By on April 1, 2010

Powered By Ford. There’s something special about those words, something iconic, something that evokes nightmares of an uniquely American scope, from our first family cross-country trips in a 1954 Ford that perpetually overheated and stalled from vapor lock (when it actually started) to the last one, Mother’s craptastic 1981 Escort (replaced by a Civic)  that could barely do seventy wheezing unsteadily along the rain-soaked I-70 straight. Powered by Ford. It’s the peeling logo hastily slapped onto the valve covers of this five-liter Mustang II, but you won’t need to raise the hood to understand what it means. The first time this pathetic lump of an engine tries to suck air through its tiny two-barrel carburetor and wheezes its feeble exhaust through soda-straw sized tailpipes, it will be more than crystal clear.

My apologies to Jack Baruth (and it’s not the first time I’ve stolen some of his words). But his stirring words of worship at the altar of Ford compels me to release the anti-Ford held safely thus far in my digital files, and unleash its full 122 horsepower V8 fury upon his Mustang love poem.  Nature seeks a balance, and for every heroic blue oval exploit at Le Mans in 1967 and Topanga Canyon Road in 2010, there is a 1971 LTD or this 1975 Mustang Cobra II to offset the glory. We wouldn’t want to be accused of being Ford fan-boys at TTAC, now would we?

The Mustang II was a truly wretched car. Obviously, it couldn’t have been much worse than its predecessor, that hideously oversized barge of a draft-horse car, the ’71-’73 ‘Stang. Or could it? One wants desperately to give Lee Iacocca credit for trying to do the right thing: dramatically downsize the Mustang to make it competitive with the Euro style “super-coupes” that were the hot thing after the pony car market collapsed under the weight of its wretched excess.

So the target competition for the Mustang II were the Toyota Celica, Opel Manta, and Ford’s own European import, the Capri (sold by Mercury). Therein lies the sum and substance of Ford’s enormous mistake with the Mustang II, the same one that GM and Ford repeated endlessly until they were finally pounded into submission. Instead of just building the highly competent Capri as the Mustang II, or in the case of GM, the Manta/Opel 1900, in their US factories, they threw themselves repeatedly on the sword of hubris: we can do it better in Detroit, even small sporty and economy cars, something the Europeans had been building and perfecting for decades.

GM’s Vega was the first to go down this path, if we generously give the Corvair a pass. The Opel 1900/Manta was a delightful-handling and well designed car, and with a tiny fraction of the money wasted on the Vega’s development, it could have been made truly superb. Ford’s Pinto was only marginally better than the Vega because it didn’t blow up or rust quite so instantaneously, but its silly low, short and wide and cramped body were retrograde from the perfectly practical English Ford Cortina that donated much of its guts for it.

That was 1971. That was also the year Mercury started selling the Capri here. Surprisingly, or not, it became a genuine hit, and at its peak, was the number two selling import in the land after the VW Beetle. Reviews praised it: (R/T) “a very attractive sporting car. It’s solid as a Mercedes, still compact and light in the context of 1974 barrier busters, fast, reasonably economical of fuel, precise-handling, and quick-stopping: its engine and drivetrain are both sporty and refined.” Apparently not good enough for Lido; he had wrought a true miracle turning the Falcon into the original Mustang, so why not do the same thing with the Pinto? Why not indeed! Unlike lightening, hubris always strikes after someone’s first success, deserved or not.

A reworked front end and some new longer rear springs were designed to quiet down the Pinto’s notorious trashy interior noise levels and general structural inefficiencies ( the whole car rattles and rustles like a burlap bag full of tin cups. Self destruction seems only moments away. C/D 1971) . Lee wanted the Mustang II to have a touch of luxury to it, especially in the padded-top Ghia series; a sort of mini-T Bird. So, yes, let’s put lots of cushy rubber and soft springs in the suspension to give it a nice ride on the freeway.

But somehow, all that sound deadening and whatever else the Ford boys did to transform the Pinto into the Mustang II must have weighed a lot; well, lead is a terrific sound barrier. The unfortunate result was that the Mustang II weighed more than the original Mustang, despite the fact that its wheelbase was now a full foot shorter and it sported a four cylinder engine. But Powered By Ford was stamped or glued to the new 2.3 liter OHC four, a noisy and thrashy lump that soldiered on for decades. Generating all of eighty-eight horsepower, Ford’s long investment in racing engines was now really paying off.

If the four wasn’t quite recreating the Le Mans Mulsanne straight experience adequately, the Cologne V6 was the only option for more go in 1974, the II’s first year. C/D tested the new Mach 1 version with the 105 hp 2.8 six, and noted right off the bat that it was saddled with too much weight: “Our test car weighed over 3100 lbs…(the V-6 Capri we tested in 1972 weighed slightly under 2400 lbs)…the (Mustang’s) engine is more notable for its smoothness than any feel of power”. The quarter mile took over eighteen seconds (@74 mph), and zero to sixty took over twelve seconds. Ouch. But it probably had a nicer ride than the Capri. Oh, did it ever:

As the Mustang II Mach I (with the optional “competition” suspension) approaches its cornering limits, the front end transmits the fact that it definitely is plowing…enthusiasts are going to be disappointed..excessive body lean was present in all handling tests…” The Mustang II plowed and handled like crap with the light four and little German V6 under the hood, so it doesn’t take much of an imagination to speculate what it handled like when Ford finally shoehorned the 302 V8 into it for 1975, for all the wrong reasons. And the fact that it was still riding on 13″ wheels didn’t help any either.

Before we get on to the Cobra II, let’s note that C/D felt that the new four speed transmission that was developed in the US specifically for it was “not as smooth shifting as the current Pinto 4-speed” (sourced from Europe). And the fact that it was given the Pinto’s brakes without change wasn’t too inspiring either: “difficult to maintain precise directional stability during hard stops”. C/D sums the Mach1 up this way: “its acceleration and performance don’t match expectations. Much of that is due to weight and some to emission standards, but neither of these factors justify the car’s flaccid handling”.

Given that Ford had to do some fairly extensive work on the Mustang II’s front end to accommodate the V8 implant, it’s obvious that they never planned on that outcome. And given that the 302 put out a mere 122 hp in 1975, one wonders why go to all the trouble, given the dramatic increase in front end weight it caused. Ford should have spent money on its turbo-four program a few years earlier. Or found a way to federalize the DOHC and fuel injection engines it used in Europe. But the American legacy of Ford was built around V8s, and what’s a Mustang without one: Powered By (genuine US) Ford.

Now we can finally speak our vile words about the actual Cobra II. Please note that this is the very first automobile to carry that august name since the original. As thus, it was one of the most disastrous abuses of destroying equity in a name that was a true legend.  That it was put on such a ridiculous pretender of a car, a Pinto (barely) in disguise, is almost mind boggling. Anything  positive anyone can say about the Mustang II program is instantly offset by this cruel joke made by Lido and his not-so Whiz Kids. And it only got worse with the King Cobra version a couple years later. The seventies really were the pits, US-built automobile wise anyway, and the Mustang II was the little pebble lodged at the bottom of the pit.

It turned out that real V8 performance in an excellently handling coupe was still in demand, and very much available, in the form of the Camaro Z-28. And at a price that put the Mustang II Mach I and Cobra II to infinite shame. In the very same issue of C/D is a test of the 1973 Camaro Z-28 with the slightly civilized but still very satisfying 350 V8 that churned out 245 hp, exactly double (plus one) of the Mustang’s V8. And the Z 28 cracked off the dash to sixty in 6.7 seconds, almost exactly one half of the Mustang Mach I’s time. And ran a 15 second quarter at 95 mph. And handled and steered most properly indeed.

C/D summed it up the Z28 this way: “Because few cars at any price offer the refinement in going, stopping, and turning abilities. And that refinement is housed in one of the most handsome forms ever to roll out of Detroit. But the real clincher is price: the latest Z-28 is a blue chip investment.”

Here’s the shocker: the Z-28, equipped with the potent V8 and four speed, stickered at $4066 ($19k adjusted). The 1975 Mustang II Mach I with the V6 listed at $4188; how much more the Cobra II package and the V8 cost is a guess. Half the horsepower, twice as long to sixty, miserable handling, in a ridiculous and mal-proportioned body with a yard too much front overhang. No wonder the Camaro rated a “GM’s Greatest Hits” designation at CC (here’s the full gushing writeup), and this Mustang II earns Ford’s first Deadly Sin. Powered By Ford.

More new Curbside Classics here

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

135 Comments on “Curbside Classic: Ford’s Deadly Sin#1 – 1975 Mustang Cobra II...”


  • avatar
    dswilly

    A high school friend worked over a 302 in that car and turned it into a rocket. Had all the big-block SS crowd going nuts trying to figure out how to catch it. His biggest problem was getting the 13″ rubber to hook up.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Bout the best thing you can say about 70s American sports cars is that they’ve got potential if you’ve got time and money to pick one up as a project.

  • avatar
    tsofting

    Cred to Lido for trying to re-define the Mustang, and align it with the (sign of) the times, particularly after the Peterbilt-inspired 71-73 ‘Stang. But, you don’t get any points for the process, you earn your stripes from the outcome, and how he could conceivably believe this was a lusted-for result is beyond me. This is a textbook case of Lido flying too close to the sun, with the unavoidable outcome that the wax that held the wings melted off! Had he eaten just a little humble pie first, he would have commissioned a variant of the Capri as the new Mustang. I mean, any 8 year-old could have told him that building something, anything, based on the Pinto was a recipe for disaster!

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Bash the Pinto as you like but they sold like hotcakes … Maverick too … given that history, why would Lee think that the Mustang II would break with that pattern?

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      It, in fact, did not break with that pattern. The Mustang II was the best selling Mustang since the first one, and none have sold as well since.

      There is no way that a Mustang could have been badge-engineered from an existing overseas Ford. It would never have gotten past the lower floors of the Glass House with Hank the Deuce still in charge, and no one would have bought it. That formula didn’t even work very well in the 1980s; witness the Fiesta and the Merkurs, and the Capri was never a strong seller. In fact, I don’t understand why this car is being compared to any imported cars at all. It certainly wasn’t then. It wasn’t until the build-quality ramifications of the malaise cars became apparent, AND those quirky little exotic rollerskate imports established a reputation for anything other than spectacular rust and grisly crashes, that they were cross-shopped by the mainstream auto-buying public. Five to ten years later, absolutely. But let’s remember this car was developed well before Watergate and went on the market in the fall of 1973.

      The pictured car, by the way, is a V6 car, unless for some reason the owner stripped the V8 emblems or has re-engined it.

      And I don’t think I ever saw a “Powered by Ford” valve cover until in the past few years. The FE and Windsor V8s were stamped “Power by Ford,” however, from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s.

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    Yikes…a deadly sin indeed. We can only forgive…but shouldn’t forget.

    I remember when I was about seven, a relative of mine owned a gray Mustang II. I knew about the 1964 1/2 Mustang – I owned several die-cast models of it. I looked at the badges of the unattractive blob that was the II and thought to myself: “This is no Mustang.” I still stand by that conviction. And this…thing certainly has no business bearing the Cobra name. Glad Ford has come so far.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      LOL my mom had one of the 4-cylinder M2s.. F–ker rusted a hole in the floor under the clutch pedal, she used it as her ‘garbage chute’ to toss gum wrappers and such while driving..

      Good times.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Ouch…but Ford deserved it.

    I don’t believe that the Cobra II package was Iacocca’s idea. I recall reading that Jim Wangers developed it when he was working for outside vendor. Henry Ford II was reluctant to offer it, but the dealers loved it, as did Edsel Ford II, so it appeared in Ford showrooms.

    The Camaro Z-28 was discontinued for 1975, so buyers didn’t have that choice when this Mustang II was built (although I would imagine that even a “regular” Camaro with a V–8 was still a better all-around car.)

