Autobiography: The Game of Foxes

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
autobiography the game of foxes

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Of course that was NEVER going to apply to me and my nerdy, car-clueless Father. He drove boxy Detroit stripper sedans. I drove VW’s and Peugeots. He’s a world-renowned neurologist– but totally impractical. I never finished high school– but rebuild cars. I grew-up in the time when political pundits pronounced our cultural chasm a “generation gap.” Except ours was more like the Grand Canyon. Or so I thought…

In 1978, the Old Man bought a bare-bones Zephyr. No, not the famous Lincoln Zephyr; a Mercury Zephyr. The two-door corporate cousin to the Ford Fairmount “sported” a frugal four cylinder engine mated to a four-speed stick, sitting on Ford’s “ride engineered” suspension package. We made fun of Dad’s nerd-mobile behind his back, with visions of cooler wheels floating in our heads.

In 1983, I bought a Thunderbird Turbo-Coupe. My ninth generation “Aero Bird” boasted a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, a five-speed manual, a “Traction-Lok” limited-slip differential, a sporty interior and bigger wheels and tires than lesser iterations.

The next time I visited the folks, I borrowed Dad’s Zephyr for an errand. As soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat and closed the door, genetics’ painful reality crashed my consciousness. Esentially, I was sitting in the same car as my Turbo Coupe.

It was like that OMG moment when you first say something or make a gesture that totally channels one of your parents. The seat, steering wheel, pedals, dash and stick were all exactly in the same place. Even the Zephyr’s feeble 88hp Pinto engine was scarily familiar. Not only was it the same basic engine, but it felt and sounded like it too (at least until my T-bird’s turbo finally spooled up).

You can run, but you can’t hide from a Ford Fox-body, the most versatile, evergreen and successful platform ever conceived in Detroit.

If my Dad had been a cop, he would have been driving a black-and-white (Fox-body) LTD II sedan. Had he gone into private practice, he probably would have been behind the wheel of a Fox-body Lincoln MK VII LSC coupe. If he’d left my mother in a mid-life crisis, he would have ignored his incipient mortality in a Foxy red Mustang GT rag-top.

More improbably, if Dad had given up academia to become a coke dealer in downtown Baltimore, he would have been doing so out of a pimped-out (Fox-body) Continental Givenchy sedan with gold-plated grille and wire wheels.

If he’d been a little less self-conscious than this son, but equally car-crazed, he would have gotten past the mullet image of the Mustang and bought an SVO, the most technologically advanced, best-handling American car in 1984.

Finally, if Dad had been what I most would have liked him to be, the CEO of Ford, he would have been flinging a carefully prepped Fox-bodied LX 5.0 sedan around the race course at Bob Bondurant’s driving school. Just like CEO Donald Peterson, the daddy of the Fox platform.

Why the endless permutations of the same platform? In the seventies, Ford desperately needed a new compact platform. But in those lean years, The Blue Oval Boys didn’t have the big bucks they needed to develop all-new front wheel-drive powertrains. So rear wheel-drive it was.

For pistonheads, Ford’s “loss” was a blessing in disguise. Overseen by Peterson, utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) for the first time, Ford’s development team created a light but strong and eminently flexible platform. The modified strut front suspension left room for V8s. The rack and pinion steering was precise. And the four-link rear axle was a big step up from the leaf-spring Falcon chassis the Fox replaced.

In 1978, the clones Fairmont and Zephyr came first: boxy but light, a bit boring but tossable, honest and ruggedly simple– an American Volvo 240. But it was the next year’s new Mustang established the Fox’ legendary legacy.

Ford developed the Fox platform for over twenty-five unbroken years, right through the 2004 model year Mustangs. The Fox ‘Stang and its mechanical kin offer today’s enthusiasts a cornucopia of junk-yard parts interchangeability and after-market performance parts availability. An entire industry has grown-up around them; they’ve completely overshadowed their spiritual predecessors, the tri-five Chevys.

Foxes are nothing less than a reincarnation of Fords from the classic flathead era, when swapping Model T frame rails to ’39 taillights– and everything in between– ushered in the hot-rod era.

DNA trumps all. I’ve had to accept that in addition to our Foxes, I share some traits with my father. Turns out we both write, but the results are even more divergent than the $3600 econo-box Fox-based Fairmont and the world-class Foxy $32k Mark VII LSC. Dad’s 1250-page “Electroencephalography” sits on every neurologist’s bookshelf. My modest stories have all of 800 words. And no, the parts don’t interchange.

