattro lol, nor was it supposed to be.

          There was a guy who put an SHO drivetrain into a base model Topaz coupe back when I was on tempotopaz.com., he took it to racing events and apparently did pretty well. Easily quicker than the 1st and 2nd gen Taurus SHOs that were popular for that sort of thing then.

          My idea is to buy a V-6 Tempo/Topaz, put the later Taurus 3.0L cam for better hp, and convert to manual if its not already. It would be a pretty quick little car, pretty much a stretched Escort with 150 +/- hp (the old intake etc would be retained, so the pit put wouldn’t equal the later Taurus version I don’t believe) and a good amount of torque.

          Torque Steer (autocorrect capitalized it for some reason lol so I left it) was very much present on my stock 1992 Tempo LX V-6 automatic, and it had a detuned engine and was the heaviest version, as the LX got more interior material.

          It was no slouch as it was. A little help, a more basic GL with a slightly built engine and a manual would be a joy of a sleeper (for me).

          Maybe not as fast as an SHO engine in the same car, but a much easier build and likely far more reliable in the long term.

          I’d be curious to know what it would do on a track. I would swap in SVT 4 wheel disk from a Contour or Focus, maybe pull a GM and put wider front tires on it? Ha

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          The Essex had the double whammy of being prone to problems like blowing head gaskets, bottom end noise, etc AND their only advantage over the Vulcan being increased torque, they were worse on the transaxle as well.

          I have had many Vulcan Taurus and Sables, and my mom had a 1997 Sable, they were pretty much all reliable and those that weren’t were junky, worn out cars like a $35 Sable I bought at an abandoned vehicle auction (which I got to run/drive…for a few months), or a 88 Taurus $500 trade in I beat the crap out of until it broke and then resold it for $500 (it wasn’t long for this world when it was traded in, and it was traded in on a newer Taurus, so evidently it hadn’t been too bad to the previous owner).

          Yes, people still had issues with the AXOD with the Vulcan, but the Essex’ extra torque made it practically guaranteed to fail as many times as you got it fixed. The AX4N version was designed to handle more power/torque, and was used on the 3.2L SHO, the DOHC Duratec 3.0L, 3.4L V-8 SHO, 4.6L Continental, and all later Vulcans, but was never paired with the 3.8L. It just starting to be used in the SHO late into the 2nd gen, and the 3.8L was gone a short time later.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Bought a brand new 1989 Mustang LX 5.0 5-speed manual in the fall of 1989. I believe all of these had stock 2.73 gears with the only factory option being 3.08. I had 3.73 put in mine. It was harder on back tires than it was on gas. One of the funnest cars I ever owned. Those 5.0 engines were built with good parts and it had pretty good torque for a 302. The transmissions would eventually prove to be weak over the long haul, though. Mine had some third gear issues when I traded it in 1991. Finding an unmolested, original car these days is a tough order and they are bringing prices close to or more than I paid for it new in 1989.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The “notch” LX 5.0 was a ridiculous performance bargain. A low 14 second car, right out the box! Even paying full MSRP, it could be had for less that $10,000 with crank windows and radio delete. True story. Yes it came (forced) with 15×7 alloys, and the GT’s cooling/suspension/brakes.

      I believe the GT’s started at around $14,000 or dealers optioned them that way. They were a huge seller in ’89 as ’88s were supposed to be the last year before impending “FWD” Mustangs (oh the horror!). It created a buying frenzy.

      I also believe Ford made an extra big batch of ’88s (for the still undecided ’89 model year) while they debated the fate of RWD Mustangs, that summer break.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      3.45s were a “secret handshake” option on automatics only.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Surprised that nobody has mentioned that for this generation the designers tried to ‘ape’ and many reviewers and consumers commented on the similarity of its appearance (see side view and back end styling in particular) to the MB 450 SLC.

