Imagine for a minute it’s 1982. The Gipper is in the White House. Gas prices are finally falling, but musclecars have been a thing of the past now for nearly eight years. Sure they’ve continued on in name only, and a few special editions from both Ford and GM have piqued the interest of consumers enough to generate strong sales. Emissions regulations and stagnant engine technology, coupled with a recovering and fragile economy, and stifling gas prices, have all taken what would appear to be a permanent toll on the market
for musclecars.

The best performance the Mustang has been able to muster since 1973 was a brief return of the 302, labeled the 5.0, in 1979, with a whopping 143 horsepower. That engine was a one year only option, and the wheezy 4.2-liter V8 with its laughable 115 horsepower output was the best V8 Ford fans could hope for.

1982 however, was the beginning of something new in the Mustang world and a sort of rebirth or renewal of a once great cross-town rivalry between Ford and GM. Chevrolet had let the Camaro languish on the second generation platform for over a decade. The third generation of GM’s pony car was all new for 1982, and it brought with it new engine options, new technology, and just the right competition for spark the Mustang program into a response.

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It may have only been 153 horsepower, but with only a couple of exceptions on limited edition cars, that was nearly 40 more than Ford fans had seen for the better part of a decade.

The 1982 Mustang GT was touted as the saving grace of the Ford performance world, and Ford ads blazed “The Boss Is Back”. With the 5.0 back under the hood, and freshened up somewhat, with a new two-barrel carburetor, the Mustang was making the most power it had in nearly a decade. 157 horsepower, and 235 lb-ft of torque to be exact.

Those power numbers are far from the 435 horsepower standard in the sixth-gen Mustang GT that we enjoy today. Consider that at this time there were only two ways to get 400 horsepower. Either buy an Italian exotic that cost 3-4 times the price of the average home in America. You could also build a big block, with a lumpy solid-lift camshaft, crazy-sized cylinder head ports, and nearly exotic bottom end. You’d probably need a blower or nitrous as well, and dual four-barrel carburetors to bring in enough air and fuel. It was still an expensive option.

The ’82 Mustang borrowed styling cues from the 1979 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car edition Mustang, and featured upgraded suspension components. The metric sized TRX wheel and tire package also made a return for 1982, with its funky Michelin tires, an option that would fade away by late 1984 as a fully metric wheel never caught on in the tire market, or with buyers. The Mustang weighed a scant 3,200 pounds, fully decked out in 1982. Ford engineers hinted that this was just the beginning, although that statement seems to contradict the fact that the Mustang nearly received the axe in 1986, almost being replaced by the front-wheel-drive Probe.

Much of the styling for the '82 GT was borrowed from the '79 Pace Car, and the funky four-spoke steering wheel stuck around until at least 1983. Thankfully the TRX wheels and tires made their exit by the end of 1984.

We recently came across this Motor Week test of the 1982 Mustang GT and Camaro Z28. The cars were tested on the road course, and for acceleration. Speaking of which, like horsepower, performance wasn’t all that dazzling in 1982 either. The Mustang blew the tires off, partly because of those less than optimal Michelin tires, and probably because peak torque came at 2,450 rpm. The quarter-mile time? How about an ET of 15.92 seconds at 85 mph. Yeah, we’ve driven Fiestas in the last year that were more powerful, and substantially faster.

While the performances of both the 1982 Mustang GT and the Camaro Z28 were underwhelming by today’s standards, this look at where we’ve come from in the performance world is a great reminder of just how good we have it today. Here’s to hoping we never have to go back to the days of a new and hot top of the line Mustang that is barely able to break out of the 16s at the drag strip.

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