Photography by Al Rogers
Since its inception on April 17, 1964, the Mustang has been the epitome of America’s ultimate pony car. Over the years it evolved into a brutally fast muscle machine. Nine years after its introduction, government regulations were bringing the pony and muscle car era to an end. Ford products weren’t immune to the regulations and 1973 would be the last year for a Mustang as we knew it. The tide was turning and a smaller version was being readied for the 1974 model year.
Much of the 1971-1973 body style was courtesy of Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, a car guy who was persuaded in early 1968 to leave General Motors to become Ford’s president. And while Bunkie was at Ford for a scant 19 months, he left an indelible mark on what became the last of the mid-size Mustang platforms.
At the irritation of traditional Mustang owners, Bunkie wanted a larger, more comfortable Mustang. He also wanted a wider Mustang so Ford’s monster 429 cubic-inch engine could fit between the shock towers. While he was successful in making that happen, shortly after the 1971 model was launched, tougher emission standards diminished much of Mustang’s performance capabilities. Add the coming of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and you have a muscle car market that all but evaporated. By 1972, the 429 cubic-inch Mustang was history and by 1973 the Boss soon followed suit.
The exterior of Ford’s famous pony car looked much like it did the previous year. The urethane covered front bumper, standard on the 1972 Mach 1 was redesigned to meet the new five-mph crash standards were now standard on all models. Rear bumpers, while still chrome plated, were moved further away from the body to meet the new 2½ mph crash standard. Ford boasted in their press release that the new bumpers qualified the car for a 10 percent insurance premium reduction.
The base Mustang and Grande grille received a mild refresh. The traditional horse and corral remained but the twin horizontal grille bars were eliminated. The chrome wraparound hood trim was also eliminated. New vertical parking lamps were moved from below the bumper to the outer edges of the grille on the base model. The Mach 1 grille changed little with the exception of its parking lamps and mesh design. A new side body stripe package was included on all Mach 1s. Interior appointments were left unchanged with the exception of a tri-bar steering wheel which replaced the single bar unit of 1972.
The underbody was a mildly modified version of the original platform. The Mustang rode on a 109-inch wheelbase, stretched two years earlier to improve ride and add interior comfort. Suspension travel was increased by ¼-inch and braking was improved with drum brakes that were larger. Stylish 15-inch Magnum 500 wheels were off the option list and replaced with 14x6-inch aluminum slotted wheels.
Those who wanted good fuel economy could choose the 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder. But with an anemic 95 horsepower on tap, acceleration was considered fair at best. If additional power was needed, buyers could order either a two-barrel version of the 302 or the 351 cubic-inch V8 that produced 141 horsepower or 173 horsepower respectively. While the 351 cubic-inch H.O. was history, the 351 cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8 remained on the option list albeit somewhat down on power due to a reduction in compression from 9.0:1 to 7.9:1, necessary to meet tightened federal emission standards. Transmission choices included a three-speed manual, four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. Axle ratios ranged from 2.75:1 to 3.50:1.
Sales for 1973 ended with a total of 134,817 units, besting 1972 production by 9,772 vehicles. The end of an era had come to a close. The upcoming Pinto based Mustang II was being readied for production and consumers were clamoring for better fuel economy rather than performance. It was a good run while it lasted. Today the last of the first generation Mustang is highly regarded by enthusiasts around the world.
Fuel For Thought
Last year for a convertible until the 1983 Mustang
Rear window nearly impossible to clean
Has “love it or hate it” styling
Available in five new exterior colors
Radial tires available for the first time
Number built – 134,817 total production, 11,853 convertibles
Construction – Unibody
Engine – 250 cubic-inch six cylinder, 302 cubic-inch V8, 351 cubic-inch V8
Power/Torque – 98/197, 140/239, 177/284, 266/301
Transmission – three-speed manual, four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
Suspension Front – “A” type upper control arm, single lower control arm, coil springs
Rear suspension – semi-elliptical leaf springs
Steering – recirculating ball and nut
Brakes – drums front and rear, front disc brakes optional but standard on convertibles and 351 cubic-inch vehicles)
Length/width/height – 189.5/74.1/50.7
Wheelbase – 109 inches
Weight – 3,560 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter-mile – 8.5 seconds, 16.2 seconds at 88.7 mph (Road Test magazine, July 1973)
Top speed – 120 mph
MPG – 12-17 (estimated)
Price – MSRP $3,189 (V8 convertible)
Today – $11,400 - $23,500
Insurance cost is $239 per year for a 1973 Mustang convertible valued at $23,500. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance
By 1973, all engines were detuned to meet strict emissions standards. Even the mighty CJ motor had to get by with an anemic 9.0:1 compression ratio but it breathed fairly well with 2.030-inch valves and 1.65-inch exhaust valves.
As with most performance cars of its time, the Mustang was heavy in the front, causing moderate plowing into hard turns. Its relatively long 109-inch wheelbase provided a rather smooth ride over bumps.
1973 Camaro Z28
Number built – 96,751
0-60/quarter-mile – 6.7 seconds, 15.2 seconds at 94.6 mph
Top speed – 123 mph
Price – MSRP – $3,713;
Today – $10,900 - $27,300
1973 Plymouth Barracuda
Number built – 19,281
0-60/quarter-mile – 8.0 seconds, 14.35 seconds at 91 mph
Top speed – 120 mph (estimate)
Price – MSRP – $3,050;
Today – $12,050 - $28,800
Last of the big Mustangs
Long list of comfort options
Aftermarket parts readily available
Ram Air convertible is the one to have
Typical rust issues
No chrome bumpers
Larger size diminished nimble handling
Owners enjoy driving and showing their vintage Mustangs. While few are used as daily drivers, a very small number are trailered to events.
What To Pay
1973 Mustang Convertible
MSRP – $3,189
Low – $11,400
Average – $19,500
High – $23,500
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Mustang & Fordmagazines are sold.
Front and rear seat cover set $257.95
Dash pad $196.95
Master cylinder $24.95
Upper control arm $54.95
*National Parts Depot
Mustang Dynasty by John Clor
Mustang by Randy Leffingwell
Ford Mustang by Brad Bowling
Mustang by David Newhardt
Mustang 1964½ - 1973 Restoration Guide by Tom Corcoran and Earl Davis
For a number of years, the 1971-1973 Mustang wasn’t well received by the traditional Mustang community. In fact, it took several years before the Mustang Club of America (MCA) recognized them with a specific class. The tide has changed and today, the last of the mid-size Mustang is becoming highly sought after in the collector arena with prices that continue to rise.