Photography Courtesy of Ford Motor Company/Mustang 40 Years/David Newhardt and the Author.
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a three-part series. In this installment Mustang & Ford will focus on the tumultuous ’70s.
In our February issue Mustang & Ford focused on Blue Oval products from the swinging ’60s – cars that helped define a decade and came to symbolize one of the most exciting automotive eras – much of which focused on Total Performance – a marketing campaign that saw Ford dominate on the dragstrips, stock car tracks, rallies and road race circuits, not only in North America but around the world.
However, as much as the ’60s had been about performance and youth appeal, the ’70s would prove to be something else entirely. At the start of the new decade, muscle was in and we saw the creation of some of the most memorable performance cars to ever emerge from Dearborn. And in fact, during those heady days of early 1970 it looked like things would get even better for hot car fans – John Naughton, then Ford Division General Manager in 1970; coined the coming decade the “sizzling seventies,” but just as performance reached the summit, on the far side was a dramatically steep drop.
Ford pulled out of racing in 1971 and gradually, with the onset of increasing Federal emissions and safety standards and then the oil crunch of the 1973-1974 the muscle cars departed one by one. Some enthusiasts were quick to suggest that the age of exciting automobiles was gone forever, never to return. But even though many cars from the ’70s (including Fords) are not widely remembered for their pizzazz, the disco decade did spur some interesting developments, including the creation of new market segments, record sales years for Ford Products (1978 comes to mind) and the development of new technologies that would soon help the auto industry get back to building exciting, enthusiast oriented vehicles once again. Here we celebrate 10 Ford Motor Company vehicles that helped bridge the gap between the golden age of performance and the new wave, which continues to this very day. You may not agree with our choices, but here at Mustang & Ford, we feel each of these 10 cars helped define the era in which they were born and as a result, are a worthy edition to any Blue Oval enthusiast’s garage.
1. 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
Price new: $5,116 (1970)
Value now: $65,000-$200,000
Plus: The ultimate muscle era Mustang.
Minus: Has a price tag to match, some parts very hard to find.
A holdover from the ’60s, the Boss 429 was built purely to qualify Ford’s new “Blue Crescent” 429 cubic inch V-8 for NASCAR racing. But although the actual stock car racers were Torinos, then Ford President, Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen, decided to exploit the rules a little and install the 429 in the Mustang SportsRoof for street duty. It wasn’t an easy task. Thanks to the engine’s humongous physical size, the Mustang’s front shock towers had to be widened in order for the monster engine to fit and the battery relocated to the trunk. This, oddly enough, resulted in one of the best handling pony cars of the era, despite the monster engine up front. The Boss 429 was also curious in that, unlike many muscle machines of the time, it was rather understated – just a pair of discreet badges on the front fenders and a unique hood scoop to clear the air cleaner were the distinguishing features, though a number were ordered with front and rear spoilers that came standard on this car’s smaller brother, the Trans Am racing-oriented Boss 302.
Inside, each Boss 429 Mustang sported a deluxe interior with high back bucket seats, Hurst shifter handle for the mandatory four-speed manual gearbox and full instrumentation. On paper the 375 hp Boss 429 might have appeared to have all the credentials for an ultra hot street machine, but the Boss’ reason for being wasn’t street performance, it was purely to satisfy racing rules. As a result, because of its enormous cylinder heads and dustbin sized combustion chambers, plus a large 735 cfm Holley carburetor and an aggressive camshaft, it was considerably detuned for the street and needed a good wrench to realize its potential. In quarter-mile acceleration runs, test examples in factory stock trim barely broke out the 15s. Also because of its high price (more than $4,000) and specific mission, production was very limited.
Although this car was actually built for two model years, the 1970 version, which adopted a revised nose with single headlights, cleaner flanks and new taillight panel (as did all Mustangs that year), was more rare – just 499 were produced versus 858 for 1969. That arguably makes it more collectible, but today, despite it’s lukewarm reception when new, the Boss 429, thanks in part to its unique status and exotic powertrain, is a certified blue chip collectible car – frequently trading hands for well into six figures.
