Americans have never been much for the metric system. We love our country miles and our cups of sugar, and we're happy to tell you what an ounce of prevention is worth. There's one metric measurement, however, that's as American as the ten-gallon hat, one that sets aflutter the hearts of Ford Mustang aficionados coast to coast: 5.0 liters - "five-oh" to the faithful. Cheekily rounded up from 4942 cubic centimeters, it's the engine displacement - denoted by an iconic emblem behind the front wheel arch - that defined Mustang performance for more than a decade, one so fundamental to the nameplate that Ford has brought it back to huge fanfare for 2011.
Despite some notable racetrack successes for Ford, the old 5.0 (302-cubic-inch) V-8 had a rather unremarkable debut in the production Mustang. It showed up in 1968 as the successor to the 289, the smallest of four eight-cylinder engines and a $171.77 upgrade from the standard 120-hp in-line six. The mystique of the 302 really took hold during the 1969 and '70 model years, with the limited-production Boss 302. Rated at 290 hp but likely packing close to 350, the car was conceived for the Trans-Am racing series and was successfully campaigned by a roster of drivers that included Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. America might not have been ready for the metric "five-oh," but a U.S.-standard "three-oh-two" worked just fine.
Fast forward to 1979, when Ford introduced the third-generation Mustang, built on the Fox platform that underpinned the flaccid Fairmont sedan and its Mercury alter ego, the Zephyr. No matter: after five years with the truly god-awful, Pinto-based Mustang II, the handsome new 'Stang had fans of the original pony car heralding the return of the king. In 1982 (after a 140-hp false start in '79 and OPEC-inspired downsizing in '80 and '81), the 5.0 V-8 returned with 157 ponies. The GT - a model that appeared in 1982 after a twelve-year absence - had the glam appeal, but in 1984, Ford introduced a surprising sleeper to the range. With a check of an option box, the buyer of an entry-level Mustang LX could ditch its standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine in favor of - you guessed it - the 5.0.
The LX 5.0's modification readiness made it the ideal Mustang for would-be racers, and its unfussy appearance made it just right for nonracers who wanted GT-level performance without GT-level flash. Its appeal was simple - literally. In coupe, hatchback, and even convertible forms, it eschewed the GT's occasionally questionable style sense in favor of blessed restraint: no ground-effects add-ons, no huge wings on the deck lid, no cheesy cheese-grater taillights. Only a pair of broad exhaust tips, performance rubber, and the 5.0 fender badging gave away its eight-cylinder secret. The LX 5.0 was the perfect pony-car Q-ship - or it would've been if the fuzz weren't driving them, too. A memorable print ad featured a charging LX 5.0, equipped with Ford's cop-exclusive Special Service Package, in the black-and-white livery of the highway patrol. Below the picture were the words, "This Ford Chases Porsches For A Living."