Jeff Ford
April 1, 2000
Contributers: Jeff Ford, Bill Erdman Photos By: Bill Erdman

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P46121_large 1978_Ford_Mustang_King_Cobra Front_Passenger_SideP46122_large 1978_Ford_Mustang_King_Cobra HoodP46123_large 1978_Ford_Mustang_King_Cobra EngineP46124_large 1978_Ford_Mustang_King_Cobra InteriorP46126_large 1978_Ford_Mustang_King_Cobra Rear_Driver_Side

The new King of the road! Presenting...the King Cobra. Unmistakably bold. The ultimate in flair. A car designed to rule its class. So said Ford in its 1978 brochure. Oddly, at least in its day, the Mustang II was doing just that. Lee Iacocca had seen the writing on the wall and, in a stroke of good fortune, had redesigned the Mustang just in time for the fuel crunch that struck in 1974. The new Mustang flew off the floor--even without an available V-8. Ford zipped together 338,136 hatchbacks and hardtops in the first year’s production and never looked back, though it did return the V-8 to the engine bay in 1975.

Beginning in 1977, Dale Rabe of Bellville, Michigan, was there to see it all happen. He was even involved in designing several components for the Mexican Mustang II. During that first year, Dale took a shine to the II--so much so that he ordered the King Cobra you see here. His intentions for the car? The show field. There would be no modifications, no 6-71 blowers or fats and skinnies. Instead, he would be showing the car just the way Ford built it. That's why the little Cobra has only 10,000 miles on the odometer today.

"I bought the car to show--that's why I picked the color combination that I did," says Dale. "I felt the silver paint with black and red accents and red interior would really do well."

When he ordered the car, he left almost nothing off that was an option. The list is quite substantial and lacks only three items that were available on the King Cobra: the clock, four-way seat, and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

One of the most intriguing options on Dale's King Cobra is what Ford termed the "T-roof convertible." This option was made available for the first time on any Mustang in 1978, allowing a semblance of the bygone convertibles. Between 1973 and 1978, the sunroof had been the only option for those of a "sun-worshiper" persuasion. Also interesting are the optional "big" tires--whopping P195/70R13 tires mounted on Lacy Spoke Aluminum Wheels. Other notable bits are air conditioning, console, power steering, power disc brakes, and AM/FM/cassette (for the first time ever). The King also has the Convenience Group, which packed in the interval windshield wipers, day/night mirror, and passenger-side vanity mirror. It also has a convenience panel that has low oil, fasten belts, and brake warning lights.

Dale is the first to admit the performance features are slim, though the car packs a 302 2V, four-speed, 3.00 rear gear, and Rallye Package, which gave the car stiffer springs, adjustable Gabriel shocks, and a rear sway bar. "I had to do something to cut the cost down, so the leather [steering] wheel, clock, and [four-way] seat were left off," Dale told us. Even on the Ford A-Plan (the discount Ford gives to its employees), the total was a stiff $6,500. Without his employee discount, the King would have cost a princely sum in the mid-$7,000 range.

Does Dale still show the King? You bet, and he even manages to squeeze a few drives out of His Majesty every once in awhile. "I can't drive it too much," says Dale, "because of the potential hazards." Still, we'd like to borrow the keys and go for a spin to find out if it really is good to be the King.