In harder economic times, we look to make our money go further. In Mustang circles, there is currently one group of cars that is more tempting to buy than ever. If you’re looking for a nice driver that’s practical to use on a daily basis, but something you can still park with pride in the garage and that’s affordable to boot, a 1994-1998 Mustang is a strong contender.
These aero-styled cars haven’t enjoyed the same cult status as their older 1987-1993 or newer 1999-2004 counterparts and current demand and prices tend to reflect this. Yet for their underdog status there’s a lot of reasons to recommend them – traditional Mustang styling cues, ease of serviceability, plus decent levels of refinement, handling and character, with a level of performance to suit just about anybody.
So with that in mind, we thought it would be fun to put together a buyer’s guide on these often forgotten and misunderstood pony cars.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When buying a 1994-1998 Mustang, the first place to start (like with any other car) is the body and interior. In general, expect the V6 cars to be suffering most from wear and tear since lower prices and perceived lack of desirability for the most part, meant most were pressed into service as daily drivers and not cloistered in a garage.
BODY AND CHASSIS
The biggest things to watch out for include signs of rust – particularly around the front and rear fenders, the bottom of the doors, the floorpans, fuel tank at the back, the shock towers and firewall. Expect to find it on cars driven extensively on salted winter roads that weren’t rust proofed. Other key signs will be peeling paint around the wheel lips and door bottoms, fading and pitting on the exterior plastic (mirrors, front fascia and door handles), as well as rust forming underneath the weather stripping around the windshield, A-pillars, and the top of the doors. However, both paint quality and rust protection in general was much better than on Fox-body Mustangs. Mustangs that have spent their lives in Sun-belt regions, will most likely be suffering from deteriorating paint on the upper surfaces, especially the hood, roof, rear decklid, fascia and trunk mounted spoiler, though underneath should present few problems in terms of corrosion. The 1994-1998 coupes were not available with a factory-installed sunroof – any you find will be aftermarket conversions and are best avoided. On convertible models, check the condition of the top. Many will be showing their age with rips, stains or broken latches. A scruffy top can seriously detract from an otherwise nice car and replacing it can cost up to $3,000.
Most V6s will tend to have had young, enthusiastic owners at some point in time and many have been involved in accidents and repaired. Check alignment of the body panels, especially the door/front fender/hood and trunk, rear fenders and fascia. Signs underneath will include marks on the framerails and in the engine bay, look for signs of overspray on the rubber hood grommets and around the radiator support and cowl area, hinting at poorly executed crash repairs. Another indication is poorly matched paint, particularly on cars with metallic finishes (the 1996 Mystic Cobra coupes are almost impossible to paint match), plus look for blow-ins and signs of orange peel along the doors, fenders, hood, and trunk.
The 1994-1998 Mustangs are some of the most customized cars when it comes to body enhancements like wings, hoods and ground effects kits, though some are of better quality fit than others. If you find a car that sports a badly fitting aftermarket wing or hood, it can often be a negotiator in the selling price, especially if the vendor still has the stock unit. It’s best to avoid cars with wild aftermarket fascias and ground effects, as they often hide shoddy workmanship and many are prone to fit problems. If you do buy a stock-looking Mustang and want to add some additional exterior touches, quality, well fitting items like performance oriented hoods, front bumpers and scoops are available through companies like Cervini’s, Classic Design Concepts, and Ford Racing. In addition, Ford Motorsports did offer a side-mounted exhaust kit for GT and Cobra models when these cars were new, though it has been out of production for a number of years.
Inside, the biggest issues you’re likely to face are wear on the steering wheel, pedals and switches, as well as frayed, faded or damaged seats. The cloth upholstery in these cars didn’t hold up particularly well and it’s currently difficult to find replacement material. Leather, as found in a number of GTs and Cobras also tends to fall apart if not maintained carefully, the driver’s seat in particular can suffer from cracking and wear around the edges, making it look rather unsightly – though leather is easier to replace than cloth. Also check the carpet for signs of stains and cigarette burns and the headliner. High-mileage cars will also show wear on the center armrest, but unlike the 1987-1993 Fox-body Mustang the plastic interior fittings are of better quality, so you’re less likely to find a broken arm rest latch or seatbelt receptacles.
Some cars have been fitted with aftermarket gauges, most common are pods mounted on the driver side A-pillar, the top of the center stack (in place of the clock on 1998 models), or by the steering column. You should check the installation and avoid cars in which the dash has been hacked up.
