1978 Mustang King Cobra - Look Back : '78 King Cobra
A retrospective on the last - and perhaps the best - of the Mustang IIs
After receiving feedback from customers and the press, Ford made structural modifications to the Mustang II for '75 to make the return of the 5.0L V-8 possible. With primitive smog controls and a struggle with unleaded gasoline, the '75 Mustang II's 302-cid powerplant was a distant cousin to the Boss engine of the same size. Output ranged from 122 to 139 hp during its four years in the II series, but the V-8 could be had in coupe or hatchback models at a time when most car companies were phasing out anything larger than a V-6.
In 1976, Ford created a sporty, '60s-style appearance package to match the performance of the Mustang's biggest engine option when it introduced the Cobra II. This version of the Cobra had the "show" but not the "go" of a Shelby GT350-a fact the company touted loudly in magazine ads and brochures-and the dress-up stripes, spoilers, and wheels could be ordered with any of the three engines. It was designed and built by Jim Wangers' nearby Motortown company, although Ford would move the operation in-house for 1977.
The marketing strategies and various packages must've worked, because by 1977, Ford's Mustang once again ruled the crowded domestic sporty subcompact class in sales numbers. It was clear that the company wanted the II to go out with a bang when it introduced the '78 models with much fanfare in October of that year. At the top of the food chain sat the King Cobra, which Ford advertised as the "Boss of the Mustang stable."
The King Cobra was a hatchback-only model with the 5.0L engine, standard four-speed manual transmission, power brakes, and power steering. The $1,253 KC treatment did without the customary bodyside striping of the Cobra II, but sported a unique tape layout featuring a giant snake decal on the hood and pinstriping on the greenhouse, decklid, wheel lips, rocker panels, belt, over the roof area, and around the side windows. Up front was a tough-looking air dam. A "King Cobra" nameplate went on each door and the back spoiler, and a "5.0" badge appeared on the rear-facing hoodscoop. The King Cobra also had rear-quarter flares, a black grille and moldings, and color-keyed dual sport mirrors. Raised white-letter tires rode lacy spoke aluminum wheels with twin rings and a Cobra symbol on the hubs.
Many buyers paid the extra $587 for a T-top, which made the $5,638 KC the most expensive Mustang II. Thanks to the influence of economic inflation in the '70s, it was also the most expensive Mustang so far. Choosing a $225 automatic transmission meant paying more than $6,000 by the time tag, tax, and title were figured. Despite the high purchase price, enthusiasts snapped up 4,318 of them.
A Pair of Kings
Monty Seawright bought his first car, a '78 Mustang II, at the age of 13 with money he made mowing lawns. Since his father owned a junkyard back when they were still known as such, finding a new fender and other parts to restore the car was easy. After driving the '78 on back roads and under the cloak of night for a while, the underage Mustanger sold it and moved up to an '82 Mustang. From there, his love of the cars led him to assemble an ever-changing collection that currently includes a yellow '69 Boss 302 (one of the few restored cars in the collection), a blue '70 Boss 429, a red '68 Shelby GT500, a Poppy Red '6411/42 K-code convertible, and-as a nod to the Mustang II that started it all-a pair of '78 King Cobras.
Monty is aware that the '74-'78 Mustang II series is the most controversial generation in the marque's 43-year history, but he believes the one-year-only King Cobra was Detroit's best musclecar of the '70s. It gave Ford a high-profile model to cap production of the II series before introducing the Fox-based Mustang for '79.
Neither car has been touched by the hand of a restorer or by time itself. The blue KC, registering only 9,000 miles, is a solid-roof model with the four-speed transmission and Tangerine interior.
Monty's white KC is a T-top, four-speed car. Its odometer has not yet crossed the 800-mile mark. The car was in Houston, Texas, when Monty discovered it for sale on eBay. He says he was grounded when his wife found out he had bought another car despite his promise not to add any more to the garage. Now that he sees the public reaction to his sporty Mustang IIs, Monty feels his time in hot water was worth it.
"People don't know what to think when I take the King Cobras to shows," Monty told us. "They always want to know who restored them or where I got all of my N.O.S. parts.
"Seeing them together is like stepping into a Ford dealership in 1978."
Brad Bowling is the author of several Mustang books, including The Mustang Field Guide, Standard Catalog of Mustang, The Saleen Book, and others. You can learn more about the books at www.bradbowling.com.