  • avatar

    We actually owned one of these in cobra trim. Seat chassi and interior were pretty good. The TRX tires were ahead of their time. Car drove well especially for an domestic from the era. The turbo was a horrid pos that i never figured out how it passed tests for sale. Fuel would pool in the intake manifold. Youd stall in hot weather stop and go. The trans was four speed only with 1 and 2 normal. 3 was fourth and four was sixth. Either six or the eight would have been better. The turbo was a carb with draw through and no intercooler. My VW with a callaway system was better

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I also had a 1980 Capri RS turbo back in the day. I would agree that the car was a good driver, when it ran. The turbo motor was a terrible POS and ruined an otherwise great car. The TRX tires were super expensive to replace, but I used to get TRX sized recaps at Sears.

      I traded that car for a 1983 Trans Am. That was a whole ‘nother story… Ugh.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    My friend had this exact car but it was a 1980. The 200 six tied to the 3 speed automatic and 2.73 rear gear ensured that most anything would beat him in a race. Turning the A/C on only made it slower. The car was a glorified POS just like my 1979 Fairmont with the same drive-train. Interior rattled incessantly, warning lights, electrical issues, dash vibration at 55, oil leaks, rear end failure shortly followed by transmission failure, broken springs, overheating and the famous power steering pump noise were all constant reminders on why this era of cars got it’s malaise era name.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      I think I was “your friend”. I had a ’80 with the same powertrain. I left it in 2nd most of the time because I actually wanted to get somewhere. Worst thing to break on this POS was the windshield wipers… during a cats-and-dogs kind of rainstorm. Cracks all over the interior even when brand-new. Even sh!t doesn’t want to be identified with this car.

      After this car my dad swore off Ford (though he would return to the fold some years later).

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        The vibrating dash! I had forgotten about that. It was suspended at the ends and had a couple screws near the glass but wasn’t tied into the transmission hump. The faster my ’81 went the more the dash bounced. I’m pretty sure it had a tire out of round or something but the bouncing dash was hilarious and not confidence inspiring at all.

  • avatar

    I look at this car, and realize how much better off we are today. No matter what you buy, it’s better than this in almost every quantifiable way.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    The only Mustang I’ve ever driven myself could be this exact car. It was a very early Fox Mustang with the same eggcrate grille. It too was white with blue interior and had the 6cyl/auto. I can’t recall with certainty whether it was a hatch or notch, but something keeps telling me it was a notch.

    Belonged to a disabled roofer who did freelance handyman work for the farmer I worked for at the time (summer/school job for 17yo me). It had broken down at a gas station just a mile from the farm, so I drove it back to the farm for him after he repaired it. He wouldn’t let me drive his daughter’s late-80s Topaz (maroon with whorehouse-red interior) that he was driving while fixing his Mustang. It didn’t hurt my feelings any, nor did it endear me to the Mustang brand beyond that which my father’s 1978 Mustang II hatchback 4cyl/4spd with white vinyl interior did. That car was sold by the time I turned 12, making the early Fox as old as I was on a mile run up the hill to the farm the only time I drove a Mustang.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    I hope Ford ended up paying off the tooling for that Auto Trans Shifter/indicator bezel combo. They used it in damn near everything.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I happen to love those inline 6s, they had much more potential than 88 HP and were very reliable. I have had two Mercury Zephyrs with them, I really enjoyed the car and the engine, especially once some minor steps were taken to let it breathe better.

    I’m a bit envious that the Aussies kept it (and developed it) while we didn’t. Their later versions would have been so much better than the awful, unreliable 3.8L V-6 in 1988-97 Thunderbird/Cougar, as well as 1994-2004 Mustang, and the freaking Ford Ranger engine that replaced it (4.0L SOHC POS) in the Mustang.

    It could have even been used in base Crown Vics. It made as much HP and torque as the ’90s 4.6L V-8.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      No, those straight-six Falcon mills had zero potential in 1979. The engine used a cylinder head that had the intake manifold cast with the head as one piece. The internal dimensions of that manifold was on par with that of a worm hole made by a small worm. As far as I know, there was no one making a proper cross-flow cylinder head for that engine back in 1979 that was available in North America. The only way to get it to breath would have involved forced induction and the entire set-up would have needed to be custom. Lots cheaper and easier to use a small block. Yes, Ford Oz developed that engine into a proper performance mill, but Ford never even considered bringing, or producing it in the US. Shame, it really was a lost opportunity.

