It can be said that the Mustang II was many things, but no one can question the car’s timely introduction. A brainchild of Lee Iacocca, who referred to it as his “little jewel,” it debuted just months before the OPEC energy crisis, when oil producing countries shut off the gas taps in response to America’s support for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. And with its 96.2 inch wheelbase, thrifty four- and six-cylinder engines, the Mustang II proved extremely popular – more than 385,000 were sold for ’74 more than double the previous year and that, despite a healthy increase in price. Like the original, which was based on the Falcon, the II borrowed parts from another Ford, in this case the subcompact Pinto. With European features such as rack and pinion steering, well appointed interior and full instrumentation, the car was designed to compete with small sporty jobs, like the Toyota Celica and German Capri, (a captive import sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers), cars which were then starting to gain rapidly in popularity. In fact the winning design for the Mustang II came from the L-M studios, under the direction of Al Mueller. Unlike the original Mustang, a fastback concept (ultimately with a lift up rear hatch), was developed first and then a notchback coupe created from it. Trim levels comprised base, Mach 1 (hatchback only) and posh Ghia (notchback only). Engine choices were a 2.3-liter overhead cam four (the first entirely metric Ford engine) and a Ford of Germany sourced 2.8-liter V6. With the six- and four-speed gearbox, a 1974 Mach 1 could dash to 60 mph in about 13 seconds, a far cry from just a few years earlier, though in many other respects it was much more of a driver’s car, it turned faster, stopped better and offered levels of refinement unimaginable just 10 years earlier.
1975 THE V8 RETURNS
All Mustang IIs adopted a catalytic converter this year and a new mid-year MPG coupe and fastback, equipped with the four-cylinder engine and special gearing were launched, aimed at fuel misers. At the other end of the spectrum, 1975 marked the return of a V8, though this time a low compression 302 with a two-barrel carburetor and just 122 hp and restricted with automatic. In order to accommodate it, the Mustang II’s front clip and framerails had to be modified and the grille, fenders and hood were taller and slightly different. Ghia models also got opera windows, then becoming an industry trend. After strong demand for ’74, production skidded to 188,575 units.
1976 TAPE ‘N’ GO
By the mid ’70s, performance was a fading memory, though Ford and others sought to keep the embers glowing if not by actually offering performance cars, at least building machines that looked the part. And so it was with the Cobra II, an option package for the Mustang II fastback, developed in conjunction with Jim Wanger’s Motortown Corporation. It came in Polar White, or Black with a prominent chin spoiler, rear deck spoiler, quarter-window louvers, blue or gold racing stripes on the hood, roof, decklid and rocker panels and big Cobra II lettering on the bottom of the doors. It could be ordered with any drivetrain, up to and including the V8 that was now rated at 139 hp and could be teamed with a four-speed gearbox. A somewhat less subdued Stallion package was also offered on the fastback, with two-tone black and silver paint, special graphics and standard forged aluminum 13-inch wheels.
1977 OPEN AIR
There was little change in the works for 1977, though mid-way through the model year a T-roof option was introduced on Mustang II fastbacks. Color options on the Cobra II were expanded, but otherwise, the lineup was essentially unchanged, though the Stallion package was dropped. Sales were down to 153,173 units.
1978 KING WILD
In response to the wildly successful Pontiac Trans Am, Ford decided to release its own rival, the outrageous King Cobra. Another option package, it combined the 302 V8 and handling suspension with a massive front air dam, fake hoodscoop, spats ahead of the front and rear wheels, decklid spoiler, plenty of pin striping and a massive snake decal emblazoned across the hood. Available in silver, black or red, it was a decent performer in its day, capable of 0-60 mph in under 10 seconds. Just 4,971 were ordered. The Cobra II returned and although more tame than the King Cobra, was still garish, with massive Cobra II lettering emblazoned across the doors. A revised variable ratio steering linkage was adopted, but that was really it. Sales bounced back a little – to just over 192,000 units.
My Experience: John Clor, 1978 Mustang II King Cobra
“I bought my first Mustang II when I was a kid. It was a fun little car, with a V8 and a four speed. I would take it autocrossing and have a lot of fun. Years later, I got back into these cars. I started researching them and realized that they were good little cars, well built with some very modern features for the time like rack and pinion steering and special isolators used between the body and subframe to reduce noise and vibration. The people that own and drive these cars today are a special breed, because body and interior parts are very hard to find and it takes a lot to restore them. Mustang II enthusiasts are among the most dedicated I know. I bought and restored a 1978 King Cobra. Say what you will about its looks, but it was the right car for its time and a good performer in its day. And because it’s powered by a 302 V8, you can easily make it faster. The Mustang IIs are nice cars to drive, small and nimble with nice steering and a slick shifting four-speed gearbox. Most people who criticize them have never owned or driven one.” – John Clor