“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0

Say what you want, but the term Five Point Oh, is a household name. Even non-car people recognize it. But for the Mustang faithful it’s perhaps as symbolic as other legendary monikers such as Boss and G.T.500 – and not without reason. Through much of the ’80s and ’90s, an era that some traditionalists still consider a somewhat lackluster era for exciting automobiles, the mighty 5.0 stood

out from the crowd. It was affordable (almost anybody with a job could afford one) and it was fast – 0-60 mph in around six seconds and a top speed of around 140 mph. Throw a few speed parts at it and you had yourself a serious street/strip warrior, a car that could easily run deep into the 11 second range through the quarter-mile, which was serious business back then and as a matter of fact, still is.

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

The 5.0 Mustang represents to Generation X, what the 428 Cobra Jet does to Baby Boomers and the originals are now on the cusp of collectability, originals being the 1982-1993 Mustang equipped with Ford’s venerable, pushrod high output 302 V-8.

Sure the 5.0 found its way into the 1994 Mustang, but this was in many respects a different kind of car, slower, heavier and more expensive. In 1995 the engine which had done so much to forge Ford’s new wave performance reputation, bit the dust in the Mustang, replaced by a high tech overhead cam wonder, the 4.6-liter 2-valve V-8. Although on paper it had similar power output, it was a completely different kind of engine. It didn’t have the same satisfying torque delivery and a stock 1996-1998 Mustang GT could be outrun by a V-6 Camaro, not something for Ford fans to celebrate. And to make matters worse, the 4.6 was a lot harder to hot rod (at least initially) and considerably more expensive to do so. As a result, many Mustang diehards shunned the new engine and although Ford persisted and considerably improved it – the 4.6 never achieved the status enjoyed by the 5.0.

For the 2011 model year, it’s all changed. The 5.0 is back and although it’s a very different engine

and car to those original 5-liters of the ’80s Late Model Mustang Milestones thought there’s simply no better time than now to compare the new with the old. Considering that it’s now been over 25 years since the first of the sequential fuel injected 5.0s debuted, we corralled an original 1986 5.0 Mustang GT and a 2011 5.0 Mustang GT to find how far we have or haven’t come in a generation.

1986 MUSTANG GT

Ah the Eighties. Personal cassette players and camcorders became the new gadgets to have and after a decade in the doldrums performance cars were staging a comeback. And leading the charge from Detroit was Ford’s reborn Mustang GT, first introduced for 1982. The 302 V-8 that powered it had been around for absolutely ages, but when Ford substituted a limp-kneed debored version – the 255 in 1980-1981, the Mustang Cobra, although tough to look at was as charismatic as a snail and about as fast.

All that changed for 1982. Ford engineers had been raiding the parts bin and decided to add a few things to the venerable 302 and bring it back as a bona-fide high performance engine in the Mustang, calling it the 5.0-liter H.O. or High Output. By fitting a more aggressive

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

camshaft, double-roller timing chain, bigger Holley 2150 two-barrel carburetor and 460-style air cleaner with dual-snorkels to harvest cold air from the inner fender on each side, the result was 157 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and 240 lb-ft of torque at just 2,400. Now, while that may not seem like much today, in the context of the time, it was a breath of fresh of air. Teamed with Ford’s single rail overdrive four-speed manual gearbox, the 1982 Mustang GT could accelerate to 60 mph in under 8 seconds and from here it would only get better. By the 1985 model year the 5.0 had broken through the “magic” 200 hp ceiling. With a new roller camshaft and low friction valvetrain, which also required a new block, the four-barrel 5.0 was actually rated at 210 horsepower

and 270 lb-ft of torque. Coupled with a five-speed manual gearbox, that year’s Mustang GT could run the quarter-mile in under 15 seconds, but things were changing. By the time our sample car was built, the Mustang had ditched the carburetor forever.