2. 1970 Ford Torino Cobra/GT 429 Cobra Jet
Price new: $3,270 (1970)
Value now: $18,000 - $40,000
Plus: Coolest Ford intermediate ever; torquey 429 V-8.
Minus: Rust prone bodies; not a huge following (yet).
Now that sounds like a mouthful, but when introduced, the 1970 Ford Torino was a sensation, enough in fact to garner Motor Trend’s prestigious car of the year award. The Torino Cobra was Ford’s standard intermediate street racer, boasting swoopy semi-fastback hardtop styling, available in bright colors, like Grabber Blue, Green and Yellow, plus a standard 429 V-8. Featuring thin wall casting in the block and two main bearing caps on the bottom end, this was considerably different to the Boss engine and immensely more tractable on the street – packing 360 hp and a rip roaring 480 lb-ft of torque – good enough to push one of these large and fairly heavy cars through the quarter-mile in mid to low-14 second Elapsed Times. Stepping up on the options list added the 429 Cobra Jet, which boasted a higher 11.3:1 compression ratio (the standard 429 was 10.5:1) and 10 more rated horsepower for a total of 370 hp. An available “Shaker” hood scoop, bolted to the top of the air cleaner was designed to psych out the competition at the local stoplight or dragstrip Christmas Tree.
For those that lived life a quarter-mile at a time, you could also order the Drag Pack, which added a Super Cobra Jet engine (rated at the same 370 hp, but with the addition of a stronger, four-bolt main bottom end, forged pistons, external oil cooler and steeper 4.30:1 rear end gears for all out acceleration). Ford had been criticized for being late to the party with a proper intermediate muscle machine for Main Street, but the 1970 Torino Cobra more than made up for the wait. Although the Cobra was the signature performance model, all of its driveline options were also available in the GT, which was distinguished by a full width front grille (with hidden headlights) and rear taillight panel, plus unique side gills on the quarter-panels and available laser stripes.
These sleekly styled Torinos and their thundering engines would last through 1971, but unlike some other prime muscle machines, particularly those from GM and Chrysler, they haven’t yet reached stratospheric levels of popularity, largely because rust claimed a lot of them early on. Yet the survivors are definitely appreciating in value and represent one of the most aggressive Blue Oval symbols of the muscle era.
3. 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
Price new: $3,404 (1970)
Value now: $18,000 - $40,000
Plus: Mercury’s major muscle machine.
Minus: Not as popular as Mustang – prices and parts availability reflect this.
Given Mercury’s place in the Ford Motor Company hierarchy of the early ’70s, it was perhaps hard to understand why the division really needed to field a bunch of street hooligans. But the performance market was becoming too hard to ignore. Mercury jumped in – perhaps its most shining example being the Cougar Eliminator. Offered for two seasons, 1969 and 1970 (the latter being the more visually aggressive and appealing, which is why it made our list) the Cougar Eliminator was really L-M division’s answer to the jazzy Mustang Mach 1 and indeed it had all the right credentials – hot engines and performance-oriented driveline parts, heavy duty suspension, loud paint colors (which Merc called Competition instead of Grabber) plenty of stripes, front and rear spoilers and available signature mag wheels and beefy tires.
Like the Mach, the standard engine in the Eliminator was a 351 Windsor V-8, but the fearsome 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet and high revving Boss 302 were also available. It could be ordered with functional Ram Air induction, four-speed gearbox and ultra low rear gearing, yet thanks to its longer 111 inch wheelbase and slightly more formal styling, the more refined Cougar Eliminator represented the thinking enthusiast’s pony car, but was still a cat with serious claws. Advertising back in 1970 declared “Spoilers hold it down, nothing holds it back” and for those that got the chance to drive one, more truthful words have seldom been said. Today, although the Cougar Eliminator continues to stand somewhat in the shadow of its Mustang sibling, it’s still a hot commodity and good, Boss 302 or 428 CJ cars can go for serious money regularly trading hands for $60,000 – $70,000.
