The first one that I bought was a Mustang #2
Nobody kept ’em any longer than they kept a pair of shoes
They started showing up at every used car lot in town
A V-8 on a go-cart, easy terms, no money down
– Daddy’s Cup, Drive By Truckers
Props to Ford for including the Mustang II in its 50th anniversary celebration, featuring the much maligned little pony car in this video with Ford Racing’s John Clor and his pristine 1977 Cobra II. The Dearborn automaker also issued a press release with the almost apologetic title “The Right Car At The Time: The 1974 Ford Mustang II”. The Mustang II is the one Mustang people love to hate. Even Mustang enthusiasts will turn their noses up at a Mustang II. At the recent Mustang Memories show put on by the Mustang Owners Club of Southeast Michigan, with about 800 Mustangs and another 200 Ford powered cars in attendance, I was only able to find a single Mustang II, a ’78 Cobra II that was immaculate. Said to be a glorified Pinto, and indeed originating with the Pinto platform, the Mustang II had the misfortune of being made during the so-called Malaise Era, when cars featured emissions control choked engines, battering ram 5 mph bumpers, tacky ’70s interiors, and loud and large exterior tape and decal treatments. The truth is that the Mustang II wasn’t a failure and that it was indeed the right car for the time.
Mustangs had grown fat by the 1973 models. Sales of the pony car had slowed by the 1970s and by late 1970 Lee Iococca, by then president of Ford, had embraced the idea of a smaller Mustang, getting back to its compact Falcon roots. That was well before oil started getting expensive in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war as the Arab oil producing states started flexing their economic muscles. When the oil crisis hit, making a smaller, more fuel efficient Mustang proved to be a fortuitous move. People flocked to buy the Mustang II just as the original Mustang drew people into Ford showrooms in 1964. The Mustang II era includes some of the highest sales years in the nameplate’s history.
Coincidentally, just before Ford released the video with Clor, I had made plans to visit Mustang Alley at the recent Woodward Dream Cruise, specifically to take pictures of Mustang IIs. If I’m the kind of guy who will walk past a half dozen ’69 Camaros to shoot one Corvair, you just know I’ll walk past more mundane Shelbys and Boss 302s to get pics of Mustang IIs.
In addition to finding a handful of 2nd generation Mustangs hanging out in the Ferndale district court’s parking lot, Clor’s Cobra II was in a premium spot, a place of honor if you will, right on Nine Mile Road with John dressed in a shirt with both Mustang II and Pinto patches, extolling the Mustang II in general and his Cobra II in particular (it’s a genuine Cobra, so to speak, since Ford paid Carroll Shelby $5 a car for the rights to call it one).
Clor hasn’t been the only person who worked at Ford whom I’ve met at car shows that is not at all ashamed of the Mustang II. Retired Ford designer Howard “Buck” Mook is active in the Detroit area car collecting community, bringing his cars to local shows and serving as a judge at events like the Eyes On Design and Concours of America shows. His resume includes some Ford’s F series trucks and while still in design school he helped customizing great Dean Jeffries create the Monkeemobile and Green Hornet Black Beauty television cars. Buck was responsible for the three-door fastback shape of the Mustang II (Dick Nesbitt drew the notchback variant).
Another Howard, Howard Payne, headed the interior design team. Payne’s own resume includes the model he made with John Orfe that ultimately became the 1961 Lincoln Continental. You can mock the Mustang II all you want but it was a priority job and Ford assigned some of their best talent to the task.
Payne says that his team was told to spare no expense, and the Mustang II cockpit has aged well. Like Mook, Payne can be seen showing one of his cars at local shows. I’ve run into them at different events around town. Actually, I ran into both of them at the same time once, when Mook was showing his French Ford Comete and Payne his own Cord at the Orphan Car Show.
As mentioned, they’re not ashamed at all about the Mustang II and will gladly talk about their experiences designing it. They might also mention that while sales later dropped, the first year the Mustang II was on sale, it sold almost 386,000 units, the most of any Mustangs since 1968 and one of the best years ever in the car’s now half century history.
The inclusion of the Mustang II in the Mustang’s golden anniversary celebrations is appropriate, if only because of its role in the nameplate’s history. Unlike the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger, the Mustang never went out of production, in no small part due to the Mustang II’s success keeping the nameplate alive. While it may have had its shortcomings as a car, the ultimate measure of success in the auto industry is selling a lot of units.
Over 5 model years, Ford sold over 1.1 million Mustang IIs. Cars, though, are also a hobby in addition to being a major industry. The inclusion of the Mustang II in Ford’s celebration of the pony car’s 50th anniversary is also appropriate because the people who own and collect them obviously love them as much as owners of first generation K-code Mustangs love those cars.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS