The Car and Driver blog this month waxes nostalgic about the 1983 Mustang GT, a car they named to their 10Best list back in the day.
See their blog posting here: https://www.caranddriver.com/features/1983-ford-mustang-gt-we-drive-an-original-10best-cars-winner-feature .
We beg to differ with their conclusions: we had one and it was just awful… not at all worthy of 10Best. It was juvenile and under-developed at the time and it is of zero collectable value now except to demonstrate how poorly Ford invested in the Mustang then.
And we’re speaking as an owner of several new Mustangs before, and after – including a 1983 Mustang GT. We used them for autocross and for HPDE events in the northeast, garaging them in the winter months and turning to our “winter cars” for the 5-6 frozen months. Our autocross season started in the last weekend of March with an event in which it often snowed, and went thru the end of October… and as our HPDE hobby developed we spent most of our time in that and quickly left autocross behind. The Mustang was driven in an event for nearly every weekend across those good months, although there were also a couple of major events to attend such as the famous 24 hour endurance race of Nelson Ledges in which we worked the pits, an SCCA Pro Rally in Pennsylvania, and yearly events such as the Shelby convention.
Why a Mustang? Easy: the cost. And, as we found out quickly, they were easily modified (although certain things such as brakes were inherently cheap from the factory and couldn’t easily be replaced – if at all). The Mustang fit in what we called the “80/20 rule”: properly prepared they were more capable than 80% of the cars that would come to these types of events (and the best of later Mustangs might be 90%, although today they are perhaps down to 50% today due to the sheer numbers of the different types of performance cars that are now available for these events).
At this point, we’d already had two FOX-chassis Mustangs. Once we read about the upcoming ’83 GT in the Car and Driver 1983 preview issue and about it’s improvements, we ordered one – necessarily waiting until after January for the order because Ford updated it again after the start of production to include the all-new Borg-Warner “T5” 5-speed transmission. Shortly after it arrived – on a nice spring day – we immediately started racing it. And immediately it’s shortcomings became apparent.
A review: what changed for the ’83 Mustang GT?
- Ford dropped the option of the Recaro seats, replacing them with seats from Lear Siegler, borrowed from the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe but dumbed down (loosing their adjustability). They were way too soft – worthless in turns (especially compared to the Recaros in my previous Mustang).
- Ford retuned the suspension, softening up the front sway bar and the rear springs for, according to an interview with the suspension editor back then, better “turn in”. As we immediately found out, this made the suspension much worse for our type of events – body roll was absurd compared to the ’82 GT (and in one autocross we borrowed an ’82 GT and ran them against each other back-to-back – the difference was astounding).
- The black hood stripe was actually paint – and it immediately chipped and had to be repainted. And this over a fake hood scoop… allegedly to clear the big dual-snorkel air intake which was carryover from the ’82 GT.
- The TRX tires were a bit larger but still worthless for any kind of performance driving (look over to GM which had far better tires on the Camaro)
- The 4-bolt rims lost their clear finish
- The brakes were tiny (but that was all that was available from the corporate parts bin).
What was better?
- The 5-speed, replacing the awful SROD. This was very worthwhile improvement.
- The 4-barrel Holley carb was an improvement over the previous 2-barrel, but it came with the irritating habit of holding the revs up between shifts for emissions purposes.
That’s it for improvements… and this car would be carryover into 1984 where it would then receive several minor updates and one major: the so-called “quad shock” system for the rear axle – a bean-counter approach to get the axle under better control.
All in all, with our experience we came to despise this car and there is zero reason to have made this mess a ten best, especially given the 1983 Camaro which had an inherently superior chassis and was itself in a program of near continuous improvement for each model year. In all of our Mustangs since – this is the low point.
Here’s our GT in stock autocross form – look at the nose lift under modest acceleration. Useless!
So what did we do about it? We had to keep the car for 2 seasons, so being Ford enthusiasts we stopped whining and “modified on”. Partway thru the season we took the suspension from our previous Mustang and bolted it on this one (springs, struts/shocks, adjustable upper shock mounts, big swaybars all around). Much improved over stock… but still less than our previous car (which had the Recaros, and a custom built dual exhaust). Without the suspension, the car was a messy handful at Watkins Glen. In those days, the back straight didn’t have the kink – it was just a huge long straight – so you had to have great brakes to come down from whatever top speed you managed for the right turn into the downhill “boot”. With the suspension mods it was “adequate” (still lacking good tires), and in either case it required bearings and rotors after every weekend at the Glen. The brakes were just too small for HPDE.
Here is the GT again before the modified suspension… the tiny TRX tires were a major issue.
And at the national Shelby convention that year, it overheated it’s ignition amplifier and ruined the event. Fortunately, it could still be driven home at normal speed and under low revs. A Ford Motorsport replacement was obtained a month later, and was an improvement, but it’s stock location too close to an exhaust manifold was the root cause of the issue – this is yet another example of a lack of performance and endurance quality testing by Ford. Here’s the Mustang at Ford’s own test track in Michigan, where the ignition overheated and failed half-way thru the day. BTW, Bob Bondurant was our instructor here and taught us the “hands off” speed on the high banking!
2 years is a very long time, and this car was a constant big disappointment during those two seasons. But what happened next saved it – we worked an event an event at Nelson Ledges, a 24-hour endurance race for showroom stock cars, where Ford brought a prototype of the upcoming Mustang SVO to race. It clearly demonstrated it’s dominance and brought us to a new level of faith in Ford – and anticipation of a future Mustang we knew we would own ourselves. Better yet, Ford (and independent teams) also brought ’82 and ’83 Mustang GTs to the same race and they were clearly stone-age compared to the SVO (see the article for side-by-side images of the GT and SVO in the same turns). We thought to ourselves, “finally” – finally great big 4-wheel 5-lug disc brakes which didn’t go thru bearings and calipers during a track weekend. Finally good seats. Finally good steering. Finally, Ford got serious and competitive. Biding my time, we waited for Ford to deliver the SVO (one year later than they had planned – but also better developed because of the race testing), and bought one off the lot. The SVO demonstrated what Ford was capable of all along – but if only they’d had the focus and budget. Ford has since failed many times due to lack of focus and resources (progressively worse quality SVTs are a more recent experience of ours)… but when they get it right as they did with the SVO it was perfect for our needs.