While the previous generation Fox-body Mustang was viewed as a return to form for the iconic pony car, it was born into an era of OPEC, high gas prices and fuel rationing. By the mid-1980s, Mustang sales were falling off the charts.

As automakers from Germany and Japan shifted to front-wheel drive platforms to address this issue, Ford took notice. In a 1985 act of lunacy, Ford executives decided that what real-wheel-drive American muscle-car fans really wanted was a front-wheel-drive Japanese car, so long as it had a shiny pony badge slapped on its grille. The call was made to phase out the rear-drive Fox platform in favor of a front-wheel-drive platform jointly developed with Mazda.

Using the kind of marketing brilliance that brought us "New Coke," Ford planned to sell the outgoing rear-drive car beside the new Mustang as the "Mustang Classic"—a scarlet letter refrencing a time when consumers could guzzle gas as they pleased. Like Coca-Cola, Ford was so confident in this strategy that it put its entire Mustang development budget behind it.

What could go wrong? Find out over on Road&Track.