    That may be why this trim package initially sold pretty well.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    When I was in my late teens, my mom bought a white-blue 75 Cobra with the V6 and a 4-speed manual – a rare combo. While it was fun to be seen in (please picture this through the eyes of a 17 year-old in the mid 70s) it did handle badly and had deficient brakes. We also had a 76 Mustang-II Ghia that actually handled better (mainly due to decent OEM Michelins). My brother and I raced them one night leading to our first traffic stop. The Ghia topped out at about 122MPH, the Cobra-II V6 at about 124. Both were much faster than the Summit, WI cop in the Dodge, who eventually caught up to us in a red-faced fury as we were purchasing some cigarettes at a supermarket checkout.

    That patrol cop – who had a habit of turning up wherever we went to malfease -is now the Police Chief in the same town. The last I heard of his was a couple of years ago when he drove his SUV into a flood and had to be rescued. Serves him right.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Yes, this was a disaster. I remember laughing at it back in ’75. But I take issue with the notion that the Capri should have replaced the Mustang. Yes, it would have been a better car at the time. But I seriously doubt it would have survived. The capricious nature of engineering and manufacturing clicques within the company would, I suggest, have conspired to kill it.

    Ford did the right thing by quickly realizing it’s mistake and releasing the Fox-body Mustang in 1979. It took a few years for the powertrains to catch up, but the results speak for themselves. Many of us love the classic 1960s Mustangs (as the former owner of a ’69 Mach I, I speak from firsthand experience). But much of the Mustang legacy is built upon the Fox-bodies and, because of that, the Mustang flame was kept alive and now burns brightly, perhaps even more brightly than before.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      5 years is quickly? It seemed longer, you couldn’t turn around in the 70s without seeing a Mustang 2, the damn things were everywhere. The worst part is I actually like the looks of this thing now, even though it is the ultimate poser. The comparison to the Z28 was instructive.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    I cry foul. The Mustang of that era was not an automotive ideal, but Lido didn’t really have much to work with, and a large lump of excrement with wheels would have been an improvement on the 1971-73 Mustangs…or have I been redundant?

    Evolution is a process….some of the mutations (no, I didn’t say mutants)are not always beautiful. But if the evolutionary process which begat the gorgeous 2011 Mustang had a genesis, it was this Mustang. If this hadn’t been built, one doesn’t like to think what would have become of the Mustang marque…..

  • avatar
    obbop

    I must humbly burble that my innards are not repulsed by the 71-73 Mustangs based on several parameters.

    For brevity I refrain from mentioning the several aspects a vehicle can be rated by and I will admit that the 71-73 Mustang herd did possess negative aspects but that herd of pony cars also possessed some “boss” attributes to borrow from the slang lingo of that period.

    Perhaps not at the “groovy” level but that term had seen its day appear and depart.

    If memory is correct many front subframes from the Mustang 2 were sold at the dismantling yard to hot rod builders who grafted it upon older frames due to the ease of attachment and low cost and to allow upgrading older frames/chassis/bodies to modern front disc brakes and power steering, etc.

    This moment in automotive trivia is brought to you by the letters S and X and the numbers 340 and a hex upon the repetitive hillbilly drivers with altered exhaust systems whose all-intruding raucous decibel output breeches with ease the shanty’s cladding and insulation resulting in constant unwanted decibel intrusions disallowing the fleeing of this too-noisy society anywhere.

    May an intimate meeting betwixt tree and noise-producing conveyance be the ultimate fate for the hillbilly boys.

    Fate and Karma cries out for a leveling between noise and solitude.

    Carry on.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      If memory is correct many front subframes from the Mustang 2 were sold at the dismantling yard to hot rod builders who grafted it upon older frames due to the ease of attachment and low cost and to allow upgrading older frames/chassis/bodies to modern front disc brakes and power steering, etc.

      Your memory has not failed you.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      The classic disc brake swap for 1st gen. Mustangs is the Grenada swap. No need for major or even minor alterations with that one. Does that make the Grenada a classic muscle car deserving of veneration?

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Thanks Paul. After Jack Baruth got me all teary eyed and puffy chested thinking “I love Ford me” you have to bring me down to earth with a reminder of what utter sh*te the company has produced.
    As a relative newcomer to the American car world, I often wondered why the Mustang enthusiasts seemed to avoid this version of the ‘Stang like the plague. Now I know.
    Having ridden in many Capri’s and the earlier european RWD Ford Escorts (Mk 1 & 2) which were built around the same time as this hulk, I am shocked at how bad things got over here in the 70’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Martin Schwoerer

      I really appreciate this too, Paul. Jack’s words made me think I had unintentionally landed on the Metacars parody website. TTAC is not, or at least did not used to be, about declarations of love to any single company. It is unseemly to publish such PR-worthy texts without editing the more embarassing elements.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I used to watch reruns of Charlies Angeles in the early 80’s as a little kid, and the chicks would cruise around in their Mustang II…which I though just looked too cool for words. I think theirs was white with blue stripes.

    • 0 avatar
      Turbo60640

      Charlie’s Angels was my introduction to these cars in the 80s, as someone also referenced earlier. Farrah Fawcett had a white Cobra II with blue stripes, while Jaclyn Smith drove a tan Ghia with a vinyl top. I think both Mustags had “car phones.”

      Poor Kate Jackson was stuck with a bright orange Pinto with plaid seats.

      Charlie’s Angels was a veritable showcase of Ford’s mid to late 1970s product line.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Wait!

      What?

      There were cars on Charlie’s Angels?

      When did this happen?

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Funny. Not a single mention of how well the Mustang II sold. Or that the 302 was a close relative of the engine in the REAL Cobras that made Corvettes look silly in the early 60’s. Or the FACT that the 2.3 is a wonderfully reliable engine, hence the reason it lasted decades.
    POWERED BY FORD…the only way I will be powered! ‘nutcase

    • 0 avatar
      zenith

      The “Pinto engine” in my ’97 Ranger still goes between oil changes without burning a drop.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      Nearly 400,000 1974 Mustang II’s were sold aided by a gasoline crisis.

    • 0 avatar
      Buyford

      Hey Nut: Good man 4 saying that about the engines etc, i am 53 and i have drove Fords all my life and will do so till i die. Currenty, i drive a ’98 Ford Explorer 4×4 ”Limited” wich i love and have drove for 4 yrs and never had any trouble. I just bought a ’91 Mustang 5.0 H.0 Convertible last Sept FOR $6000. When i seen it, i had to have it, then he started it and i knew i had to have it! I have always wanted a convertible, i really love it. Its from Arizona with no rust and 70,000 miles on it. I bought it newar Hamilton(Grimsby), i live 4 hrs away but it was well worth it!!
       
      Bill

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    This one pictured is in amazingly good condition almost as if it had a frame up restoration. Hopefully the owner did some serious engine work.

    I don’t think the pony car market collapsed under its own wretched excess, as I recall it collapsed for the same reasons muscle cars did, insurance costs and emissions standards.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      +1

      I don’t think it was a hatred of muscle cars by the general public that lead to the underpowered “muscle” cars of the 70’s and on into the 80’s. It was technology falling behind government regulations. Now that it has caught up, the governemnt is moving the bar again. Look for a percipitous fall in performance in 2015 unless a miracle happens.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Wow…a memory two-fer.

    When I was born my parents took me home in the first car they bought new together: a 1978 Mustang II fastback/hatch. But it wasn’t the horrible V8, worse: a 4cyl/4spd car. Color was close to the Cobra pictured, but a more metallic aqua color. White vinyl interior. I think by 78 they were up to 14″ wheels. I remember as a kid of about 6 years “helping” my dad swap snow tires on/off the rear. The Mustang hung around until 1990 and before it left I remember helping do maintenance on it. My dad had to open the driver’s door before driving onto ramps for an oil change or else he’d be crawling out the window. It was noisy, stinky, rattled like crazy and gave a very rough and nervous ride. Maybe why I never even looked twice at Mustangs until reading about the 2011 V6.

    The twofer: my mom’s first car was a 71 or 72 crap-brown Capri. I think having kids instigated my parents to switch cars as I remember calling the Capri “daddy’s brown car” until it gave way to an equally Crapi brown/wood 84 Voyager minivan.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    The Capri I and II was just light-years better that that piece of maudlin tripe. Lighter, so much more pleasant to drive, didn’t look like a Pinto dumped in a vat of fiberglass…

    IIRC the Cologne V-6 was putting out about the same 150HP that the 302 was.

    As to the longetivity of the Capri design, the basic design was updated twice and it remained in production until the early 90s.
    If you saw one on the street today it would look a bit dated, but not like a relic from a time that is best gone.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    Most respectfully, the Z28 was a pimped out decal queen by 1975.

    1973 was the last year for the fine small block w/245hp. Unleaded and smog pumps took care of that.

    You had to move to Firebird (and get a 455) to go over 200 HP in ’75.

    The ’75 Mustang was just about par for the course back then.

    BD

  • avatar
    SloStang

    I’m not quite old enough to remember the Mustang II, but I did own an ’88 4-cylinder (88 hp, 1/4 mile in 19.7 @ 69mph while losing to a Tempo!) In case anybody wonders about the inspiration for my user name :-)

    I currently drive a ’97 GT. I lusted after a 2000 Firebird, but it wasn’t practical enough for overnight road trips with the wife and dog.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      When i first started dating my wife in 1996, she was driving an 87 Mustang LX with the 4 cylinder and 4 speed manual. I like to think that the ease with which my RX7 with its huge rotary power mill (compared to that Mustang’s anyway) bettered that Mustang in every respect led her to buy first a ’69 Porsche 911 soon followed by a ’95 Cobra Mustang that she still drives.

  • avatar
    Turbo60640

    Charlie’s Angels was my introduction to these cars in the 80s, as someone also referenced earlier. Farrah Fawcett had a white Cobra II with blue stripes, while Jaclyn Smith drove a tan Ghia with a vinyl top. I think both Mustags had “car phones.”

    Poor Kate Jackson was stuck with a bright orange Pinto with plaid seats.

    Charlie’s Angels was a veritable showcase of Ford’s mid to late 1970s product line.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Regarding the sticker price comparison between the 1973 Camaro Z-28 and the 1975 Mustang Cobra II – new-car prices escalated dramatically after 1973. That was when the term “sticker shock” was first coined.

    Measuring the sticker price for a 1973 car against that of a 1975 car isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

    A more valid comparison would be between a 1975 Camaro and this Mustang Cobra II.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The 1975 Camaro type LT V8 sport coupe cost $4,057. I don’t know what the Z28 option cost. More telling are the base prices:
      A base 1975 Mustang II (four cylinder) hatch cost $3818
      A base 1975 V8 Camaro coupe cost $3685
      Which was the better deal?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Not arguing that the Camaro wasn’t a better deal (let alone a much better all-around car)…the price comparison between the 1975 models just does a better of driving home the point. Thank you.

      Interestingly, Camaro sales began their upward turn in 1974, the same year the Mustang II debuted. GM had seriously considered killing the car, but that uptick assured the car’s future.

    • 0 avatar
      BostonDuce

      Your right about “sticker shock”. My ’73 Camaro V-8 coupe was $1990 + tax, tip, and gratuity.

      Yes it was a 307 V-8 (107 HP) with 3 on-the-floor, but it was a bargin compared to a ’75.

      BD

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      No ’75 Z28 with which to compare. The Z28 was ended in ’74 and returned as a ‘77.5 in February 1977. I had one, great handling , braking, manuevering and sound; lousy performance at 185 net HP and pathetic workmanship. I think mine was $5,249.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’m ashamed to say it, but there is something about that gaudy Mustang II look that I really like… still.

  • avatar

    I bought a ’74 Capri 2.8 V6 with a 4-speed brand new in the summer of 1974. A terrific car. Well built, reasonably quick for the time, a good handler. But the electrical system was a nightmare. Always something. A few of my friends had bought the same model six months earlier, had experienced the same issues and said “get out now”.

