The 1979 Ford Mustang TRX turbo was greeted as an enthusiast's delight with  the potential to be the best sport coupe Ford had ever built.

1979 Ford Mustang Performance

As in previous models, powerteam determined the character of any particular 1979 Mustang. The V-8 was a drag-race engine by '79 standards, doing 0-60 mph in 8-9 seconds. A V-6 still took around 11 seconds with manual four-speed, while a like-equipped turbo-four needed 11-12 seconds. The straight-six took close to 13. Standing quarter-mile times ranged from 17 seconds at 85 mph for the V-8 to 19.2 at 75 for the 200 six.

Press reaction also still depended on engine -- and who was in the driver's seat. Some writers thought the V-8 had too much power for its chassis and was out of step with gasoline prices that were starting to rise again.

Don Sherman of Car and Driver judged the V-6 Mustang as the best choice for handling by dint of "the best power-to-front-end-weight ratio." But he was also impressed with two other cars he sampled for a preview report. "The lightweight revolution has arrived in performance land. Rejoice."

The intriguing turbo-four naturally garnered much "buff book" attention. Said John Dinkel in Road & Track: "The TRX turbo would seem to be an enthusiast's delight. I just hope that the design compromises dictated by costs and the fact that Ford couldn't start with a completely clean sheet of paper don't wreck that dream.... There's no doubt the new Mustang has the potential to be the best sport coupe Ford has ever built, but in some respects [it] is as enigmatic as its predecessor."

1979 Ford Mustang Pace Car

Highlighting the Fox Mustang's debut year was its selection as Indy 500 pace car, the first Mustang so honored since 1964. Doing the deed was a colorfully striped hatchback with a special T-bar roof and a V-8 massaged by tuner extraordinaire Jack Roush to attain the Brickyard's required 120-mph minimum track speed.

As so often happens with Indy pacers, the public was offered a replica. This had the same striping, pewter/black paint scheme, unique hood and three-slat grille, and premium Recaro bucket seats, plus flip-up sunroof and a choice of turbo-four or regular V-8 engines. Race-day decals were included for dealers to apply if the customer wished. The mists of time seem to have shrouded original price, but Ford built about 11,000 of these Replicas, unusually high for the genre.

Mustang was chosen pace car for the 1979 Indy 500. Ford celebrated the honor by running off some 11,000 replica hatchbacks like this. The replicas looked much like the actual pace car but had a flip-up sunroof instead of a T-top.

Lee Iacocca Leaves Ford

In June 1978, as the 1979 model year was in full swing, Ford set industry tongues a-wagging with word that Lee Iacocca was out of a job after 32 years. Officially, he was taking early retirement (on October 15, his 54th birthday).

But many observers assumed he'd be dumped before Henry Ford II's scheduled retirement as chief executive in 1980 and as chairman in 1982. As usual, the head man didn't say much, though he reportedly told Iacocca, "It's just one of those things." Iacocca wasn't bitter, at least in public. "You just surmise that he doesn't want strong guys around," he said later.

Ironically, and as Iacocca was careful to note, June 1978 was the biggest single sales month in Ford history, capping a first half that netted the company its largest six-month profit on record. "They probably won't be at this peak again, so I guess it's a good time to go." As we know, Iacocca rode off to Chrysler, which he eventually saved from extinction.

Iacocca's successor, Philip Caldwell, was happy to count a strong 369,936 sales for the redesigned Mustang. Though that was slightly less than the Mustang II's first-year total, it bested the company's forecast of 330,000, and represented a startling 92.2-percent jump from model-year '78.

Buyers must have liked the new models, because Ford charged a lot more for them. Aggravated by stubborn period inflation, base sticker prices swelled a whopping $500-$700 -- a 15-17 percent jump -- ranging from $4071 for the four-cylinder notchback to $4824 for the Ghia hatch.

For the 1980 Mustang, designers were still concerned with fuel economy. Learn more about how the 1980 Mustang was tweaked and refined (and how performance suffered).

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • With Lee Iacocca back in the saddle, Ford's pony car revisited its roots in the mid '70s. Learn about the dramatically smaller, lighter design of the Mustang II in 1974-1978 Ford Mustang.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough go racing -- or so said the new hard chargers who took command at Ford in the early '80s. Learn more in 1982-1986 Ford Mustang.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.