The 1974-78 Mustang II doesn’t get a lot of love from Ford enthusiasts—and that’s a shame, because it saved the breed from extinction.
From its original introduction at the New York World’s Fair in April of 1964, the Ford Mustang was one of the great success stories of the Motor City, with more than one million cars sold in the first 18 months. But in the following years, as the trend-setting design grew bigger, fatter, and more luxurious, its sales volume steadily slipped away as well. By 1973, the Mustang was now almost intermediate in size, and meanwhile, sales slipped to around 135,000 units. The pony car was no longer earning its place in the Ford lineup.
Ford executive Lee Iacocca, often called the father of the Mustang, observed that Mustang buyers had not abandoned the Mustang, but rather, the Ford Motor Company had abandoned them. For the 1974 model year, it was time for a reset. The economy was slowing and fuel prices were rising. The Mustang would be returned to its small-car roots.
After Ford management studied a dozen or more packages based on the Pinto and Maverick platforms, Iaocca personally gave the green light to a Pinto-sized fastback coupe drafted by Lincoln-Mercury staff designer Howard “Buck” Mook. After nine years, there would finally be a Mustang hatchback. Meanwhile, market research identified a strong demand for a traditional notchback coupe, so designer Chuck Nesbitt spun off a handsome formal coupe version. The decision proved to be a wise one, as the coupe consistently outsold the three-door by a wide margin throughout the ’74-’78 production cycle.
More than a foot shorter than the ’73 Mustang and rolling on a 96.2-inch wheelbase, the Mustang II was loosely based on Ford’s Pinto subcompact platform, although Iacocca was quick to insist that the two cars actually shared few components. Among other key changes, the Mustang II used an independent front subframe (labeled the “toilet seat” by Ford engineers) to isolate the cabin from drivetrain noise. Engine choices the first year were limited to a 2.4-liter four with 85 horsepower and a German-built 2.8-liter V6 good for 105 hp. From ’75 on, a 5.0-liter V8 was available, but with just 122 hp, later bumped to 138 hp.
The Mustang II’s cabin remained true to the original pony car theme with a sporty instrument panel, bucket seats, and a floor-mounted shifter and parking brake lever. Changes to the Mustang II package were relatively few and small over the five-year model run: parking lamps, fuel filler location, quarter windows, a few other items. No factory convertibles were offered, but there were Mach I, Cobra II, and King Cobra versions to provide some performance image, if not actual performance.
While it wasn’t a real performance car by any stretch of the imagination, the Mustang II proved to be the right car for the times. Iacocca and crew had found the sweet spot in price, style, and packaging for the Mustang buyer of the ’70s. Sales zoomed up to nearly 386,000 units for 1974, a level the Mustang hadn’t seen since 1967—and hasn’t matched since. There would be four more generations of the Ford Mustang, and they all owe their existence to the 1974-78 Mustang II.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.