The 1986 5.0 used the same block as the ’85 version, but adopted sequential electronic fuel injection. The air and fuel paths were completely separated, with a long tuned intake runner assembly forcing the air into the combustion chambers and eight 19 lb/hr fuel injectors, fed from the gas tank by an electric pump and controlled by an onboard computer, squirting in fuel. With new cylinder heads, that featured high swirl heads with shrouded valves and a true dual

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

exhaust system, the 1986 5.0-liter H.O. churned out 200 hp at 4,000 rpm and 285 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 revs.

With a stronger clutch and bigger rear end with a stouter ring gear, it was actually slightly quicker, both in acceleration and through the quarter-mile, but at the time, the new fangled EFI had many hot rodders scratching their heads, some of whom decided to yank off the fuelie manifolds and install carburetors, Twenty-five years down the road and it’s a very different story. The 1986 5.0 marked the beginning of a new era of fuel-injected hot rodding and to this day the 1986 Mustang GT/LX and the cars that followed them through 1993, still remain the absolute king of the hill when it comes to bang for the buck performance. Yet precisely because of that, so many of these cars were modified, raced and wrecked. As a result, finding a stock, original 1986 Mustang 5.0 these days isn’t that easy. Luckily for this comparison we were able to do that.

Our sample car was built in February 1986 as an Oxford White Mustang Cobra GT equipped with the 302 H.O. engine, Borg Warner T-5 five speed manual gearbox and 8.8-inch rear end with 2.73:1 ring and pinion. This car was originally sold in Canada, hence the Cobra GT

name and has no options except for power windows and premium sound system. The engine and driveline are totally stock and at the time of our test the car displayed 91,468 miles (146,350 km) on the odometer, so it’s regularly driven, but also regularly serviced. Let’s find out how it does.

STYLING AND INTERIOR

If there’s one word to describe this car, it’s boxy. Apart from the steering wheel, rims and tires there doesn’t appear to be a single surface that wasn’t cut at right angles. In this day and age it looks very Eighties, but there are also elements of it that are surprisingly clean, especially compared with Mustang GTs that came after. The charcoal gray trim is tastefully executed, the black out treatment around the headlights and the hood stripe, still rather aggressive. The presence of Marchal driving lights in the front valance, wide Goodyear 225 section 60 series Eagle GT tires, 5.0 emblems on each fender and dual, polished exhaust tips exiting from below the rear bumper let you know that something’s going on, but compared to the early ’70s ponies, this is one muscle Mustang that is quite subdued.

In terms of build quality (this is an original, unrestored car), you can see why it sold for just over $11,000

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

when new). The panels are thin and wobble when you lean on them, the gaps between them are all over the place and when you open and close the door it responds with a noticeable “ting.” Get behind the wheel and it’s like going back in time. Most of the control functions are written in English and the dash and center console are as square as the outside. A small display in the console, which shows an outline of the car with little indicators for fuel and lights is very Atari, but charming in its own way. The three-spoke steering wheel is quite soft to the touch but its vinyl, not leather – the stitching purely simulated. GT models came with standard Lear Siegler multi-adjustable front bucket seats in 1986 that feature moveable thigh bolsters and adjustable hip support. They’re

surprisingly comfortable and fore and aft, plus rake adjustment is good. Outside visibility is okay on this car, but the thick C-pillars and sail panels, plus tiny door mirrors, can make it for pretty big blind spot at times.

IN MOTION

Turn the key and the 302 V-8 rumbles into life. It settles at a 900 rpm idle, but even at this level, the exhaust note is music to the ears, in a way that a classic Ford small block only can be. Release the parking brake, drop the clutch and put the T-5 five-speed into first gear. Clutch travel is quite short, but the car picks up speed almost the instant you tap the throttle. First to second gear is quite sloppy and widely spaced, but on the open road,