    So I did. One year and one day after buying the Capri.

    At age 19, I thought the problem must have been that it was an import. So I went American again (I’d had two trouble-free Fords of my own…a ’66 Falcon and a ’73 Pinto, and my family was all about the Blue Oval…’34 Ford 5-window with a rumble seat, ’54 Ford Customline, ’55 T-Bird, ’56 Mercury Montclair, ’56 Ford F-100, ’60 T-Bird, ’60 Falcon, ’63 T-Bird Sports Roadster, ’64 Falcon Wagon, ’69 Mercury Cougar XR-7 Convertible and ’70 Mercury Monterey).

    You guessed it…a 1975 Mustang II. Same color as the Cobra pictured here, but with a white vinyl roof, the same 2.8-liter V6 as in the Capri, with a manual transmission.

    Worst.

    Car.

    Ever.

    40,000 miles of sheer hell. Five interior door handles and window cranks that snapped in half.

    Three times the driver’s side window fell into the door and wouldn’t roll up (in Northern California, in the rainy season).

    The speedometer cable started to go at 15,000 miles.

    Then there was the tendency to pop into neutral when decelerating (always fun on a hill in San Francisco).

    I kept it 3 years (why?) and went Japanese after that…not buying another American car for 15 years. And no, it wasn’t a Ford.

    This painful walk down memory lane makes Ford’s accomplishments the past couple of years all the more remarkable. I’d buy their cars again.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      My ’73 Pinto Squire ate window cranks and door handles too. I used to keep spares in the glove box. A friend of mine had a Mustang II and I was shocked at how Pinto-ish it seemed to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      Let’s not get too misty-eyed about the Capri. I recall them being reliability nightmares – with expensive repair parts to boot.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Just to clarify, is the Capri that was sold Stateside exactly the same as the one from Europe/UK?
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f0/Ford_capri_mk2_1974.jpg/800px-Ford_capri_mk2_1974.jpg
      Although I wasn’t around at the time, my father in law bought one new in 75′ and a work colleague bought one new in 76′, both of whom have nothing but praise for them – reliability and driveability.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      Ours had sealed beam headlights and probably some very subtle detail differences, but otherwise it was the same car.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1973_Capri_2600.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      There were numerous changes due to meet FMVSS and EPA regs. Sealed-beam headlamps, side-marker lights, different rear lights, rear license plate illumination (IIRC), 5-mph front and rear bumpers, side intrusion beam (IIRC), likely other changes for front and rear crash like windscreen retention, fuel-system integrity, DOT-spec glass, MPH-speedo, AM/FM-radio, seat-belt anchorage reinforcement, key-chime, fuel-cap door, (IIRC) lead-free fuel system and catalytic converter, (likely) thermactor pump system, (don’t recall but likely option for a/c, different colour and trim combos)

      There was a whole department of guys called OPEO (Overseas Product Engineering Office) which was responsible for homologation of vehicles being expatriated to an export market.

  • avatar
    Pikes

    My first car was a 1974 Mustang II, with the wheezy 2.3 and an automatic. It was a hand-me-down from my grandfather in 1980.

    While I wouldn’t describe it as the Worst. Car. Ever. (hey, it got me from point A to point B for 12 years), all of the major bits pretty much self-destructed at 60,000 miles, with the exception of the steering parts – these remained original until the car’s death at around 120,000 miles. It also stayed pretty rust free – quite a feat for the number of winters it saw.

    I still find the “gaudy” styling attractive as well, and I know it was no performance coupe, however fast it looked.

    Then again, there is always a special place in your heart for your first.

  • avatar
    h82w8

    Appropriate post on this AFD – a joke of a truly awful car (and even worse Mustang) if there ever was one. About the best you can say about the II is that at least the Mustang name plate stayed around through the dark years to eventually emerge into a sunnier Fox body future (Futura?).

    Ford deserved what it got for this and its other myriad malaise era craptastic transgressions, and in the end the joke was on them.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    Look, the Mustang II was no ‘halo car’, but it did keep the Mustang lineage alive during some of the darkest days possible for auto enthusiasts, and keeping that lineage alive ultimately resulted in the current kick-ass 2011 version.

    The Capri was a fine enough car for the times, but there is NO WAY IN HELL the little furrin’ Capri would have been butch enough, ‘Amurican’ enough and could not be optioned out to be tacky enough of a car to satisfy the ‘testosterone fueled’ needs of approximately HALF of the Mustang’s target demographic (the other half being the chick car/secretary’s car crowd…still true to this day.)

    The II sold in big numbers, and helped Ford to weather those dark days of the fuel crises/political instability mid-70’s…so for those reasons alone, this ‘little turd of a Mustang’ deserves at least some grudging respect.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    Those Pinto based mustangs were so far removed from the mustangs of the 60s we called them Mustang Too back in the day – as in it’s a mustang too ! But if that car didn’t kill the model and Ford’s toying with the idea of making the front drive late 80s Probe the new stang didn’t , then it endures like no other pony car . Unlike the GM and Chrysler pony cars which returned after being put out to pasture for awhile .

  • avatar
    BobJava

    This isn’t flamebait, but might sound like it, so I apologize.

    I take a selfish delight in the anger the Mustang II aroused with Mustang purists (we all know at least a few) for decades. In my opinion, the Mustang had a precious few years in it’s long and (allegedly) vaunted history as a world-class automobile. Obviously, the first few years count. Beyond that, it’s arguable, either for style, power, or both. Maybe until recently.

    Paul makes a great case for the II being a bad car; in the long view, as to whether it’s a bad Mustang, it helps to take into account the spotty history of the model and the malaise era in which it was made. Basically, I’m arguing the scale is more relative than Mustang purists would have you believe.

  • avatar
    starbird80

    As a resident of Grand Forks, ND, in the ’90s, I frequently drove by a house that had not one, but two Mustang IIs in the driveway. One was a King Cobra in black, the other a Mach I (which I can’t recall the color of now – orange, maybe?). Both looked mint. I would occasionally see one or the other driving about town.

    When the flood of 1997 came, the owner only had time to rescue one. The King Cobra was left to drown. I drove by the remains several times post-flood before it was towed away, and each time thought, given the choice, I would have left the Mach I behind instead.

    Though an even better choice would have been to leave both behind and take the insurance settlement.

  • avatar

    Last Saturday I went to a big Mustang show and was somewhat surprised and pleased to see several nice Mustang IIs among the hundreds of other Mustangs on display. As others have already said, the Mustang II may not have been the best Mustang ever, but it did keep the name alive. Unlike the Camaro and Challenger, the Mustang has remained in continuous production since its introduction.

  • avatar
    skor

    I don’t believe that it was possible to rebadge a Capri as a Mustang due to internal company politics, and marketing considerations. Remember what happened when Ford was going to scrap the tired old Fairmont based Mustang and replace it with the technically superior Mazda MX6 based car (renamed Probe)? There were howls from both inside and outside Ford. “A Jap car can never be a REAL Mustang!” Replace “Jap” with “Kraut” in the case of Capri based Mustang. Funny thing is that the Germans ultimately ended up building the world’s best Mustang. They called it the 928.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Not to kick the Mustang II while it’s down, but a friend got a crappy 1977 model with the 4cyl/4 speed for $300. It ran and stopped okay, but it was so rusted out (in 1981 mind you), that we didn’t bother trying to fix the holes, but just glued some cardboard to the inside of the holes we could get to and slapped Bondo over that and sanded it smooth. The trunk was so rusted thru in both quarter panels that I could see daylight on the other side if I crouched down and looked in the right spot. The finishing touch was the glossy silver rattlecan paint job, complete with a black hockey stick-like swoosh stripe starting along the rocker and lower door crease line and ending at the tailights. The suspension was shot (ka-thunk) and it steered like a turd. It’s best attribute was that it made me extremely thankful for my now long gone Karmann Ghia. Aren’t there any Ghias you could feature in an upcoming CC?

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    When I was in high school in the early 1980s, my neighbor owned one of these, I think it was the “GT” and a 1977 model (had the dual-stripes stem to stern as well). The insurance company considered it a high-risk “sports” car being that it was the GT, even though it only had the 4-cylinder in it – what a joke! It did have a 4-speed tranny at least.

    It was by far the worst lemon of an American car that I have ever personally witnessed. My neighbor had purchased it from the original adult owner who had babied the car (it was still like-new when he bought it), and by 40K miles it had had the following items replaced: rack & pinion, rear differential, camshaft, transmission, and oh I think paint as well. I’m sure there are other things that I can no longer remember, the list of what had NOT been replaced was actually shorter. All with under 40K original, easy miles on it. Ugh! No wonder people started buying Hondas and Toyotas . . .

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I wouldn’t quite consider the car a deadly sin, they sold tons of them to women. Besides, the muscle car was already dead by a few years, and I don’t think ford actually thought that anyone would be so dumb to mistake the stripes and scoops for anything more than what they were.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Answer me this: Mustang II, Cobra II, but Mach I? (Even Capri II) Why not Mach II too?

  • avatar

    tsofting says:
    Cred to Lido for trying to re-define the Mustang, and align it with the (sign of) the times, particularly after the Peterbilt-inspired 71-73 ‘Stang. But, you don’t get any points for the process, you earn your stripes from the outcome, and how he could conceivably believe this was a lusted-for result is beyond me. This is a textbook case of Lido flying too close to the sun, with the unavoidable outcome that the wax that held the wings melted off! Had he eaten just a little humble pie first, he would have commissioned a variant of the Capri as the new Mustang. I mean, any 8 year-old could have told him that building something, anything, based on the Pinto was a recipe for disaster!

    +10 for that Icarus metaphor!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    The biggest thing I can take from this is how good today’s cars really are…even the worst car of today is so far better than the small crap from the ’70s…I was way too young to recall much about the musclecar years. The ’70s were way cool in many regards but when it comes to cars, very few from that time period are worth the time to wash, let alone restore.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    Ford Australia clearly based their later Falcon Cobra on this, but I’d hazard to say they did it slightly better:

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Paul, do you understand what presentism is? For those who don’t, it’s the historian’s sin of judging persons, events, and broad patterns and themes of history by our society’s current sensibilities, rather in the context of the times. Bashing a car for its deficiencies compared to modern cars–not to mention dissimilar contemporary cars–doesn’t really do a lot to help understand why the Mustang II turned out the way it did, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you do this.

    In twenty years, I’m quite certain that we’ll look at the past fifteen years of SUV-mad American consumerism in a very malaisey light. Sometimes I think that most enthusiasts look at the malaise era as some sort of aberration, or even mass psychosis, in evolution of the American auto industry. That’s enthusiast presentism; nothing could be farther from the truth. There were good reasons for the malaise era, a time in which nearly every currently-mid-five-figure muscle car could be had for a grand or two at most, and the six- and seven-figure ones for maybe five or six. Practically no one valued these cars then. Care to offer some perspective on that? Context is crucial.

    But that’s beside the point here. In the context of the times, the Mustang II was a winner. It was THE first successfully downsized American car model, anticipating both the fuel crisis of 1973 and the virtually complete downsizing of the entire American car fleet, a trend that lasted into the early 1990s.

    The Mustang II sold VERY well. Better than any Mustang other than the first one, and better than any since. The diverse demographics must have been a marketer’s dream, ones that any car company would kill for today. I’d like to see a breakdown of sales of the four vs. the six vs. the V8. At any rate, few V8s were sold in comparison to the fours, because fuel economy was extremely important to consumers who had just seen gasoline prices jump for the first time and continue to rise. It was clear that high fuel prices were here to stay, and for the first time the federal government had gotten seriously involved in specifying what a car was required to be. Within the span of just a couple of years, restrictive emission controls, safety (seat belt interlocks), low-speed crashability (5mph bumpers), and fleet fuel economy mandates appeared. Inflation, skyrocketing materials costs, dropping profits … It was a crappy time to be building cars, much less driving them.

