Friday, January 16, 2009

1999-2004 Ford Mustang

by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

Nineteen ninety-nine was a very good year for Ford Motor Company. Profits hit a record $7.2 billion as the stock market and new-vehicle demand kept going strong in an unprecedented boom economy.

Ford Division remained America's number-one-selling nameplate, owning five of the country's top-10 favorites including the full-size F-Series pickup.

Mustang adopted Ford's "New Edge Design" theme for 1999. Note the standard foglights and larger wheels on the V-8 GT ragtop versus the V-6 base coupe behind it.

But suddenly, it all turned sour. First, the economy started to unravel as overvalued "tech stocks" tanked, taking Wall Street down with them. Then, in 2000, Ford's cash-cow Explorer SUV and its original-equipment Firestone tires were implicated in rollover crashes that ultimately claimed almost 300 lives and caused scores of injuries.

Months of damning publicity battered Ford's claim to industry-leading quality, and its stock price. So did a string of glitches and recalls involving various Ford vehicles. New models like the European-inspired Lincoln LS and its Jaguar S-Type sister did not sell as expected. Mazda, Dearborn's longtime Japanese affiliate, was having sales trouble, too, a further drain on corporate coffers.

And there was worse. After burning through more than $15 billion since 1999, Ford lost a staggering $5.45 billion in 2001, which only accelerated declines in market share and stock price. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ford was forced to match General Motors' zero-percent financing and other costly market-priming moves, which contributed to a loss of almost a billion bucks in 2002. Equally ominous, the near-term product pipeline looked almost dry.

We mention all this because it helps understand Mustang's path into the 21st Century. And for all the corporate turmoil, Mustang fared quite well, starting with the major makeover of its SN95/Fox-4 platform, which traced its origins to the 1979 model. The makeover was just in time for Mustang's 35th anniversary in 1999.

The 1999 Mustang benefited from "New Edge Design," a geometric approach with crisp lines and deliberately jarring graphic elements set against rounded forms. Keep reading to learn all about the '99 Mustangs, both inside and out.

1999 Ford Mustang

The turn of the century saw hard times for Ford, but the Mustang team plowed ahead with a '99 redesign to celebrate the original pony car's 35th anniversary.

The most obvious change to the 1999 Ford Mustang was a lower-body reskin exemplifying "New Edge Design." Instigated by Jack Telnack before his 1997 retirement, New Edge was both a follow-up and antidote to his aerodynamic "jellybean" styling, which had been so widely imitated that buyers had had enough.

Because it was basically a "geometric" approach, with crisp lines and deliberately jarring graphic elements set against rounded forms, New Edge did not translate easily to the Fox-4. AutoWeek likened the restyled coupe as "akin to putting a baseball cap on a shoebox." Still, Mustang designers under Ken Grant managed a fresh look that was also "retro" and fun.

The 1999 GT convertible started at $24,870.

The grille was a narrowed but deeper trapezoid whose running-horse mascot was again corralled in chrome on base and GT models. A large dummy scoop was set into a more visibly domed hood above wider wraparound headlamp clusters.

Body sides were pulled out, wheel openings newly flared. The signature C-shape side graphic and its simulated rear air scoop were enlarged, but the sheetmetal within was now flat rather than "pre-dented."

The rear end was modernized with larger, squared-up vertical taillamps and a trunklid made of light, plasticlike sheet molding compound. Bumpers bulked up as well. Coupes got a revised rear roofline with no quarter-window "kink."

All '99 Mustangs were considered 35th Anniversary models (dated from 1964, of course), but only base and GT versions wore this celebratory front-fender emblem.

Last but not least were front-fender emblems proclaiming Mustang's 35th birthday with a traditional "pony tricolor" circled in chrome. All '99 Mustangs got this emblem but about 5000 GT models got a special 35th Anniversary trim package. Priced at $2695, it included 17-inch five-spoke wheels, applied side scoops, another raised scoop and black striping for the hood, unique rocker moldings, rear spoiler, taillamp appliques, and a specific black-and-silver interior with leather upholstery, aluminum shift knob, and logo floormats.

As expected, mid-April brought more birthday bashes at Charlotte and in Southern California. And in a nice bit of timing, the U.S. Postal Service issued a special stamp late in the year to honor Mustang as one of 15 American icons of the 1960s. Pictured on the stamp was -- what else? -- a red '65 convertible.

