25 January 2017

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.

32 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David Fowler North Carolina January 27, 2017 at 14:36
    I am one of those that like the 71-73. I have 5 convertibles one of them a 72 Q CJ. Also have 2 Mach 1's one a T-5 the other I bought new with 32 factory installed options. I also have two 1965 mustang convertibles both have the rare removable hard tops. I prefer the bigger 71-73 because better engineering and ride. I was an Automotive tooling engineer.
  • 2
    Michael Hishon New Baltimore, Mi January 27, 2017 at 15:42
    I have a 1973 convertible, 4-speed Q-Code 351C which has been mildly upgrades with Mach-1 spoilers, 1-inch drop all around suspension, 17inch Bullet style wheels, and s 393 stroked, with aluminum AFD heads pumping 417tq @4700, and 410hp @5800 at the rear wheels. Because of the 'mild' body, suspension, and wheel treatment I get lots and lots of THUMBS UP from young and old alike. The 71-73 body style just needs a little tweeking for its looks to realy come alive!
  • 3
    Dale Pennsylvania January 27, 2017 at 16:08
    I bought a new red 1973 Mach 1 Mustang and still own it, I put a 1971 Boss 351 in it and many high performance parts. Use it for car cruises and get many good remarks about the style, it is a looker to be sure. Nice ride and solid feel better than my 1966.
  • 4
    Dan OReilly Colorado January 27, 2017 at 20:55
    I have a 71 Mach 1 with the 4v 351C. This car turns heads all the time, and while I still love earlier Mustangs, I think this is one of the prettiest fastback Ford ever built.
  • 5
    Hal Simi Valley Calif. January 27, 2017 at 20:59
    I have had my 1972 "Q" code convertible for over 20 years.when I bought it had just over 70 K miles, now it has 120 K miles. The drive train has never been out of the car, I have done seals, gaskets, new interior and the suspension has been gone over. I enjoy the ride, power and room. Now, finely N.P.D. offers the correct steering wheel for this period Mustang it finally looks correct in the interior, (had after market). What I like about the look of this 71-73 Mustang is with the "Q" code it came with the NSA hood, gives it a punch. Parts, you can almost rebuild one from a catalog. Yes, this 71-73 Mustang is a sleeper!
  • 6
    Kent Schlick Big Pine, California January 28, 2017 at 19:43
    I have owned a fully restored 1972 convertible 351C for 27 years. We have had a great time showing it off, even got it in the Peterson Museum with three other very special mustangs for Mustang 40th Anniversary Exhibit. Lee Iaccoca did a TV interview from drivers seat and signed glove box. He did not recall ever sitting in one from this era, as he was gone from Ford by then. He loved it! "It fits me!" We are now considering selling the car and let someone else have fun with it!
  • 7
    Nancy Michigan January 29, 2017 at 12:42
    I love my 73 Mustang Grande. I bought as my first car when I was 16 in 1978 and have hung on to it. It's not a favorite body style I know, but that car still runs and still turns heads.
  • 8
    kelly alberta February 1, 2017 at 16:30
    I have a 72 Q CJ convertible full restored number matching. This is my 3rd 70 -73, I personally don't see the attraction to the pony version of these big beauties.
  • 9
    Mark A Miller Ohio February 1, 2017 at 17:13
    I can tell you why I do not hold the '71-'73 Mustangs with the same adulation as the first generation. I had a '66 coupe with the six cylinder engine first. It was a very nice to drive, well-built car. Later, I bought a 1972 coupe with the Windsor 351 V-8. I can say without reservation it is absolutely THE worst car I have ever owned in my 65 plus years of car ownership. I had to replace parts to get it to the junk yard with only 6 years and 60,000 miles on it. Anything that could rust DID rust. I needed to use a 2x2 against the air cleaner to hold the radiator in place. The hinge pins wore so quickly I had to push down the door lock so I could hold up the door by the outside handle to get it to close, and then enter by the passenger side. The driver's door had to be held closed by the seat belt through the arm rest. A bag of salt placed in the trunk went straight through the floor to the pavement. Things under the hood would crumble to rusty bits at a touch. My two daughter, ages 7 and 11 had trouble seeing out of the back side windows and even they had trouble with leg room. While I count a 1960 Ford Starliner that I bought new and put 100,000 miles on in 3 years as one of my best cars, that '72 Mustang was definitely the worst.
  • 10
    Lou Arizona February 1, 2017 at 17:24
    Special ordered a 1971 Mustang that was delivered in May, 1971 351 Cleveland, 391 rear end, no air 2 door coupe not a fast back. Was very quick!
  • 11
    Greg dallas Tx February 1, 2017 at 17:55
    Everyone always says they don't like the 71-73 model until they see my convertible. They have a different look but with a few tweaks retain the Mustang's ability to turn heads
  • 12
    larry henderson Ca. February 1, 2017 at 18:19
    Those model year mustangs will never be worth much if anything. My suggestion is if you have a buyer interested in one I suggest you take the money now and run. I like mustangs but anything after 1970 is really not very desirable. That is also true of a few other cars as well although some mopars held on until 1971.
  • 13
    Bluegrass Bob KY February 1, 2017 at 18:53
    I've had 2 65s and a 67. I will have one of these. I love 'em.
  • 14
