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1994-2004 Ford Mustang: Ford's Classic Sports Car

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by John Rettie March 2009

The Ford Mustang hardly needs any introduction, as it is one the best-known and well-liked cars ever made in America.

It was a sensational hit when it first appeared in 1964 and heralded the era of the pony car. Other pony cars were soon introduced by other car companies, but eventually they disappeared from the market as sales dropped. Although some were reincarnated later, the Mustang has continued in production every year, celebrating its 45th birthday in 2009.

Here we feature the fourth generation Mustang that went on sale in 1994 and continued in production for a decade before being superseded by an all-new model in 2005.

When this fourth generation Mustang was introduced in 1994, it was warmly welcomed, as it was the result of a major redesign and brought back some classical Mustang styling cues. Many Mustang fans had been disappointed with the previous two generations of the famous model.

There was essentially little competition in the affordable sporty car segment for the Mustang in the late 1990s as sales of its closest competitors, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, petered out, and they were gone by 2002. Despite the decline in overall sales in this segment, Ford continued to do well with the Mustang. Indeed in most years during this period, the Mustang outsold the Camaro four to one.

The Mustang model line-up was fairly simple, with the choice of a two-door coupe or convertible powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 or 4.6-liter V-8.

Ford introduced various different limited edition versions, such as the Bullitt GT, SVT Cobra and Mach 1, during the ten-year life span of this generation in order to keep interest alive.

In 1999 the Mustang received a freshening with some subtle styling changes to body panels as well as improved performance. This kept the car alive until 2004, when a completely re-designed Mustang that was styled even closer to the original 1964 model was introduced.

Test Drives
1. 2001 Ford Mustang V-6 Coupe
   Automatic, 75,600 miles
   Asking price: $6,000 (February 2009)
   Owner Carl, male age: 20

Carl, a security guard, had owned this Mustang for just under a year when he decided to sell it in order to get a truck, because he needed a bigger vehicle for carrying stuff.

It's been a great car," he tells us. "I have not had any problems, and it gets great gas mileage." He claimed to have gotten 23 mpg overall while using it to commute to work. Although this Mustang was listed as a basic V-6 Coupe, it did have leather seats and power windows. "I like the leather seats," said Carl.

But, when I drove the car I found the seats to be slippery, and they were definitely worn, making the interior look shabbier than it otherwise might. However, more importantly from a mechanical point of view, the car seemed fine. It started from cold right away, and the oil gauge indicated adequate oil pressure.

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Unfortunately the exterior of the car had some minor chipped paint and a scrape on one corner of the front bumper made the car look less than pristine. In addition, the aftermarket Alpine radio rattled in the dashboard, although the rattle could probably be fixed pretty easily.

2. 1997 Ford Mustang V-6 Coupe
   Manual, 96,600 miles
   Asking price: $2,900 (February 2009)
   Owner John, male, age: mid 50s

Even though this Mustang Coupe was four years older than the one I tested above, it was in much better shape. John had owned it from new, but its primary driver had been his daughter, who used it for going to school initially and then for commuting to her first job. "She loved the car so much that she bought a new Mustang last year, and it's even the same color," John tells us.

They both liked the car mostly for its styling, fuel economy and low insurance costs. What they did not like was the lack of power windows and a remote key for locking and unlocking the doors. Other than regular maintenance, they had not had any problems with the car, and the engine had been faultless.

Like the other V-6 Coupe, this was also a base model, but it had aftermarket alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and a different CD player. What's more, John had kept the original window sticker to prove this.

I immediately felt more comfortable in this Mustang — for starters the cloth seats were in better shape than the leather ones in the other car, and the manual transmission was much crisper than the automatic. I was reminded again how the V-6 performs perfectly adequately and does not even sound significantly different from a V-8.

Compared to the new Mustang, this generation is certainly not as taut. The steering is not as precise, and the handling is not as crisp. The ride is somewhat soft for a sporty car.

All told I felt this Mustang was a much better buy despite its age, and for under $3,000 the next owner would have quite a nice sporty car with some years of life left in it, as long as he/she looks after it as well as the first owners have.

3. 2003 Ford Mustang V-6 Convertible
   Automatic, 56,700 miles
   Approximate value $9,000 (February 2009)
   Owner Jennifer, female, age: 24

It's funny how one person's plus is another's minus. Jennifer, a 24-year-old model, had purchased this Mustang Convertible a year earlier. "I love its style, and I get looks wherever I go when I am driving it," she states modestly. "I would like better gas mileage, although I guess I cannot complain too much." Her previous car was a Saturn, so it was not surprising she has found herself filling the Mustang's tank more often.

Her first choice was actually a used BMW Z4 sports car, but she could not afford one — she got the Mustang for half the price of a Z4. "The Mustang is not as smooth as the Z4 I test drove," she said.

When I drove the car, it felt no tighter than the older Mustangs I drove, which indicates the lack of a tight feel is not so much the age of a particular car but more a lack of engineering in the original car's design. Jennifer's definition of "not as smooth" was her way of saying not as precise. There was some inevitable cowl shake, which is almost unavoidable in a convertible.

Overall, the car was in good shape, though it was full of much of Jennifer's belongings she needed for her job.

When spring rolls around each year, the market for a nice convertible such as this Mustang increases. If you can find one like this, it makes an ideal car for cruising around town in warm weather. It's not a car for driving fast along mountain roads — for that you'll want a true European sports car, but that would cost much more.

Market Overview
When this generation Mustang was introduced, the previous generation model had remained largely unchanged for 15 years, and it had become long in the tooth. Not surprisingly its sales had tapered off. At the time, some wondered if Ford would even drop the Mustang altogether or switch to a front-drive configuration. Instead Ford redesigned the car, and sales rebounded.

In fact sales remained buoyant before tailing off again by 2004 prior to the introduction of the next generation model. It, of course, once again created a rebound in sales. Fortunately gas prices were low during this period, so the lack of an entry-level four-cylinder model was not a detriment.

Between 1994 and 2004, around one-third of Mustangs sold were the convertible model. The V-8 engine powered approximately one third of Mustangs, and similarly one-third of all Mustangs were equipped with a manual transmission. The SVT Cobra, Bullitt GT and Mach 1 editions were all limited runs, and only a few thousand were made during the period. Even scarcer were the special Saleen and Roush models.

Other than Motor Trend's Car of the Year award, given in 1994 when this Mustang was first introduced, the fourth generation Mustang did not receive any significant awards.

A used Mustang is an affordable way to go for anyone looking for a stylish car that should be low on maintenance costs. Naturally with so many sold there are good ones and bad ones, and that is reflected in the enormous price range. You can pay under $2,000 for a worn, but functioning model, all the way to over $30,000 for pristine, but rare, limited edition model.

A two-door coupe with a V-6 engine is ideal as a commuter car. The same cannot be said for a high-performance model such as a Cobra with its rumbling 390-horsepower supercharged V-8 and stiff suspension — it's better suited for autocrossing on weekends or occasional Sunday drives on winding roads.

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1994-2004 Ford Mustang: Ford's Classic Sports Car - Autotrader