      • 0 avatar
        Shawnski

        I bought a low mileage 1980 Fairmont for $300 back in 2001. I was working towards a 5.0 engine swap but in the meantime I did what I could with the 200 I6. First of all I put in 3.08 trac-loc 7.5″ rear from an ’82 GT (complete with factory slapped bars), put a 6 into 1 header and 2.5″ exhaust. A shift kit for the C4, and 2 bbl Holley on carb adapter. Milled the head .007″ for a tick more compression and adapted late Eighties Mustang and TBird suspension and brakes. The engine was actually quite smooth and sounded good, but 100 hp will not win many races, although on a road course circuit its was not bad as it was a significantly lighter than a 5.0

        While the intake “log” from the Seventies version of the engine was better than its 60s counterpart, the 60s had an adjustable valve train, and once I milled the head I was getting slack and noise at high RPM. Took it out and went the 5.0 route with satisfying results. I still have a soft spot for those short stroke 200 ci sixies though. Inline 6s cylinders at speed emit a nice and smooth sophisticated sound, even ancient ones.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        There were no great advantages using the 200 six in the Fox bodies. The engine was just about as heavy as the V8, but didn’t return any better fuel mileage. Even a base 2.8 as installed in the Pinto/Bobcat was 90 HP, IIRC they were at 115 HP in these cars. The Lima 2.3 four wasn’t all that far behind the 3.3L six, with 88 HP. I think the main reason it was used was because it was all Ford had to use.

        In the mid 1970s Jack Roush, took a beefed up a 250 CID six, made his own special crossflow head from 351C heads, stuffed it in a 4 door Maverick and won a bunch of money in NHRA. I think it was a Pro Stock car, but don’t remember exactly. With the right amount of engineering and money thrown at it, the 200-250 six will work, but a 5.0 is so much easier and faster.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          “but a 5.0 is so much easier and faster.”

          So would a later model V-6 Accord, but it misses the point.

          I have always loved the Inline 6 (not just the “Falcon 6”, those from other manufacturers and Ford as well), and I love having something different. Yes, a Probe GT may be faster than a Tempo V-6, but I choose the latter.

          I don’t make any claim that there is easy/cheap HP to unlock from a 1970s 3.3L 6. I would at least start with a 250 block and go from there with the Aussie stuff.

          I don’t expect it to be cheapeat or easiest. As I said, if cheap speed was all I wanted, there are easier ways to get it. That isn’t lost on me. For the price of the head alone I could probably buy a decent Ford 302 to drop in.

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            I love the idea of a hopped up six, but they lost the battle decades ago.

            If you had some sort of real advantage, lighter weight, inexpensive to build, high hp/weight ratio, etc., then it would make perfect sense. But when you’re within 100-200 lbs of one another and every part for the six is a special order, what is the point again? Spending more money to be heavier and go slower?

            I had a Maverick years ago with the 250 six in it. As soon as I could, I ripped that out and replaced it with a small block. It made a world of difference.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            The point is to be different. Any backyard mechanic can put a V-8 in most any RWD car. So, I can be just like 56 other cars at the event, with “oh it had a 6, now it has ______ V-8”. Yawn. I’d rather say, it still has a six and is every bit as fun as a V-8. Wow, that’s different, never knew they did that, cool, etc etc lol.

            “but they lost the battle decades ago.”
            They’ve been improved upon in the past decades, that is what I’ve been saying. There are ways now to build them. No, it isn’t cheap, I GET THAT. I never said it was cheaper or easier. Cheap power is readily available, I don’t need to try to find it.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        “No, those straight-six Falcon mills had zero potential in 1979. ”

        You’re right, at that time, they were smogged to death and tuned for economy. Add in the log head, and yes, it was gutless at the time without much hope. I did desmog one of mine and it certainly felt peppier. No, significant modification based on that technology wasn’t possible.