The optional Mach 460 sound system with AM/FM stereo CD player or optional Mini Disc player was state-of-the-art when these cars were new. The CD or Mini Disc unit was mounted below the main stereo controls. Many of these cars had their stereo systems upgraded, but even if the one you are looking at hasn’t, there are a huge number of options – from single in-dash replacement head units to complete stereo kits. Companies like Crutchfield, Kicker Audio, and Rockford Fosgate are good sources for complete stereo upgrades.
The 3.8 liter “Essex” V6, is a fairly gruff, but generally stout engine, delivering ample torque and decent fuel economy. That fitted to base 1994-1998 Mustangs, features sequential fuel injection and from 1996, got some useful changes, notably a stronger cylinder block and an upgraded ignition with standard platinum tipped spark plugs that were good for 100,000 miles. At the same time, horsepower increased from 145 to 150 hp and torque from 215 to 225 lb-ft. The biggest problem concerning these engines is the head gaskets. Because the V6 features a cast-iron block and aluminum heads, which expand at different rates under heat, it puts extra strain on the gaskets and sealant. Early cars (1994-1995) models were prone to gasket failure. Ford issued a service bulletin to fix the problem that covered cars for up to 100,000 miles and 7 years. Before you buy one of these cars, you should note the VIN number and contact your local Ford dealer. They should be able to tell you if the gaskets have been replaced. Signs of gasket failure will be gunk on the inside of the oil filler cap, a milky substance on the dipstick and excessive white smoke coming from the tailpipe as well as low coolant level in the overflow tank and radiator. If you plan on modifying one of these cars, a number of parts are available – you can bolt on the split-port manifold found on the 1999-2004 V6 Mustangs and companies like Super Six Motor Sports and Morana V6 Racing offer everything from camshafts, to stroker kits, throttle bodies, bigger injectors and even superchargers.
A staple of the Mustang during the Fox years, the 302 cubic inch H.O. or 5.0-liter was only offered in 1994 and 1995 Mustangs. In the GT the 302 was rated at 215 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque, while those in the Cobras were rated at 240 hp, thanks to a different intake and cylinder heads (but the same amount of torque). The 5.0’s reputation for toughness is legendary and even in high mileage cars, there should be few problems. One thing you should note is engine idling. If it appears erratic, chances are the Mass Air sensor on the inlet tract is clogged. Cleaning it should eliminate the problem. Another problem is the PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) valve. These should be replaced every few years and again, often become filled with debris, which will cause idle problems. Also, the 5.0 has very wide bottom end clearances and you should use fairly thick oil for lubrication – at least 10W40 for optimal performance, otherwise you’ll find that it lunches through lube at a healthy rate.
In terms of performance upgrades, the 5.0 is one of the best served engines on the market – period. With a huge selection in aftermarket cylinder heads, intakes, throttle bodies, fuel systems, camshafts, valvetrain parts, stroker packages, superchargers, turbochargers, nitrous kits and less restrictive exhaust systems. However, do bear in mind that the 1994-1995 version due to its packaging, features some unique parts, specifically the exhaust headers and intake manifold, which often requires a spacer to work with aftermarket performance intake kits. The circular inlet tract or funnel box with its cylindrical housing and air filter is also unique to these models.
4.6L V8 (GT)
Compared with the venerable 302, the 4.6, single-cam V8, introduced in GTs for the 1996 model year, was an entirely different proposition. It was physically larger, despite the smaller displacement and much smoother, with a higher rev limit. Although on paper it was rated the same as the 5.0 it replaced, it didn’t have the same low down torque of the pushrod motor. To make matters worse, the engine’s sophisticated coil on plug ignition system, more powerful EEC-V processor with OBD-II software, didn’t make it very tuner friendly, at least in the beginning. It also featured a more restrictive exhaust system with six catalytic converters (versus four on the 1994-1995 cars). For precisely that reason a larger number of 1996-1998 GTs are still out there with unmodified engines. They often sell for less than their 1994-1995 counterparts. In general, the 4.6 is a reliable engine and should present few problems, but the OBD-II has a tendency to trigger check engine codes if any adjustments are made and will require a qualified technician to diagnose and fix the problem. With much tighter tolerances, these engines run best on 5W30 oil. If the car hasn’t received regular oil changes, worn valvetrain components and a stretched timing chain can result, which is costly to rectify.
