Jim Smart
April 1, 1998

We've long been of the belief the Mustang II has never received the credit it deserved in the Mustang history books and in the hearts of enthusiasts. Long shunned as nothing more than a rebodied Pinto, the Mustang II struggles for our respect. However, did you know the Mustang II was revolutionary in its execution? It represented a turning point for the Mustang name between old technology and the high-tech steed we have today. What's more, it kept the Mustang name alive when competitive names like Camaro, Firebird, 'Cuda, Challenger, and AMX were looking extinction squarely in the retina. Camaro and Firebird survived. 'Cuda, Challenger, and AMX did not. It was tough being a ponycar in the '70s because being sporty--and fast--wasn't cool. Call it a huge nationwide guilt trip rooted in the crippling excesses of the '60s.

A distant cousin of the hot-selling Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat economy cars, the '74-78 Mustang II was a technologically advanced quantum leap beyond these low-buck, pint-sized ponies. The truth is, the Mustang II was one of the most extensively engineered cars in Ford history because it pioneered new forms of vibration and noise isolation and vastly improved handling, fuel efficiency, and creature comforts. If you remember the '74 Mustang II's introduction well, you know that its all-new interior was a vast improvement over 1973, with button-and-tuck upholstery (cool…), rich and elegant appointments (nice!), full instrumentation (standard!), a digital clock (OK…), and more. The Deuce offered a much quieter ride, improved fit and finish, and a snappy European V-6 borrowed from the sporty Mercury Capri. It was a pleasure to drive.

The Mustang II story is one of progression. Sales figures were astounding that first year, with 385,993 units sold amidst the Arab oil embargo. Stick that one in your gas can and smoke it. Ford could only hope to meet two-thirds of that figure today in Mustang sales, because there wasn't the fierce offshore ponycar competition from Japan in 1974. First-year Mustang II sales figures were proof that Ford conceived the right car at the right time. However, in the years following 1974, the buying public forgot the inconvenience of gas lines, rationing, and escalating prices. Ford answered the winds of change with a 302ci V-8 for the Mustang II in 1975 and the Cobra II in 1976. Still, sales showed a steady decline through 1978. Buyers became bored with the Mustang.

In 1978, Ford grew more determined to reinstate the public's confidence in the Mustang. Shortly before Mustang II production ended in the summer of 1978, Ford introduced the King Cobra. King Cobra was originally a name destined for a Larry Shinoda-conceived, shovel-nosed NASCAR Torino stillborn in 1970. The Torino King Cobra never made it to showroom floors. The name was reincarnated as a sexy stallion Mustang II hatchback with a front air dam, a rear deck spoiler, a blacked-out grille, cast wheels, and sizzling graphics. The King Cobra wasn't just another '70s paint-and-tape tease job. It was V-8 power with a choice of Select-Shift or four-speed, a superior handling package with adjustable shocks, brake cooling ducts, and a sporty interior to sink your donkey into. It was a terrific idea. But, like most things exciting from Detroit, it was too little, too late. Just 4,971 units were produced.

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Bobby Mann of Florida understands the appeal of the rare and sporty Mustang II King Cobra. He drove this one to the Mustang Club of America National Show in Cherokee, North Carolina, in the summer of 1995 and parked it in front of our cameras. It was a hot, steamy day in the western North Carolina mountains. Thunder rumbled over the mountains as we started burning frames in vivid Fujichrome. The thick Carolina haze brought out the deep-blue finish of our subject. Couple this blue with the blistering orange-and-gold graphics, and we have a Mustang to be seen in.

Under the hood is an American original--Ford's venerable 302ci small-block, a Mustang powerplant if we ever saw one. Behind the 302 is a C4 Select-Shift tied to 2.75:1 gears. Lacy spoke aluminum wheels and radial tires enhance appearance and improve handling. Inside, a saddle interior sports a center console, bucket seats, full instrumentation, a digital clock, and a good driver-to-steering-wheel relationship. The car simply feels good to drive and enjoy.

Bobby and his wife, Wanda, invested their hearts and minds in a Mustang that wasn't mainstream because it made the most sense. After all, why have what everyone else is having? O'Steen's Paint & Body in Jacksonville, Florida, massaged the epidermis to perfection. Behold the gold: This is perfection! Bobby's Upholstery & Trim did an outstanding job on the original saddle interior. Check it out. The Manns show their King Cobra around the eastern United States as ambassadors for the Mustang II movement. They demonstrate for us that Mustang mania doesn't recognize any limits, because enthusiasm for the breed transcends generations.