    The net effect was that, by the mid-1970s, performance was measured by fuel economy, not horsepower, in cars of this size. Ford even introduced an Mustang II MPG model with the kind of fanfare with which they just introduced the 2011s. The 2.3L 90hp 2700-lb car was rated at 34mpg highway, 26 city. Those are still decent numbers (though in reality you’d get no more than 29-30), good as nearly anything at the time.

    The Mustang II also handled better than nearly anything else American on the road at the time. The rack and pinion steering made up in precision and feel what was not available in grip. Handling was a revelation to anyone coming out of an American car and was significantly better than any previous Mustang. Mustang IIs will live nearly forever in the suspensions of thousands of hot rods–you can even buy a complete, brand new aftermarket Mustang II front end today.

    And they were priced extremely competitively. Without a lot of options, you could get one for the very low $3,000s. You’d have to try hard to get one above $5,000. That was just a few hundred dollars more than a Pinto, a very inferior car in both handling and styling and no better in economy. Optioning this car with a V8 gained about 30 horsepower at the cost of really crappy fuel economy and a serious degradation in handling, not a great tradeoff then or now. I’ve never driven the Mustang II with the Cologne six, but I have driven both the 2.3L manual and the V8 automatic. There is essentially no similarity. The four is the much better car.

    Build quality is another story. There’s your sin, though it’s one hardly unique to this model or manufacturer during this era. That, and the Mustang Faithful’s contempt for any ‘stang that didn’t improve on the older cars solely in terms of drag strip performance, doomed this car to be the rarest of all Mustangs. That’s kind of too bad, because when not bedecked by silly graphics, scoops, chin spoilers and louvers, it was not a bad looking car. The practical, understated ones, unfortunately, are not the ones that have survived. They got used up.

    By the early to mid-1980s, when the Mustang II fleet began to retire, Japanese and German sporty compacts and subcompacts weren’t the rusty, sluggish deathtraps that their 1970s predecessors had been, and they really looked a whole lot better to lots of folks than the Fox bodies did, in any number of really obvious ways. From that point, the Mustang was simply a niche car. There hasn’t been a mass-market Mustang since.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Dead on and equal to the very best of TTAC. Put this guy on your staff.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with all but price. The ’75 coupe with a 4-cylinder started at $3,529. Step up to the six, you were at $4,000. Air conditioning was around $600…there’s $4600…other assorteds….

      Sticker on my ’75 Coupe with a V6 and a four-speed, air, vinyl roof and AM radio, with delivery charges was just a touch over $5,000. That’s just four options (if you’re counting the engine). An automatic would have been more expensive.

      I remember seeing loaded Ghias for about $5500. Silly money.

      But…if you weren’t yet a a convert to imports, there weren’t a lot of options. You’d pay the same for a Camaro in ’75 and either get about the same horsepower from a 6 in a heavier car or pick up some horses with the V8 and pay for it in lost gas mileage.

      And the direct competition from GM? The Chevy Monza? Well, that’s another deadly sin…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      rocketrodeo, I always appreciate your comments, but I have to disagree here. First, it’s impossible to deny the effect of history, but since I’m old enough to have lived through the times when cars like this were new, I do rely heavily on my feelings and judgments I had for them at the time.  I sincerely did not like the Mustang II when it came out. I saw it for exactly what it was: a flashy Mustang body grafted onto a crappy Pinto chassis.
      And I definitely didn’t compare it to the cars of today; that would be ridiculous. I made a point to compare it to the much superior Capri.
      Third; this article is primarily about the sporty iterations of the Mustang II; the Mach i and Cobra II. And Ford was clearly trying to reach out to enthusiasts in addition to those looking for a quiet freeway coupe. I have a coupe version shot, and will do another CC someday focusing on the Mustang II in that role.
      And did you miss my comparison in the comments about pricing? A four cylinder base Mustang II in 1975 cost $3818, several hundred more than a ’75 V8 Camaro.
      You can say that “the Mustang II handled better than nearly anything on the road then”; but that doesn’t make it true, especially in comparison to its competition. Five year old LTDs don’t count, you know.
      One thing is totally clear to me, and I figured this out in my youth, is this: how well a car sells, especially in America, has little or no relationship to how good a car it actually is/was, especially back in the day. Thanks to CR and a better informed public, that’s not the case so much today.
      One more thing: I thought the whole SUV/truck mania was insane from the get go. It won’t take me twenty years to get there. And I saw most of the crap in the seventies for what it was at the time. Please note I never bought any of it either, back then, so I don’t have misty memories clouding my impressions. I think that makes me more suitable than average for CC. If you want fanboy retro raves about cars like the Mustang II, there are plenty of other sites for that.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      @rocketrodeo,

      I wholeheartedly agree that it is not fair to judge cars by current standards. I, like Paul, am old enough to remember these cars new. I could have had an Opel Manta Rallye, Capri II, or Mustang II.

      In that context, the group I ran with couldn’t understand anyone would drive a Mustang II, let alone buy one. I understand your point, the Mustang II may have sold well, but even in it’s time and place, it really wasn’t very good.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      Paul, I suppose I hid my biases a little bit here, and for that I apologize. When I was 13, I got to pick the colors and options on my dad’s new Mustang II when he ordered it from Bob Keim Ford in Worthington, Ohio. Four cylinder, four speed manual, with top-level Ghia trim. No moonroof, no air conditioning, no power steering. He paid $3,450 for it, plus tax; I had the paperwork at one point. My guess is that a true stripper would have gone for pretty close to $3K. List price is one thing, but obviously good deals could be had on these, and not just on inventory.

      When it arrived, it apparently had met the specs for the MPG model, as it had the little decal affixed under the front fender badge. Dad had a 34-mile commute, which was eating him alive in either the 1967 383 Polara or the 1969 F100. A year later, we toured the Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn and got to watch Mustang IIs being built. It was a far cry from the sterile factory tour today, where you watch happy people screw together F150s in air conditioned comfort; then, you got to watch Mustang IIs start as red-hot strip.

      What our Mustang II turned out to be was essentially a little Thunderbird. It was by no means a sports car or even a sporty car; it was a pint-size personal luxury car. A scientist, Dad was pretty methodical and kept meticulous records. He averaged 28 mpg with it the entire time he had it. He maintained the car well, a habit that I continued when I took it to college with me. Maybe I got lucky, because it was pretty good to me, though the average fuel economy dropped quite a bit. I had to have the shift forks rebuilt in the transmission, but that and a $244 brake job was the sum of its mechanical issues. i replaced the shocks myself, for maybe $50. Three sets of tires, all Goodyears: one set of OEM Polyglas, one set of Tiempos, one set of Arrivas. All whitewalls. The smog pump crapped out so I just unbelted it. Fixed. A little rust in the lower front fenders, fixed with a $10 bondo kit and $3 worth of Duplicolor.

      By the time the car was burning a significant amount of oil (at 115,000 miles, in 1984), I had bought a 100K-mile 1967 Mustang 390 GT fastback for fun and a 90K-mile 1979 Rabbit diesel for a more modern economical car. Far from economical, the Rabbit was a reliability nightmare though it was a kick to drive. After I put more than the purchase price in repairs into it within six months, I went with Hondas and never went back. And quite apart from fun, the 390 GT fastback was positively frightening. Horrible, horrible handling. Brakes were totally inadequate to haul it down from the speeds it was capable of; rattles, squeaks, clunks, grinds … as a driver’s car, it wasn’t half the car that the Mustang II was. But it sure was pretty. I had loved the style of that car since I was a kid, and my puerile taste seems to have been well validated by the collector car market and Eleanor-crazed movie culture. If I had held onto that car, I could have put a kid through college on it.

      I grew up in a pretty conservative part the Midwest. Trust me when I say this, Paul, but big, big chunks of the country just didn’t consider imports until the late 1970s at earliest. It simply never would have occurred to them to cross shop. College professors , free spirits, and other offbeat people would buy them, perhaps, but Japanese cars did not yet have the sterling reputation that they would have a generation later. They looked unsafe and most of them were pretty doggone fugly. The Capri you use as a comparison had skinny blackwall tires and looked extraordinarily cheap inside. I’m guessing that most of the 500,000 people who bought Mustang IIs in 1974 and 1975 had come to them from a larger American car. And for the last half of the 1970s, Mustang IIs were Camry ubiquitous. Accord ubiquitous.

      I did not say the Mustang II handled better than anything on the road; I did say that it handled better than almost anything American at the time. I’ll stand by that. Light weight (when not powered by the V6 or V8), rear wheel drive, rack and pinion steering (manual in my case) provided a totally different feel than my friends’ GMs did–even the Camaro provided comparatively little steering feedback. The Camaro didn’t get rack and pinion until 1982, nor the Corvette until 1983. Was it as good as a 260Z or a Celica? From the hindsight of 35 years, of course not, but I still don’t believe that these cars were cross shopped all that much over much of the country; again, Japanese cars were known more for rust than reliability in the midwest IN THE 1970s. We all know that changed in the 1980s.

      I moved from the flatlands to the Blue Ridge mountains in 1979, which changed my own views on what made a car appealing, and since then I’ve had quite a few enthusiast cars, including a Bugeye Sprite, a BMW 2002tii, and an early Acura Integra I bought new. These have given me a pretty good perspective, I think; perhaps I view the little Mustang II with more nostalgia than I should, but my own experience was that it was a good car for the time.

      The industry as a whole moved ahead pretty rapidly from the time the car was designed until it was replaced by the Foxbody in 1979, but Ford, for whatever reasons, did not keep up. I think one could make a case for early Foxstangs as being even worse sins, because they were 70s throwbacks with bland styling and weird ergos–definitely no better than the Mustang II for the first several years–and the buying public at large WAS cross-shopping everything at that point. It went from mass-market to niche in one generation. Or sins like the Fairmont, or the Tempo. I won’t even start there.

      As far as the presentism goes–Paul, you’re an enthusiast. (I count myself as an enthusiast too, though I’ve migrated my enthusiasm to motorcycles for the most part.) It colors your view. The attributes you value in a car might be completely lost on 90 percent of the new car market, though that was probably more true 35 years ago than today. Enthusiasts will go out of their way to seek out the best of what’s available, like I did with my first-gen Integra, but we’ve seen time and again that cars built for enthusiasts are rarely best-sellers. Blockbusters are cars that appeal to the most diverse demographics possible. Here’s a car that, at least in the showroom, had the economy of a Pinto, the luxury of a Thunderbird, and the sportiness of the Mustangs of yore, depending on how you checked the option boxes.

      Objectively there’s no doubt that nearly ALL American cars were overflowing with crapitude during this era, given what came both before and later, and what we now expect from even the humblest of cars. But I think we can agree that there were larger societal issues that affected the quality and focus of these cars, and I’m certainly willing to entertain hubris and arrogance as well. I wonder how much of the stasis at Ford had to do with the winding down of the Henry Ford II era and the shuffling of leadership. The tragedy is that these were a pretty good start towards what could have evolved into much better cars–but it’s hard to disagree with sales as being the single best indicator of how the Mustang II met the desires and expectations at the time. That they did not make good used cars for lots of people is a different story.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      +1 Dweezil

      I too would enjoy more from Rocketrodeo.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      The 1982 Camaro/Firebird had recirculating ball steering. I had one, new, and had to have the idler arm replaced at relatively low mileage because of a badly balanced tire (from the factory). Rack and pinion doesn’t have an idler arm or a drag link.

      And you all can say what you want about the Mustang II being the Worst. Car. Ever., but I can tell you from experience that the 1982 Camaro/Firebird (Trans Am, in my case; 305 with 145 hp) IS the WORST. CAR. EVER., and is the reason I have been driving Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas ever since.

