The big coming out party for the Fox body.
Ford had a lot riding on the new Fox architecture. While the Mustang II was the right car at the right time it was a victim of compromises. The new generation Mustang was to be the exciting symbol of the new and modern Ford. The hype machine in Dearborn was given the green light to recapture the pony car market. A big splash would be the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500. With the street edition pace car representing Ford’s vision of a modern sporty car. A Mustang steeped in tradition yet also carrying European sophistication.
First, let’s talk about the actual pace cars. Three cars were commissioned to pull duty at the Brickyard. The 5.0 V8 engines were prepped and modified by Roush, using 351 Windsor heads, 1970 Boss 302 solid lift cam. A modified C-4 automatic was the transmission in all three cars. The track duty editions were T-top cars an option that wouldn’t appear on street Mustangs till 1981. Racing legend Jackie Stewart who ran many a Ford to victory piloted the car to open the race.
When discussing the exterior appearance there isn’t much to differentiate the pace car from the street version pace car. Good job, Ford! Pewter is the main body color, flat black below the beltline and on the full-length hood scoop, tasteful orange and red accent stripes. Of course, no pace car package is complete without OFFICIAL PACE CAR decals emblazoned on the doors, orange is the hue. While T-tops were still a few years away for the Mustang all pace cars came with a pop-up/removable sunroof panel.
The 1979 pace car would start a Ford/Recaro relationship that would last decades. Pace cars came with Recaro bucket seats standard, the major auto magazines were pleased. Between the buckets was the console shift for the C-4 automatic or 4 speed-manual.
Unlike the actual pace car doing track duty the street version got an engine choice. The 2.3 liter turbo four-cylinder good for 130 bhp/142 ft-lbs, 4 speed manual transmission only. You could also get the 5.0 V8 just like the one in the track car, just kidding. You didn’t get the specially prepped Roush V8 without a care for emissions. You got the smog-choked V8 that last did duty in the Mustang II, good for a 140 bhp/250 ft-lbs. Choosing the eight also allowed one the option of an automatic. Despite the power deficit some 1,400 more customers left the dealer lot with the 2.3 liter turbo four-banger.
All pace cars came with a TRX performance suspension package. HD front and rear sway bar diameters and shock valving specs were engine choice dependent. All came with 390mm aluminum wheels which is just a tad over 15” for us red-blooded American types, shod with 190/65R Michelin tires. Discs up front, drums in the rear.
When searching for an authentic pace car look for 48 after the fifth character in the VIN. Speaking of there is a pace car available now on eBay.
Interesting that the owner seems to raise the price every 48 hours. This pace car was listed at $18K and now after a few re-listings is priced at $23K. What the seller seems to be going for is more of a survivor, mentioning things like original paint and stripes, original interior. Fading and wear can be seen inside and out. The seller mentions new reproduction 16 inch TRX wheels, new exhaust and a 5 speed manual which is great if you're really going to drive the car. According to the Hagerty value guide that current price is a #2 condition car. That is not what I see, more like a nice #3 driver. Get it at $18K then maybe you have a sweet deal.
An interesting side-note. One of the original 3 track-spec pace cars is housed in Indianapolis at the speedway museum. The other two were repainted white and repurposed for the 1979 Detroit Grand Prix, those cars sit in the Roush collection.
Questions, comments or like this below, thanks for reading.
John is a GenX car enthusiast who grew up driving classic muscle cars. He enjoys the new modern muscle cars that can out perform the classics in every way. In the sportscar world his banners are Viper and Corvette. John has a guilty pleasure. The disco era street machine. Those unloved, underpowered cars festooned with scoops, spoilers and stripes.