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

second to third is where this car really starts to come alive. Even with only 200 rated horsepower it feels pretty fast and connected to the road. Once warmed up, stomp on the throttle, build the revs to 3,500 and shift into four gear and hold on. This is where the 1986 Mustang GT really comes alive – delivering a satisfying wallop of mid range thrust. Rev too hard and the pushrod motor simply runs out of breath – redline is at 6,250 rpm on this one. Nevertheless, on the street, in the fat of the power band it still feels impressively quick. Row through the gears and it doesn’t take much to actually bury the speedometer needle – mind you the dial only goes up to 115 mph on this car (U.S. market models had 85 mph units) and yet even at this level of speed, there’s still plenty of power in reserve – yet unlike in many modern cars, you FEEL like you’re doing triple digit speeds – thanks to light construction and the lack of refinement the car is almost shaking at this point.

The 1986 Mustang has a small 15.5-gallon fuel tank, so it doesn’t take much to drain it when that 5-liter engine is under load. That said, a very tall fifth gear means the engine is barely loping 2,000 rpm at 70 mph on the highway and if you’re prudent enough you can still get 22 or more mpg out of the thing. In terms of ride, the 1986 GT can best

be described as choppy. The rear axle can get unsettled over larger bumps and the whole unibody quivers – Mustangs of this era were noted for notoriously chassis flex and this is a solid roof car!

Despite the fairly large tires and short 100.5-inch wheelbase, handling isn’t a strong suite of the 1986 Mustang GT. There’s noticeable understeer and lean through the corners, not helped by the suspension design and a heavy, cast-iron engine located directly over the front wheels. The boosted steering doesn’t provide a great deal of feedback through corners, but what does is the throttle. Thanks to the solid rear axle, which isn’t the best located, on-demand oversteer is par for the course, which makes the ’86 GT a handful in the wet. On dry ground, however, once you get the hang of it, you can throttle steer the Mustang around corners to your heart’s content, which makes for simply hours of driving fun in a way few modern cars can match.

Braking on the other hand is anything but fun. With just 10.06-inch front discs and 9-inch rear drums, it’s barely adequate for a car of this caliber. Hit the pedal with decent force from 60 mph and ’86 GT behaves like a Bloodhound picking up the scent. The front dives for the tarmac and the back end lifts like a Monte Carlo on hydraulics.

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

Even with fresh fluid it won’t take many hard panic stops before the fluid boils and you’ll need to install new front pads. To put it into context, this setup is a bit like driving a ’60s Shelby with manual four-wheel drum brakes and is a major shortcoming, even by ’80s standards.

It isn’t even that much fun at low speed driving and requires you to use the gears as much as possible to slow down this New Wave muscle machine. It also makes you wonder why Ford, even back then, couldn’t have done something to upgrade the brakes.

2011 MUSTANG GT

A generation later and the world has changed. The personal cassette

players are a distant memory. Today people use their mobile phones for recording video, not bulky shoulder mounted boxes and cars are faster, safer and far better performing than they were in the ’80s. The Mustang GT of 2011 might share a name with its 1986 counterpart but is worlds removed. Built off a dedicated platform instead of one shared across multiple car lines like the ’86, it’s a more specialized machine.

The new 5.0-liter V-8 which powers it is also a completely different kettle of fish. It was purposely designed from the ground up for use in the 2011 Mustang and features an aluminum block and cylinder heads, in order to save weight, but also features thick block webbing and plenty of attention

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

applied to efficient lubing of the moving parts, namely a large capacity pump, drain holes and also jets that squirt oil onto the base of the pistons to keep temperatures down. These features also help the engine spin all the way to 7,000 rpm without reliability issues, reflected in the factory rated output of 412 horsepower at 6,500 revs and 390 lb-ft of torque at a relatively high 4,250 rpm. Further helping it spin to giddying heights are four cams and 32 valves atop its aluminum heads, with one cam on each head controlling intake and the other exhaust valve operation. Ford’s Twin independent Variable Cam Timing (TiVCT) system allows for an incredible amount of valve lift, in order to maximize breathing and horsepower. Further aiding the cause is the single plane intake, with runners that are almost coiled in design and a big 80 mm throttle-body (it’s 58 mm on the ’86 302).