      When I finally got pissed off enough at it I traded it in and leased a new 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S Twin-Cam 16. Absolutely the BEST. CAR. EVER. And it was my first Rack-and Pinion steering car, and it was AMAZING. Also the first mainstream Twin-cam engine on these shores, if I’m not mistaken. Remember, I said mainstream.

      The Nissan Sentra SE-R can be the SECOND. BEST. CAR. EVER. Had one of those, too. W-O-W. Drove the piss out of it for 4 years and 83000 trouble-free miles, as I did the Corolla.

      Thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      Bravo, rocketrodeo.

      Thanks for giving a name to this practice of ripping the crap out of 35 year old technology.

      What’s next? Are we going to see how much Atari systems and cassette players suck by today’s standards?

  • avatar
    nrd515

    A friend of mine, Terry, a real Ford fanboi, had one of these things, a Cobra II that had been worked on a little, it sounded pretty mean, and it could smoke the tires very well. Another friend had a 71 Camaro with a 2 barreled 307 with dual exhaust and a rejetted carb, and I had my first car a 74 360 Roadrunner that had only had the vaccuum advance reworked so it ran correctly at light throttle and power timed. We all went out to the local drag strip and they had a “run all you want for $5″, I think it was. Terry, who was the Cobra owner, was stunned when Tim’s Camaro destroyed him with ease, pulling away from him as soon as they left the line. I wasn’t happy myself, as Tim’s Camaro beat my car too. Something was set wrong on the carb, it started popping pretty badly at about the time the back barrels of the carb came open all the way. I had no idea what was wrong, but one of the local Mopar wizzes came over and figured out the floats were set wrong, and on the next pass, I pulled away from Tim like he did with Terry, running a 14.92 vs. his 15.40 something. With more fuel, I cranked a couple more degrees of advance in, and I ran a best of 14.7 and I was very happy.

    Terry decided to get even and built the 302 into a pretty decent motor, and the Cobra was able to beat me badly. Soon after he got it into the mid 13’s, he was driving it to work one morning, and spun it out in the rain, and it was totalled, and he got banged up pretty good in the process. While he was healing up, he started looking for another car, and in the classified ads, there it was, a near completed 351 (It was driveable, but had no real interior) PINTO. The motor was a serious one, and the car had a really well done blood red with white stripes paint job. Over the next year, he got the interior completed and had the best sounding car stereo I had heard at that point. It had a 9″ posi rear end with 4.11 gears, a built up automatic that shifted very hard, and was downright scary to drive. It “handled” even worse than the Cobra II did! His brother wrecked his 460 71 “real” Mustang about 1979 or so, and I don’t know how he did it, but he jammed the 460 into the Pinto, and at first, it was much slower than the 351 was, but the usual hop ups got it into the 12’s on street tires. It was downright evil, handling wise, and the brakes were a joke, but on the strip, it was fun. He never put slicks on it, but I bet it would have run into the 11’s if he had. He had the car until 1995, when his daughter took it to the store one night and the brakes failed, and she put it into a pole. That big 460 took the hit and the block was cracked, so the whole thing went to the junkyard. He just recently bought one a new Shelby. What a difference 33 years makes! It’s the first Ford I would really like to have.

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    +10 for that Icarus metaphor!

    Yeah I liked that one too!
    It’s hard to imagine a 302 cu. in. V8 only putting out 122 HP. What a waste of metal! And as for insurance companies charging more for the GT name, well they’ve gotten away with that kind of extortion for years now haven’t they? Still do………

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    If I remember correctly, ford advertising emphasized these cars as luxurious in a smaller package with a sporty flair. They did not make them out to be outright canyon carvers or quarter mile kings.
    So in that respect the cars really were what they were advertised to be, because when optioned fairly well they were quite luxurious and had a very quiet ride for being a small car.
    I believe they were considered a competitor for the chevy monza and it’s GM siblings, and compared to those cars these were much nicer.
    Although the little 302 in smog form only put out 122 HP anyone that could turn a wrench could easily get more power from it, which some people did.
    Common mods to this car were a dual plane intake with a 600 carb, open element air cleaner and headers with dual exhausts, which would really wake the little motor up. You got decent power and could knock out 20 mpg on the highway.
    And like a couple of other posters pointed out, the front suspensions from these cars have been very popular swaps from day one.
    Space utilization in these cars was not as bad as some other small cars of the era. I remember one small import, I think it was a datsun, that the roof sloped so so steeply at the back that anyone over 4’5 could not sit upright in the back seat.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    My college roomate had one of these cars, not the Cobra II version, but a V6 Mach I with 4 speed. In the context of the late 70’s early 80’s, the car really wasn’t bad to drive considering the mastodon like characteristics of the musclecars I owned then. And, he had gotten a new intake that would accommodate a four barrel carb, some headers and a real dual exhaust system, which really woke up the old Cologne V6. But the downside was, the car was five or six years old at the time and completely falling apart. Reading other posters recollections about failing speedo cables, broken window cranks, transmissions that popped out of gear, reminded me of the times we took his car anywhere. It seemed that something was always falling down or off of that car. The funny thing is, I have a 15-year old Pontiac Sunfire GT project car, and it has far fewer issues (as a mostly daily driven car for 15 years), than my old roommate’s five year old Mustang II did.

    A couple of years ago, a buddy found a nearly perfect copy of one of these cars back home in Ohio. On a trip home, I stopped by to look at it. It was neat to see, with the stripes and all, but then I really considered how far we had come since 1977 and thought it would make a nice museum piece somewhere.

  • avatar

    Here’s the deal. In hindsight, I wish I’d hung in there and gotten the glitches in the Capri sorted out. It was a better car. Now with perspective and resources, I’d gladly have it back and do what needed to be done to make it as reliable as it could be.

    I can’t imagine trying to live with the Mustang II again.

    And yes, it was a hit from a sales standpoint…but that actually came back to bite Ford…because millions of people were exposed to them as they underperformed and fell apart way too soon.

    If it had been a flop, fewer people would have had the hands-on experience of a bad car.

    I wonder how many Mustang II owners, like me, went Japanese for their next car.

  • avatar

    And all this got me Googling…check out the weight differences of the 1975 Mustang II models:

    Weight:
    Coupe: 2,620 lbs.
    Fastback: 2,699 lbs.
    Mach 1: 2,778 lbs.
    Ghia: 2,866 lbs.

    The Ghia packed an extra 246 pounds over the standard coupe!

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    If I recall Ford lore correctly, Lee Iacocca intended for the Mustang II to be small jewel-like cars that owners would spend extra money on for dealer options and in the aftermarket bringing positive cult-like attraction to the line. Later on in time, the Honda Civic achieved that organically and Scion sought to instill that from the outset.

    • 0 avatar

      You recall correctly. Lido just didn’t realize that people who’ve just blown $5K on a Pinto pimpmobile in a recession (there was one back then, too) aren’t going to line up to spend more. And by the time the economy got better, these things were seen for the poorly-constructed junk they were.

      But then, this isn’t a surprise coming from Iacocca…who admitted in his 80s biography that the ’57 Ford sedan’s rear doors would fly open if you hit a bump (like a railroad crossing) at surface street speeds….so dealers arranged test drives at night “Stop by on your way home from work, Mr. Smith”…and bungee-corded the rear doors closed from the inside.

      Lee wrote this as though he thought it was cute.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Iacocca wrote about the quality glitches with the 1957 Ford to show the ups and downs that Ford had experienced with quality control through the years. He wasn’t defending the company. And I’m sure that other companies have similarly checkered histories when it comes to quality control and reliability.

      He had nothing to do with the design and engineering of the 1957 Ford. He was still a sales associate in the Philadelphia region when it was being designed and engineered. It was his extremely successful “56 for a ’56” promotion on the 1956 Ford that first got him noticed by Robert McNamara, and a one-way ticket to Dearborn.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I doubt that the car drove away many ford buyers, judjing by the sales performance of the fox body mustang that replaced it.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    oops, my bad. It should be “judging.”

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It seems like every domestic car featured on this site drove people into camrys and accords. model T’s, edsels, studebakers, desotos……

  • avatar
    Monty

    Taken from a 2010 perspective the Mustang II was an abysmal little car; looking at it in context it was definitely one of the better domestic cars, when new, anyway. A friend and co-worker of mine bought a brand new 1975 coupe with the 4 pot and 4 speed combo, and it was miles better than the Monza, Chevrolet’s version of a small pony car. Chrysler had nothing with which to compete and the only other competition were cars like the Gremlin and two-seaters like the Opel GT and Datsun 240Z/260Z. It’s very doubtful, though, that people who bought Opel GT’s seriously considered cross-shopping the Mustang II.

    The pony-car period was in full retreat; the 70’s would best be described as the “personal luxury car” period, best exemplified by the Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford Elite, Chrysler Cordoba etcetera, and the Mustang II when seen as a small personal luxury car (while still managing to remain a “secretaries” car!) fulfilled it’s mandate very well. In fact, it fulfilled that mandate so well that of the five years of the model cycle, four of those years rank as the biggest sales totals for the Mustang in it’s almost 46 year history.

    Thirty-five years later we can dismiss this car as dreck, but the truth is at the time it was one of the better cars to come from Detroit. And honestly, having owned some contemporary Japanese cars, the Mustang II competed well with the foreign competition. I had a Toyota Corona, a Datsun B210 hatchback and a Mazda RX3. They all compared poorly to the Mustang, frankly, and other than the Corona they were miserably unreliable. I wished I had bought a Mustang II after a few Japanese cars.

    Shocking revisionist history, I know! Somebody actually stating that Japanese manufacturers weren’t even the equal of the Detroit Three. Honestly though, Japanese cars in the 70’s rusted faster than the domestics, and were even more underpowered than the domestics. If you remember a Datsun 210 with an automatic transmission, you know what I’m talking about.

    Where the Japanese Three excelled was learning from their mistakes and successes, something that hubris prevented from happening in Detroit. Gradually, the Japanese car makers improved and updated their cars, eventually earning our trust. But for somebody to claim that only Detroit has made crap either is ignoring history, or is wearing really dark rose-coloured glasses.

    Edited to add: And the base model in coupe or fastback form was a very handsome homage to the original 64 1/2 model, and 35 years later still looks good.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      If Ford wanted to make a small personal luxury car then they shouldn’t have used the Mustang moniker.

      Despite Iacocca’s original intent for the Mustang in ’64, it gained its following as a muscle/pony/performance car. The Mustang II basically took all that away. It’s the same thing Chrysler did to the Charger in ’75.

      Also, if Ford wanted to take the Mustang in a different direction, away from the muscle/pony car demographic, why offer packages like “Mach 1″, “Cobra II”, and the Trans Am-ish looking “King Cobra”?

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      “If Ford wanted to make a small personal luxury car then they shouldn’t have used the Mustang moniker. ”

      Why is that? Mustangs were at least as much about style as they were about performance, from the very beginning. Ford started making personal luxury Mustangs only five model years in, with the Grande package.

      Two points:

      From a vantage point of 45+ years later–especially given the niche the Mustang now occupies–I can see how folks might think that Mustangs were supposed to be all about performance. It’s just not the case. Ford supplied a blank Mustang canvas and an amazing array of options. The idea was to build your idea of a perfect car.

      If you were around in the mid-70s, ajla, it was pretty obvious to everyone that for the time being, performance was DEAD. Insurance companies had caught on to muscle cars, CAFE was here to stay, and no one other than Honda had figured out how to comply with the draconian federal emissions standards without choking the heck out of their engines. Between EPA and CAFE, that was it. Besides that, we had just gotten schooled in insurgent warfare in Vietnam, and our president had been proven to be a crook. Google “stagflation” for a hint on how our economy was doing. We were just about all out of the kind of national exuberance that muscle cars exemplified.