There was little celebrating in the sales office, however, as model-year volume dropped by nearly a fourth to 133,637 units. The "dot-bomb" debacle and other bad economic news didn't help, nor did higher prices for the many '99 upgrades. Base stickers went up $500 on V-6 models, $900 on GTs, lifting the range to $16,500-$25,000.

Mustang engineers were concerned with improved handling and refinement for the '99 lineup. To learn how Paul Giltinan and his team accomplished that task, keep reading.

The 1999 Ford Mustang Chassis and Engines

"New Edge" good looks were easy on the eyes, but potential buyers also wanted to know what was going on under the hood of the 1999 Mustang models.

Improved handling and refinement were the goals of chassis engineers under Paul Giltinan. Side rails were fully boxed, with insulating foam in the rocker-panel areas. Better floorpan sealing also helped lessen road noise. Convertibles gained underbody "rail extenders" designed to reduce structural shudder.

This '99 coupe might look like a $20,870 GT, but it's really the $16,470 base version with the V-6 Sport Appearance Group offering rear spoiler, alloy wheels, and other sporty features for $310.

For agility, rear track on all models was widened by 1.4 inches (thus equaling the front dimension), and a 1.5-inch higher transmission tunnel allowed a little more upward wheel travel. Smaller-diameter antiroll bars and retuned shock absorbers were specified to improve ride compliance with no harm to handling despite adoption of firmer springs. GTs switched from variable- to linear-rate coils for the same reasons.

Steering was revised with less boost, better on-center feel, and a useful three-foot tighter turning circle. The front disc brakes gained aluminum twin-piston calipers saving 10 pounds apiece in unneeded unsprung weight. New pad material and a larger master cylinder provided more positive braking feel with less pedal effort.

Powertrain engineers under Bill Koche focused on pumping up power. The 3.8-liter pushrod V-6 with "split-port induction" received new cylinder heads, a freer-breathing intake manifold with two runners for each cylinder, high-tech piston coatings that reduced friction, and new aluminum main and thrust bearings.

Mustang's V-6 (left) gained a useful 40 horses for '99, while the GT's single-cam 4.6-liter V-8 added 35.

The 3.8's horsepower jumped by 40 to 190, torque by five pound-feet to 215. A new contra-rotating "balancer" shaft did nothing for performance but did dampen second-order vibrations for smoother running.

Improvements were no less extensive for the GT's 4.6-liter single-cam V-8: bigger valves, reshaped combustion chambers, a new higher-lift longer-duration camshaft, straighter manifold runners for better airflow, and improved crankshaft, conrod, and thrust bearings. Horsepower here expanded by 35 to 250, torque by 10 lb-ft to 302. In addition, the former 3.27:1 "performance" axle was now standard for both engines, improving off-the-line snap.

As before, an antilock brake system (ABS) was standard for GTs and optional on base models ($500). An extra $230 bought the additional "active safety" of traction control, Mustang's first. Spearheaded by chief project engineer Janine Bay, this used the ABS wheel-speed sensors to detect wheel slippage. In the event, system electronics would retard spark and reduce throttle opening until traction was restored (wheel speeds equalized).

At higher road speeds (up to 62 mph), the traction-control system could also brake either rear wheel as needed, hence the advertising moniker "all-speed traction control." A dashboard "off" switch enabled drivers to let it literally all hang out when conditions, and skill, allowed.

Mustang fans were happy to greet the '99 Mustang SVT Cobra a few months after the rest of the Mustang lineup debuted. Keep reading to learn about the SVT Cobra's special touches, including Mustang's first independent rear suspension (IRS).

The 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra

The 1999 Mustang lineup had something to please every pony car fan, including good looks and smart innovations. But what of the SVT Cobras?

As in prior years, the '99 SVT Cobras bowed a few months after mainstream models and shared most all their improvements, with ABS and traction control standard. SVT treated the twincam 4.6 V-8 to new "tumble-port" cylinder heads and other revisions that extracted an extra 15 horsepower for 320 total, the same as a top-option Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird. Also new were big Brembo disc brakes with diameters of 13 inches in front, 11.65 inches in back.

1999 Mustang Cobra Horsepower Snafu

The 1999 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra came with impressive innovations to please Mustang fans and car experts alike. However, all was not right with the Cobra.