Perhaps one of the biggest advancements in the last 25 years is that of electronics and the power and sophistication of the 2011 Mustang GT’s on-board computer is many times that of its older counterpart. Not only does it control air, fuel delivery and spark; it can automatically adjust timing as well as control shifts on the transmission, in this case a six-speed manual which features a 1st to 4th skip shift feature that engages below 1,500

rpm, designed to aid fuel economy. Like the ’86 our 2011 Mustang GT test car sports a 8.8-inch solid rear axle, but it has steeper 3.35:1 rear gearing and the suspension design is different, with MacPherson struts up front and a three link location for the rear end, including a torque arm which is designed to prevent wheel hop and back end twitchiness. At the time of our test, the 2011 Mustang GT boasted 4,350 miles (6960 km) on the odometer, so it was barely broken in. It would be interesting to see how it compared against its counterpart from 25 years earlier.

STYLING AND INTERIOR

Mustang underwent a radical transformation for the 2005 model year – gaining an all new, dedicated chassis (dubbed S197) and new styling, which harked back to the ’60s original. It was also longer, wider and heavier. For 2010, although still very much styled as a modern day version of the classic pony car, the Mustang adopted more of a coke bottle profile, with pronounced curvature, particularly around the front fascia, flanks and rear valance which carried over for 2011. Finished in Sterling Gray Metallic, our GT tester looked positively sinister, especially on its 19-inch wheels and Pirelli P-Zero tires – massive 255/40/ZR19 units. There’s all the classic “Mustang”

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

styling cues – the sculptured headlight buckets, coves on the quarter-panels, grille mounted driving lights and triple tail lamps, with sequential turn signals no less. But unlike the older ’86, the word “Mustang” isn’t found anywhere on the outside of the car, all you get is a pony logo in the grille, 5.0 emblems on the front fenders and a simulated gas cap cover on the back that says GT.

In terms of build quality, there really is no comparison between this one and the ’86. The newer car is put together with the kind of precision once reserved for premium European cars – panel gaps are nice and tight all the way around; while the paint displays a deep luster simply not possible 25 years ago. However, there are a

couple of gripes – one of which is the textured plastic rocker panels. They easily become scuffed and are very difficult to clean. Another concern are the seams at the bottom of the doors – there’s enough space to trap a reservoir, which means, if you live in the rust belt, don’t rule out the prospect of replacing door skins within a few years.

Open the door and get in. It closes with a solid clunk and compared to the ’86, the 2011 feels like a vault from the inside – solid, but also somber, though the optional glass roof panels tempers the sensation somewhat. The twin cowl dash dominates the cabin and just like the exterior, quality is just in a different league compared with the older car. There’s leather

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

everywhere – from the door panels, to the center console and also the seats. The gauge cluster is considerably more styled and busier, and despite modern high-tech electronic illumination isn’t actually that much easier to read than in the older car. The front buckets in this one are big and wide, not quite as soft as those in the ’86, but power adjustment allows infinitely more options to get the desired driving position.

IN MOTION

Rotate the key in this one, press the clutch and you notice you’re in a very different car – at idle the sound is much more refined and muted than in the ’86. At low speeds the 2011 GT feels noticeably bigger and heavier, but what’s surprising is the power delivery. With the factory tune, the torque delivery isn’t like the older car; you have to build rpm for it to really start working. The six-speed manual gearbox is also a close ratio unit with, linear, precise feel, a far cry from the old T-5 in the ’86, which has a gate almost as wide as the Grand Canyon. Below 1,500 rpm that hated skip-shift feature is operational, which causes the engine to bog, but once you’ve cleared the city traffic, here we go. Whichever way you slice it, the 2011 Mustang GT is a phenomenal performer in its own right and our own test numbers bore that out –

yet you really have to rev this engine to get it to come into its own during normal street driving, which happens at about the same rpm where the old 302 runs out of steam.

