The cars we loved.
When ponycar fans meet, bragging rights are usually split three ways in America: Ford, Chrysler and GM. In Australia it’s usually Holden vs. Ford. Each side has its best versions of Mustang, Monurals or Camaro to boast about. On occasion either side will have a car it would rather pretend never happened. For Ford fanatics in America it was the 1974-1978 Mustang or Mustang II as it was called.
As much as some pretend to hate the diminutive Mustang II, it was a car that quite possibly saved the ponycar for Ford. The Oil Crisis and the publics demand for smaller cars prompted Ford to downsize the bloated Mustang, which by 1973 had become much larger than the original 1964 car. Ford first planned to base the new Mustang on the Maverick, but later decided that an even smaller Mustang based on the Pinto would be more appropriate.
The resulting car, called the Mustang II represented Fords response to the mounting pressures of the day. The Mustang was still rear wheel drive, but was 12.5 inches shorter than the previous car and weighed a few hundred pounds less. The diet meant that the pair of less powerful engines, an inline 4 and German-made “Cologne” V6 would not need to work as hard to move either the notchback or fastback hatch coupe. With only 105 hp the 2.8L six cylinder was the top choice for performance, or for what passed for it at the time. The base engine, the 2.3L four would make only 88 hp, eventually peaking at 92. For most buyers that was enough as the once proud ponycar had settled into a role that went from economy car with a Pinto engine to a poor man’s Thunderbird with a Capri engine.
Technically, the new car’s platform offered very little over the original Falcon inspired Mustang, save for rack-and-pinion steering and front disc brakes as standard. Despite its short comings, the new Mustang won the Motor Trend car of the Year award for 1974, the last Mustang to do so until 1994. Despite the accolades, the new Mustang did not catch on right away with buyers, but by the 1975 model year, a V8 was added in the new Mach 1 model to broaden appeal. At 122hp the top Mustang of the day did little to erase the memories of Boss 302s or Shelby GTs of just a few years earlier.
Ford offered a four model range that offered something for everyone, except old school muscle car fanatics. While purist were upset over the loss of bragging rights vs. GM, the smaller Mustang no longer competed directly with the Camaro and Firebird as it did in the past. A new crop of subcompacts like the Sunfire, Monza, 240z and Celica had become its market peers. These smaller ponycars became all the rage, especially on the West Coast where imports were most popular. The Mustang II was right on time, as its sales for 1975 would put it in the books as the 9th best for all Mustangs.
The bulk of those sold were the base 2 and 3 door coupe and hardtop 2 door only Ghia models. While the base car could be had in stripped down form with an AM mono radio, the Ghia represented the luxurious side of the ponycar. Ghia, fresh from being acquired by Ford would influence the styling of the Mustang II. Padded vinyl half tops, opera windows and air conditioning would become common traits of a Ghia coupe. Similarities to the German built Capri would be obvious, but the Ghia Mustang IIs were decisively more luxurious and smooth riding and had little in common with the German built Capri. The base models had been branded MPG denoting their 23 city/34 highway gas mileage. This model would more than any Mustang drive sales.
More features would be added to the Mustang like a manually operated moon roof, increasing its appeal. A sport package called the Stallion appearance group was offered that allowed any Mustang to have sporty accents and Mach 1 like wheels. The Mustangs sales continued to be brisk up to the point of its replacement in late 1978. As a reasonably comfortable, sporty and efficient car, the Mustang functioned much like a smaller version of the Monte Carlo or Thunderbird. Those who today decry the Mustang II as being poorly built, underpowered or tacky, clearly were at odds with Ford and the buying public who loved the Mustang II as much as we might love the current Mustang. In a time when the pony cars future was in doubt, the Mustang II thrived while the Barracuda, Challenger and Javelin all fell from existence. Even the mighty Camaro and Firebird from GM was in crisis mode.
The Mustang II allowed Ford to sell its version of a ponycar for the times while it frantically tried to ready a new Mustang that closer met the expectations of both old school motor heads and the new market it found for its softer more plush and efficient coupe. President of the Ford Motor Company at the time, Lee Iacocca, may have summed it up best when he said that the Mustang II “was the right car for the right time”.