Motor Trend noted that despite smaller tires and a solid axle, the GT's slalom and skidpad numbers were surprisingly close "at 66.8 mph and 0.86g, respectively [vs.] 67.8 mph and 0.88g. Viewed in this way, the SVT super pony seems hardly worth the extra $7000" -- a starting tab of $27,470 for the coupe, $31,470 for the ragtop.

Car and Driver praised the IRS for erasing 125 pounds of unsprung weight, even though it was 80 pounds heavier than the solid-axle assembly. On the other hand, curb weight was down by a worthwhile 110 pounds, and it was split more evenly front to rear. With that, C/D's Barry Winfield judged the '99 Cobra "more supple and thus more readable in corners. The rear end is less susceptible to bump-steer…off-center steering response is better, and [the] handling is more neutral at the limit."

Cobra's twincam V-8 claimed 320 horses for '99, but manufacturing glitches forced a recall to liberate the whole herd.

But straightline performance was a puzzle. "We expected to hit 60 mph in about five seconds flat," Winfield said, "but 5.5 was the best we could do -- 0.1-second slower than the previous model. Top speed was also down, from 153 to 149 mph...all of which confirms that our low-mileage prototype test car wasn't making a full head of steam."

Sure enough, a manufacturing glitch had left Cobra intake runners and some exhaust components with internal aluminum residue or "flash" that upset air flow and kept more than 30 horses from showing up.

After fielding a few dozen owner complaints, mostly from drag racers, Ford recalled all 1999 SVT Cobras on the ground to replace the manifold or ream out the existing one. Ford also charged nothing to replace mufflers (found to be too restrictive), recalibrate the engine computer, and substitute a more durable accessory-belt tensioner. A decal was affixed in the engine bay to certify the work once it was done.

The manufacturing glitches that forced Ford to recall '99 Cobras was a major
setback for the Special Vehicle Team, which would wait until 2001 to release
another SVT Cobra model.

Though Cobra owners didn't seem to mind the recall or its inconvenience, the episode was a black eye for Ford and SVT, enough that they decided not to do a 2000 Cobra. As the SVT website advised at the time, fixing the '99s had top priority.

"Rather than rushing to produce a limited number of 2000 models -- and risking production/manufacturing issues by hurrying -- we're choosing to focus our efforts on the timely production of the ['01 versions]."

Cobra sales were also down but not mortally wounded by the AWOL-horsepower flap, and Cobra convertibles outsold coupes for the first time (4055 vs. 4040 units).

While the SVT was on hold for 2000, the 2000 Mustang Cobra R was unveiled as a racing-oriented speed machine.

The SVT Cobra again wore small foglamps and an unfenced grille pony for '99.

But the most-talked about innovation was the first independent rear suspension (IRS) in Mustang history. It used unequal-length lower control arms, upper toe-control links, high-rate coil springs, and a thicker (26mm) antiroll bar. All were mounted to a welded-up tubular subframe. Along with an aluminum differential housing (from the late Lincoln Mark VIII coupe) that had Cobra-specific halfshafts.

In a triumph of inventiveness, SVT designed the IRS as a straight bolt-in replacement for the regular solid-axle suspension; all it took was adding two holes with "weld nuts" to the SN95 structure. That meant the IRS could be installed on the regular Mustang assembly line -- and on regular Mustangs post-purchase, though it's doubtful that happened very often. Incidentally, Bentler, an outside contractor, supplied the IRS as a preassembled module.

Mustang's first independent rear suspension was a '99 Cobra exclusive and worked wonders for cornering.

Thumbs Up

Except for styling, which drew mixed reviews, the press gave a hearty thumbs-up to the '99 Mustangs. Road & Track pronounced the fortified V-6 "a respectable performer. It's not as quick or smooth as the GT, but it's no slouch." AutoWeek's Daniel Pund agreed and applauded all models for a more solid driving feel. Though Ford initially claimed slightly improved rigidity, Pund quoted Giltinan as saying this was virtually unchanged.

"The perceived solidity is a byproduct of reduced road noise, a more supple ride, and heavier, more direct steering," Pund surmised.

The GT earned its own kudos. Motor Trend found its "tidy dimensions, precise steering and torquey [V-8] make it one of the easiest cars to place on line; even at the edge of the tires' limits...."

As for straight-line go, the magazine's five-speed coupe dashed from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.0 seconds at 100.2 mph -- not tops in the modern muscle class, but "as good or better than any stock Mustang we've ever tested, Cobra or not."

AutoWeek soon got into a GT ragtop, which clocked 5.9 seconds to 60 mph and the quarter-mile in 14.44 at 96.9 mph despite a 150-pound weight penalty. "[This] is one trick pony, but finally, it's not a one-trick pony. It goes, and it stops, and it turns, but it doesn't twitch."

But all was not right with the SVT Cobra -- performance numbers didn't match up with what owners and reviewers expected. Keep reading to learn about a manufacturing error that lead to decreased performance and forced Ford to recall all '99 SVT Cobras.

The 2000 Ford Mustang Cobra R

The 1999 Mustang Cobra's performance issues were a black eye for Ford. The Mustang team was anxious to recover lost ground and keep fans satisfied with the 2000 lineup.

Price hikes for the 2000 Ford Mustang were quite modest, just $50 to $150. Despite a worsening economy and little new among mainstream models, sales actually turned up on a calendar-year basis, gaining 4.1 percent to 173,676 units.

Mustang's main event of 2000 was the new Cobra R. Like the last R-model of '95, this one was street-legal but obviously track-oriented -- "a turn-key racing machine," as Road & Track called it.

The 2000 Ford Mustang Cobra R was clearly a racing machine, with a powerful V-8 engine, beefed-up suspension, and a high-riding spoiler.

Speed freaks salivated over a 5.4-liter 32-valve twincam V-8 like that in the big Lincoln Navigator SUV, thoroughly massaged by SVT and Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering group headed by John Coletti. As usual, the focus was on better breathing. A new intake manifold sported large, curved "air trumpets," exhaust ports were enlarged, and there were tubular headers connected to X-pipes ahead of Borla mufflers and twin side-exit exhausts.

Because of its extra height, the 5.4 nestled beneath a very bulged hood with functional vents on a rear-facing scoop. A high-riding spoiler helped keep the tail down at speed, as did an aerodynamic front-fascia "air splitter."

Suspension was beefed up with ultra-stiff Eibach springs, hard bushings, and premium Bilstein shock absorbers that slammed ride height by 1.5 inches at the front, an inch at the rear. Heavy-duty halfshafts were specified, along with jumbo Brembo disc brakes clamped by four-piston calipers. Tires were purpose-designed 265/40ZR Goodrich "g-Force KD" on 9.5 3 18 forged-aluminum wheels.

Thanks to targeted tweaking by the SVT group, the 2000 Ford Mustang Cobra R was the fastest factory Mustang yet.

Completing the package was a short-throw six-speed manual transmission by Tremec -- Mustang's first six-cog gearbox -- working through a stock Cobra clutch to a special Gerodisc hydromechanial differential with 3.55:1 gearing.

SVT again omitted the back seat, air conditioning, sound system -- and a lot of sound insulation. Curb weight was variously quoted at 3580-3610 pounds, far from feathery but light enough for the new R-model's 385 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. The result was the fastest factory Mustang yet.

Car and Driver timed 0-60 mph at just 4.7 seconds and a standing quarter-mile of 13.2at 110 mph. Road & Track got 4.8 and 13.2/109.1 mph, but these and other published numbers slightly bettered Ford claims. More importantly, they bettered top Camaro/Firebird performance and at least equaled that of the Chevy Corvette.

Skidpad grip was worthy of the standard Recaro racing front buckets. R&T measured 0.99g, C/D an astounding 1.01. "Handling is dead-solid predictable up to the considerable limits, [when] gentle understeer suggests you back off a bit," C/D said, "but there is not a hint of tail-happiness. The brakes…are superb, with stunningly little fade even over extended periods of hard use."

R&T noted surprising civility: "Out on the street, the Cobra R...doesn't inflict the same kind of body punches you'd expect from a race car. Despite the heft of the suspension and the absolute lack of body roll, there is enough fore-and-aft compliance to make the ride bearable."

At last, Mustang could claim a place at the very top of the performance hill. The only downers were a fairly formidable price -- $54,995, plus luxury and gas-guzzler taxes -- and just 300 copies available, all red coupes and all quickly sold. R&T was sympathetic: "The Cobra R is a nice start -- now let's see some real numbers, as in volume, out on the street."

The Cobra still had some face-saving to do, and the 2001 model went a long way toward making up lost ground. Reviewers were thrilled by the Cobra's power and precision.

2001 Ford Mustang Cobra and Mustang Bullitt and 2002 Mustang

The Mustang Cobra had come a long way in 2000, but reviewers and drivers wanted even more -- as in street performance to rival the competition.

Ford partly answered that challenge for 2001 by reinstating the regular Cobra with all 320 horses accounted for. Car and Driver put two cars on a dynamometer just to be sure, then reeled off 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and a stunning quarter-mile of 13.5 seconds at 105 mph.

But that was "only part of the story," said tester Larry Webster, "as the Cobra has left its crude pony car roots and joined the ranks of competent sports coupes.... Now you can point the Cobra exactly where you want and assume it will go there." Webster declared the 2001 was "nothing short of a Cobra transformation…a superb all-arounder."

The same could be said for other 2001 Mustangs notwithstanding their less impressive performance. Unlike the Cobra, the base and GT models added several styling features of the 35th Anniversary package, including a raised (but still nonfunctioning) hood scoop, special side scoops, and a reshaped trunklid spoiler, plus black headlamp surrounds. Changes were otherwise few -- a new console, standard 17-inch wheels for GTs, a few options shuffles -- until midseason, when Ford fired a Bullitt.

Mustang's star attraction for 2001 was the midyear GT-based Bullitt coupe, named for the classic 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen and a hot '68 fastback.

The 2001 Mustang Bullitt

Previewed as a 2000 concept, this specially equipped GT coupe was brokered by styling chief J Mays (Jack Telnack's successor) in a nostalgic nod to the iconic 1968Steve McQueen film, "Bullitt."

Mays, who had helped create the ultra-clean Audi TT, had issues with Mustang's '99 styling and did his best to correct them on the Bullitt, omitting the rear spoiler and adding a unique hood scoop, rear-roof-pillar trim and rocker moldings, plus a brushed-aluminum fuel-filler door.

The cockpit was dressed with special seats and leather upholstery, an aluminum shift knob and pedal trim, Sixties-style gauge graphics, and chrome doorsill plates with "Bullitt" in Art Deco type. Ride height lowered by 0.75-inch also helped appearance, as did red-painted brake calipers peeking through five-spoke 17-inch American Racing "Torq Thrust" wheels mimicking those of McQueen's movie ride.

The 2001 Mustang Bullitt sported chrome doorsill plates with "Bullitt" in Art Deco type.

Ford also retuned the GT's Tokico shock/strut units, installed specific antiroll bars, and added "frame-rail connectors" to calm body shake. Finally, the GT V-8 got a larger throttle body, cast-aluminum intake manifold, smaller accessory-drive pulleys, and a freer-flow exhaust system.

The result was a mere five extra horses and three lb-ft of torque, so the Bullitt was not usefully faster than a stock GT coupe despite costing $3500 more, $26,230 and up. Still, Ford had no trouble moving the planned 6500 units. Most were painted Dark Highland Park Green, another echo of Steve's car, though black and dark blue were available, too.

Motor Trend reported that the Bullitt was "the first in a series of short-term specials designed to bring extra excitement and collectibility into the current [Mustang line]."

Excitement was surely needed, judging by sales for the entire 2001 Mustang line, which eased 2.6 percent for calendar '01 to 169,198.

The 2001 Mustang Bullitt cockpit was dressed with special seats and leather upholstery, an aluminum shift knob and pedal trim, and Sixties-style gauge graphics.

The 2002 Mustang

Mustang sales totaled 138,356 for 2002, a worrisome 18.2-percent drop in a year when zero-percent financing had stoked the general market to red hot. Then again, mainstream Mustangs once more showed little significant change.

Indeed, Ford's big move for '02 was to turn popular option groups into prosaically named models: Base Standard, Deluxe, and Premium, (all upgraded to standard 16-inch wheels), and to create Deluxe and Premium GT models.

In the spring of 2003, the SVT Cobra reemerged. This powerful machine returned thrust to 2000 Cobra levels, but with a friendlier price tag. Keep reading to learn all about the 2003 Mustang SVT Cobra.

The 2003 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Ford Mustang sales for 2002 were down a troublesome 18.2 percent. Ford needed to pull out the big guns to bring back buyers.

The Mustang SVT Cobra was MIA for '02, but only until spring, when the 2003 versions made an early debut packing a huge new wallop: 390 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.

