17 October 2016

No, the Ford Mustang II is not a re-skinned Pinto

For decades, the Mustang II has been the pony car that enthusiasts love to hate. Making matters worse, their mocking of the model was echoed endlessly by the automotive press.

John Clor is the Enthusiast Communications Manager for Ford Performance, and promoting the Mustang is his job. His loyalty to the Mustang II, however, is personal. He’s experienced the ribbing that Mustang II owners endure because he drives a Cobra II, a model that’s long drawn criticism for wearing Shelby-like stripes but without the performance engine to back up the image. Clor upgraded his car’s original 302-cid V-8 for more power, and he has a second Cobra II undergoing restoration.

That the Mustang II, 43 years after its introduction, is still derided by some as a re-skinned version of Ford’s Pinto economy car upsets Clor. The backstory, largely unfamiliar to enthusiasts today, is far more complex.

As the Mustang grew more muscular and larger through the late 1960s, sales dropped. Lee Iacocca, the Ford executive considered the father of the original Mustang, advocated development of a smaller and more economical second-generation model. The success of Ford’s own German-built Capri sport coupe, sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, helped validate the new direction.

Following Iacocca’s edict to build a highly refined small car – a “little jewel” as he called it – the Mustang II introduced numerous measures to quiet the ride, including an isolated front subframe. The Mustang II rode on a longer wheelbase than the Pinto, and the two shared only a few components. The Mustang II also brought a higher level of interior fit and finish than was seen in earlier Mustangs.

“There’s less Pinto in a Mustang II than there is Falcon in a 1965 Mustang,” Clor said.

The Mustang II arrived in August 1973 with a choice of coupe or fastback (hatchback) body styles. Two engines were available: an 88-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder or the 2.8-liter, 105-horsepower V-6 from the Capri. A 13-second 0-60 time for the V-6 Mach 1 impressed no one.

Greatly improved fuel economy compared with the previous Mustang, however, ensured the car’s success when the oil embargo that began in October 1973 sent sales of small cars soaring. Ford built 386,000 Mustang IIs for 1974, the most since 1967. Mustang II sales reached 1.1 million over the model’s five-year run.

A 302-cid V-8 with a two-barrel carburetor became optional for 1975. Its 139 horsepower for 1977-78 models matched up with the 305 cubic-inch V-8 offered in the Chevy Monza and was, Clor points out, comparable to the 289 two-barrel V-8 in 1960s Mustangs. For a Car Craft magazine review, the Pro Stock drag racer Don Nicholson – Dyno Don to fans – coaxed a 17-second quarter-mile time at 80.7 mph from a stock 1978 Mustang II King Cobra. For the record, that was slightly quicker than Road & Track recorded with a 1967 289 four-barrel coupe.

Clor says it takes no small measure of perseverance to upgrade a Mustang II with equipment like larger-than-stock wheels or a five-speed transmission; parts for bolt-on modifications are rare. The Mustangii.net website offers a list of Mustang II parts vendors and other resources.

The truth is, of course, that Ford’s downsized Mustang arrived in a somber era, when underhood power had atrophied drastically. But the days of Mustang II as an easy target for derision may be coming to an end, as Mustang club gatherings become more welcoming to the 1974-78 models.

“I spent the last 10 years trying to put the Mustang II into the context of the times,” Clor said. “I’m probably that car’s biggest champion at Ford.”

Clor’s ’77 was one of more than 80 Mustang IIs at the First Ever Mustang II Reunion and Cobra II 40th Anniversary on August 21, the day after the Woodward Dream Cruise. He organized the gathering for the annual Mustang Memories show held at Ford’s headquarters, along with a dinner featuring Mustang II designers and engineers as guests.

Still, the sized-for-the-times pony car served an important role in Ford’s history. “Without the Mustang II’s success, the Mustang might not have continued,” he said.

10 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Michael Central west coast of Calif October 17, 2016 at 13:01
    Like the mah\jority of the vaunted mustangs the II is easibly modified with all the same bits as mustangs.. Simple: install bigger carburation, a hotter cam, and bigger exhaust system and being lighter then the earlier mustangs you'll be faster, a 351C slips right in for those that can use all that power. Essentially the mustang II is a platform to build YOUR personnel car to have what YOU want not what THEY think is cool!
  • 2
    R Campbell Pa October 17, 2016 at 16:19
    I am tired of the revisionist history of these cars. My father bled Ford blue before he bought a new 76 mustang OK. He intended to keep it for many years but got rid of it because it was the worst car he ever bought. He hasn't bought a Ford since. He feels like a Good friend betrayed him with that piece of junk. He kept a two page list of things that were wrong with it within the 1st 18 months. Please don't encourage Clor with saying they are misunderstood. Anyone who had one knows how bad they were.
  • 3
    Russ Kranz Beaver Dam, Wi. October 17, 2016 at 19:11
    I have a 1977 Mustang ll Cobra. I've owned the car for 30 years. This was my third year entering it in car shows. I get very positive feedback and compliments at those shows. The mustang ll popularity is getting stronger with time and as well it should.
  • 4
    Rick M. Portsmouth, VA October 17, 2016 at 22:02
    Thanks for sharing some love for the MII! Bought my ’78 in ’81 and its still my favorite ride.
  • 5
    Ken Lincoln, CA October 18, 2016 at 13:14
    As a young Ford Aerospace supervisor, I ordered a '78 Mustang II hatchback as my second executive lease car. It was a black beauty with slot mags, T-tops and a screaming red interior. Because of the T-top configuration it had a "crown Victoria" bar over the roof that added to the car's looks. I selected the 2.8L V6 because that was the biggest engine that you could get in California with a 4 speed behind it. The 302 Cobras in CA were all automatics because Ford had not gotten approval from Cal EPA for the V8/4 speed combination. I loved the little car and so did the public. BTW, I became a Mustang enthusiast later when my son bought a '69 SportsRoof as his high school car. We restored the 351W beast and eventually I purchased a '69 convertible with a 302. I still have both cars 22 and 18 years later, respectively.
  • 6
    Mike Kiminas Boynton Beach Florida October 18, 2016 at 05:32
    I will always say if was not for the Mustang II they will not be Mustangs today. Mustang is always will be the only car that was born 1964 and still going today cause of the Mustang II
  • 7
    JeffH SoCal October 19, 2016 at 17:13
    Saying a Mustang II was not based on the Pinto because it had a longer wheelbase is like saying the Comet was not based on the Falcon for the same reason. Using that logic how do we explain all of the Fox-based cars in the next generation?
  • 8
    rich south eastern pa. October 20, 2016 at 23:10
    your right i owned a 74 mustang11 mach 1,with the thickest stock carpeting that I've seen in a stock production car.also a 1977 mustang cobra black with gold stripes, stick shift, a 1978 king cobra red, with beautiful dash & steering wheel,red interior, t- tops, orange basket wheels, stick shift, and t- tops. no they weren't very fast, but for that time, they were some of the fastest cars. and the build quality was excellent. and yes i loved those cars.
  • 9
    Gene Murray Iowa City,Iowa November 12, 2016 at 01:54
    I'm restoring a 1978 t-top mustangII ,302. I really like the looks and the info on the handling and performance potential is encouraging. I hope the parts are still there. Plus the popularity and value seems to be improving. I can't wait to show it off! I enjoyed reading your comments.
  • 10
    Jeff Dekker Northwest Indiana November 25, 2016 at 14:27
    I've owned my '78 King Cobra since shortly after I graduated from high school. It's been a great car to own and always turns heads when it's out. Sadly, I've recently moved and no longer have the proper place to store and maintain it. Looking for a good home for it.

Join the Discussion