The Ford Mustang has enjoyed nearly 50 years of uninterrupted production…though that isn’t to say that every Mustang that’s been built has been a winner. The period between 1972 and 1979 was especially trying for Mustang enthusiasts, as Ford went from a bloated boat of a pony car to a Pinto-based fuel sipping Mustang II that didn’t even have a V8 engine option in 1974.
But all cars enjoy cycles of popularity, and the Mustang is no exception. After the automotive abortion that was the Mustang II, Ford redeemed itself with the excellent Fox body platform. For nearly a decade the Fox body Mustang was a sales success. But once the blocky 80’s were behind them, Ford had to again redesign the Mustang, this time going for a more classic coupe look that was also modern.
Out Goes The Fox Body, In Goes The SN95
It is these SN95 Mustangs, specifically the 1994-98 breed, that I want to focus on. See, I never thought the SN95 Mustangs got their due, because despite intense styling, handling, and performance improvements, on the open market many people would prefer to forget the 94-98 era of Mustangs ever even existed. The Fox body and New Edge Mustangs that bookmarked the first gen SN95’s frequently draw top dollar, but one can get a ‘95 Mustang GT in great condition for less than $4,000 these days.
Why? For one, blame Ford, which has this odd tradition of releasing new body styles before new engines. The SN95 was the first in a long line of Mustangs that no longer offered the famed 302/5.0 V8 engine (after 1995), in production since 1968. No doubt that produced some of the prejudice that SN95 Mustangs face, but it is hardly the only reason.
The SN95 platform was actually a heavily modified Fox-body chassis, but much improved in almost every way.
The SN95 platform was actually a heavily modified Fox-body chassis, but much improved in almost every way. Four-wheel disc brakes were standard even on base Mustangs, and the front suspension made use of MacPherson struts with longer control arms and new anti-roll bars. A four-bar link suspension the rear also helped smooth out the ride, leading to a much more refined driving experience from the Fox body Mustang it replaced.
Yet the ‘94-98 Mustangs also represent an era where Ford all but conceded the horsepower wars to GM. It would not be until the 2003-04 supercharged Mustang Cobra that Ford could even hope to match the output of GM’s LS1 engines. It was as though Ford gave up, though not entirely. There were still special edition Mustangs, like the Cobra, which were able to produce upwards of 300 horsepower from the 4.6 mod motor.
But these Mustangs were the exception; of the hundreds of thousands of Mustangs sold in this era, only a small fraction were Cobra models featuring beefier motors. Sales remained healthy, and a quick look through any car shopping site shows a glut of 94-98 models up for sale, many in great condition.
It was a bold step away from the raw horsepower and bare minimalism of the Fox body design, and I would say it was the first real step towards the nimble and refined Mustang we enjoy today.
Yet the prices seem out of sync with the cars. Yes, the Fox body remains an incredibly popular drag racing platform, and the 5.0 engine is far better for performance than first-generation 4.6 engines. But the SN95 Mustang offers so many more improvements over the Fox body, including a better interior, more Mustang-like looks (I always though the Fox body looked very European) and improved handling. It was a bold step away from the raw horsepower and bare minimalism of the Fox body design, and I would say it was the first real step towards the nimble and refined Mustang we enjoy today.
And now, almost 20 years removed from their debut, the SN95 Mustangs enjoy the same level and support as the rest of the Mustang community. Information, parts, and gurus are all in good supply, and the SN95 Mustang represents a real performance bargain with the addition of just a few aftermarket parts.
Then again, one could say the same about the much-reviled Mustang II of 1974 to 1978. The Mustang II got back to the Mustang’s roots, offering a lightweight, rear wheel drive coupe, superior suspension enhancements (Mustang II rack and pinion systems remain popular today) and bold new looks. Even though it sold very well, few people like them today, and even fewer have held on to them almost forty years after they debuted. They get no love on the auction block, and most wound up in the scrapyard after their useful lives came to an end. As a result, they can be hard to come across, and aftermarket support is nowhere near the level classic Mustangs or Fox-body models enjoy.
Is the SN95 Mustang doomed to share the same fate? While I’d like to be upbeat and positive and hope that American car buyers will realize that there are some great sports cars being sold for a bargain bin price, most likely the SN95 will be overlooked for the more-powerful F-body Camaro or wide range of Japanese sports cars that came into prominence during this era. Meanwhile the Fox body Mustang is the car of choice for old school drag racers, and the 1999+ New Edge Mustangs offer more power and better looks.
But maybe one of you will consider an SN95 Mustang next time you go shopping for a sports car. There are plenty to choose from, and if you’re a good negotiator you should be able to land a great deal on a low-mileage, clean example. But I’m not sure it will ever pay off, at least financially. The SN95 Mustangs are unlikely to ever be worth much, save for the few Cobra models running around, and even those hardly ever draw top dollar.
Don’t do it for the money; do it because most people won’ do it, and one day I’ll be writing a column asking what happened to all the Mustangs made from 1994 to 1998. For I fear much like the Mustang II, which are few and far between, the SN95 Mustang is destined to be forgotten, lost, and retired rather than restored. And even then, they won’t be worth much, though in many ways it was the vanguard for a new kind of Mustang, one that could go fast, but be safe, handle well, and ride smooth. Without the SN95, would Mustangs be as refined and nimble as they are today? I dare say not. The SN95 model was a turning point for the Mustang, just like the 2015 model will be, and here is to hoping one day it gets the respect it deserves.