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1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra - Saturday Night Fever
In An Age When Bellbottoms, Big Hair, And Disco Fever Were The "In" Thing, Pinto-Based Ponycar Kept The Mustang Spirit Alive
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How did the '74-'78 Mustang II get such a bad rap? It was sporty, affordable, and great fun to drive. I have fond memories of Cobra II road tests with a car I wanted badly, but couldn't afford in 1976. I can tell you, the Mustang II was a fun car to drive. Despite its rebodied-Pinto persona, it was a right-size Mustang for the '70s, with sales passing 1 million units by the time production ended in the summer of 1978.
So what gives? what's wrong with the Mustang II considering its phenomenal success 30 years ago? And while you are thinking about what's wrong with the Two, we're going to tell you what's right with America's bridge-the-generations Mustang fun car. The Mustang II was a quantum leap in body-and-suspension engineering. It had this clever bolt-on subframe that isolated engine, driveline, and suspension vibration. This quieted the Mustang's ride and improved handling like never before. While Ford was developing an all-new Mustang, it looked at refinements that made the body tighter, with better fit and extraordinary quality. It was simply a better Mustang, bent on sport/luxury, and people snapped them up with the same kind of fury we are witnessing with the '05 Mustang. Ford dealers couldn't keep them on the showroom floor.
Inside, the Mustang II was generously equipped, elegant, with a standard digital clock, full-instrumentation (including a tachometer), rich woodgrain appointments, molded door panels, rich button-and-tucked upholstery, improved lighting, and better materials. Behind the wheel, the Mustang II had a solid, predictable, confident feel. The standard 2.3L SOHC four-cylinder didn't impress, but it was a start. The optional 2.8L OHV V-6 gave the Mustang II a European feel and sound. And when Ford introduced the 5.0L V-8 in 1975, the Mustang began to return to its former glory.
So what about the Mustang II for your restomod project? Here's one example. Jeff Minx found this Corvette Red (yes, Corvette Red) '78 Mustang II King Cobra on a used car lot in Chicago in the '80s. At the time, the car had been repainted, and was missing its original King Cobra graphics. It took a while for Jeff to figure out it was a King Cobra. He wasn't that terribly impressed with the paint job, so he and a buddy, Joe Nazimek, decided to strip the paint and start over.
This is where the magic of a Mustang II restomod is quickly discovered. Enthusiasts associate the Mustang II with unpleasant memories-the oil embargo, gas shortages, and vanilla performance. However, the Mustang II is a terrific platform with potential for those of you looking to build a restomod that's a little different or if you have a small budget. You can swap in a fuel-injected 5.0 High Output and a five-speed for great driving fun. And, you can fit this little guy with 17-inch wheels and tires to improve its contact patch and handling.
Jeff decided to fit his King Cobra with a 351W and a T5 five-speed. Jeff got the five-speed from a '85 Mustang GT donor car. Getting a 351W into a 302-size engine bay was anything but easy. Jeff had to modify the framerails and inner fender aprons to accommodate the wider Windsor.
Jeff concentrated his efforts on bodywork, paint, and graphics once the critical engine and driveline swap was handled. He credits Brian Schoenrock for laying down the busy King Cobra graphics, which took an extraordinary amount of patience.
Jeff saw potential in the Mustang II back when not many people were snapping them up for special car projects. He put his imagination to work, building what has become his own specialized Saturday night ride.
1978 Mustang II King Cobra
Owner: Jeff Minx, Mesa, AZ
4.00-Inch Bore, 3.500-Inch Stroke
Stock Connecting Rods
Mallory Unilite Ignition
Ford Racing 9mm Plug Wires
Weiand Stealth Intake
Holley 750-cfm Four-Barrel Carburetor
External Oil Filter
Polished 65-amp Alternator
Four-Row Core Radiator
K&N Air Filter
Tremec World Class T5 Five-Speed
Front: Mustang II, KYB Shocks, Sway Bar
Rear: Four-Leaf with KYB Shocks
Front: Factory Front Single-Piston Disc Brakes
Rear: Factory Drum
Front: Factory Aluminum Crosshatch, 13x6
Rear: Factory Aluminum Crosshatch, 13x6
Front: BFGoodrich Radial T/As, P205/60R13
Rear: BFGoodrich Radial T/As, P205/60R13
Stock Interior with Brushed Aluminum Appointments
AM/FM Eight-Track Stereo
Dupont Corvette Red, Applied by Joe Nazimck
King Cobra Aero Package and Graphics