Text and Photos by Huw Evans
Among the Mustang's birthdays, the 25th often strikes somewhat of a sore note among enthusiasts and not without reason. By the mid '80s Ford's pony car was enjoying a performance renaissance and in V8 form had acceleration to match its legendary ancestors of the late '60s and early '70s. However, the parent company felt that perhaps the Fox-body design was already living on borrowed time. During the depths of the 1980-1981 recession, a seed had been planted to replace the Fox with an even smaller car that would utilize four-cylinder power and front-wheel drive. To save production costs it was also decided to partner the project with Mazda, of which Ford had then recently purchased a stake. Introduction of the new car was timed for 1988.
When word of this planned "Mazda" Mustang got out, loyal enthusiasts wrote to Ford brass in droves, saying that a Japanese-inspired front-wheel drive Mazda was unthinkable. No car was more of an American icon than the original Pony. Such was the level of protest that Ford wisely reconsidered, releasing the erstwhile "Mazda Mustang" as the 1989 Probe and at the same time, granting the venerable Fox a stay of execution. Probably just as well, since the 5-liter Mustang went on to become the harbinger of cheap performance during the late '80s and early '90s as well as a household name.
But 1989 also marked the Mustang's quarter century. So what of a commemorative special? As we all know, that "special" amounted to little more than a small plaque fitted to the passenger side of the dash on all regular production Mustangs, built between March 1989 and April 1990.
However, things could have gone differently, very differently. Around 1986, Roush Engineering began development work on a project entitled the "Performance Leader Mustang." At that time, the pony car wars were heating up. Ford had reached the "magic" 200 horsepower mark with the Mustang 5.0, while the Chevy Camaro Z28 and Pontiac Firebird Trans Am were pushing 190 to 215 hp with their tuned port injected V8s. GM was on the cusp of reintroducing the big 350 (5.7-liter) V8 as an option for the '87 model year, so if Ford was to counter, it needed something to deliver the goods.
Given its close involvement with Ford's performance and racing programs since the late '70s, including prepping the three '79 Pace Car Mustangs for race duty and spearheading the company's very successful SCCA Trans Am program during the '80s, Roush Engineering seemed a logical choice in helping create that counter in the shape of a "super Mustang" under a specified "Performance Leader" program. Central to it was utilizing one serious powerhouse of an engine. If the GM twins were getting 350s between their shock towers, then Ford's reasoning was to use a 351 Windsor V8; at that time still in production for Ford trucks.
For serious high performance duty, however, the Windsor needed a shot of extra oats to make it a more than worthy contender; those oats came in the form of turbocharging. In order to cope with the extra stresses placed on the engine's moving parts, it was decided to utilize a heavy-duty Marine version of the 351, built alongside the truck engine across the river from Detroit. Under the Performance Leader program, complete long-blocks with strengthened bottom end journals, a high pressure oiling system, heavy-duty water pumps; specific 8.3:1 forged alloy pistons and performance cast-iron heads, with hardened valves would be assembled under regular Ford production processes, before being shipped to Roush, ready for the turbocharging treatment. However, nothing succeeds like excess and so not just one, but two hairdryers were specified
Published Oct 25th, 2017
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