54k Mile 1979 Ford Mustang Indy Pace Car

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You have to give marketing and product planning gurus their dues. An old adage in motorsport says that what wins on Sunday sells on Monday. However, if your shiny new model isn’t competing in a motorsport event, why not place it in a position of prominence? That was the story with the 1979 Ford Mustang, with the car serving as the Indy Pace Car for that year’s iconic 500. Ford leveraged off the enormous exposure that the Mustang received during the race broadcast by offering potential buyers the chance to secure 1-of-10,478 Pace Car Replicas. Our feature car is one of those vehicles, and its overall condition is pretty respectable. It has 54,000 genuine miles on the clock and is located in Bradenton, Florida. The owner has listed the Mustang for sale here on eBay, and the bidding has already rocketed beyond the reserve to $9,100.

Ford decided that its Indy Pace Car needed to stand out in a crowd, so they finished the vehicles in a unique shade of Pewter and Black with orange and red graphics. They also included “Official Pace Car” decals that the owner could apply or leave in the box. It appears that the original owner chose to use his decals, and these make a bold statement. The paint is in excellent condition, with no significant flaws or defects. The panels are straight, with no signs of bruises or prior accident damage. The distinctive front air dam and rear spoilers are in excellent condition, and the correct Marchal fog lights are intact. Most people will notice that the car rolls on a set of aftermarket wheels, and while purists will decry the change, it is undoubtedly a wise practical move. While many aspects of the automotive industry have transitioned to the metric system, wheel sizes have not followed that trend. There have been attempts, and the Mustang Pace Car was one such vehicle. However, the system never took off, and locating metric tires today can be difficult and extremely expensive. I’m not sold on the style of wheels that this car wears, but the concept is a sound one. If a potential buyer is fixed on originality, locating a correct set of wheels should not be difficult.

This Mustang’s interior remains original and unmolested. Nobody has cut anything to fit an aftermarket stereo or gauges, but there are some minor issues to consider. Most of the upholstered surfaces appear in good condition, although there is some noticeable wear on the outer edges of those beautiful Recaro bucket seats. This detracts from the overall appearance of the interior, and potential buyers may want to address this. They could go down the cheap-and-cheerful pathway by buying aftermarket slipcovers, although I think fresh upholstery would be the only way to do this interior justice. This will probably represent the most significant capital outlay on this vehicle. New covers are available in the correct materials and pattern, but they are not cheap. A buyer can expect to drop $1,500 for a complete set of front and rear covers, but it is worth remembering that this represents a one-off expense. Otherwise, there is a cover over the dash that I would be lifting to see what hides beneath. It could be concealing cracks or problems, but it may be a purely protective measure. By today’s standards, the interior probably appears pretty spartan. However, the inclusion of air conditioning, full instrumentation, the original radio/cassette player, and a tilt wheel should make life pleasant on the move.

Some enthusiasts will be disappointed when we lift the hood and reveal that the engine bay of this Mustang houses a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine instead of the 302ci V8. However, it’s not all bad news. This little four should be producing 131hp, and with the four-speed manual transmission bolted to the back of it, should cover the ¼ mile in about 17.3 seconds. That is slower than the V8 version, but the smaller and lighter engine makes this car more agile on twisting roads. The owner claims that this Mustang has a genuine 54,000 miles showing on its odometer, but it isn’t clear whether he holds verifying evidence. He does indicate that he has recently changed all of the belts and that this classic runs and drives perfectly. For potential buyers, it sounds like all they need to do is slip behind the wheel and drive off into the sunset.

Certain variants of the Fox-Body Mustang can command healthy values in the classic market, but the 1979 Indy Pace Car is only now beginning to gain traction. They have remained largely ignored by enthusiasts, but that trend appears to be changing. Values have climbed by nearly 30% in the past five years, and this trend shows no sign of abating. This one isn’t perfect, but it is a tidy survivor with a low odometer reading. Its needs are minimal, and addressing the worn seat upholstery would make an enormous difference. Buying a classic car can be risky, especially if considering its investment potential. We have seen plenty of examples where people have purchased vehicles and squirreled them away, hoping that they will make an excellent long-term investment when the opposite has been the case. That means that there are no ironclad guarantees on that question, but recent trends tend to indicate that now might not be a bad time to buy a Mustang Indy Pace Car. Would you consider owning one, and could it be this one?

