The Ford Mustang’s forgotten generation

Though counted as part of the Ford Mustang’s first-generation cars, the 1971-73 model has long been an outlier. Markedly bigger and heavier than the 1965 original, it is not regarded with the same adulation as its predecessors. That has held its value in check, potentially making it a smart entry point for an aspiring Mustang owner.

“The most identifiable thing about the car might be that it was the Mustang in the James Bond Diamonds Are Forever movie,” said Kevin Marti, whose Mustang parts business also produces the comprehensive Marti Reports based on Ford’s original build data. Mustang and 007 fans may recall Sean Connery (or rather, a stunt driver) piloting a red Mach 1 on two wheels through a Las Vegas alley to evade the police in a blooper-filled chase scene.

But even Bond’s cachet could not steer the Mustang out of a sales slump that had begun the year before. By the time the ’71 cars arrived in August 1970, the market for ponycars and muscle cars was shriveling. Ford couldn’t have foreseen that in 1967, though, when performance and luxury trends spurred the company to develop the larger Mustang.

The ’71 Mustang’s wheelbase grew just an inch to 109 inches but was, compared with the svelte ’65 model, eight inches longer overall, six inches wider and several hundred pounds heavier. In fairness, its competitors had also gone flabby, and Mustang gained a showroom edge by offering coupe, fastback and convertible body styles.

The added girth more readily accommodated V-8 power, in the form of the 351-cid Cleveland as well as a 429-incher. Perhaps more controversial than Mustang’s upsizing was the fastback’s near-horizontal roofline that severely limited rearward visibility.

With their scoops, stripes and spoilers, the Mach 1 and Boss 351 epitomized Detroit’s vision of a performance car, even as the Mach 1 was demoted to a standard 302-cid V-8. Only the Boss carried the R-code solid-lifter 351 HO, rated at 330 horsepower, but one could order a 351 (with a two-barrel or a four-barrel carburetor), 429 Cobra Jet or Super Cobra Jet in any other Mustang. In mid-1971, the 351 four-barrel gained Cobra Jet status with a hotter cam, bigger carburetor and other tweaks. Its 266 (net) horsepower rating was stout for the time.

Period road tests confirmed that the Boss 351 could out-drag and out-corner the heavier 429s. Both were slow sellers, though, moving just 1,806 and 1,865 units, respectively, and did not return for 1972. A lower-compression version of the Boss engine with 275 horses did, however, briefly appear as an option for any ’72 Mustang (just 398 cars got it). Sagging convertible sales rebounded to nearly 12,000 for 1973 after Ford had declared it the last.

Although the 1971-73 Mustang outsold rivals, its 409,950 three-year tally paled in comparison with previous Mustangs. That lack of interest is still the case, according to Marti, helping to make it a more affordable alternative to the 1965-70 cars – if it’s your cup of tea.

At least one Mustang collector, Mike Berardi, concurs.

“If you really like the 1965-70 cars, you probably don’t like the 1971-73,” said Berardi, whose collection of 55 Mustangs spans the ponycar’s entire history. One downside: “Aftermarket support is not as good as on earlier models, but availability of repro parts is picking up,” he said.

Berardi drives all of his Mustangs, including on the commute to his job as global director for service engineering operations at Ford Motor. The 1971-73 models are among his favorites. Half of the dozen he owns are 429 CJs, including one of the 42 convertibles so equipped. Berardi also owns a Boss 351 and four 1972 Sprint Décor package Mustangs.

Looking strikingly all-American in white with Grabber Blue and red stripes and matching interiors, Sprints were also offered in Canada, where they wore Maple Leaf decals on their flanks instead of American flags. Berardi also owns one of the 50 Sprint convertibles originally used in the parade for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.