Beta versions 1.2b5 through b7 were based on FreeBSD 5.3, after much demand. This brought greatly improved wireless card support, but that's it. Many other, more important things were a major step back from the current FreeBSD 4.x. Network performance was anywhere from 20-50% of the speed it used to be on embedded platforms, and stability was poor in comparison in some environments.
We consulted with members of the FreeBSD Core Team on the issues we were seeing with performance, and their answer was basically "yes, we know it is slower, and are working on improving it." FreeBSD 6 is already much improved, and the funded TCP optimization work currently being done will improve things much more.
It was decided to revert back to 4.x to finish the 1.2 release, and hence get it done much faster than would be possible on 5.x and with a much better end result.
After 1.2 is released, discussion will be started on the list as to which operating system and firewall software is best suited for the next m0n0wall release. At this point, FreeBSD 6 looks like the most likely candidate, and will bring back Atheros support amongst many other enhancements not available in FreeBSD 4 or 5.