      At least the rock ‘n’ roll was still pretty good, for a few more years, anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      But here’s the thing. The Mustang has, since it’s inception, been one of the very rare cars that span several demographics. While a pony car, it also appealed to secretaries, and as well as families, even as a second car. It came as a two-door strippo coupe, all the way up to the Cobra variant, and was popular with the kids as a performance car, and yet was desired by single young women as a cute mode of transportation, and at the same time was even selling to old folks. Not too many vehicles have managed to be so many different things to so many different groups.

      That’s the real strength of the ‘Stang, and why it continues to sell today. Look how it’s marketed; to single women, to middle-age crisis men, to gearheads, to retro fans, and they all buy it. And they bought the for the very same reasons in the 70’s. In fact it was so successful in the Mustang II version that Ford has never equaled the sales success to this day.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      @Rocket Rodeo +1. And the outgoing V6 Mustang model is a convincing luxury coupe in my eyes. Option it with leather, automatic trans, and the most expensive stereo, I’d argue it’s a more convincing luxury coupe than the (may she rest in peace) dead FWD Monte Carlo.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      The Mustang II can be laid at the feet of none other than Henry Ford II’s constant meddling with the car. The original idea was for a 2-seat sports car but ever since the success of the 1958 ‘Square Bird’, Hank the Deuce always wanted a small Thunderbird. Iacocca somehow managed to get just the right compromise through and HFII’s small Thunderbird would not arrive until the 1967 Mercury Cougar.

      Semon ‘Bunkie’ Knudson entered the picture and the ’71-73 Mustang became a tank large enough to easily take a big-block engine. Knudson was unceremoneously dumped after 19 months and Iacocca was back calling the shots on the Mustang but, by then, the Cougar was no longer a small T-Bird – it was the same size.

      So, in 1974, HFII finally got his small Thunderbird in the Mustang II Ghia. To Ford’s credit, for the time, the Mustang II sold extremely well, so it can hardly be judged a failure (at least by sales’ figures).

      But it’s telling that it wasn’t until HFII finally left the company and the Fox-chassis cars arrived (and stayed around for a long time) that the Mustang’s market strategy became a lot more focused and defined. Well, except for the brief period in the late eighties when the Mustang almost got front wheel drive in what would instead become the Probe.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The Mustang II may have been okay as a personal luxury car, it may have had some style for the times, and it might even have been reliable.

      Base 4-cylinder coupe, maybe not as bad as people like to say. It worked fine for the people that bought up low-powered Mustangs in droves during the 60’s.
      _____
      However, the performance part of the equation (which had always been at least part of the Mustang formula) wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Performance may have been dead in the 70’s, but the Mustang II was deader than most.

      This Cobra II was a very expensive, slow, nose-heavy, compact coupe with a name and color scheme made to evoke thoughts of Shelby cars. It was not a good car.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      Consider the possibility, Ajla, that performance was suddenly being defined much differently in 1975 than it was just a few years before. I remember this era well, and it was a sudden, wrenching shift. If you had a crystal ball then, you could have invested $10k in a half dozen now-red-hot muscle cars that nobody wanted and retired rich by now.

      Imagine what we’d be thinking about performance cars today if oil had continued to rise past $145 a barrel as it did in 200 — to, say, $250, and had stayed there. From this perspective, the Prius is an ultimate sort of performance car. Really, it’s the same thing.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’d counter that by saying Toyota never made a Prius “Supra” with a 220hp version of their 4.6L V8 painted to look like the 1999 GT-ONE LeMans racer.

      My main argument is that the basic Mustang II was an okay car for the era, but the V8 versions ,especially the highly visual Cobra II and King Cobra, were not good vehicles- even when being compared with the other choked performance cars of the decade.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      I’m not defending the Cobra or any other performance versions of the Mustang, only the basic package itself. The “performance” versions were terrible products, no doubt, but the Mustang II, taken in an overall picture, by itself and stacked against the domestic competition, was one of Ford’s best vehicles of the 70’s. The sales totals speak for themselves.

      When looking back to the 60’s through to the 80’s, one must look in context. Yes, Detroit built mostly crap, and yes, Detroit was already beset by malaise and hubris, but the biggest selling import was the VW Beetle. There wasn’t a lot of choice at the time. If you had money, well you could buy a Benz or a Volvo. The choices for those on a budget were British, Italian or French vehicles, none of which were paragons of reliability, or you could buy quirky little cars like a SAAB or BMW, or you could gamble on almost complete unknown cars from the Japanese. Only auto enthusiasts could identify a 2002 or a Kadette; to the general car buying public the Big Three was the only choice they were going to make.

      And it wasn’t as if gearheads were any better; most of my friends at the time argued the relative merits of the ‘Cuda versus the Camaro. Like the majority, most gearheads worked at improving the straight-line performance of their cars, not the handling characteristics. If you could coax a sub eight second 0-60 out of your car, who cared if it under-steered? My wake-up call was in a Austin-Healey Sprite, and despite the electrical malfunctions, and the less than stellar braking system, it was a dream to drive fast compared to my previous cars. I realized just how bad domestic cars were when I was able to pass a car on the inside at almost 60 MPH going up a freeway on-ramp.

      Only auto-enthusiasts were cogniscent of what was possible; the general public, for most of the 70’s and 80’s, were only vaguely aware that there were alternatives. I think my father best represents the car-buying public at the time; he was a middle-class white male, held a valid mechanics license, and sold air and hydraulic tools to the automotive industry. Our family defined the WASPish middle-class of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. My father was a Mopar man and for him, the only competition to his beloved Plymouth was Ford, Chevrolet and Pontiac. He heard, from a friend, of somebody owning an import, and it was nothing but trouble. For my father, that then painted all imports, save British cars, with the same brush. My father thought a “sporty” car was best represented by my mother’s 1970 Maverick. When the Maverick rusted out in a short 5 years, a Pacer, a Malibu Classic Brougham, a Chevrolet Impala all disappointed him, and when my mother insisted on a new Fiat 128 Spider convertible, he finally agreed to something sporty. Then, as company cars, he was stuck with a Ford Fairmont, a Chevy Citation and a Plymouth Reliant. Then my mother bought a Mazda GLC, and between that and the Toyota Corona that I had, we became an import family. It wasn’t until the advent of the 80’s that the Japanese started making inroads, typified by my parents.

      In 1973, the Mustang II had little competition from imports, european or asian; it’s competition for the most part came from Detroit, in the form of the Valiant/Dart twins, the Vega, the Nova and the Camaro. In retrospect the Mustang II stacks up very well against it’s competition.

      I’m not arguing that Detroit was building great cars; most of what came out of Detroit was already complete crap; my point is that there wasn’t really any alternatives for the vast majority of the car buying public, so to compare what came from the Japanese companies a decade later to what was coming from Detroit in the early 70’s isn’t a fair or valid comparison. In that context, the basic package of the Mustang II was one of the better cars issued by Ford in the 70’s, and the sales totals support my argument.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Monty, I agree with pretty much everything you said. A high school buddy of mine bought a used ghia 4 cylinder 4 speed model. He got excellent service out of it.
    I drove this car and a buddy’s monza, and the mustang was a better car in just about every way. And the bodies were pretty well built, especially compared to some other ford products of the era, and much better built than the jap crap that was around at the time.
    The 302 was one of ford’s longest lived engines, and has been used over the years in everything from station wagons, trucks, vans, race cars, boats, you name it.
    And the pinto 4 cylinder was a very durable engine, and made at least through the 90’s for industrial use. There are a few large businesses that I know of that have them as backup generators.
    Almost any time an american car is featured on this site the plastic feelers make it out to be a piece of junk that was ready for the junkyard within a year.
    Sure, they put out some junk back then, but they also had good designs. People that knew about cars knew which ones to pick, and knew how to properly operate them and maintain them and got good service out of them.
    And just about any jap car that is featured is made out to be the best thing since sliced bread. They were cheaply made little tin boxes back then that started rusting the first time the roads were salted. They were noisy, uncomfortable, tinny and crude.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      I’ve seen chinese cars here. And I’m going to add to your post this: Japanese cars at that time must have been the equivalent of the current chinese cars or 80’s Korean cars. Who remembers the 1st gen Hyundai Excel?

  • avatar
    KeithBates

    Monty, look at what was coming out of Europe in that time frame. VW had the Rabbit/Scirocco, Opel had the 1900/Manta, Ford had the Capri/Cortina, They all were far better than what the US was producing…

    So why couldn’t the domestic manufacturers get with the program? In my opinion, they didn’t want to. There is no profit in small cars, even sporty small cars…

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      I think the best explanation, Keith, is that for the most part car buyers remained loyal to the Big Three, right up until the Malaise Fleet began to rot. That’s when the imports began making their major inroads. Until then, it had been pretty much a leap of faith buying an import. Many had a pretty dismal record of reliability; parts and service could be expensive at best and impossible to find at worst. My first import was a Rabbit diesel, and it was a colossal mistake. My second was a Civic S. Much better.

      By the early to mid-80s, we were awash in great small-car choices. It’s just that very few of them were domestics. My Mustang II was my last non-collector domestic until I bought a Ford truck just a few years ago. Right before I got my ’87 Integra, I looked at a Ford Escort GT. Strangely, it reminded me of the Mustang II’s driving experience, just sort of a heaviness and sluggishness of response, and clumsy controls. Ten years of rapid progress with the competition and yet no small-car improvement from Ford? After the Civic S, I was looking for something more.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      rocketrodeo,

      You do wax eloquently about what some part of America *may* have thought. They were, however, most definately NOT car people.

      By the mid-70s even the reluctant had swapped out of the Big3 in favor of Toyotas, Hondas, and Opels, and Capri IIs, and Fiestas, and Benzes, and…

      Yes, I lived in the Midworst at that time. Yes, we lived among white-collar professionals.

      I’m sorry that it took you till the Civic S (great car, my parents had 6 over the run) to catch up to the cognoscenti.

      The Mustang Cobra II was a POS in context. It was nothing but a typical (in context) DET tape and stripe job. Any kid in a Capri II, or Opel Manta Rallye, or 240Z, or 914, or… would eat their lunch like the poseurs that they were. they ciouldn’t get out of their own way, but don’t worry, they had crap brakes and went around corners on their doorhandles. Unlike their competition.

      You wish to make excuses for what was crap when brand spankin’, please be prepared. I was there and don’t much dig revisionist history.

      Selling the fantasy that it ‘wasn’t so bad in context’ only works when you sell it to those who weren’t there.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      Porschespeed, you can’t sell half a million cars in two years to car people. There just aren’t that many. Unfortunately, enthusiasts are not a large, important, or terribly profitable segment of the driving public, as far as most manufacturers are concerned, and there were even fewer of them in 1975. And most drivers over the age of 17 never did give a crap if the kid in the Capri II could beat his car.

      And with a more careful reading you may notice I’m not defending the Cobra II. I have noted, several times, that the Mustang II should not be tarred with the same brush. Weird times, no doubt, when the image of performance stood in for actual performance. It certainly had the insurance companies fooled, if not all the enthusiasts.

      It’s a wonder the Detroit 3 survived the 70s, much less to today, when everyone (including the reluctant) had traded in for superior imported machinery. To what do you attribute their survival? Or are you speaking only for enthusiasts?

      I do understand a narrow point of view, though. The crowd I hung with was much more into two-wheeled performance than four. To us, ALL cars were slow, and trying to go fast in a car seemed kind of pointless. And we couldn’t understand why any self respecting motorcyclist would want a Harley-Davidson.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Fair enough, and I agree with you that the middle to left of the bell curve is not going to focus on what (apparently) you and I do.

      As far as drivers over the age of 17 are concerned, when the testosterone moves to the asphalt, all that matters is that a 4-pot Manta mit 80s homebrew turbo just ran away from your pathetic new C4 ‘Vette’s 350 Chevy. Guess who got the ‘tang on Main St. that night?