Between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm it’s an absolute hoot – stomp on the gas hard enough and the rear tires will chirp, though the standard traction control will really do its best to negate showing off if it isn’t deactivated. Do this and serious burnouts are an on-demand affair, but make sure you’ve got plenty of coin – replacing those Pirellis isn’t cheap.

The exhaust is one aspect where Ford engineers have spent a lot of development on Mustangs during the past decade and it shows here, especially when the engine is under load. The result is a deep, throaty growl that’s distinctly different from the old 302 and in keeping with the character of this car, far more polished. With six gears, the new GT also makes for a great highway cruiser, though we found that sometimes down shifting from sixth back to fifth could be awkward, given how closely spaced the cogs are. In terms of fuel economy, despite a larger tank and infinitely more efficient engine, we didn’t find much of an improvement over the ’86 – not helped by the car’s weight and short 3.73:1 rear axle ratio.

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

Based on our observations, fuel economy hovered around 18 mpg in town, 25-26 mph on the open road.

On the other hand, ride quality just cannot be faulted. Yes it’s quite firmly damped but the suspension does an amazing job at isolating road shocks and thanks to the rigid S197 unibody, there’s virtually none of the chassis wobble that plagues the older Mustang.

And it’s that stiff structure and suspension design that makes for a car, which simply delivers world-class handling. For 2011, the Mustang GT adopts Electric Power Assisted steering (EPAS), new rear control arms and a stiffer back sway bar, which builds on an already impressive foundation. The steering is much more responsive than the hydraulic setup in the ’86 and enables you to change direction with an almost go-cart like response. The 2011 Mustang GT, despite its extra size and heft is also a lot more surefooted, through it into a corner and stays firmly planted, demonstrating little of the rock-and-roll that afflicts its older counterpart. Although you’ve still got a solid axle out back, the combination of stability and traction control, means it’s a lot harder for the average driver to get into trouble. Disengage the TC and you can learn to hold the gas and steer through a turn like most rear drive

performance cars, but you’re always apparent of the weight, unlike the light and lithe Fox, which for all its shortcomings, can almost dance through a corner given an experienced helmsman.

Fitted with optional Brembo 14-inch front brakes and 11.8-inch rear discs, there’s just no comparison when it comes to braking. The 2011 GT will stop on a dime every single time. The strong anchors reinforce its persona as essentially a track ready machine, all you need to do is load up a custom tune in the engine, install some high performance pads and brake fluid and you’re ready to go. It was once pointless to compare cars such as the Mustang to European thoroughbreds like the BMW M3. With the 2011 GT 5.0 however, that no longer holds true.

VERDICT

In the purest sense, it’s really completely unfair to pitch these cars against each other. The 2011 Mustang GT is just far more capable in every facet, but for cars like these it’s often about more than just the numbers. Visceral appeal, driving feel and character are as much apart of the equation. And as much as I might get shot down for saying this, as good as the 2011 Mustang GT is, it feels more like what a Mustang is “supposed to be,” than what it actually is. It’s almost like a

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

signature dish – a rather excellent one, but nonetheless one still created using “Mustang” ingredients such as style and exhaust sound to achieve the final result. The element is there, but somehow it still smacks of being derivative, not fresh and original, despite its impressive performance credentials. It’s also rather expensive. In today’s money a 1986 GT would cost approximately $20,111 (the 2011 version by comparison, is almost double that).

The 1986 5.0, for all its shortcomings and its love it or hate styling, not only represents more bang for the buck performance, it also represents the concept of original in a much truer sense – an incredibly fun-to-drive car with personality bursting at the seams – a car that was cobbled together from some parts lying around and became a legend, not something that went through endless focus groups and clinics to get to market. And the fact, that, the 5.0 is back for 2011, says volumes about the enduring appeal of those original cars from the ’80s.

Acknowledgements: special thanks to John Cadieux for his assistance during the photo shoot and Joe Da Silva for his testing expertise.