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  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    Good write-up Adam. Not a bad Pace Car. I wouldn’t call them ‘common’ but they are out there, since they were the logical ones to save. The V8 models are the most popular. I don’t mind the aftermarket wheels, but the preferred solution is to go to the 16″ TRX-style wheels. Coker has the original-style tires and they aren’t cheap, but not that much different in price compared to the correct repro tires for muscle cars. The dash pads commonly crack. The Recaro upholstery deteriorated quickly and new covers really spices up the interior.

    Four-eye Fox Bodies are starting to gather more interest, especially clean ones (which are fairly hard to find– most were treated like the basic economy cars that they were and/or if performance models, extensively modified). But they remain relatively cheap, especially compared to the later aero-nose models. Just remember that in stock form, they illustrate the era in which they were built.

    Like 8
  2. Bluetec320 Bluetec320

    I dated a girl back in the day that had this same identical Mustang. All I can say is that it was definitely all show and no go! Kinda like her, lol.

    Like 13
    • Jerry Sanders

      I had one in the early 1980s. If that car lived in a warm region the mileage is probably right. For two years it stayed in the shop more than I drove it. Stop for gas fill it and it would not start (vapor lock?). Open the hood take off the Air cleaner cover and fan the carburetor, may be in 5-10 minutes before it would start. Dealers had no idea what the problem was (program car). Independent shops who knows. It ate ECMs like peanuts (heat issues). Driving along the freeway, the engine would just die within seconds it might just cut back on or not. Yes, it was finishing off the ECM, and ready for a new one. In two years I think I got maybe 10K miles and that was for a daily driver and long distance driving in TX. Wet weather and sudden breaking, expect to swap direction of travel quickly. Fall weather, cool and dry it was great.
      Considering what is known today it might be an interesting project if one has plenty of cash to fix original engineering short comings and up grad it. Other wise for original motoring, expect the unexpected.

      Like 0
  3. Stan

    2700lb and a manual w 3.45 rearend. Torquey little turbo.. pretty good drivers car for 79.

    Like 8
  4. John Niessen

    I have the Pace Car with a 302, original TRX, decals, and the racing jacket, but no AC. Not incredible power but cruising with the sunroof and the 4 speed is still a blast that my 9th grade self longed for when one just like it sat on our local dealer’s showroom floor in the day. I would sell for the right price, but think the market on these is heading up

    Like 1
  5. Michael Berkemeier

    You had me up intil 4-cylinder…oh well. Also, the wheels look great. Ten times better than the fugly TRX wheels.

    Like 1
  6. Mercuryman

    You need to remember the time. Ford was way ahead of the curve with the turbo engine. There had been very few turbo cars up to that point and the ones that existed tended to be on more expensive cars. That was exotic hardware on a humble Ford. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t quite right for the drive ability and reliability aspect as computer controls and fuel injection were just right there yet. Fords second generation turbo 4 was much better but it was overshadowed by the new V8 horsepower war. There were quite a few rodding magazines that did articles about driving and modding the carb turbo. I want to see how far I can take mine with simple changes and then it’s going in an old Capri. Looking forward to it!

    Like 3
  7. Brad Eggum

    My Dad was a Ford Dealer in Los Angeles, we could not sell these Pace Cars. He ended up painting several and a hey sold more quickly. Not that popular when first offered. Still a nice car.

    Like 0
  8. douglas hunt

    my buddy that had the hot rodded 72 Capri got one of these after the Capri was totaled .
    i had read all about recaro seats in the car mags but these were my first encounter in a car i was riding / driving in.
    we made many friday night trips to WVU for football games in this car, staying with buddies who were in school for the whole weekend after parties….ah lots of memories

    Like 0

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