One Corralled Pony

P hillip, a reader of Old Cars, e-mailed me to say how much he loves the 2006 Ford Mustang GT. Because of that model, he has taken an interest in the history of the innovative pony car.

He mentioned that he also likes the other makes that followed after the 1965 Mustang, such as the AMC Javelin, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Barracuda, Pontiac Firebird and Mercury Cougar. But, his heart is with the original steed, the Ford Mustang.

In his correspondence, Phillip asked about a Mustang IMSA concept car of more than 25 years ago that he recently heard about. Ford did, indeed, debut a prototype Mustang IMSA in 1980 for auto show exhibits and appearances at racing tracks.

Named for the International Motor Sports Association, the 1980 Mustang IMSA prototype was Ford’s declaration that it was re-entering the racing scene after an absence of 10 years.

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Built to demonstrate how owners could modify their Mustang for competition, the finished IMSA experimental was a rugged-looking, three-door hatchback. It featured special wind tunnel-tested aerodynamic body components that distinguished it from a stock Mustang. Painted white pearl, the car sported extra-wide fender flares, a tall rear wing spoiler and lower body accent striping in orange and gold.

Up front, clear plastic covers protected the quad halogen headlights, and transparent round plastic enclosed the Gotti-brand modular wheels to reduce airflow around the super-wide Pirelli P7 tires. Turn signals and driving lights were housed behind smoked plastic covers that blended into the lower air dam. A distinctive hood featured air-extractor louvers and a warning light module for turbo boost, engine temperature and high-beam headlights. Popping through the hood was an engine-mounted “shaker “air scoop.

Interior highlights included Recaro competition bucket seats, four-point safety harnesses and a custom steering wheel pad. In the hub were six switches to operate wipers, washers, headlights, driving lamps, horn and turn signals. This allowed the driver to trigger any switch without removing his or her hands from the steering wheel.

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Though very muscular in appearance, the Mustang IMSA was only powered by a 150-hp 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a four-speed manual gearbox.

At the time, Ford was campaigning that the V-8 was dead and four-cylinder engines were the wave of the future. That philosophy didn’t endure for long.

Even with all the high-performance visual components, this particular dream machine never competed in IMSA contests. It did, however, inspire other specially equipped Mustangs to figure prominently at IMSA by 1981.

A turbocharged Miller Mustang, driven by Klaus Ludwig, came within one-tenth of a second of winning its first IMSA race over the dominant Porsche 935 Turbos. Ludwig then made the threat a reality with back-to-back victories at Brainerd International Raceway (Minnesota) and Sears Point (California) Raceway.

By 1984, Ford had staked out the IMSA GTO series as Mustang turf.

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