      If we are going to concern ourselves with what those who don’t have a clue think, well, we are all certainly doomed. At least to mediocrity.

      As far as the survival of the DET 3, save for Ford, their survival (at this moment) is simply due to government largesse. Though markets may move slowly, the decline of the D3 was set in stone on the 70s. It was inevitable they would fail. (FWIW, if you know the financials, Ford ain’t all that and a bag of chips, but that’s for another day…)

      As for H-D, even Sonny Barger has said that if he’d had his head out of his ass, Hell’s Angels would have been on Hondas…

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      porschespeed: You wish to make excuses for what was crap when brand spankin’, please be prepared. I was there and don’t much dig revisionist history.

      I was there, too, and I don’t “dig” revisionist history, either.

      The simple fact is that most imports had their own, serious reliabilty problems, and were NOT perfect by any means.

      There is a reason that the Opels are no longer sold here; that the Datsun/Nissan Z-cars were once discontinued because of a lack of buyer interest; that VW was in serious trouble in the U.S. by the mid-1980s; and that Austin, Fiat and Renault were all gone by 1987 – and it isn’t because Americans were too stupid to buy them.

      Toyota and Honda succeeded by initially offering products with some of the attributes favored by Americans, and they were smart enough to continuously improve the weak points.

      I had a 1977 Honda Civic CVCC, and it was a great car in many ways, but it had its share of flaws, too. The main consolation was that most European competitors were even worse.

      It’s interesting that Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus, two most successful foreign nameplates in this country, have assiduously developed the same attributes – reliability, a reasonably quiet ride, increased interior room, power assists, effective air conditioning and stereos – that have been demanded by those “uninformed” customers who constitute the bulk of middle America.

      The more things change…

      porschespeed: As far as drivers over the age of 17 are concerned, when the testosterone moves to the asphalt, all that matters is that a 4-pot Manta mit 80s homebrew turbo just ran away from your pathetic new C4 ‘Vette’s 350 Chevy. Guess who got the ‘tang on Main St. that night?

      You’re comparing apples to oranges. The Corvette can be modified, too, as that Manta obviously was (the Manta was never offered with a turbo in this country, so it must have been a modified car).

      Plus, in the 1980s, hotties weren’t dumping guys with Vettes for guys with Mantas. Trust me on that one.

      porschespeed: If we are going to concern ourselves with what those who don’t have a clue think, well, we are all certainly doomed. At least to mediocrity.

      Just because people have different priorities when looking for a car doesn’t mean that they don’t have “a clue.” Some people prefer a quiet ride, reliability and creature comforts to canyon-carving abilities. Neither side is more “correct” than the other. That is why we have a variety of choices for a variety of drivers and their wants and needs.

      porschespeed: As far as the survival of the DET 3, save for Ford, their survival (at this moment) is simply due to government largesse. Though markets may move slowly, the decline of the D3 was set in stone on the 70s. It was inevitable they would fail.

      Nissan was effectively bankrupt by American accounting standards, and saved by Renault.

      Renault itself was losing billions in the early 1980s, and had badly botched its attempt to invade the American market through its control of American Motors. Only ownership of the French government and a heavily protected home market kept it viable.

      Ditto for Fiat (just substitute “Italian government” for “French government”).

      Daimler-Benz survived by looting Chrysler and then selling off the shell after a decade of mismanagement. I hope that no one is going to sing the praises of Mercedes quality from about 1995 onward.

      VW has had almost as many ups and downs in this market as Ford. We just don’t notice because not many people buy VWs, so most people really don’t care.

      Mazda only survives because of a rescue by Ford in the early 1990s.

      The foreigners aren’t always that smart, either.

      As for the benighted Mustang II? Yes, the Cobra and Mach I versions were silly. The Firebird Trans Am and reborn Camaro Z-28 were much better bets for those seeking “old school” muscle, while the imports offered better handling for those seeking a closer communion with the asphalt.

      But the Ghia versions and regular coupes were not bad cars. Not great ones, but not bad ones, either, taken in the context of their time. (And I don’t recall the Manta and the Capri as being more reliable than the Mustang II. The Celica, yes, but it was also a rust bucket.) People forget that the majority of 1965-66 Mustangs were sold with either the straight six or base-level V-8. The GT versions were rare birds even then.

      The Ghia coupes were actually quite plush for that time, and that is what a lot of people wanted. I seem to recall another curbside classic that surprised buyers by offering unexpected plushness in a small packaged. Does the 1976 Honda Accord ring a bell…?

  • avatar
    Hoser

    “But Powered By Ford was stamped or glued to the new 2.3 liter OHC four, a noisy and thrashy lump that soldiered on for decades.”

    Soldiered on because you can’t kill them. No Lima 2.3 was eligible for cash-for-clunkers because the liquid glass treatment just made them stronger.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    As this discussion has evolved it seems clear that, objectively, some versions of the Mustang II were far better than others. Logically, it’s difficult to not agree with Paul that a tape-striped 120hp Shelby pretender is pretty silly, especially when the insurance companies would still penalize you as if it were a real performance car. However, that doesn’t necessarily impugn the entire Mustang II line, because the model was just so diverse. Some folks had horrid experiences with quality and reliability. Obviously other folks, like myself, either got lucky with reliability or had just selected the reliable combination of options. Satisfaction seems much more likely if one had modest expectations. For some folks, a fancy Pinto was just what they were looking for, and if they got the then-requisite seven years out of it, I doubt they were disappointed.

  • avatar
    red60r

    One more story about the manufacturing philosophy embodied in the Mustang II: I carpooled for a while from Southfield to Ann Arbor with a friend in his 1974 M-II 4-cylinder/auto coupe, which he had gotten through Ford’s EPP as a loyal employee in one of their technical departments. On one trip home, the car suddenly ceased to produce even its usual pathetic flow of motive power — at 60 mph. I noticed as we coasted to a stop that the tach had dropped to zero, even when still in gear and moving at highway speed. That indicated some sort of ignition problem, which I was able to fix for the loan of 50 cents. It turned out that the flimsy friction connector that fed electricity to the ignition coil primary had fallen off its post. A quick pinch on the connector between the two borrowed quarter dollars, and we were off again. He had once remarked that if Ford had a choice between two parts for a given application, the cheaper was usually chosen, regardless of relative quality.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Suddenly it’s 1974 Again! Note the title of WSJ’s video review of the 2010 Mustang: http://online.wsj.com/video/news-hub-the-new-mustang-muscle-or-girlie-car/A50D1599-5F04-426E-B957-B96A804C76DA.html

  • avatar
    amca

    I’m looking at the fastback in the pictures, a car I really haven’t scrutinized in years.

    And you know what? It’s much, much prettier than I remembered.

  • avatar
    coatejo

    I owned a 74 Mustang II with a 2.8 V6 and 4 speed. Was it a great car, no. Was it as bad as Paul describes it, absolutely not. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Paul’s judgement when it comes to FoMoCo products can not be trusted. The Mustang II was a sales success, so much so that GM needed to counter with the Monza, a truly awful, inferior car.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I think about 99 percent of the people posting on this site are not car people. Wonder how many actually know how to work on a car, how many have been to a dragstrip, how many have rebuilt an engine, etc.
    It’s obvious not very many.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I think it’s about time for me to move on. Spring has finally arrived, and I am going back to work.
    I don’t remember quite how I ran across this site, but I remember thinking it would be cool to look at the old cars featured. But it turns out that the person taking the pics of the cars and writing about them is nothing more than a car guy wannabe, anti american import lover.
    I’m sure that he has not even driven every car that he shows and writes about. I know that he has not driven a gremlin with power steering. Yet he talks like he knows everything about every car he features, and the things said about the american cars are usually not very nice.
    Whenever a japanese or other import car is featured you would think it would go a million miles without the owner having to open the hood. And you get all of these posters, many who I’m sure may not have even seen one of those cars in person get pumped up and write stupid things that don’t even make sense. All of it starts to get old in short order. Another example is an article on the toyota gas pedal issue a couple of weeks back. There was post after post of stories from people on what method they would use to stop their cars if the gas pedal stuck. It’s like none of these people know much else to discuss , like how to or tech articles, so they make a long page of stories on stopping their runaway cars.
    Yet they know all about which cars are pieces of junk and which are great, yada yada.
    To the few cool people on this site, take care and god bless.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    The Mustang II was a true suckfest, but what’s with the continued worship of the Opel Manta? It’s arguable that it was even a step up from the Chevy Vega. The Manta SUCKED.

  • avatar
    EHJ710

    Back in 1976 a co worker crowed he just got a one year old Hertz rental return.

    We went out to look and it was a 1975 Mustang II hatchback.

    I remember being utterly underwhelmed at how he spent his hard earned money.

    The 1967 Cougar I was driving back then, I instinctively knew was a better car than that thing.

    Time proved me right, they are collector cars now and I wish I still had that ’67.

  • avatar
    coatejo

    1968 Cougar XR7 Dan Gurney Special Edition…..yummy, love those early Cougars

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    By the mid-70s even the reluctant had swapped out of the Big3 in favor of Toyotas, Hondas, and Opels, and Capri IIs, and Fiestas, and Benzes, and…

    Having gone to an east coast hippie liberal college in the late 70s, I have to disagree. There were the usual VWs, a few Volvos and Fiats, and the rare BMW, but generally the kids drove domestic, up until Honda started going mainstream sales-wise, 1980 or so.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Yet another victim of the first gas crisis of 1973 and the ever interfering government. It would have been really neat to see how the cars of the 70’s would have fared if it wasn’t for these two evil forces of oppression. I would hazzard a guess that the 70’s cars would have been far better off both perfomance and reliability wise. The Mustang II will always go down in my eyes as the Ford Mistake!

  • avatar
    coatejo

    Not a mistake really. As others have said, The Mustang II was a sales success, and kept the Mustang name alive during the worst of the 70’s gas shortages until the Fox Mustang arrived in 79.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    OK , I’ll grant ‘that it sells’ is a valid point. At the end of the day, what matters to the manufacturer is how the consumer votes with his/her wallet. That is the metric that is looked upon most favorably. Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I’m not implying that the furriners didn’t have issues either – I don’t know a soul not living in the desert/high desert that would say that Japanese cars didn’t have rust issues in the 70s-mid80s.

    Reliability issues? I’m curious as to what you’ve seen, because the German and Japanese stuff my friends and I owned in the 70s+ ran like trains. There WERE rust issues and I freely admit that. But the kinda ‘my Olds needs a new engine?’ stuff? Not so much…

    I will say that most of them loved their furrin’ cars, even as the body rusted to oblivion. The same (in my world) could not be said for owners of domestics who were looking at an engine and/or trans replacement at less than 100K. And told by their dealer “whaddya expect?”.

    I don’t know what the girls were like where you were in the early 80s. I simply know that the ‘car chicks’ I bagged weren’t interested in who ‘looked like they had it’ they went to the winner of the night (teenage girls are like that). No, the Opel didn’t come with a turbo, that’s what “mit homebrew” meant – we put a turbo and intercooler on it, and it smoked the “I got a Holley and a cam on my Vette” crowd, means.

    The average ‘Vette owner couldn’t tell the difference between an Eaton and Lysholm to save their life. Let alone detail the adiabatic efficiencies of one vis-a-vis the other.

    I’m not saying that the EU cars have survived without govt intervention. But, at the end of the day, most all brands have had some sort of governmental support.

  • avatar
    Revver

    Rocketrodeo, those are some very well phrased points about the context of the era. However, what I remember about the Mustang II at the time, was it was a brand killer before I even understood what that meant.

    The Mustang name meant performance and, a bit, of macho for FMC. When the II arrived, me and my high school car friends thought of one thing only: girl car.

    Here in the northeast, the import thing had well and truly started, with 510s, 240zs, Opels, Audis, Fiats, BMWs all fairly common.