4. 1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351
Price new: $4,124 (1971)
Value now: $25,000 - $60,000
Plus: The quickest and nicest to drive of all the Boss cars.
Minus: Visibility, size, not as collectible as the 302/429.
What? Another Boss Mustang on this list and not the 302 version, have we lost it? Perhaps, but we felt it wasn’t exactly fair to have all three Boss cars on this list and besides, the 429 is the most desirable, but the Boss 351 is the most tractable. A very limited run model – it didn’t even last a full-season, the Boss 351 represented the last hurrah for Total Performance inspired, factory street machines. Based on the larger, heavier and more “styled” 1971 Mustang SportsRoof; the Boss 351 looked visually similar to that year’s Mach 1, except for a standard chrome front bumper and “Boss 351” logos on the flanks. Under the hood it packed a version of Ford’s recently introduced Cleveland 351 cubic inch mid-block V-8 engine. Rated at 330 hp, it made peak power at lower rpm than the highly-strung 302 found in the 1969-1970 Trans Am specials, and even installed in a car that weighed around 400 pounds more, provided better street performance. Equipped with 3.91:1 rear gearing, a 1971 Boss 351 could turn quarter-mile times in the high 13s which actually made it not only one of the quickest cars you could buy in 1971, but also of the muscle car era – period. Sadly, with Ford deciding to pull out of Trans Am racing, there was no longer a need to field such a specialty product and the Boss 351 was dropped mid-way through the ’71 model year, after just 1,806 had been built.
Nevertheless, as performance fell by the wayside in the early ’70s, the Boss 351 and cars like it came to symbolize a time when life and automobiles seemed intrinsically less complicated and a lot more fun. Although the “big” 1971-1973 Mustangs weren’t as quick to catch on with enthusiasts as the older cars, they now enjoy healthy aftermarket support and a decent amount of collector interest. Of course, because of its limited production run, performance and racing tie-in, the Boss 351 represents the most desirable of the breed.
5. 1971-1973 Mercury Cougar
Price new: $3,629 (1971)
Value now: $7,000 - $40,000
Plus: Good blend of performance and style, last of the traditional Merc pony cars.
Minus: Rust and replacement parts can be an issue.
Like its corporate cousin, the Mustang, the Cougar ballooned in size for the ’71 model year, riding on an inch longer wheelbase, which made it essentially a true intermediate size car. Although still aimed at a more “sophisticated” clientele, it also featured a raft of performance options, including available 351 and 429 cubic inch V-8s, plus hardtop and convertible body styles. Styling was very GM like, with particular cues from contemporary Pontiacs, thanks to the narrow, tall grille, coke bottle contours, hidden wipers and full-width taillights. Real hardcore performance fans could actually order the 429 Cobra Jet engine in the 1971 Cougar, but it wasn’t exactly advertised and the number ordered barely registered on the sales sheet. On the other hand, the 1971-1973 Cougars sold respectably – 62,864 units in their debut year, 53,702 for 1972 and 60,628 in swansong ’73 which saw the adoption of a federally mandated 5-mph front impact bumper, though to Mercury’s credit it still looked better than some.
Although performance was de-emphasized with this generation, and the 429 engine was gone after 1971, a victim of tightening emissions standards and rising insurance rates, the 351 H.O. (essentially a detuned Boss Cleveland engine) remained on the options list for 1972-1973. For 1974, Cougar would essentially transform into a quasi-Thunderbird, becoming considerably larger, heavier and less performance oriented. The convertible was also gone, never to be seen again, so as examples of their generation, the 1971-1973 Cougars represent the last of the original concept – a senior Mustang that combined both panache and performance. As a result, although not quite as sought after as the first generation cars, these Cougars, especially the 429 and Cleveland powered cars, plus the rare XR-7 convertibles, are still bona-fide ’70s collectibles in their own right.
