What qualifies as a "cheap" Mustang?
You are looking at one of two cars sold over a period of twenty-five years: The Fox body: Built from 1979 to 1993, these cars mostly had 5.0l V8s and 2.3l four cylinders with a few oddball sixes and turbocharged engines during their production run. The 79-86 Capri is a Mercury-branded Mustang with a different front end. Power from the V8 steadily rose from 145hp in early models up to 205hp.
The SN-95: This update of the Fox platform ran from 1994 to 2004. The four cylinder was finally ditched in favor of a Cologne 3.8l V6. Ford's "mod motor" 4.6l V8 replaced the 5.0 in 1996. V8 engines were only available in GT models. It got a styling update in 1999, and power went up 35hp for the V8 and 40hp for the V6. Power peaked at 300hp for the V8.
Where does one search for used Mustangs for sale cheap but worthy? One solution is to buy a less desirable model and add parts to build the car you want. The great thing about these cars is that they're the same underneath, so even the highest performance model is just a regular car with some added parts. For example, SVT's predecessor, SVO, built a high-performance Mustang in the mid-80s that used off-the-shelf KYB shocks. The popularity of these cars also means a tremendous amount of aftermarket support is available, even for older cars. Ford, Roush, and Saleen sell individual parts used in their high performance vehicles while every major aftermarket performance company offers something for the pony car.
While it's often cheaper to buy a V8 car instead of performing an engine swap on an I4 or V6 car, special edition cars like the Cobras can often be recreated for a lower cost than buying one outright. Since these are basically the same cars underneath, parts are easily swappable.
There are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping for a project car: The V8-powered LX and GT Fox bodies are the same functionally, including suspension components; the only real difference is outward appearance and interior options. However, the four-cylinder uses less sporty suspension components and weaker transmissions and axles. The SN-95 V6 also uses lighter duty components compared to the later V8s.
The K-member used in four cylinder cars is identical to those used in 5.0l V8's, making an engine swap relatively easy. If you find a rare straight-6 model, the K-member will be replaced. There are plenty of aftermarket options, as this is an easy way to reduce weight over the front end. In either case it's easier and cheaper to do the conversion using a wrecked V8 car, although there are complete conversion kits available.
The independent rear axle used in the SVT Cobras will bolt up to the mounts on a solid axle car. Ford used to sell this axle separately in their racing performance catalog.
The DOHC 4.6l used in the SN-95 Mustang Cobras makes around fifty more horsepower than the SOHC. It is much easier to get this power out of a SOHC engine than swapping it for the Cobra motor.
What if I want a Mustang that is cheap to buy and insure? You could buy a Mustang that isn't a Mustang. The Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr were built on the same Fox platform. While they use different suspension geometry, the cars are similar enough to the early Fox bodies that engine and powertrain parts are compatible. Their frames are substantially weaker, but this means they are also much lighter, making them ideal for use as dragsters. If you are only interested in straight-line performance, this may be the way to go.