Throwback Thursday 1982 Mustang
This week, I bring you the archived review from Car and Driver on the 1982 Mustang.
ARCHIVED INSTRUMENTED TEST
Ford's unfinished fifth.
From the July 1981 Issue of Car and Driver
This should have been a simple story to write. The Ford Motor Company brings out its first five-speed transmission in the popular Mustang/Capri at a time when no other domestic manufacturer save Volkswagen offers one (and VW’s gearbox is made in Germany). We write some lines about what a fine car the Mustang still is, with its super TRX tires-and-suspension package. We probably mention that the turbo option is no longer available on the 2.3-liter engine. We talk about the merits of five-speed transmissions versus four-speeds in the performance field. Then we scrutinize the new transmission, pass final judgment, and wrap up the whole shot with a few words on the State of the Mustang, 1981. Simple story.
But Ford engineers did something really strange when they threw in this new gearbox. They didn’t just add a fifth gear to the tail end of the old four-speed Ford “hummer” transmission. Noooo. They put the dude in upside down. With this transmission, you have to shift up into neutral from fourth, then back down into fifth. Not just different, but unnatural, we say.
It’s no easy task replacing the old, familiar patterns in your life, and unfortunately this particular one must be learned forward and backward. You’ll find that going up through the gears comes easy. You bang away at the spot where you figure fifth should naturally be. When nothing happens, you automatically try going down and find it there. But when you start backstroking through the box, signals get crossed.
It’s very easy to lose your way in the neutral zone the first few times you pop out of fifth seeking torque for a fly-by maneuver on the highway. But it’s guaranteed: one teeth-grinding shift into second at 60 miles an hour will cure you of roughhousing the shifter. (Maybe that’s why there’s no redline on the tach.) The trick is to let the stick find its own way through the maze; it’s spring-loaded to settle naturally into the three-four gate.
Paul McKee, executive engineer of Ford’s manual-transmission engineering department, says that one of the main reasons was to facilitate the five-three downshift. According to McKee, Ford transmission engineers feel this is the most common progression down from fifth gear. We hastened to inform him that his view of reality, Ford Division, may be a bit distorted.
Simple ergonomics was the other reason given by McKee for the odd placement of fifth gear. If Ford would have gone up with it, driver reach would have been excessive. McKee added that the unique position of fifth calls attention to the overdrive aspect of the new transmission.
So Ford thinks it’s reasonable and we think it’s illogical. We’ll get over it, but we just wish they’d stop throwing curve balls at us so we could concentrate on what’s important—the transmission. The transmission itself is probably the best thing to happen to the 2.3-liter un-powerplant it’s been paired with. With the four-speed, the big, noisy four-banger would never have been our choice of engines to drive the sexy Mustang around. You wouldn’t dress in an Yves St. Laurent creation and then lace on a pair of K mart construction boots, would you?
The new five-speed uses the same first four ratios as the four-speed box—4.05 in first, 2.43 in second, 1.48 in third, and 1.00 in fourth—but upshift speeds happen a lot faster, thanks to an axle-ratio change from 3.08:1 to 3.45:1. The five-speed’s effectively shorter gearing runs the engine up the torque curve at a much quicker rate than the four-speed’s. So now you get a bit of vitality for all the engine roar you have to live with.
The regearing does just what you’d expect in EPA terms. City mileage in the five-speed is off a full mpg, to 22 mpg. And the tall 0.82:1 fifth cruiser gear boosts highway mileage from 34 to 37 mpg. For a 2720-pound car, the mileage figures are reasonable.
After its introduction in 1979, the redesigned Mustang won the Car and Driver Reader’s Choice Poll Award. The C/D staff called it the second-best-handling American car, behind the Pontiac Trans Am (September, 1979). When all is said and done, the Mustang is still a good car, but it deserves an ongoing refinement program to keep it fresh. In addition to unscrambling the shift pattern, we’d suggest more modern graphics for the nicely laid-out instrumentation. And, really, a redline on a tachometer isn’t too much to ask for these days.
The addition of the new five-speed transmission is a sign that Ford is taking steps to see that the Mustang remains updated. It’s just that they move in mysterious ways sometimes. As long as they keep moving forward, though, we can’t complain too much.