By Austin C. Craig
These days we enjoy exceptional Mustang performance and handling from the new Mustang GT, while the 2012 Boss 302 is the fastest, best handling Mustang ever offered from the factory. The performance heritage of both of these Mustangs can be traced back to the summer and fall of 1981 with the launch of the 1982 Mustang GT. The 1982 5.0L V8 performance renaissance, signaled a return to the Mustang's heritage after it fell prey to insurance companies, government emission regulations and fuel economy requirements during the '70s. By the end of that decade enthusiasts wanted more "Total Performance" and were hopeful the all new 1979 Mustang would provide the answer.
In the fall of 1978 the new 1979 Fox-body Mustang was launched amid much hope from enthusiasts that the performance glory of the '60s would enjoy a resurgence with the all-new Mustang. The 1979 Mustang was well styled and was available with a 5.0-liter V8 and 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo engines. Unfortunately neither power plant offered anywhere near the performance that was hoped for. The 1979 Mustang was chosen as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car and featured some very aggressive styling enhancements, but even with the 140 horsepower, the 5.0 was less than inspiring. In 1980 and 1981 Mustang went from weak performance to basically no performance as neither the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder nor the 255 cid V8 with a total of 119 horsepower were the equal of the very good TRX handling suspension, introduced on the 1979 models. The Mustang's image, and more importantly sales, declined as a result.
In 1980 Donald Petersen was promoted to President of the Ford Motor Company. This was welcome news for Mustang and Ford performance enthusiasts as Petersen was a car guy, who was the product planning manager on the first Mustang. During the '70s while heading up Ford truck product planning, he was the man behind the development of the F-150 Supercab. This one feature transformed the pickup from strictly a work truck to one of both work and personal use. It was an industry first and even though the Supercab was launched in the middle of the 1974 fuel crisis, it sold well and became a very important F-Series option.
Don Petersen remembered halcyon days of the "Total Performance" era of the '60s and told the product development, engineering and marketing staffs to get real performance back into Ford vehicles, Mustang being the car that needed it most of all. With little or no engine performance, Mustang's image and worse yet, sales were in a steep decline.
The competition was heating up as both the Camaro and Firebird were going to be all new for 1982. Being fitted with a revised 305 cid V8 and new suspensions and updated bodywork the GM twins were now equipped with state-of-the-art suspensions.
Many people at Ford and as well as the other car companies thought the days of the V8 were at best numbered and would be gone soon. When engine development for 1982 started, the 2.3 turbo four-banger was removed from the lineup for lack of performance. When the carburetor was replaced with fuel injection they had trouble meeting emission standards. A couple of years later, Jim Clark, the engineer in charge of the Mustang engine program and later Chief Engineer for Advanced Powertrain Engineering told me, "We were left with the option of offering only a normally aspirated 2.3L four-cylinder engine for 1982. This was in April of 1981 and with the introduction of the 1982 models only five months away and we all knew that would never do." Jim Clarke was a talented engineer and car guy. He led the charge with the creation of the 5.0 HO V8 for the Mustang in 1982 and was responsible for the continuous improvement of the 5.0 throughout the '80s. What Jim and his team accomplished in spite of all the emissions standards, fuel economy and the economic climate (in the early '80s Ford was not making money) is truly amazing and all of us who love the power and performance of the small block Ford engines owe Jim Clark and his team a debt of gratitude.
Jim Clark received a call from his general manager Don Hagen and asked if Ford could introduce a new V8 engine for the 1982 Mustang. This was April of 1981 when normally the engine lineup for the year ahead was complete. Being an enthusiast and knowing the Mustang needed a V8, Clark had anticipated the question and were mentally ready to respond. On a very limited budget and short time frame, the team delivered the new 5.0 in November 1981. The engine building program took two forms: increasing power and decreasing parasitic losses.
1982 5.0 H.O. V8
The basic engine was the same as the 1979 5.0, but with updates to increase its ability to breathe. The key was getting more flow. The 1979 engine ran out of breath at 4,400 rpm. The 1982 5.0 would pull to 5,500 without any problem. It all started with a twin snorkel air cleaner that breathed cold air form the fenderwell area. A 368 CFM two-barrel carburetor was selected together with a high output fuel pump. Knowing that the g-forces generated by the TRX suspension could cause fuel starvation, the engineers added a redesigned gasket aimed at reducing slosh and adding a substantial increase in static fuel level. This modification also ensured plenty of fuel at wide open throttle, something the engineers knew would occur on numerous occasions when Mustang enthusiasts got their hands on the car.
I was always interested why the 1982 Mustang GT was equipped with a two barrel instead of a four barrel and Jim Clark told me that they wanted a four-barrel, but did not have a four barrel in production that they could use. The emissions standards also required that a new four-barrel or the 4350 carb from the out of production 460 cid engine would have required a complete 50,000 mile EPA cycle to be certified. That took time and money, both of which the 5.0 V8 team did not have. Also a four-barrel manifold would have been a problem since all the existing manifolds were of a high rise design that was too high for the Mustang's profile. Even with the two-barrel setup the non-functional hood from the 1979 model was needed in order for the new air cleaner, original equipment on the H.O. police package to fit under the hood. The heads were the same as before, but were equipped with higher rate valve springs to eliminate coil bind. The addition of a Ford Marine cam with a higher lift and longer duration made the spring improvement mandatory.
The cast iron headers were the same as before, but the exhaust system was enlarged with a 2.25 inch collector and 2.5 inch diameter exhaust pipe.
This enables the engine to breathe better, freeing up more horsepower while delivering a deep rich exhaust note, missing in those days of wheezy sixes and trembling fours. All the improvements resulted in 157 horsepower and 240 lb-ft torque, at the time very exciting numbers and the best for a Mustang since 1973! The EPA mileage ratings of 17 mpg city and 29 mpg highway proved Ford engineers could deliver power, performance and good mileage.Find a Ford Mustang for sale
Published Oct 2nd, 2017
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