1979 Mustang Pace Car - 2,700 Original Miles

1979 Mustang Pace Car

1979 was a very exciting year for Mustang fans. The Fox chassis was used to launch the third generation Mustang – a cult-favorite in the making that would leave its mark on the Muscle Car scene for years. But first, something special happened. The Mustang was selected as the pace car for the 63rd running of the Indy 500.

Indy 500 Pace Car

The Mustang hadn’t been selected to pace Indy since 1964. Three official pace cars were created for track duty. These cars looked identical to the replicas available for sale in every way except for a T-Top, (fitted by Cars and Concepts) an option that wouldn’t be available from the factory until the 1981 Mustang. They used specially prepared 5.0L V8 engines modified by Roush Industries using a Holley carb, aluminum high-rise intake, and 351 Windsor heads. The engine breathed through 1.84 intake / 1.54 exhaust valves with 289 HiPo springs and the 1970 Boss 302 solid lift cam. Internals included 1969 Boss 302 connecting rods, forged-steel crankshaft, and forged aluminum TRW pistons with Speed Pro rings. All pace-duty cars used modified C-4 automatic transmissions.

Jackie Stewart piloted the actual Mustang pace car for the start of the 1979 Indy 500, while Jim Rathmann took over pacing duties during caution periods throughout the race. Later the same year two of the three pace vehicles were re-styled for use in the Detroit Gran Prix. White paint was shot over the factory Pewter Polly and a new graphics package was applied. These original pace cars still wear the colors from the Detroit race, and are housed in a warehouse at Roush awaiting restoration.

1979 Mustang Pace Cars for Sale to the Public

The 1979 Mustang Pace Car replica was available to the public at a base price of $9,012 and $9,953 fully optioned. The car was only available as a hatchback (standard trim – non Ghia) and offered a choice of two engines and transmission options. The 302ci 5.0L was carried over from the Mustang II and available with a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission. The 5.0L V8 produced 140 hp and 250 ft-lbs of torque. New for 1979 – the Mustang Pace Car was also available with the 2.3L Turbo four-cylinder using the 4-speed manual transmission. This combination provided 131 hp and 142 ft-lbs of torque. All Pace Cars used a 3.45:1 rear ratio 7.5” differential without trac-loc.

Pace Car Appearance

The Mustang Pace car distinguished itself from all other trim levels available in 1979. The front spoiler housed Marchal fog lights in a wide-mouthed lower radiator opening – flanked on each side with brake duct vents.

The aggressive lines of the newly designed Mustang were further exaggerated by the use of a two-tone paint scheme. (Ditzler/PPG Codes 33369) Pewter Polly every thing above the side molding and (9381) Flat black for the hood, top stripe, and lower half of the car. This color combination resulted in a car that both looks fast standing still – and quite exotic for its time.

Decals were worn on the hood – and side of the car. The hood wore the badge ‘MUSTANG’ in 10” tall, two toned lettering. The side of the car had “Official Pace Car” “63rd Annual 500 Mile Race, May 27 1979” with 4 graphic mustangs at the lead and the Indianapolis Speedway logo at the rear of the car. Bold stripes – Red and (2915) Vista Orange accent the hood, c-pillar, and taillights – while bright orange stripes accent the black side molding.

The rear spoiler for the 1979 Mustang Pace Car must be one of the most unique, and most functional looking ever made for a fox hatchback chassis. The leading edge follows the graceful line of the c-pillar – meeting at an aggressively angled duckbill that extends beyond the width of the vehicles upper silhouette.

Chassis and Suspension

The pace car rode on 15.35” (390mm) forged aluminum wheels wearing 190/65R Michelins. Suspension goodies included the rest of the TRX performance package – HD front and rear sway bars plus special shock-valving. Braking was provided by 9.3” front discs (10” on V8 cars) and 9” rear drum brakes. Polished stainless steel tips peeked out from behind.


Recaro seats were standard on the 1979 Pace Car and available in many different trims – the most awesome being the Houndstooth. Nothing said “Farwell 70’s, it was groovy knowing you” quite as well as this seizure inducing pattern.