6. 1972-1976 Lincoln Continental Mk IV
Price new: $10,194 (1974)
Value now: $6-$20,000
Plus: Still a lot of car for the money; doesn’t get more ’70s.
Minus: Kitsch in every way, heavy and very thirsty.
There are probably fewer cars (aside perhaps from Number 7 on this list) that define the ’70s as much as this one. At almost 20 feet long and weighing in close to 2½ tons, the Lincoln Continental MK IV exemplified the age of personal luxury coupes. It was expensive (getting even more so with each year as inflation began to gallop). It was thirsty (even the early 1972-1973 cars with their slightly lighter curb weight would struggle to get more than 9 miles per gallon), but it proved immensely popular. Styled by Wes Dahlberg under the direction Ford design President Gene Bordinat, the Mk IV continued the philosophy of neo-classical styling begun by its predecessor, the 1968-1971 Mk III. However, it was in many respects a much better road car, with a longer wheelbase, improved suspension – a new four-link design was used at the rear – and steering tuned to deliver a greater degree of “comfort.” Inside it featured just about every luxury item and gadget you could imagine from the era, including a Cartier clock, automatic climate control and a “Twin Comfort Lounge” front bench seat. Ford’s largest engine, the 460 cubic inch big-block V-8, was standard, rated at 224 hp for 1972.
For 1973 these big Lincolns adopted mandatory 5-mph front bumpers with rear ones joining for 1974. By that stage a few of the car’s features, including the semi-retractable quarter-windows had bitten the dust and the big Lincolns had gained the Feds’ short-lived seatbelt interlocking system which meant that both front belts had to be secured before the car would start. Now tipping the scales at almost 5,500 pounds, there was some saving grace with solid-state ignition, resulting in 220 hp from the monster engine, along with available dual exhausts and four-wheel disc brakes. These big Lincolns would last through America’s Bicentennial in 1976, becoming partly a fashion car in their final year thanks to four distinct “Designer series” – Bill Blass, Givenchy, Pucci and Cartier. Yet it proved a shrewd marketing move and these cars sold exceptionally well right until the end (more than 56,000 in the final year resulting in a combined total of 278,599 units from 1972-1976). Today they have a surprisingly high survival rate for ’70s Detroit cars and although undeniably kitsch, have a certain (and growing) appeal. And although still a lot more affordable than some cars on the list (even the “pure” 1972 models); these massive Lincolns in every way represent era-defining automobiles and as a result, are worthy of inclusion on our list.
7. 1976 Ford Gran Torino Starsky & Hutch Replica
Price new: $5,351 (1976)
Value now: $8,000 - $30,000
Plus: Ultimate ’70s TV car.
Minus: Factory performance not great, how much attention do you really want?
Slamming into curbs and sliding across hoods, detectives David Starsky and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson tantalized viewers on the tube every week during the mid-’70s in Starsky & Hutch, a buddy cop drama series in which the dynamic duo chased after and put away the bad guys in fictional Bay City, frequently behind the wheel of Starsky’s infamous “Striped Tomato,” a contemporary Ford Gran Torino. The show, originally created as a two-hour pilot, which aired on ABC on April 30, 1975, soon became one of the most popular shows of the decade and was noted for its gritty themes and fairly well-written scripts. But alongside actors Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) and David Soul (Hutchinson); Starsky’s car, that red Gran Torino with the white vector stripe, became a star in its own right. In fact it become so popular, that for the 1976 model year (the last for the Torino), Ford elected to build 1,001 replicas of the show car, replete with 2B bright red paint and the white stripe at its Chicago assembly plant during the spring. By that stage, the Torino was no longer the performance car it once was – being criticized for being ugly, heavy, ponderous and indifferently put together. Nevertheless, Starsky & Hutch presented a shot in the arm for Ford’s ailing intermediate and a bright spot in an otherwise largely dingy automotive market.
