Rod Short
April 1, 2000

If you've ever hung around people who like to fish, then you've probably heard plenty of stories about the ones they caught and others that got away. It's practically the same with Mustang buffs and the horse tales they share. But Landon Salings, who owns this award-winning '78 Mustang II King Cobra, might be an exception to this rule.

"I first saw this car when I was about 13 years old," says Landon with a reminiscent look in his eyes. "That's about the age you really start thinking about cars, and I fell in love with them. I ran across it again about eight years later when I had a Cobra II. I was thinking about doing some work on that car until I found this and decided that was the car I wanted. So I sold the Cobra II and got it. I drove it throughout college where it got its share of dings and scrapes, but overall it stayed in good shape."

While some people might not have understood why you'd sell one Mustang II just to buy another one, inquiring minds will recognize Landon's car as a significant step toward what the Mustang is today. Performance buffs often sneer at the Pinto-based Mustang II, especially since performance in the mid-'70s was often nothing but graphics and sales promotion hype. Yet that trend began to slowly change, despite gas crunches and hard economic times. Ford capitalized on that trend during the last year of Mustang II production with the $1,277 King Cobra package that compared quite favorably with other performance cars of its time. These cars came with a 2V 8.4:1 compression 302 V-8 that was rated at 139 hp at 3,600 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, which matched up quite well with the comparable 305ci-equipped Chevrolet Monza. Also included was a Rallye Equipment package that featured a competition suspension, heavy-duty cooling package, and chrome-tipped exhausts. Power steering, power brakes, and 195/70R radials mounted on lacy-spoke aluminum rims rounded out the King Cobra package.

While King Cobras continued the '70s trend of outlandish graphics by sporting a huge snake on the hood, the tape treatment was milder than what was found on the Cobra IIs-especially when viewed from the side. Yet it was the 5.0 emblem on the small reverse hoodscoop that started a trend that changed the face of Mustang performance. With the public perception of high performance altered by so much talk of European and Japanese performance cars, this was the first time a domestic musclecar was marked with a metric engine designation. Rave reviews of offshore performance products carried that image on into the mid-'80s, as seen with the brief appearance of the Mustang SVO. Yet, it was the mild success of the King Cobra that ultimately led to the 5.0 moniker finding its way onto the Fox Mustang, which led to what we have today in modern musclecars.

"A lot of people don't even know what a Mustang II is," Landon said. "Yet, there are a lot of people interested in them now as you can see by some of the Web sites on the Internet. Mustang II people are usually diehards. They just like the looks of them and the way they ride. Even though they weren't powerhouses like the early Mustangs, you can still tweak them and make them perform pretty well."

Despite the renewed interest in these cars, restoring a Mustang II is probably the most difficult of any 'Stang out there. Even with production figures of about a million units, many of these cars were junked and crushed with no thought that they would ever become collectible. King Cobras are even harder to find in any shape or condition.

"They're not a pleasure to restore because it's so hard to find parts," Landon said flatly. "All you have are some obsolete dealers, a few specialty shops, and some junkyards. All told, it took me about three years to gather up everything just to finish this car. Right now, it's even tougher than it has been. Scrap metal got so high recently that most junkyards that had cars went ahead and crushed them. A lot of other Mustang IIs were hacked up by street-rodders and racers trying to get the rack-and-pinion frontends."As such, Mustang II King Cobras are quite rare in any condition and should benefit from increasing interest as they creep ever closer to antique status. We're sure that makes Landon Saling's lump of brown sugar even sweeter!

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