The Ford Mustang II: Misstep or Misunderstood?

“Worst Mustang ever made.” “Lets all pitch in, buy it, and drive it off a cliff.” These were among the comments CPCS members left on a post about a’74 Mustang II that was for sale recently. I often feel compelled to provide insight and perspective in regard to these cars, and with this piece I hope to do more of just that.

To understand the Mustang II, we first need to take into account the debacle that was the ’71-’73 Mustang, which Ford indicated was “too big and alienated many in its customer base.” In other words it was a bloated, Baroque-inspired mess. Fuel costs were skyrocketing in the early 1970s, and by 1973 Americans were clamoring for smaller, much more fuel efficient vehicles. Enter the Mustang II, introduced at what couldn’t have been a better time for Ford…..the beginning of the infamous gas crisis.

Lee Iacocca (the man, the myth) was at the helm of FoMoCo in 1970, and had already participated in the development of the original Mustang as well as other successful models like the Pinto, which is a story for another time. His foresight led to the development of the Mustang II, slated for a 1974 release in Ford showrooms. As the original Mustang had been based on the entry-level Falcon, the Mustang II followed suit and was based on the entry-level Pinto, though it shared no sheet metal with its humble counterpart – only the steering and front brakes. This serves to negate the frequent protests from enthusiasts that the Mustang II is “just a Pinto” and/or “not a real Mustang.”

With the Malaise Era hitting full stride and emissions regulations choking any semblance of performance out of most cars, the Mustang II wasn’t exactly a mover….at least by today’s standards. In fact, a V8 option wasn’t even offered in 1974. The car was positioned to compete with sporty Japanese imports gaining in popularity at the time (Datsun 240Z, Toyota Celica etc.). Despite these perceived shortcomings, the Mustang II sold well (’74 and ’77 were record years for Mustang sales overall). It was also selected as Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 1974. Mustang IIs were heavily featured alongside other Ford offerings on TV’s “Charlie’s Angels,” with Farrah Fawcett frequently tossing her Cobra II around the winding streets and steep hills of Los Angeles.

All of this backstory brings us full circle to CPCS member Marty Willim’s stunning 1978 Mustang II King Cobra, which is the ultimate expression of the car. Automakers weren’t shy with tape stripes, decals and other eye-catching details in the disco era, and the King Cobra was no exception. Roughly 4,300 of these models were produced, and Willim’s example is deemed even rarer as it’s white (buyers could select any of the striping/decals options on a white King Cobra – of which there were several) and the fact that it’s a 4 speed car. The King Cobra was only offered with the 302 V8, and was the first Mustang to wear the storied “5.0” badge.

The 1970s were a strange time for the auto industry, and a very dark one. The Mustang II served an ideal purpose back then, and kept the Mustang name alive while other automakers were axing their performance models in favor smaller, more conservative fuel sipping offerings. Perhaps the next time you see one you’ll give it a second look. There’s a Mustang II Reunion scheduled for Aug 21st at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, MI., and is expected to be the largest-ever showing of them. You may just have your chance to get up close and personal with these relatively unloved and grossly misunderstood pony cars.

2 thoughts on “The Ford Mustang II: Misstep or Misunderstood?

  1. Good read. If you asked me the Ford mustang to got off easy styling wise compared to some other ugly ducklings like the AMC mandator of the mid to later 70s.

    Like

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