Taking a page from the hot-rodder's handbook, SVT bolted an Eaton M112 Roots-type centrifugal supercharger to the Cobra's twincam V-8 and made numerous changes to accommodate it. These included using an iron block for durability under pressure, plus a water-to-air intercooler, new cylinder heads, and revised pistons with suitably lower 8.5:1 compression.

SVT went all out for 2003 by supercharging the Cobra's twincam V-8 to create the most potent street Mustangs ever.

The only transmission was the Tremec six-speed familiar from the 2000 Cobra R. Suspension was naturally recalibrated, with individual damping rates for the coupe and convertible. Rolling stock comprised inch-wider five-spoke cast-alloy rims wearing 275/40ZR Goodyear Eagle F1 tires. SVT also added a vented hood (necessary with the added engine-bay heat from the blower), revised front fascia and rocker-panel skirts, a rear air diffuser, and a new low-profile decklid spoiler.

With all this, SVT's latest Mustang delivered near 2000 Cobra R thrust at a much friendlier starting price of $33,460. The stats told the tale: 0-60 mph in 4.5-4.9 seconds, quarter-mile ETs around 13 seconds, 0.90g skidpad grip. All this in a car you could drive to work day in and day out.

The 2003 SVT Cobra, shown here in convertible form, sported a bulging twin-scoop hood. Larger brakes and
rolling stock helped control its formidable thrust.

You might not call it refined, as Road & Track's Doug Kott observed, "Yet it's refined enough for those who elevate performance and affordability…above ultimate sophistication.... The SVT crew should be applauded for… breathing new life into Ford's workhorse."

Ford revived the Mach 1 name after 25 years for the 2003 Mustang Mach 1, a variation on the GT coupe. Keep reading to learn all about the 2003 Mach 1, along with the 2004Mustang lineup.

The 2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1 and 2004 Mustang

Mustang models were finally back on track after the 2001 performance debacle. Powerful pony cars and street-legals racers were bringing in rave reivews.

The 2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1 was a follow-up to the boomermobile 2001 Mustang Bullitt. Reviving the Mach 1 name after 25 years, this new variation on the GT coupe carried a naturally aspirated twincam Cobra V-8 tuned for 300 horsepower and topped by a functional "shaker" hood scoop straight from the Sixties.

Mustang again played the nostalgia card for 2003, adding a GT-based Mach 1 coupe that not only revived a famous name but the "shaker" hood scoop associated with it.

Base price was $28,370, a stout $3715 above the GT Premium coupe, but that also included a slightly lowered suspension, primo Brembo brakes, a black hood stripe and other unique cosmetics, and "comfort-weave styled" leather upholstery.

Car and Driver pitted the reborn Mach 1 against three new high-tech foreigners for a December 2002 test and ranked it second behind Nissan's formidable, newly reborn Z-car.

"The Mach 1 earns its silver medal because it is brute fun," the editors said. "Drop the hammer, and with no especially refined technique, 60 mph is yours in a scalding 5.2 seconds…the fastest time in this test by a full half-second."

The 2003 Mach 1's "shaker" hood scoop fed air to a 300-horse version of the 4.6 twincam V-8 from earlier SVT Cobras.

As ever, there were gripes about solid-axle handling and dated ergonomics. But C/D admitted the Mach 1 "generates more grins than grimaces…. It is an ode to the past. Perhaps Henry Ford was wrong: History isn't bunk, it's a hoot."

All by themselves, the Mach 1 and the sizzling supercharged 2003 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra made 2003 a vintage Mustang year. The only other change of note was a $595 Pony appearance package for V-6 models. Sales improved fractionally, adding a bit over 2000 units for the calendar year.

The 2004 Mustang

The trusty old steed was clearly marking time. As everyone knew, a frisky new filly was on the way for 2005, previewed with a pair of concepts at the January 2003 Los Angeles and Detroit Auto Shows.

That implied few changes for '04, Mustang's 40th anniversary year. Sure enough, there was little news that season: an extra 10 horses for Mach 1, three more for V-6 models. But of course, Ford did deliver the obligatory birthday package, this time an $895 kit for Premium V-6 and GT coupes and convertibles. This bundled an Interior Upgrade Package (normally a $295 stand-alone item) with unique wheels, special badging and trim, and fold-in mirrors; curiously, it deleted the stock rear spoiler.

It wasn't much of a present for such a milestone birthday, but it didn't have to be. The real celebration was yet to come.

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