The 1980 Ford Mustang was similar in many respects its predecessor, coming in a little shorter, a little wider, and a little heavier.

The 1980 Ford Mustang versus the 1965 Mustang

As the original pony car turned 15 years old, it was natural to compare the 1980 Ford Mustang with the one that started it all, the 1965 Ford Mustang.

Looking at vital statistics, it was tempting to say little had changed. Though the newest pony was 7.6 inches trimmer in wheelbase, it was only 2.5 inches shorter overall (at 179.1), about an inch wider (at 69.1), and less than 100 pounds heavier (2516 pounds at the curb). Front passenger space was about equal, but the '80 was much roomier in back, suggesting Ford had learned something about space utilization in all that time. And unlike the '65, the Fox-platform car was burdened with all manner of safety features mandated by the federal government, such as reinforced doors and five-mph bumpers, so Ford had apparently learned something about weight control too.

Engine comparisons were equally interesting. While the 2.3-liter four-cylinder was a Seventies invention, the six cylinder was exactly the same powerplant that was standard in '65 Mustangs (save early cars with the 170-cubic-inch unit). The 255-cubic-inch V-8 was based on the 302, which, in turn, evolved from the 289 that itself was enlarged from the original Mustang's 260. Yet both the six and V-8 now returned much better fuel mileage than their 1965 counterparts.

What such comparisons couldn't convey was how much Mustang had changed over 15 years. As we've seen, the stylish sporty compact that won all America's heart was allowed to become too large, too unwieldy, too wasteful. Ford knew that as well as anyone, hence the far more rational Mustang II. But the Fox generation was far better, deliberately designed to be even closer to the '65 in size, if not character. And why not?

Then as now, it was the original that defined Mustang for most people. Of course, the Fox-platform version couldn't be a retro copy, because automotive realities had changed greatly since the Sixties. All the more remarkable, then, that it ended up so nimble, attractive, and efficient -- and with a winning charm all its own.

Early Mustangs, like the 1966 model seen here, remain a favorite with car lovers, but can't match the safety requirements and interior space of the 1980 model.

A Sales Setback

What the 1979 Mustang couldn't match was the sales success of its 1965 counterpart. Times had changed from the wide-open 1960s, that much was clear.

With a new gas crunch triggering another sharp recession, total U.S. car sales plunged for model-year 1980. Mustang was not immune but fared reasonably well, tallying 271,322 units. Not surprisingly, demand for four-cylinder models shot up from 54 percent to nearly 68 percent of total deliveries. Sixes declined a little over a point to just below 30 percent, leaving V-8s at fewer than three percent. These shares stayed about the same for 1981, but on much lower volume of 182,552 units. Sharp price hikes didn't help. The base four-cylinder coupe went up to $6171, the top-line Ghia hatchback to $6729.

The 1980 Mustang was poised to get its performance groove back, and Ford was ready to prove it on the racetrack. Keep reading to learn about racing the 1980 Mustang.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:
  • 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.