The powertrain choices for the 1979 Ford Mustang showed an intriguing new engine option. The heart of the racy new Cobra package, it was a turbocharged "Lima" four-cylinder rated at 132 SAE net horsepower against only 88 horsepower for the unblown version. Though common now, turbos were pretty exotic in the late Seventies, especially for a mass-market Detroit product.
With four-speed gearbox, the blown-four was good for a claimed 8.3 seconds in 0-55-mph acceleration (Detroit wasn't quoting 0-60s with a "double nickel" national speed limit still in force), plus mid-20s fuel economy -- an excellent compromise overall.
Turbocharging, of course, was nothing new. Like the similar supercharger, it's a simple bolt-on means to improve volumetric efficiency. A small turbine plumbed into the exhaust manifold uses exhaust gases to turn an impeller that drives a pump near the carburetor. In normal running, the turbine spins too slowly to boost exhaust-manifold pressure or affect fuel consumption. But as the throttle is opened and the engine speeds up, so does the flow rate of the exhaust gases.
The increased flow spins the turbine, which speeds up the impeller to boost the density (pressure) of the air/fuel mixture, resulting in more power. To prevent damage, engineers set maximum boost at six pounds per square inch via a "wastegate" relief valve that allowed gases to bypass the turbine once that pressure was reached.
Carryover engines weren't neglected for '79. The veteran 302 V-8, now rating 140 horsepower, gained a new low-restriction exhaust system, more lightweight components, and an accessory drive with a single "serpentine" V-belt for greater reliability. The German-made V-6 was down to 109 horsepower -- and in short supply, prompting Ford to replace it during the model year with the hoary 200-cubic-inch inline six, which now rated just 85 horsepower.
The V-8 and both sixes offered an optional four-speed gearbox developed specifically for them -- essentially the base three-speed manual with a direct-drive third gear (1:1 ratio) and an overdrive fourth (0.70:1) tacked on. Final drive ratios were 3.08:1 for automatics, four-speed V-6, and the standard four, 3.45:1 for other combinations. Three-speed Cruise-O-Matic, also carried over with minor updates, was optional at $307.
Significantly, the '79 Mustang bowed in the second year for CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. A Congressional response to the energy crisis, this law mandated specific mpg targets for all automakers selling in the U.S. In brief, the EPA-rated fuel economy for all cars sold by a given manufacturer had to average so many miles per gallon for a given model year, initially 19 mpg, rising progressively to 27.5 mpg by 1985.
Companies whose "fleet average" fell below a yearly target were fined a set number of dollars for each 0.1-mpg infraction, multiplied by total sales for that model year. Obviously, failure to comply could be costly indeed. However, the law provided credits for exceeding a given year's target that could be used to avoid or reduce penalties for non-compliance in another year, past or future. All rather complicated -- and highly political, of course.
Still, CAFE achieved its goal of spurring Detroit to develop smaller, lighter, thriftier cars in most every size and price class. The effort took on new urgency with the onset of another energy crisis in spring 1979, when the Shah of Iran was deposed by a fundamentalist Ayatollah who cut off the country's oil exports and held Americans hostage.
But the ensuing oil shortage soon became an oil glut. That, plus a fairly quick economic rebound and the new Reagan Administration's more relaxed attitude toward restrictions on business, rendered CAFE almost meaningless by the mid-Eighties.
For the first time since 1964, a Mustang was chosen to be the Indy 500 pace car in 1979. On the next page, read more about the power and performance of the 1979 Ford 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.