If you want to add a bit of extra zest to your 4.6 GT, your best option is to do it through bolt-ons, a replacement high flow H-pipe and converter back exhaust is one way. If you’re more serious, installing 1999 and up P I (Power Improved) intake and heads are a cost effective method as is bolting on a supercharger kit like those offered from Vortech, Paxton, and Kenne Bell. Playing around with the internals such as swapping camshafts or putting together a stroker shortblock assembly, will bring fewer benefits, not to mention costing far more than the 5.0 engines.
4.6L V8 (Cobra)
At the time of its introduction the 4.6-liter dual overhead cam, 32-valve V8 in the 1996 Mustang Cobra was a technological marvel. Each engine was built on a dedicated assembly line and put together by a two-man team, who signed the cam cover once the engine was completed. Rated at 305 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, it was a highly efficient unit and liked to rev, making maximum power at 5,800 rpm and torque at a relatively high 4,800. All aluminum construction and massive heads meant that physically it was huge, squeezing into the Mustang’s engine bay. A well-engineered piece, it’s extremely reliable on the whole, with a durable long lasting, coil-on plug ignition system and fairly stout reciprocating assembly. The biggest key to keeping this engine healthy is regular oil changes and cooling system servicing, since it likes to run fairly hot. SAE 5W30 oil is recommended. In terms of performance modifications, like its single cam counterpart, the greatest bang for the buck benefits can be realized in the form of external bolt-ons, aftermarket exhaust systems with high-flow cats and external power adders, particularly a supercharger kit. Although it’s possible to build a four-valver with custom internals, more aggressive cams and stronger bottom ends, a good performance engine build will cost you around $20,000 and because the motor is already highly efficient in factory form, you aren’t likely to realize the benefits unless you’re going racing.
1994-1998 Mustang V6s were offered with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Cobras were only offered with a five-speed manual.
The T-5 manual as fitted to V6 cars as well as the 1994-1995 GTs and Cobras, is, despite its reputation, a fairly sturdy transmission. The biggest problem concerns third gear, where ham-fisted drivers often mangle the synchronizers. Replacement T-5 gearboxes are widely available used, or if you want something stronger, Tremec offers a line of newly built performance enhanced replacements. The T-45, fitted to the V8 cars from 1996 onwards, is stronger than the T-5 with larger gears and carbon lined syncros. Also bear in mind, that unlike the T-5, the T-45 gearboxes for GT and Cobra Mustangs are not interchangeable, since they have different speedometer gears and mounting points. Other things to look for, and this particularly applies to GTs and Cobras that were driven hard, are a slipping clutch, worn linings on the disc and bent pressure plate fingers. Replacement clutches for these cars are easy to come by and not expensive (around $300).
On the automatic front, 1994-1998 Mustangs came with a choice of Ford four-speed Automatic Overdrive units. On base cars this was the French built A4LD (1994-1995) and then the 4R55E from 1996 onwards. In general these are solid, reliable automatic units and should present few problems. Make sure you change the fluid and filter regularly (every two years), otherwise friction build up and heat can cause clutch failures, which will often require a complete transmission rebuild (around $1,500).
Mustang GTs received Ford’s AOD-E transmission for the 1994 model year. Although based on the earlier AOD, it doesn’t actually share that many components. The biggest issue concerning these transmissions is the two-piece input shaft. A modified engine, in conjunction with a shift kit (to boost hydraulic line pressure) can slam the transmission into third gear, when it locks up to aid fuel economy. This can cause the fragile input shaft to break. In addition, hard driving can also cause the overdrive bands to break, leaving you without fourth gear. It is possible to build an AOD-E, into a strong, reliable transmission, to work with a modified engine but you’ll need the services of a specialist like Baumann Engineering, Level 10, or Lentech Automatics to help you.
For the 1996 model year, the AOD-E was replaced with an updated version, the 4R70W, sourced from Lincoln. Although it shares components with its predecessor, this is a much stronger unit, with lower first and second gear ratios, as well as a redesigned (and much bigger and sturdier) input shaft. These units are much more adaptable at working with modified engines and are used extensively in drag cars and other high horsepower applications.