    Peter Toronto February 1, 2017 at 19:00
    If the 71 - 73 is the forgotten generation, the 74 - 78 Mustang ll has to be the totally forgotten.
  • 15
    Jeff Durbin CO February 1, 2017 at 19:20
    I am surprised the article doesn't mention that the ORIGINAL "Gone in 60 Seconds" which did NOT feature Nicholas Cage did feature 1971 Mustangs which were supposed to be 1973 Mustangs. I had a 1973 Mach I.
  • 16
    Keith Milsark OR February 1, 2017 at 19:47
    I always liked the '71 to '73 fastbacks. Had a '72 with a 302 in college, and now have a '73 Mach 1 with a 351 Cleveland. I'm going to have to sell it, though; our daughter's in college, and the tuition bills are killing us.
  • 17
    j.k. veirs butler,ky. February 1, 2017 at 20:53
    bought new mach1 1971 429 scj 375 hp drag pack with no badging and no tach
  • 18
    Fred Sandella Myrtle Beach, SC February 1, 2017 at 22:06
    I have had a 71 Mach One for the last 21 years. My brother has a 65 convertible. I refer the 71 as it has far more room and handles better.
  • 19
    Asa Jay Laughton Spokane, WA February 1, 2017 at 22:34
    I own a 1971 Mach I. I've had it for 30 years. The first one I "remember" seeing was in 1974 when I was only 10. It was -the- Mustang for me. Today it needs a new restoration and some modification. I really like the 71-73 more than any other of the early models. Not until 2005 did the Mustang elicit so much of my favor.
  • 20
    Edward Western NY February 1, 2017 at 22:39
    The 71-73 are the true evolution of the Mustang. It was built for street, strip or track and it ruled all three. My 73 is awesome.
  • 21
    Ina Cabanas New Jersey February 1, 2017 at 23:01
    I have a 1973 red Mach 1 that I need to sell. It was being restored for many years & looks finished but there are a few minor items that were not addressed properly. It is an automatic with a 351 Cleveland engine. I will gladly send pictures or info if you email.
  • 22
    John Houston February 2, 2017 at 15:45
    Each to his own, but I liked the styling of the big Mustangs of that era.
  • 23
    Jeffrey Brackett Kentucky February 2, 2017 at 08:21
    I have two, a 71 Mach1 and a 73 Convertible.. I have owned many Mustangs from 65 to 02, the 71 to 73 are without a doubt my favorite.. In college I drove a red 1973 convertible with a 302 and a 3 speed trans.. This car took me all over the country, from Kentucky to Texas, Michigan and even up into Canada...
  • 24
    Gene Bartholomew CT February 2, 2017 at 10:16
    I'm mainly a Pontiac guy but always loved certain Mustangs, any of the sports-roof models are great looking albeit hard to see out of. I always thought the 71-73 Mach I's with the SR were some of the best looking ever. Bottom line is it doesn't matter to me what you like and vice versa, cars are meant to be driven and enjoyed, if you like the look get one and enjoy it no matter make/model, learn about it and go to shows as an ambassador, share the history with the younger generation, keep the hobby alive. We shouldn't be concerned with what a collector thinks regarding what we are personally attracted to.
  • 25
    Kelly Arizona February 2, 2017 at 10:28
    I owned both a '66 and currently a '73 Mustang. The '66 was funand reliable. My '73 with a C. 351 is still fun and reliable, but it turns heads, and I always get great comments. People will sometimes roll down their window at traffic lights to say with a smile "Nice car!" or ask the year, or say "I used to ..."
  • 26
    jerry Fl February 2, 2017 at 10:52
    I have had a '65 FB, a '68 FB, a '70 FB, and a '73 Mach I. Can't seem to keep them though. ADHD, maybe?? Couldn't see out of the back of the '73 too well, but who cares, anyone back there is being left behind anyway...haha
  • 27
    Wayne CT. February 2, 2017 at 12:48
    I have 2 Mach 1s, a 69 Boss 429 clone, and a 71 429cj. I love them both and drive them every chance I get. When asked if I would sell either one, my response is always the same "see my other half when I am gone!".
  • 28
    Steven Fuller Torrance, CA February 3, 2017 at 16:03
    I love my '71 Mach 1 with the 351-C four speed. Yeah it's big on the outside and small on the inside, but it gets attention and is fun to drive. My wife hates it, but that's just one of the perks.
  • 29
    Felix Boston February 5, 2017 at 19:29
    I fell in love with this generation mustang when I watched the movie, MARKED FOR DEATH staring Steven Seagal. It looked to tuff and mean I always have said I will owen one. The funny thing is I have owened so Far, 3 Fox Bodys 65 coup 67 coup 70 Mach 1 (still have) gt350 2016 (still have) No 71,72,73 Yet
  • 30
    TMG DC February 5, 2017 at 12:14
    I have a 73 convertible with a 351C 2v. Not much power, but a great cruiser. I've owned if for 30 some years after buying it from a kid who almost destroyed it. It is black with gold Mach 1 stripes and gets a lot of attention everywhere I go with it.
  • 31
    David Pavlik Cleveland ohio February 7, 2017 at 20:41
    I have a 72 Mach 1 Q code. Bought it in 2015 Love driving it and it turns heads when I Drive by the Ford Cleveland Engine plant 3 miles from home
  • 32
    Don Wisconsin February 11, 2017 at 18:36
    I have what may be becoming the rarest of the rare, a 1972 Mustang Convertible with its original straight six. There were only 565 built and most of those that didn't rust away have had a V8 swapped into them. Put a lot into it to keep it going for the next 45 years. It's the perfect car for Summer evening drives and it turns A LOT OF HEADS!

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