        I meant that with a more development, it had potential here in our market (and today in a “restomod”, as I am envisioning it), and the Aussies explored that potential.

        I was driving these cars in the 2000s, and since, I’ve wanted to upgrade the 6 to a later-year Aussie “Alloy Head” and do MPFI with EEC-IV if I could.

        I found lots of good info at inlinesix.com, I’ll have another one some day. I want a 250 Chevy 6 with a Brazilian Vortec head, too. Prefer it in a (two door if applicable) K-5/Blazer/Jimmy/Yukon.

        • 0 avatar
          skor

          I drove rebuilt 170/200 first gen Mustangs, those engines had no smog controls and were really not much better than the 70s versions of those engines. Not much lighter than a 289, not a lot better in fuel economy, not even smooth running since the they used the most primitive (cheap) carb located centrally on the most primitive (cheap) log manifold. The two cylinders nearest the carb ran rich while the two at either end ran lean. Sum-biatch shook like it had the DTs and there was no way to smooth it out with that cylinder head which was a shocking way to sell those engines because an I6 (and V12s) are naturally balanced designs that are capable of running smooth as silk. The only good thing I can say about Ford’s North American 144/170/200/250 series of engines is that they were cheap, reliable and cheap. Did I say they were cheap?

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Its amazing how BAD the engineering was on some of these cars (all brands) during that period.

            We are SO lucky these days.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I owned 87 Thunderbird with the 3.8L TBI V-6 for 13 years with few issues whatsoever. Probably the most reliable vehicle I ever owned. I ended up selling it when the head gasket blew at 187k. The 88-97 with the MPI had their issues with head gaskets where Ford was installing replacement engines at 20k. Ford finally extended the warranty to 7/100k for the FWD vehicles then for the RWD models.

      http://www.autosafety.org/ford-38l-head-gasket-trouble/

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I have despised it and always will I guess. Turned a lot of people off from Ford permanently.

        Yes, it seems the earlier versions were a bit more reliable than the later. I was thinking of the MN12 platform, as it sets the engine way back under the cowl, unlike your ‘Bird, making it even harder to work on. And it needed work more often!

        A smooth, reliable, modern Inline 6 with even more torque than the Essex would’ve been much more Jag XJS/BMW 6 series/Lexus SC emulating than it was with a Taurus engine.

        No, it wouldn’t have turned the car into a world class luxury coupe, but it would have been more, more of a poor-man’s premium-like (RWD, IRS, advanced I-6, optional turbo) PLC.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          My current 95 MN-12 T-Bird has the 4.6 which is smooth and reliable. After my 87 died and I was looking for a replacement I avoided looking at all MN-12’s with the 3.8, even if they had new gaskets or engines replaced under warranty. Not only the reliability was a concern but with 3500 lb of weight they need the 205 HP V8 vs the 145 of the V6.. Though I did come close to buying a 92 Bird with the 5.0 but figured I’d go for the later model with the cooler wrap around dash and airbags.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Yes, I love the 1994+ T-Bird, Cougar with the V-8, and Mark VIII.

            I briefly owned a 1994 V-8 ‘Bird, but lost it in a dispute with my best friend. It was a difficult situation, and nothing could be gained by bringing it up, so I’m content to leave the past in the past.

            I loved that Thunderbird, though. The dash and console made for one of the best looking interiors of the era,, far better than what it replaced.

            I would like to try to put an Aussie I-6 into a V-6 1994-97 Cougar. I would own another 4.6L in a heartbeat.

            Got a couple ‘Birds on my list.

            This one is certainly a fixer-upper (but that’s fine with me):
            https://pensacola.craigslist.org/cto/d/1995-ford-v8-thunderbird/6240180313.html

            Got a Turbo Coupe too, needs engine rebuild: https://mobile.craigslist.org/cto/d/1988-ford-thunderbird-turbo/6227279225.html

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            By the way, when I said “unlike your ‘Bird” before, I should have said “unlike that ‘Bird” (83-88) instead.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          That 95 Bird on CL seems like a good deal. Just needs some sensors, MAP and EGR plus a tune up.
          I see plenty for sale in the $1-3k range. The book value on my 95 LX with 132k on it is from $1850-$2200. It’s one of the reasons why I keep it.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Yes, it sounds like the 1994 I had for a while. A good servicing and a new MAF, it ran great and would leave rubber anywhere you wanted it to.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    In 2003 I bought my dream HS graduation car, a 92 LX emerald over charcoal interior, 5MT, recently rebuilt and warmed over 5.0 with all the bolt ons , Cobra rear spoiler. I loved that car , it had cheap lowering springs which were replaced with updated H&R,KONIs,camber plates from Maximum Motorsports. If I would’ve kept it I would have had a Panhard bar installed, as the rear was very unpredictable.
    Great fun and very good handling provided the road was smooth and you didn’t need to stop quickly.I had a Cobra brake kit sourced but ultimately sold the car before installing the kit.
    I received several compliments on how clean it looked , as many were thrashed for 1/4 mile racing.
    It sold quickly in 05, having served it’s purpose as the car “always wanted as a teenager”

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I wish I’d bought a Fox 5.0 and nearly did couple times, but I worked in a GM store and that was a no-no at the time. I think Ford deserves credit for what they turned the Fox Mustang into in a few years. I think this car kept the muscle car flame alive, and now look at the Mustang we have.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      “…a no-no at the time.’

      I knew 3 dudes that were GM “MR GOODWRENCH” mechanics (working at the same GM dealer) and all owned 5.0 LX/GT Mustangs. Yep there wasn’t anything the dealer could do, and actually let them modify/tune their Mustangs in the shop, after-hours.

      This was around ’88, and I’m sure the dealer understood, Ford just outclassed them (and surely saw the comedy in it!). Most IROCs on the lot were automatics and probably weak 5.0s, not the optional 5.7.

      You couldn’t beat the value of Mustangs, options/selection/availability to buyers, and the tremendous aftermarket.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I drove a 1994 Tempo (a car I picked out) when I worked at a GM dealer in the early ’00s. I made no excuses, I drove what I wanted. I said if you want to give me a GM company car so I show up in a GM car everyday, I’d be just fine in a Pontiac Grand Prix, Bonneville or Buick Regal with a 3800 s/c.

  • avatar
    geo

    In 1993 a friend of mine told me about an old farmer who had a five liter Mustang with only 65,000 original miles. I went to see it. It was a 1979 Mustang notchback with a sunroof, a clean interior, faded paint, and a rather large dent on the rear fender. The farmer assured me that the 65k on the clock were original miles, though I didn’t believe him and there was no way to know for sure.

    I bought it for 600 bucks. It drove and handled solidly, it was comfortable, and it seemed pretty fast at the time. There were problems with the choke, and I had to creatively find ways to wedge it open after it warmed up.

    It held about fifty liters of gas, which took me about 300 kilometers. This was too much for me, and I sold it to a buddy for really cheap. In hindsight, I think it really did have 65,000 miles and I should have appreciated it more.

  • avatar
    arcuri

    Miss those straight six motors. :(. Could you tell me more JohnTaurus, regarding the 4.0 SOHC V-6 ? I was always skeptical of those motors. My 2005 Explorer was equipped with that motor, water pumped was replaced around 60,000 miles. No other problems. Strong motor.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      They tend to have timing chain issues. I see a lot of Explorers so equipped with “needs engine” or “needs engine work”. 9 times out of ten, its the timing chains making lots of noise, or it is no longer running because they ignored it and eventually it completely failed.

      My friend had a 2002 Explorer XLT 4×4, it had the 4.0L SOHC, but it was damaged by a fire and totalled out with just 89k on it. At that point, it had been totally reliable and had required no work since they bought it new (just oil changes, which I did myself).

      So, they weren’t bad enough that you couldn’t get decent service out of them, its just that eventually, the timing chain issue will make itself known via a rattle up front.


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