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  • Bugo Bugo on Aug 23, 2010

    I drove two Fox-body cars when I was a kid. The first one was a white 1980 Fairmont wagon. It was the first car I ever drove. It had a 200 cid six cylinder and a 3 speed automatic. I mostly drove it on very lightly traveled Forest Service gravel roads at 15 MPH when I was 11 or 12 and just learning how to drive, so I can't comment too much on its performance. I remember our neighbor, a mechanic at the local Ford dealership, claiming that it "handled like a sports car." It gave us a lot of trouble. Dad had to yank the engine out not long after we got it (used) and had problems getting the right parts and had to yank the engine apart again. The other Fox body was my first car, a black 1980 Cougar XR7 with a maroon vinyl top and slanted opera windows. I got it on my 16th birthday. It was a much, much better car than the Fairmont. It was like a $900 car at the time. It had a 302, bored .030 over, 2bbl carburetor, and a 4 speed automatic overdrive transmission. Boy, did that car handle. I drove like a bat out of hell when I was 16 and if that car hadn't handled as well as it did, I would have probably gotten myself killed in it. Great handling car. It rode well too. It wasn't very quick, especially for a V8, which also kept me from getting into too much trouble. The transmission sucked. Hard. I eventually pulled it out and replaced it with a C4 (the first time I ever did a tranny swap.) It was much, much quicker with the C4 but it seemed like it was taching 3000 RPM at 55 MPH. It had a problem with overheating, but it was a 10 or 11 year old car at the time so it had a bunch of minor things wrong with it. We had to replace the door hinges, and the driver's side door handle broke. And the transmission lockout switch got ruined during a session of hoonage so we had to put a pushbutton starter in it which lay on the floor and would shock you if you touched the wires while starting it. You could start it in drive. Once I took it on a straight stretch and topped it out. I have no idea how fast I was going because the speedometer only went to 85. This was when it still had the AOD in it, so I might have been going 120 or more. I also jumped it going over the local "thrill hill." I heard the rear wheels spin when I left the ground. I miss that car. I would like to have one just like it with a fuel injected 5.0 out of a Fox Mustang and a 5 speed manual. I don't see many Cougars like that these days. It was the XR7, which was much better looking than the regular Cougar (Granada clone.) It was also much better looking than the contemporary Thunderbird, because it didn't have the ugly Thunderbird front end with the hidden headlights. Great car, especially for a 16 year old.

  • 92 mustang 92 mustang on Mar 24, 2011

    Fox cars are probably the most dependable cars that we have ever owned. Between myself, my wife and one son, we own 5 foxes and they are all dependable cars (one is hot rodded with a 306, so it is not a daily driver). My 1992 has between 300,00 and 400,00 miles on it with the original drivetrain (have replaced a few clutches - after all, I have taught twin sons and one daughter-in-law how to drive a stickshift, lol). It has been a fantastic car, we bought it used in 2000. It is a 2.3 liter 4 cylinder and gets between 28 and 30 miles to the gallon. My wife was driving it back and forth to work, an average of 200 miles per week, until her left knee started having problems with pushing the clutch in. I went back to driving it when we got her a 1991 convertible mustang with an automatic. She has been driving that car for almost a year now, same amount of miles per week with no major problems. Our one son drives an 88 fox most of the time to work, 40 miles one way. He works 5 days a week. All in all, you can't beat a fox. Just do your usual maintenance on the car. That is the life of any car.

  • Probert I have used both level one and level 2 charging at my house. I use this for local needs. I have a fairly regular 350 mile round trip. I charge after about 125 miles one way, at a level 3 at a KIA dealer. I could do it in a straight shot, but this leaves me plenty of reserve if I need it in the city.I charge at the same place on the way out, adding about 40%, and I'm home free.A number of chargers have opened since I got the Niro 2 years ago, so I have a fair amount of flexibility on this route. I have used EA chargers on the route, and also a handy, and friendly Harley dealer charger.
  • Dan65708323 I think Ford it going to go under. They can't lose 3 billion ever year for years. All their EV's are on stop sales. Good luck Ford.
  • Kcflyer LC 500
  • Kcflyer Sure, we lose money on each one, but we will make it up on volume :)
  • VoGhost You want to hear something mind blowing? Ford last year lost $34K on every BEV it sold. Tesla made $10K per vehicle sold. So stop telling me that once the legacy ICE automakers get into the EV market that they'll wipe the floor with Tesla. My stock is making way too much money to take you seriously.