1979 Pace Car Production Numbers

Dearborn Michigan Production Numbers

5.0L w/SROD 4spd manual——-1809

5.0L w/C-4 automatic———-1445

2.3L Turbo 4cyl w/4spd manual-4380

Dearborn Total Assembly Plant—7634

San Jose California Production Numbers

5.0L w/SROD 4spd manual——-593

5.0L w/C-4 automatic———-661

2.3L Turbo 4cyl w/4spd manual-1590

San Jose Total Assembly Plant—2844

Total Pacecar Production—-10,478

Unique Features of the 1979 Mustang Pace Car

  • The 1979 pace car was the only Mustang to have fog lights. This required a different wiring harness for the front of the car – these harnesses will/would be marked “Pacecar.”
  • Safety belts have “Firestone” under the buckles
  • The front shoulder belts have a tag saying “Indy Replica” stitched in them
  • (The only way to verify this is to remove the interior backseat panel and unwind the belt.)
  • Pace cars were delivered with a card in/under the dash pad that says “Pacecar”
  • Pace cars have the numbers “48″ in the VIN
  • All 1979 Pacecars came with Recaro Seats
  • A 5.0L car will have a “F” in the 5th spot in the VIN and a 4cyl turbo will have a “W” in the 5th spot in the VIN.

Web site links


23 replies
  1. MIke Swartz
    MIke Swartz says:

    Like you site and data on the Indy Mustang. I have owned 2 in the past a 4 cyl and a 302. Just a comment I have regarding your story on the 2 of 3 orig Pace cars at Roush. In the late 1980’s, maybe 1988-1990-not sure which year I got to know a guy who was an Indy V.P. ( and I think former Indy driver), anyway my company was in Indy for an event and he invited me and some colleagues to the track and took us downstairs in the Hall of Fame museum where all the Pace Cars sat from previous years. There was a 79 Mustang there also! I know of the long held tradition of the winner getting a Pace Car and believe I have read that Rick Mears recieved his too and still has it. Unless the one I saw was a Replica, but I do not remember that it was.
    Any comments? Mike in MS

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Mike again from MS. Regarding the Pace Car I saw in the basement of the Indy Museum, I do remember it was a T-Top and looked like it came right off the assembly line. I remember being told that the museum employs 2 men who do nothing but dust off the Pace cars all day long. They had several Duesenburgs also as part of the collection and some Indy racers.
      Mike in FL, ex-MS

  2. admin
    admin says:

    Great comment – thanks!

    A lot of mystery surrounds the remaining pace cars. One sure way to tell them apart visually is the T-top – the replicas were available in hardtop or sunroof, while the actual pace cars were T-top. We can’t confirm or deny if Rick kept one of the original 3 pace cars – and it seems there’s only the one photo showing the white ‘Pace Cars’ in the Roush collection.

    Lab Manager

  3. Jess V. Pearson
    Jess V. Pearson says:

    This car was so much better than the Pinto-based Mustang that preceded it (not to mention the bloated early-70s monstrosities that preceded that car) that Jackie Stewart had no problems finding nice things to say about it. The true pace car ’79s were all painted in “pewter,” which this suspiciously primer-looking paint might have been, 34 years ago. You can see a bit of the crazy op art upholstery that was used in all the 1979 Pace Car Editions. Pace Car Edition ’79 Mustangs came with a choice of the 302-cubic-inch V8 or the turbocharged 2300 “Pinto” engine. This here is the non-turbocharged Pinto engine. You decide— is this a garden-variety four-banger Fox Mustang, worth scrap value, or a genuine special edition pace car, worth twice scrap value?

  4. Dan Aiken
    Dan Aiken says:

    Regarding Rick Mears receiving a Pace Car. It is my understanding he received one of the replica cars, as the three Roush cars were not street legal due to the engine mods and removal of the cat. The third t-top pace car still resides in the speedway museum downstairs and was brought out recently for an event.
    Dan Aiken
    Indy Pace Car #7
    Dearborn Steel and Tube pre-production car

  5. christi
    christi says:

    we just got a pace car but someone threw a quick paint job on it. u can still see the outline of its decals. — luv all the information on ur site, thank you been looking 4 it 4 days.us

  6. Jerome Kinney
    Jerome Kinney says:


    I saw this article online and would like to inform you that my family owned the real 1979 Indy 500 Pace car. Built by Car Craft Magazine and trailered to Indy on a flat bed being pulled by a Suburban that broke down in the Rockies. The car was off loaded and driven the rest of the way to make it in time for the race. Raffled off in the winners circle the car was won by a friend, totaled in an accident, shipped back to Car Craft, rebuilt and sent back to Andrew’s Air Force Base in Washington, DC. Car was then sold to my brother. We held it for years. Car was then sold to Griffith Honda in York, PA. I have awesome pictures of the real thing if you would like to see. I’d LOVE to track the car down but not sure how. Can you help?