1986 FORD MUSTANG COBRA GT 5.0

DIMENSIONS

  • Length: 179.6-in
  • Width: 69.1-in
  • Wheelbase: 100.5-in
  • Track (front): 56.6-in
  • Track (rear): 57.0-in
  • Weight 3,265 lbs

ENGINE

  • Type: V-8
  • Construction: Cast-iron block and heads
  • Valvetrain: OHV, single camshaft, two valves per cylinder
  • Fuel system: Sequential Electronic fuel injection
  • Bore & Stroke: 4.00 x 3.00-in
  • Displacement: 302 ci (4942 cc)
  • Compression ratio: 9.2:1
  • Ignition system: Thick Film Ignition

POWER AND TORQUE

  • Factory rated Max Power (crank): 200 hp @ 4,200 rpm
  • Factory rated Max Torque (crank): 285 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
  • MM tested rear wheel Power: 178 hp @ 4,000 rpm
  • MM tested rear wheel Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

TRANSMISSION

  • Borg-Warner “World Class” T-5 Five-speed manual
  • Gear Ratios
  • 1st 3.35:1
  • 2nd 1.99:1
  • 3rd 1.33:1
  • 4th 1.00:1
  • 5th 0.67:1
  • Rear Axle Ratio
  • 2.73:1

BODY/CHASSIS

  • Steel three-door hatchback unibody

SUSPENSION

  • Front: Independent with modified MacPherson struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar
  • Rear: Live axle with coil springs, tube shocks and four-link control arms

WHEELS

  • 16 x 7 cast aluminum

TIRES

  • 225/60VR15 Goodyear Eagle GT

PERFORMANCE AS TESTED

  • 0-60 mph (6.5 sec)
  • SS ¼-mile (14.83 sec)

OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY

  • 16.9 mpg (City)
  • 21.3 mpg (Highway)

PRICE

  • $11,734 (1986)

2011 FORD MUSTANG GT 5.0

DIMENSIONS

  • Length: 188.1-in
  • Width: 73.9-in
  • Wheelbase: 107.1-in
  • Track (front): 62.3-in
  • Track (rear): 62.9-in
  • Weight 3,814 lbs

ENGINE

  • Type: V-8
  • Construction: Aluminum block and cylinder heads
  • Valvetrain: DOHC, four valves per cylinder with ViVCT
  • Fuel system: Sequential Electronic fuel injection
  • Bore & Stroke: 3.63 x 3.65-in
  • Displacement: 302 ci (4957 cc)
  • Compression ratio: 11.0:1
  • Ignition system: Coil on plug

POWER AND TORQUE

  • Factory rated Max Power (crank): 412 hp @ 6,500 rpm

“Old” 5.0 vs “New” 5.0 – Bridging The Gap

POWER AND TORQUE CONT.

  • Factory rated Max Torque (crank): 390 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm
  • MM tested rear wheel Power: 354 hp @ 6,500 rpm
  • MM tested rear wheel Torque: 316 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm

TRANSMISSION

  • MT 82 Six-speed manual
  • Gear Ratios
  • 1st 3.66:1
  • 2nd 2.43:1
  • 3rd 1.69:1
  • 4th 1.32:1
  • 5th 1.00:1
  • 6th 0.65:1
  • Rear Axle Ratio
  • 3.73:1

BODY/CHASSIS

  • Steel two-door coupe unibody

SUSPENSION

  • Front: Independent with MacPherson struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar
  • Rear: Live axle with coil springs, tube shocks and three link control arms, sway bar, Panhard rod and torque arm.

WHEELS

  • 19×9-in cast aluminum

TIRES

  • P255/40ZR19

PERFORMANCE AS TESTED

  • 0-60 mph (5.3 sec)
  • SS ¼-mile (13.6 sec)

OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY

  • 18.2 mpg (City)
  • 25.6 mpg (Highway)

PRICE

  • $38,499 (2011)