    The puzzlement of why Ford would tarnish the Mustang name so easily with a poorly warmed over Pinto was and is, a mystery. The name comes with some expectations of performance, and this car failed on every level.

    Ignoring actual numbers of horsepower or 0to60, my (mid 70s) memory of trying out the Mustang II was it was vastly inferior to my pretty worn and definitely rusted 1968 BMW 1600.

    Suspension sucked, steering sucked, acceleration sucked, brakes sucked, interior sucked. . .

    The car was absolutely numb. Zero fun factor.

    Granted, your points about what the average enthusiast is looking for, is quite different from what your average secretary is looking for are true. But remember without a Corvette to hold up high, the Mustang was/is Ford’s performance standard.

    Ford may have sold a bunch of ‘em, but I’d bet big bucks this car is on the short list of American cars that launched many, many enthusiast drivers into foreign car showrooms.

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    Christ, I saw not one, but two of these turds this week. One was a red coupe with a white landau roof and wire wheel covers. It was for sale if anyone is interested. Looked to be in good shape.

  • avatar
    fotobits

    “Unlike lightening, hubris always strikes after someone’s first success, deserved or not.”

    What is this sentence supposed to mean? Is this a subtle pun on the Mustang II being smaller and lighter than the previous Mustang?

    I understand the words you wrote, but the way you put them together makes no sense. (With apologies to Foghorn Leghorn.)

  • avatar
    KIM1963

    Growing up in a home that never owned a vehicle that wasn’t made by Ford i spent most of my childhood riding in Galaxy 500’s . LTD’s and Thunderbirds and of course the farm truck , F150.

    So it was inevitable that my first car was a 1977 MustangII .I turned 16 in 1980 when i received this shiny blue pony on 4 wheels .

    My first taste of independence . No more driving mom in her 79 Thunderbird with the hood that seemed to go on forever and no more yellow school bus !That MustangII was freedom and adventure . It took me to school and to my first job . Ball games and parties packed full of friends with the 8 track player turned up as loud as it would go .

    Did it handle and drive well ? Hell i don’t know . At 16 and being a girl your just so happy to have a car that you don’t care or even notice if it stears like a log wagon ,makes funny noises that you can never quite figure out where there coming from ,uses an absurdly large amount of oil , shakes and rattles , or wheezes and sputters down the road as long as it goes and go it did .

    For over two yrs we run the highway and quite a few backroads untill that fatefull day i run her hot and threw a rod . So my relationship with my blue pony came to a end but my memories of that Mustang II fondly live on .

    Yes i’m still a Ford driver and much to my families dismay married a Chevy man who at that time was driving a big block Chevelle SS which would literally suck you to the seat .Going at (scary fast ) speeds that me and my Mustang II could only have dreamed of .

    I have learned over the yrs that every car manufacturer has had good and bad vehicles . I have always had good luck with Fords starting with my first and like my family have stuck with a Ford . Hubby on the other hand after 25 yrs i haven’t been able to convert over . He remains a true Chevy lover and constantly torments me that F O R D stands for……. found on road dead !

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    My first car was a 1967 Mustang convertible with a 289 and rust holes in the floor. It was a great car. 167k miles and didn’t burn a drop of oil. It was a wonderful car for a sixteen year old.

    My dad had acquired it from a family friend, who had replaced it with– a 1977 Mustang II. For the first few months, the friend kept talking about how great his new Mustang was, and how thrilled he was to have it. Within less than six months, however, he stopped loving that Mustang II. He’d come over or I’d go to his place (I babysat his kids) and he’d look at my ’67 and sigh.

    Poor guy. For years and years I’ve felt sorry for him.

  • avatar
    randy911

    Gentlemen. Sorry for the novelette. Grab a beer, cup of coffee or whatever you please as I have something to say.

    Many, many misconceptions precede and/or follow this car. To the Mustang purist who love to trash this little gem of a car as a Pinto in drag, I say “hogwash”. The Mustang II is one of the top ten best selling Mustangs ever produced, which clearly stated means, we friggin loved them, as a child of the 70’s I can attest everybody wanted a Mustang II back in the day.

    Misconception 1 – The Mustang II was a dressed up Pinto. This is clearly one of the best one liners I hear from the purist crowd. The fact is, Iacoca ordered 2 design studies for this car, one was based on the Maverick, and the other on a “modified” Pinto chassis. Of course we all know the Pinto chassis won out due to the size. The floorpans were highly modified for use in the new Stang, and a new front suspension was engineered which is still revered by Hot Rodders Nationwide even today. In fact, other than a few bin parts, nothing else was shared with the Pinto. None of the II’s body panels were interchangeable with the Pinto. Many of the design enhancements engineered for the II made it into Pinto production in the interest of saving money. So the Pinto actually became a much better car due to the II. At the time, the II was the most engineered car in Ford’s history.

    Probably the worst thing I can say about these little cars is that they did not age very well. While I still look at a 1977 Z28 with lust, the same can’t be said about the II. But do this if you will, pull up a picture of a 1973 Torino GT Fastback and compare the styling queues to a 1977 Mustang II…..I see much more Torino than Pinto. The egg crate grill is almost identical as are the rear quarters from the doors back. The fact of the matter is that the II shared many more Granada parts than Pinto. So let’s please put the Pinto thingy to bed once and for all.

    Misconception 2 – The Mustang II was a dog. Ok so Ford really wasn’t in the performance market anymore, in fact they ran from it. The 2.3 was an embarrassment of Vega-esque proportions. My brother had one and it was a sick dog of a econobox. The 2.8 while a good engine in the Capri had been enhanced by Ford (LOL) in the quest for fuel mileage. Performance tests show that the 2.8 was horribly under carbed (jetted) and ran too lean in the higer RPM’s to make any power. Once swapped out for a Holley 2bbl these engines were very respectable. I witnessed a II that had been re-carbed, half track an Opel Manta GT in 2nd gear, 3 times in a row. Opel Manta’s were very respectable back in the day with a very usable(105hp@5400rpm) in a light weight package…..and the II with a little carb blew its doors. Now lets move on to the seemingly putrid 302 that was offered in 1975.

    A Ford 302 that was only capable of producing 140 horsepower? (most publications show this 140hp to be correct, but who’s counting)… something surely must be wrong? Actually the mistake is in the eye of the beholder. That 140 horsepower rating corrects to around 200 when quoting gross instead of net. The Mustangs “putrid” 0-60 time of 10.5 seconds once again is deceptive. In 1975 the gas we were buying was crap…plain and simple crap. The shortest gear you could put in one of these cars was a 3.00:1 which isn’t exactly a performance gear. Now anybody that was around in 1975 knows that the 240ft/lb of torque this engine produced would flat out melt the 195/70-13 tires off the rim, sooooo spirited 0-60’s could be tricky. Further adding to the misconception is that Magazines back in the day also put a disclaimer on their 0-60 tests stating that the runs were made in a manner “as to not induce wheel spin”. The fact of the matter is that the 1975 II with a 302 had about the same power to weight ratio as the original 1965 model, and the 0-60 times were close to the same. One could say that 0-60 was not a prime concern in either car, but both moved rather smartly once rolling.

    Here is the long and short of it, Mustang was not competing with the Camaro in 1975. The players had changed and were now called Celica, Vega, Charger (by Mitzubishi) and Manta. Ford was trying to recreate the Mustang in the same mold as the successful Capri. Ford was no longer interested in building “factory” performance….however the same simple small upgrades woke these cars up like any others. By simply adding a small Holley 4bbl, headers with duals, or even duals without headers made very impressive gains for these cars. Once “breathed on” they were more than respectable for the day.

    So Hot Rodding as it was, was returned to the guys like me hanging out in the garages.

    I agree these II’s are pretty ugly by today’s standards, I also agree that those of you who hate them have your reasons. I am only here to be the voice of reason as well as casting some factual history on those who love to hate this little car.

    The 1975 Mustang weighed in around 3200lbs as opposed to the 1973’s 3500lbs. It might not have been a screamer but surely doesn’t deserve some of the aspersions being cast its way.

    As a comparison, there was NO Z28 in 1975. The hottest engine available in the Camaro was a 145hp 350…….and THAT car was truly a dog…..I had one, it was Orange :)

    A little perspective…..hope I did not offend.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Thanks for this!

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Ford was no longer interested in building “factory” performance”

      Yet that still did not stop them from slapping “Mach 1″ and “Cobra” stuff on the Mustang II.

      Like I wrote when this was first posted years ago, the II might have been a defensible thing to create, but putting loud graphics and a snake badge on it was not.

      The slow ’75 Camaro you wrote about at least didn’t wear a Z28 emblem.

      • 0 avatar
        randy911

        I too agree Ford made a mistake with the Cobra II Package, but I never really paid much attention to it. Gone however were the days of the 429CJ and 351C-M Codes. In 1974 the technology to make true high performance motors economical, quiet, non polluting just did not exist. I am talking much more about the basics of the car. I personally much preferred the Mach 1 over the Cobra.

        I brought up the Camaro of 1975 because that is the year Mustang Paul was discussing in the article (I believe) he goes on to talk about the Z28 of 245hp, but that car was discontinued after 1974. There was no performance option for the Camaro in 1975, only a Rally Sport paint option.

        Ford was trying to get the Mustang back in line with the original (Falcon based) 1965 Mustang and they did. I for one actually prefer the 65 thru 68 models better than any other. To me the real disservice to the Mustang was the 71 through 73 models.

        I would much rather have a clean II than a Fox body for the most part.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Newsflash! Car with bad reputation not totally deserving. In other news Mustang II or Pinto with engine mods/built motor still awesome in 1/4 mile. Film at 11.

  • avatar
    fotobits

    “The Mustang II is one of the top ten best selling Mustangs ever produced, which clearly stated means, we friggin loved them, as a child of the 70′s I can attest everybody wanted a Mustang II back in the day.”

    Randy, you started your defense of the Mustang II with a logical fallacy and a falsehood. Popularity does not equal correctness or goodness, and not everyone wanted a Mustang II. Most of my friends and I detested them.

    As for performance, outrunning an Opel Manta isn’t much to brag about.

    The only good thing I can think of is the Mustang II kept the Mustang name alive for Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      randy911

      “Everybody wanted one” is not, nor was it intended to be factual. Sorry if I confused anybody with the statement. Of course other cars were sold during the time in question. Where I grew up the Mustang II V8 variant was a very hot commodity for anyone who could afford a brand new Mustang.

      A V6 Mustang of 2.8 liters outrunning a Opel GT was a huge deal back in the 70’s. Historical context please.

      The Opel Manta GT was rated at 105hp@5400 RPM in a 2100 pond car with a gear ratio of around 3.55:1. These Opel’s were much more performance oriented than many of their contemporaries such as the Celica (11.5 0-60) and Vega (16.4 0-60. I merely used the Opel as a comparison to the V6 powered II which, while flawed from the factory a bit could be made a very respectable import fighter which is more inline with what Ford was trying to achieve.

      Although you personally don’t like the II, I have correctly identified some of the biggest misconceptions, and also tried to explain some of the reasoning behind the car.

      Hey, if you weren’t alive to see gas rationing in the early 70’s the II might seem like a horrible mistake. Ford’s head was definitely in the right place at the time.

      Historical context please.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    They sold well , back in the day . But they were total ” chick cars ” back then , except for the Cobras . Being of the boomer generation , I must have known 6 women who drove them back when they were new . The only one I recall driving was a GF’s new Mustang ll Ghia , pale yellow with the olive color vinyl top and interior ( Ford loved that peculiar color combo back then , nobody else did except AMC , IIRC ). It was loaded , with the V-6 , 4-speed , A.C., eight-track and moonroof . Back in the day I thought it was rather luxurious and certainly quicker than the rear-engined VWs I was driving at the time . Like all cars , they must be considered in their historical context , and compared to their competition, which was more likely to be the horrible Chevy Monzas rather than a Z-28.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States