The Mustang Story: Generation Four (1994 – 2004)
The 1994 model year marked the beginning of the fourth generation of Mustangs. After 15 years of the same “Fox” platform, enthusiasts were ready for an all-new look and feel. And Ford was anxious to give them what they wanted.
“It was a do-or-die situation for Mustang at the time,” recalled William Boddie, then Ford’s program manager for small- and mid-size cars. “A lot of people at Ford thought we wouldn’t make enough money with the Mustang, and they thought we ought to kill it. This was going to be our chance to prove them wrong.”
Mr Boddie says the team’s vision was clear.
“Our goal was to create a vehicle that would be recognisable as a Mustang, even without the badging,” he said. “It had to have traditional Mustang attributes, such as the three-box design, the long hood and the cockpit-like interior. And it had to symbolise power.”
With little time – 36 months – and limited resources, Mr Boddie organised a team of 200 enthusiasts from various areas within the company. Since space at Ford was limited at the time, the team met in an off-site warehouse.
“We created a competition within the design studio to see who could come up with a car that best represented the image of the Mustang,” said Mr Boddie. “The idea was to let the creative people see what they could do to maintain the pony car heritage yet still make the vehicle a bit more modern.”
The designers came up with three different mock-ups, and they nicknamed them “Bruce Jenner” (after the Olympic athlete), “Rambo” (after Sylvester Stallone’s movie character) and “Arnold Schwarzenegger” (after the muscular movie star, now governor of California).
“Rambo was the most far out design. It looked like a snorting bull,” checked Boddie. “The ‘Bruce Jenner’ Mustang was the most refined, and the ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’ model was in between the two. That was the one that we chose.”
The design they chose was reminiscent of the vintage pony cars, yet modern enough to suit the changing tastes of auto enthusiasts. Its code name was SN95, and though its platform was a derivative of the Fox introduced in 1979, there was little resemblance between the two; 1330 of the vehicle’s 1850 parts had been changed.
The galloping pony emblem returned to the front grille after a 16-year absence, and the Mustang now had a shapely, rounded body that was available as a two-door fastback coupe or a convertible.
The 1994 Mustang also offered the first purpose-built convertible in more than two decades – as opposed to a conversion of a hardtop car – and its 5.0-litre V8 engine produced 215 horsepower.
“It was an immediate hit,” said Mr Boddie. “The demand was greater than our supply.”
The Mustang remained relatively unchanged for 1995, but a new chapter in Mustang history opened in 1996, when the 5.0-litre small-block V8 engine – a staple of Mustang performance for decades – was replaced by a new 4.6-litre “modular” V8 that delivered the same 215 horsepower.
The Special Vehicle Team (SVT) Mustang Cobras were equipped with a Dual Overhead Cam version of the 4.6-litre that produced a whopping 305 horsepower.
By 1999, it was time again to freshen the Mustang’s appearance. The result was the so-called “New Edge” Mustang, which sported angular body creases, more pronounced hood and side scoops and bulging wheel arches — plus a special 35th Anniversary badge on the front fender.
SVT produced its third limited-edition “R-model” in 2000, with a unique 386 horsepower 5.4-litre V8 that was a hint of Mustang power to come. Another specialty Mustang, the Bullitt GT – inspired by the 1968 Mustang 390GT driven by Steven McQueen in the movie classic Bullitt – made its debut in 2001. The vehicle was an instant success, spawning special Bullitt fan clubs across the country.
The 2003 model year was a memorable one for Ford performance fans, as the Mach 1 nameplate returned to the Mustang lineup, complete with a hot V8 and functional “Shaker” hood scoop.
But the era’s benchmark car was SVT’s newest Mustang Cobra. Nicknamed “The Terminator,” this new Mustang performance flagship featured a beefed-up twin-cam 4.6-litre V8 topped with a supercharger to produce a torque-laden 390 horsepower. It left an exclamation point on the fourth-generation Mustang, ensuring that the SN95 platform would go out in a blaze of glory.
We will feature the fifth and final chapter of the Mustang Story later this Easter long weekend.
CarAdvice wishes to thank Ford Media US for use of text and images.