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In The Beginning: Retracing The Roots Of The 5.0L Movement With Uncle Tony!

In The Beginning: Retracing The Roots Of The 5.0L Movement With Uncle Tony!

In one of my earliest conversations with Tony DeFeo, I mentioned the work I was doing on my wife’s Mustang. When the words “Fox body” came out of my mouth, there was no hiding this visible cringe…I didn’t know it, but I had found one raw nerve that still bothered him. You see, I knew of DeFeo through several of the Mopar forums, where his knowledge of all things from Auburn Hills is considered legend. His work with B-body Chrysler products was what everyone wanted to direct a young kid who was deeply into cars into reading. But I wasn’t well-versed on the Cars Illustrated scene. I never knew about the guys who would get press loaners and who would rail them like none other. I didn’t know about writers who managed to get themselves blacklisted off of press fleets because of either what they did with the car or what they said about the car. And I didn’t know anything about the ties that magazine had to the explosion of popularity for the Fox Mustang.

1987 is the pivotal year for Fox bodies. You have the 1979-1982 Mustangs, where the fog of smog was still surrounding everything involved in the engine bay. You have the SVO, where the turbo-four setup actually became good. But by 1986, the platform was older and Ford was about to really step up their game with a big bet involving the Taurus and something older and more reminiscent of yesterday wasn’t going to cut it. The story on how Ford nearly turned the Mustang front-wheel-drive, and how the RWD car was saved thanks to legions of fans of the car writing in with pitchforks and torches ready is known. What isn’t known is the details on how the simple, two-door V8 ponycar went from just being the competitor to the IROC and the Trans Am into being much more than that. And DeFeo, along with Neil Van Oppre, Evan Smith, and a myriad of others, quickly figured out that whatever Ford did to the engine in 1987, was in the right direction. Stock, a typical 1987 5.0 Mustang was a mid-14 car. Respectable, right? That was if you left well enough alone. These guys tweak things for the hell of it, testing different setups, trying different styles, anything for another tenth. And soon other racers started to pick up on the clues and the next thing anyone knew, 5.0 Mustangs were the hot ticket, one of the few late-models that could whip up on the old-school with ease.

Recently, DeFeo has started work on re-tracing his five-liter roots and has gone back to look at cars from the past and to talk with those who were around when the fun started to kick off. It’s a long watch, but if you’re interested in the stories of what was going on when the 5.0 was becoming more than just an engine callout on a fender, then this is for you.

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8 thoughts on “In The Beginning: Retracing The Roots Of The 5.0L Movement With Uncle Tony!

  1. Jack M.

    Interesting video, brings back memories of a simpler time in life, no internet, no cellphones and huge long distance bills!

  2. Ted

    I’ve wrote this before, those Cars Illustrated articles and especially Tony DeFeo led me to the local Ford dealership for a brand new black 1988 5.0/5 spd/2.73 notchback. Best I could wring it out to was 13.99’s on the Gatorbacks at SIR. Not quite what Tony and Steve Collison were nailing but omg was that fun. Still have a great framed photo of me with the car at the line from the 1988 SIR Bracket Nationals hanging up downstairs. This is fantastic Uncle Tony coming back into play, not just for the Mopar guys, but for us Fox Mustang guys as well. Nicely done Bryan…………

  3. Rock On

    Would be interesting to see what these cars would run with some steeper gears in the rear end. These guys talk for an hour and a half about engine tweak, but didn’t anyone ever swap out the rear end gears back in the day?

    1. jerry z

      Yea they ran steeper gears back then. 5.0 racing was big back in the late 80’s, early 90’s @ Englishtown. 5.0 vs GN was very popular event back then. Guys like Norman Gray, Mike Ragusa driving Racin Jason’s Stang, Pete Milinsky, are some of the legends.

    2. Spaceman Spiff

      The idea was go fast on a budget. Who had money for a gear swap? They ran mid to low 13’s on the stock gatorbacks… gears would have made that impossible. They had a 3.35 first gear, unless you’re running slicks, using 4.10s with that first gear is useless. And slicks are harder on the driveline, which means broken parts. That’s not budget friendly. These guys were running in the mid 13’s for almost zero dollars in parts. All just playing with what was already there. They were in their early 20’s, with families and a car payment, not much left for go fast parts.

  4. Anthony

    I can remember a guy telling me in 1988 after he bought his new 88 5.0 Mustang it was 11 grand out the door. Sounded like a million bucks to a 15 year old kid. Crazy

  5. Curtis

    I remember Tony DeFeo writing an editorial for Cars Illustrated talking about how the rearend of his road runner would always go to the right when he did a burnout and then he went on to rave about the Mustang 5.0 and how it did the same thing. Really enjoyed the writing style of the Cars Illustated group, Tony, Cliff Gromer and many others.

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