You can build a supercharged 500-hp 'Stang in your backyard for about the price of a Ferrari brake job

For long-suffering Mustang fans, the all-new 1979 Mustang was a near-miraculous event after four years of the embarrassing Pinto-based Mustang II.
It got even better in 1982, when Dearborn proudly proclaimed that "the Boss is back" with the 5.0-liter engine and the reincarnation of the "GT" name. While the 5.0 could be ordered in any body or trim level, the GT was an exclusively V8-powered model that included larger wheels, stiffer suspension, fog lamps, and sportier seats. The only transmission available was a heavy-duty four-speed manual. For the penny-wise and pound-foolish, a hopeless 4.2-liter V8 could be special ordered in a GT for a $57 credit.
The Mustang continued to improve. In mid-1983, when a convertible returned to the roster, a five-speed manual became an option, and a slight facelift revised the front fascia, grille and taillights.
For 1984, a new "high output," 175-hp 5.0 with a four-barrel carb, mated to a Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed became the base powertrain for the GT. For the first time, 5.0s could be had with an automatic transmission, which also offered throttle-body fuel injection ("CFI").
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Mustang, a mid-year "GT-350" trim package was offered, with white paint and dark red stripes and interior. Carroll Shelby-at that time souping up Omnis for Chrysler-was not amused and filed suit.
The 5.0 was bumped to 210 hp in 1985, the first year for roller-tipped lifters, an improved accessory drive belt system, and stainless tube headers, plus another revision to the front fascia. It was also the last year for the carbureted Mustang. In 1986 a sequential port fuel-injected version of the 5.0 tuned to 200 hp was the only GT powerplant.
Around this time, Ford was considering dropping the rear-drive Mustang and replacing it with a Mazda-engineered front-driver. Mustang aficionados went ballistic at the thought of a rice-burning 'Stang, and deluged Ford with mail pleading for continued production in the configuration that God and Lee Iacocca had intended.
Ford was also deluged with sales: In 1986 alone, Ford sold 244,410 Mustangs. It decided to leave well enough alone and the would-be Mazda Mustang, the Ford Probe, eventually debuted in 1989. (Ironically, the new 2005 Mustang will be built at the joint-venture plant designed for the now-defunct Probe, in Flat Rock, Michigan.)
The first major overhaul of the new Mustang occured in 1987. Along with fresh cosmetics, it received an all-new interior featuring a more ergonomic instrument panel. The 5.0's output was increased to 225 hp and with the exception of minor engineering and styling tweaks, the Mustang remained virtually unchanged through the 1993 model year.
During the 5.0's long run, there were also Mustang variants produced for the law enforcement community and special tuner versions from ASC McLaren (1980-90) and Saleen (1984-on).
The last hoorah before the 5.0 gave way to Ford's 4.6-liter modular V8 came in 1993, with Ford's SVT group reviving the famous Cobra nameplate. A unique D-code engine produced 235 hp, and to up the ante even more, in mid-year SVT built 107 lightweight Cobra Rs specifically for IMSA and SCCA homologation. Cobra Rs had no back seat, radio, air-conditioning or sound dampening material, and boasted stiffer front struts with Koni shocks at the rear.
Even now, 11 years after the last of the 5.0 Mustangs rolled down the Rouge assembly line, aftermarket parts availability is remarkable. Much of this activity centers around bits to help shrink quarter-mile times into the single digits.
A 5.0 Mustang is among the best bang for the buck in performance available. You can build a supercharged 500-hp 'Stang in your backyard for about the price of a Ferrari brake job.
The downside of this performance potential is that 5.0 Mustangs are generally used and abused until thoroughly dead, and left to melt into piles of iron oxide in the driveways of would-be boy racers' parents. Inside the unibodies, rust tends to grow like mushrooms in the dark. When the rocker panels start to get open holes, it's time to scrap the car. Though 5.0 Mustangs are generally reliable, in that they run forever and are cheaper than dirt to fix when they break, Ford's attention to detail in fit and finish was marginal at best. Seats, door panels and other interior appointments seemed to have a design life about the same as a 1960s Fiat, which is to say, about two years at best.
As with any inexpensive car, your best and only bet is to look for a low-mileage, clean, adult-driven car. Even if you pay $1,000 over a price guide listing, you'll get it back immediately in driving pleasure. Trust me, getting a ratty 5.0 for cheap and dressing it up with Wal-Mart sheepskins just isn't all that much fun now that we're not in college anymore.
As a future collectible, 5.0 Mustangs have little potential. Over a half-million were made, and even the special editions weren't really very special. Some have been squirreled away since new by the dealers, usually still on the MSO (manufacturer's statement of origin, never titled), and these do have that "time-warp" factor going for them. But there's not much point to buying one of these, as every mile you drive them will just make them worth a whole lot less.
The best bets for any collectibility would be the 1993 SVT Cobras and Cobra Rs. They can be found, without too much detective work, through local and national clubs, eBay Motors and Trader Online. Find a good one with no stories, and don't worry about paying retail or more. They won't cost anything to own, will smoke tires with the best of them, and will be easy to sell when you're done.

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