As for the rear end, the 7.5-inch solid axles fitted to V6 cars are fairly tough, as long as the car hasn’t been heavily modified, but check for rear end whining, meaning either the differential fluid needs changing, or on high mileage cars (100,000 miles plus), new axle bearings are required, though these are cheap (around $150 to replace).
The V8 cars use a stronger 8.8 inch rear, which a choice of 2.73, 3.08 or 3.27:1 final drive ratios. These should present few problems, though hard dragstrip use, particularly with slick tires can break the C-clips, causing the axles to come loose and damaging the bearings. On cars that are street driven, as long as the diff fluid is changed regularly, you should have few issues. For the performance inclined, stronger axles, steeper final drive ratios, stouter differentials and even rear end girdles are offered, via the aftermarket.
SUSPENSION AND STEERING
In general, any 1994-1998 Mustang should display a somewhat firm ride quality, with fairly predicable handling, emphasized by a slight understeer upon corner entry and slight oversteer on exit. (Turn in is notably improved on the 1996-1998 V8 cars, which got revised suspension geometry.) On a test drive, if the car pitches, wallows and rolls around the road, it will need new front struts and rear shocks. Replacement units run the gamut from OE-style pieces to multi-adjustable units like those from Koni aimed at drivers who seek extensive track time. The V8 cars also employ a set of additional “horizontal” rear shocks to control axle judder under acceleration. Over time they tend to leak and should be replaced.
Springs also tend to sag over time and replacements are widely available, particularly for the V8 cars. Companies like Eibach, H&R, make good quality pieces that offer an excellent balance between ride and handling.
Also check factory suspension bushings on the sway bars and control arms. By this stage, the original rubber units are often dry-rotted and will need replacing. Aftermarket polyurethane bushings do wonders for tightening up the front end and improving handling. On the rear arms, the bushings have a particularly critical job since the four-link setup controls both longitudinal and lateral suspension movements and a set of new, quality units can make a sizeable difference in how the rear end behaves through corners.
One other Achilles’ heel on the 1994-1998 Mustang concerns the steering. The tie-rod ends can crack, and the on the power steering box, faulty bearings can cause sloppiness in the linkage, the latter was the subject of a recall on 1998 models, so it’s something to bear in mind.
Compared to previous Mustangs, the factory anchors as fitted to the 1994-1998 cars are actually quite stellar, particularly the Cobras which came with massive 13-inch front rotors and four-piston calipers. These brakes are available through the Ford Racing catalog and today, are a popular upgrade on V6 and GT cars. In general, the four-wheel disc setup should present few problems, though faulty ABS sensors on the rear units are not unheard of and are not that cheap to replace either. If there’s a noticeable vibration or shimmy when decelerating, the car will need replacement front pads and or rotors. The parking brake mechanism can get sloppy with use, requiring adjustment. On rust belt cars it can seize up entirely if not used regularly, though this is most often found on automatics.
WHEELS AND TIRES
The 1994 Mustang debuted at a time when increasingly larger wheel and tire packages were becoming the rage. Base V6 cars came with 15x6.5 steel wheels with full wheel covers and Goodyear Eagle GA Touring P205/65/R15 rubber – wider 7.5x15 alloy wheels were available as an option and continued until the end of production – the design was modified, beginning with the 1996 model year.
GT models came standard with five-spoke 16x7 alloy wheels shod in Firestone Firehawk P225/55/ZR16 performance tires. A new option for GTs were massive Goodyear Eagle GT skins, sized at P255/45/ZR17 mounted on interesting “double” three-spoke alloy wheels, these were changed to a different multi-spoke design for the 1996 model year, though tire size remained unchanged.
Interestingly, Cobras actually came with smaller tires than the optional GT units – P245/45ZR17 Goodyear Eagle GS-Cs and some very handsome cast aluminum five-spoke wheels. For the 1998 model year these were replaced with a Cobra R design (as fitted to the 1995 Mustang of the same name), but in the same size.
Even with the 17-inch wheels, 1994-1998 Mustangs are often considered to look under tired. Given the size of the wheel wheels, aftermarket 18-, 19-, even 20-inch wheels and tires will fit with minimal issues, a far cry from the Fox years. Given the number of choices out there at present, all that limits you is time, money and imagination. For maximum driving enjoyment and flexibility, 18-inchers are preferable.
In terms of delivering a lot of performance car for the money, the 1994-1998 Mustangs are very hard to beat. Better built than the Fox cars, with much improved handling and braking, nice examples can set you back around $6,000.