    Jerome Kinney, RN, BSN

    • admin
      admin says:

      Wow Jerome, what a great story. Please send a method of contact to: sales at mustang lab dot com (sorry for the cryptic spelling, but it deters the spambots.) I think I have an idea on how to use your photos to get the info you’re looking for.

      – Kyle, Lab Manager

  7. Reg
    Reg says:

    We have a absolutely mint all stock fully documented 1979 Mustang Pace Car for sale with 4800 miles!!!!! Check out the website for pictures and info!

  8. Dan Aiken
    Dan Aiken says:

    Rick Mears received Dearborn car #11. 9F03F480011. I’ve spoken with him about that. It was one of the first 12 pre-production cars built at Dearborn Steel and Tube, and like my #7 car, has many unique features not found on the production cars. Don’t know if Rick still has his, but last I heard he did.

  9. chris
    chris says:

    i have an option to buy a 79 pace car in original condition from last driven in 83 with 50xxx miles from original owner here in CA but has indiana plates been in a warehouse since it was in a small fender bender passenger side fender car is a turbo vin checks out and has original turno still and i was wondering what the car is worth and should i get it and keep it a turbo 4 just keep original stuff off to the side and go EFI? thanks for any info

    • admin
      admin says:

      Hi Chris,

      That’s a pretty good find. That’s nice mileage. You’ll enjoy driving the turbo – if you get it, please don’t convert from stock. There just aren’t a lot of these left. If you want a v8 or EFI there are plenty of 5.0 Mustangs around.

      Check out foureyedpride.com for sale price info.

      -Kyle, Lab Manager

  10. Dwight Haslacker
    Dwight Haslacker says:

    I have a 79 pace car that I’d love to find out more about. My son and I want to restore it but in our own way not original. We have an F in the fifth digit on the 10 digit vin. It does have the dash plaque and the pace car sticker on the inside of dash pad, recaro racing seats and a sun roof. I am confident it is a pace car. I would just like to find more info on it, if any one can help please feel free to email me at dhaslacker@gmail

  11. Robert Waters
    Robert Waters says:

    I have owned for many years ’79 Indy Pacecar(4 presently). I have all the build sheets, window sticker, past sales etc.
    Jack Roush Engineering built the 302 engine and modified C-4. The car is original, has a Flag Lot sticker on the windshield with a number 18. Years ago the PaceCar Registry told me the car doesn’t exist. Strange but it does…perhaps it truely is an anomaly.

  12. Michael Porter
    Michael Porter says:

    My fiancée’s family owns a 1979 2.3 that we are about to get out of storage in WV and bring back to Georgia to sell. It has less than 1000 miles on it and is in good shape. I would love to find someone interested in buying and keeping this car in it original condition.

  13. Kenny A.
    Kenny A. says:

    Looking to trade my 1979 Ford F-250 4×4 super low mileage, one owner customized showtruck with over 32 major body mods, custom paint, tilt nose, shaved,smoothed, flared, frenched,etc. for a nice super low mileage ’79 Mustang pace car replica. Must be without the sunroof. Must also be a numbers matching car and have the original 302 engine and C-4 automatic trans. with factory working air conditioning and the black and white houndstooth interior. ad placed on 11/08/2015 Contact: fordaholic69@yahoo.com

  14. Paul Lee
    Paul Lee says:

    I was at Andrews Air Force Base from 1978-81 and lived in the barracks on base. I was into performance cars back then and read all of the then current crop of car magazines. I remember following the Car Craft project Mustang and was surprised to see it parked on the street around the corner from my barracks one day. I was driving a 68 GTO at the time so had not much interest in the Mustang to follow up with the new owner. Cool car though.

  15. Erick
    Erick says:

    Does someone know hoy to decode a festival car?? Is there a diference in the bug tag if it reads indy not 500?Is thhere a way to know if it is a true festival even if it does not have any sticker???Thanks I love this car is something nice to drive and by the way it drives good without any mods big diference versus classic.

  16. kevin
    kevin says:

    I had the V8 model which was stolen when I lived in PA. in 1980
    any way to see if anybody found it or maybe it was stripped
    sure would love to see it again only had it a short time

  17. Carl Samuels
    Carl Samuels says:

    Interesting stories……just stumbled across this site……
    I too, have a “festival” pace car that I bought in Sept 1979.
    It is VIN # 29
    The car has been “disassembled” awaiting restoration since 1984.
    And is now in the “restoration” process at my shop….
    There is also going to be a “pace car” reunion at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the weekend before this years race.
    Hopefully the museum will pull out all of those hidden pace cars…..


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