The factory Starsky & Hutch Replicas differed somewhat from the TV car in featuring standard coil sprung suspension (without the rake and rear air shocks) and standard Ford Magnum 500 wheels in place of the slot mags of the show car. They were offered with every engine available in the Torino that year, including the 302 and 351 Windsor V-8s the 351M and big 460. Although even today, Torinos from the mid-’70s don’t tend to attract much collector interest, the surviving factory replicas are an exception to this rule. Given the enduring popularity of Starsky & Hutch, many owners have adopted the look of the TV show cars with the same rake and big/little mag wheel and tire combination, but alongside the surviving factory replicas, an increasing number of garden variety Torinos and Gran Torinos, have or are being transformed into Starsky & Hutch cars, making the original factory versions more desirable among collectors, even though there are no truly established book values. In addition, the Starsky & Hutch factory replicas have now come to quintessentially symbolize the ’70s – something hard to imagine back when the show was still running in prime time.
8. 1976-1980 Ford Escort RS 2000
Price new: £2857 (1976)*
Value now: $9,000 - $35,000
Plus: Quick, fun to drive, unique on this side of the pond
Minus: Rust prone, what is it?
*Never officially sold in the United States but roughly $4,000 at time of launch.
Ford has been an international operation since its first decade in business, but the strength and diversity of those overseas arms is often overlooked here in North America. While we were stuck on a diet of smog motored cars with big bumpers and soggy chassis, across the pond in Europe, Ford fans were enjoying some of the most exciting cars ever to sport a Blue Oval during the ’70s. Adding to the fact was, from a marketing standpoint, Ford had some of the best product placement in the business back then, with cars featuring in prominent roles on TV and film. In the United States there was Starsky & Hutch, while in the UK there was The Professionals on the ITV network. Similar in style to the American show, it featured two main protagonists, William Bodie and Ray Doyle as agents for CI5, a fictional spy agency run by their boss George Cowley. As an action oriented show, The Professionals featured plenty of car chases, perfectly suited for Ford of Europe’s sporty offerings of the time, the Capri and the Escort RS2000. As Doyle’s mount in early episodes, the Escort RS2000 capitalized on its rallying heritage, making it one of the most desirable mid-’70s Fords to this today. Powered by a 2.0-liter single overhead cam four-cylinder Pinto engine rated at 110 hp, the RS2000 was a rear-drive rocket by the standards of the time – it could accelerate to 60 mph in under 9 seconds and top 110 mph, yet it was a great all-around street car, with decent agility and predictable handling.
The RS2000 was Ford’s flagship Escort at the time and as a result boasted a unique sloping nose with quad round headlights, along with special wheels, blackout treatment and front and rear spoilers. It lasted in production until 1980 and was perhaps the crowning achievement of a car that dominated World Championship and European rallying during the period – in fact an Escort propelled every WRC champion to victory between 1971-1980). Although Ford’s European and American operations joined forces for the next generation front-drive Escort in 1981, the RS2000 continued to remain popular with European Ford fans and even spawned a successor in the early ’90s. Now that it’s more than 30 years old it’s also viable for importation to North America. So if you fancy something different and proof that not all ’70s cars were dull, you could do far worse than to get your hands on one of these.
9. 1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra
Price new: $5,638 (1978)
Value now: $3,000 - $12,000
Plus: Mustang II to the Max.
Minus: An acquired taste, try finding a good one.
