Rob Kinnan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
August 23, 2016
Contributers: John Clor

The first-ever National Mustang II Reunion took place on August 21, 2016 at the same place where Lee Iacocca re-invented Ford's groundbreaking Pony Car, Ford’s World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, and it was the largest gathering of the most beleaguered Mustang since the cars were new and rolled off the assembly line from 1974 to 1978. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Cobra II, the car that Farrah Fawcett and Charlie’s Angels helped to make famous (infamous?), and it was the brainchild of Ford’s John Clor, himself a Mustang II owner and fan.

Clor told us that he has been trying to put this reunion together for years but always ran into roadblocks both inside and outside of Ford corporate. But once he got the car’s original engineers and designers involved, it all came together this year, the day after the enormous Woodward Dream Cruise.

The Mustang II owners gathered for this group shot with the car’s designer Dick Nesbitt (center, orange shirt and sunglasses). Ford’s John Clor is sitting in the front row, center right with the light blue polo shirt on.

Why a National II reunion? We could explain it, but why not let Mr. Clor do it for us: as he wrote on the club’s website, “Because it's long past time that true car enthusiasts finally accept the Mustang II! It's over. We're done letting know-nothings decide if our cars are cool or not. It's now time for all the automotive pundits to stop regurgitating shopworn urban legends about the 1974-1978 Mustang II and passing disparaging judgment on these great little cars that we've owned and loved for so many years. Would-be auto journalists and so-called experts have gotten the Mustang II so wrong and have taken these cars so horribly out of context for so long that we simply can't let their denigration continue.

Yes, it's time we celebrate the these great-looking, fun-to-drive Second-Gen ‘Stangs together, and steer the non-believers away from the overwhelming tide of misinformation which totally ignores the context of the era in which Mustang II's proved to be such a smashing sales success.

For II fans, the joy of Mustang ownership has been tainted by certain members of the automotive hobby who still hold a personal disdain for all things related to the 1974-1978 Mustang II—as if it were the troublesome redheaded stepchild of the Mustang family. But the fact of the matter is, Mustang IIs have truly never deserved all the demeaning verbiage thrown their way by the so-called “purists” who cling to their exclusionary thinking based on all-too common misconceptions.

Every generation Mustang needs to be measured on its own merits, and taken in context when any form of success is considered. Those who would knock the Mustang II because it was so radically "downsized" need to understand the market dynamics of the 1970s to appreciate the II for being Ford's "Right Car at the Right Time."

When the upsized 1971-1973 Mustangs began floundering in the marketplace, the muscle car era was already coming to an end while insurance premiums were skyrocketing and federally mandated emissions controls were choking performance out of old-tech large-displacement V8s. By that time, the 250ci inline six found in the 1973 Mustang put out only 95 horsepower (with the 1974 Mustang II's 2.8L V6 making 105), and the 302 V8 that came standard in the 1973 Mach 1 was rated at a mere 136 (which is actually three hp less than the 1976-1978 302). Even the 351 that was optional for the 1973 Mustang was only making around 155 hp. And in Mustang's "glory years" of 1965-1967, the comparable small-block two-barrel 289 V8 cranked out just 130 net horsepower. Context anyone?

Mustang production for 1971 had dropped below 150,000 units, and for 1972 fell to a bit over 125,000. In 1973, the nation was rocked by an energy crisis fueled by an Arab oil embargo at a time when Mustang sales were crippled by the gas-guzzling big-blocks and the growing popularity of small, sporty import coupes. Eugene Bordinat, vice-president of Ford design at the time, noted that with the Mustang, ‘We started out with a secretary's car, and all of a sudden we had a behemoth.’ But the ‘father’ of the Mustang, Iacocca, had a plan in place to fix all that and in doing so rejuvenate the Mustang brand with something he called his ‘little jewel.’

The Mustang II Reunion even had a Farrah Fawcett lookalike, Lauren Parrott from Harper Woods, Michigan, on hand to pose with the Mustang IIs.

The Mustang II bowed in 1974, styled with cues that mirrored the original and praised for its perfect timing in the marketplace, much like the '65. Sales rebounded, and with model-year production of nearly 400,000 units, the all-new Mustang II came to within 10 percent of equaling the original's Mustang's first-year sales record! In fact, the oft-maligned Mustang II sold more than a million units in just a five-year run, and to this day remains among the best-selling Mustangs of all time.

Much trimmer and thriftier than the 1971-1973s, Mustang II was 20 inches shorter, four inches narrower, an inch lower, and almost 500 pounds lighter. (What self-respecting enthusiast wouldn't want his favorite sports car to get smaller and lighter, instead of bigger and heavier?) Despite it being the only year the II wasn't offered with a V-8, 1974 was the year that Mustang was named Motor Trend Car of the Year (the only other Mustang to win that honor was the '94.)

One common knock against the II is its relationship with the Pinto, a much different car with a smaller wheelbase. First-generation Mustangs were also based on Ford's economy car at the time (Falcon), plus the third- and fourth-generation cars were based on Ford's entry-level car of their era as well (Fairmont). And technically, the Mustang II's platform was quite different than the Pinto's, with only a few chassis items such as wheel spindles and brake discs common to both after 1973, when Pinto got heavier and was in need of sturdier componentry found in the II's front suspension (which became the model for many street rods.) Comparatively, the first-generation and Fox-bodied Mustangs had more Falcon and Fairmont in them than Mustang II had Pinto—yet oddly, nobody demeans them for it.

Finally, there is the rap that the Mustang II was embarrassingly underpowered. But when its performance is put in context of the times, Mustang II actually offered segment-topping bang for the buck. True, the 1978 Mustang II 302 V8 made 139 horsepower, but its nearly 250 foot-pounds of torque was available at a seriously down-low 1,800 rpm. It rival, the heavier Chevy Camaro, got only six more horses (145) from its 302ci V-8. Even the four-barrel 350 V8 in the slow-selling Z28 made just 185 horsepower, and with a sticker price of $6,500 the Z28 was some $2,300 more than a base Mustang II V-8 coupe—which was big money back then for only 46 extra ponies. Heck, Smokey and the Bandit's ‘mighty’ 400ci 1977 Pontiac Trans Am delivered a mere 180 horses, and it was a so-called Hollywood performer!

The self-proclaimed Mustang purists should also consider that performance actually dropped from Mustang II levels into the Fox-body era when the 118-horse 255 V8 replaced the 302. And when performance was ‘reborn’ in '82 with the Mustang GT, its 5.0-liter cranked out a whopping 18 more horses than back in 1978.

You see, the fact of the matter is that the Mustang II was as viable a performer during its time as almost any other era Mustang. (If blame need be assigned, it was the EPA, not the Mustang II, that decided the final output of the II's 5.0 V8, and any perceived shortcomings there could be quickly and easily remedied with the help of a Ford Performance Parts catalog.) With more than a million owners still fondly recalling how much fun these smart-looking little cars really are to drive, this year's first-ever National Mustang II Reunion is surely going to be one to remember.”

Again, those were the words from John Clor, an unabashed fan of the Little Jewel Mustang. His Mustang II Reunion (preceded by a dinner with the designers on the Friday night before) was a roaring success, with 70 examples of the breed, and hopefully the beginning to the end of the car’s bad reputation. His final words, we think, are prophetic—at least we hope so: “There's one thing this Reunion will surely do, and that is to let everyone see the Mustang II in a new light!”

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