1994-1998 base Mustangs were a huge improvement over their 1987-1993 counterparts. Powering these was a 3.8-liter fuel-injected V6. Improvements for 1996; boosted power from 145 to 150 hp. Pictured is a 1997 convertible.
Vertical, three-section taillights, a Mustang trademark, were reintroduced for the 1996 model year. The 1994-1995 versions had the bars mounted horizontally. All Mustang GTs of this vintage got a unique rear bumper cover.
Cobras – the product of Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering and Special Vehicle Team, were the flagship Mustangs during the ’90s. They were sold through a select dealer network and only came with manual transmissions.
For 1996, GTs got a new engine, in the shape of a 4.6-liter “Modular” V8. It brought Mustang into the modern age with single overhead cams and coil on plug ignition. Rated at 215 hp, it was wildly criticized for lacking low-end torque. Power increased to 225 hp on the ’98 version, as seen here.
These GT 4.6L badges signify the car is powered by the “Modular” V8. Those on the 1994-1995 versions feature the GT script with “Mustang” spelled out underneath.
Interiors were not changed much during the 1994-1998 production run. The twin-cowl instrument panel was a popular retro touch. The top portion was always finished in black, with the lower part color matched to the rest of the interior. Dual airbags were standard.
GT models were offered with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox (seen here). For the 1996 model year, Ford replaced the AOD-E automatic, with the sturdy Lincoln 4R70W, recognized as one of the most dependable automatic overdrive transmissions ever built.
Because of a low cowl height, the hood on all 1994-1998 Mustangs features a raised center section to clear the engine. These small vents were found on all of these cars, except the 1996-1998 Cobras.
Both base and GT Mustangs shared the same front fascia design. GT models featured standard front foglights in the lower valance. This car features smoked headlight lenses, a popular aftermarket option.
From this angle you can see the Cobra’s unique front fascia and round foglights, which gives the car a tough, all-business attitude. The look was so popular that many GT owners installed these front ends on their cars.
These big hood “nostrils” are only found on stock 1996-1998 Mustang Cobra hoods and indicate that there’s a 305 hp monster engine beneath.
Dubbed the “Romeo” engine after the plant where it was assembled, the 1996-1998 Mustang Cobra’s 4.6-liter, 32-valve, all-aluminum V-8 was highly exotic for the time. From start to finish, each engine was presided over by a dedicated two-person team who signed a special tag on the cam cover upon completion.
These snake emblems were standard fitment on all 1994-1998 Cobra Mustangs.
White faced instrument clusters started gaining popularity during the ’90s and among the first Domestic cars to get them were the Mustang Cobras. The 240 km/hr reading indicates this is an original Canadian car. U.S. models have 150 mph speedometers.
At the back, Cobras got vertical three-section lights for the 1996 model year. In addition, they adopted the GT’s rear spoiler that year and a new rear bumper cover with “Cobra” lettering embossed into it. On the 1994-1995 versions it just says “Mustang.”
Another popular performance modification is a cold-air intake kit. This car features Classic Design Concept’s Shaker hood assembly that funnels air from this scoop, down into a snorkel and then to the intake manifold.
WHY WE OWN THEM
“We got into these cars, when Jane first bought a 1998 GT convertible. The car was a good buy and in excellent condition. In Chrome Yellow it was really striking. The car is a lot of fun and we’ve done a few mods to it, like the cold air intake and catback exhaust. It rides nice and with the top down on a summer’s day you can’t beat it. The car gets a lot of attention and since owning it Jane and I have become active Mustang club members, joining the Yellow Mustang Registry among other things. Seeing how much fun Jane was having I had to get one of my own so I found this used 1998 Cobra Convertible, also in Chrome Yellow. Some people don’t like the SN-95 Mustangs but we both think they’re great cars, reliable and very comfortable to drive over long distances –something that’s welcomed when we attend the All- Ford Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, each June.” —Jim and Jane Deagle
1994-1998 MUSTANG PRODUCTION TOTALS
SOURCES FOR 1994-1998 MUSTANG ENTHUSIASTS
Cervini's Auto Designs
Classic Design Concepts
Level 10 Transmissions
Morana V-6 Racing
MUSTANG CLUB OF AMERICA
PERFORMANCE PARTS INC.
Rockford-Fosgate sound systems
Super Six Motor Sports