By 1978, American automotive performance was becoming a distant memory. What passed for it seemed to consist of tape-on racing stripes, wheel flares and scoops, while under the hood lived economically tuned V-6s and V-8s, emasculated by emissions controls and single exhaust systems that could barely turn an axle. However there was one exception to all this: Pontiac’s Firebird Trans Am. More than any other car of the era, it thumbed its nose at the federally overregulated ’70s, symbolizing its defiance with a hearty 400 cubic V-8 engine, loud styling and performance still strong enough to squeal the tires for a city block. But it was the car’s consistently strong sales during this performance-deprived period that got everybody talking. By 1978, it was selling more than 93,000 units annually and demand would only get stronger. Although Ford’s pint sized Mustang II lacked the charisma and presence of GM’s F-car, even in base form, the boys in Dearborn decided to give it their best shot at rivaling the T/A. Since 1976 Ford, in conjunction with Jim Wangers’ Motortown Corporation, had been offering a tape and go performance package on the Mustang II dubbed Cobra II and two years later decided to crank things up a notch, by unveiling the King Cobra. Paying homage to Pontiac’s hot selling Trans Am, it sported a massive front air dam, fender spats, rear deck spoiler and a scooped hood emblazoned with a large snake decal (a nod to the T/A’s “Screaming Chicken”). It was also offered with T-tops and aluminum wheels with raised white letter tires. The only engine was Ford’s hottest in the Mustang at the time – a 302 V-8 dubbed the 5.0 and rated at 139 horsepower. Teamed with a four-speed manual gearbox, a 1978 King Cobra equipped with this engine could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under 9 seconds and run the quarter-mile in around 16.3 –not earth shattering, but decent for its day.
Ford built 4,971 King Cobras for 1978 and while it didn’t come close to 10 percent of the Trans Am’s production run that year, it still proved that although performance might have been down in the late ’70s it most certainly wasn’t out. Today Mustang IIs still lag behind their predecessors in terms of collectability, but there’s no question they helped keep the spirit of the original pony car alive during that difficult decade, something that many of us tend to forget. Therefore, as a historically significant car and a decent performance in its day at that, the 1978 Mustang II King Cobra is one ’70s era Ford that deserves a spot in the enthusiast’s garage.
10. 1979 Ford Mustang Indianapolis Pace Car Replica
Price new: $9,012 (1979)
Value now: $2,500 - $15,000
Plus: First of a new breed; pace car status makes it collectible.
Minus: Weak chassis, some replacement parts hard to find.
When Ford unveiled its third generation Mustang for 1979, it marked a radical departure for the breed. Here was a machine that bore a strong European influence, with clean crisp lines and an absence of gingerbread so common on Detroit cars at the time. This probably wasn’t surprising since it was styled by a team led by John J. “Jack” Telnack, who’d returned to Dearborn from Ford of Europe. Offered in a two-door notchback coupe and three-door hatchback, this new Mustang was based on Ford’s Fairmont compact sedan, so it boasted rack and pinion steering and an all coil suspension, with modified MacPherson struts up front to strike a decent compromise between packaging, engineering cost and decent road manners. It was physically larger than the Mustang II but both lighter and sportier, with performance being represented by a Cobra package on the three-door hatchback. The Cobra featured a cartoon-like snake decal on the hood but was otherwise clean in execution, devoid of spoilers or fender flares. It came equipped with a special suspension package that included metric Michelin TRX forged alloy wheels and tires, plus a standard 131 hp 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual gearbox. Considering that turbos were a relative novelty at the time, all enthusiast eyes were on this engine. Out of the box it was capable of pushing the 1979 Mustang to 60 mph in around 11 to 12 seconds, but just in case, Ford kept the old 302 V-8 as a standby option, which was offered both with the four-speed and an automatic transmission.
The new Mustang was selected for pacing the 63rd Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend in 1979 and former F1 champ Jackie Stewart was tasked with driving it. Three actual cars were built for race duty, with 302 V-8s souped up by Jack Roush so they could keep up with the racecars on the parade and caution laps. As visibility was of prime concern, all three were also fitted with T-top roof panels and rear flag mounts. Finished in an attractive color scheme of Pewter metallic and black with orange decals and striping, the 1979 Indianapolis Pace Car was also put into production as a street replica by Ford, though with the standard Mustang Cobra drivetrain and without the custom T-top roof. In the end Ford built some 10,478 of the replicas for dealers in 1979. Today with the first of these “new breed” Mustangs now more than 30 years old, the 1979 Indy Pace Car replicas stand as the most collectible examples of the early Fox cars. Exceedingly modern when new, they’ve stood the test of time and today, represent the first step toward a brave and exciting new era in Ford performance.