Huw Evans
November 1, 2008
'71-'73 Mustang Hardtop/SportsRoof
Price Range: $1,800-$3,500
Pros: Cheapest of the classic-era Mustangs, flamboyant styling, and great road presence
Cons: Not as many repro parts available, love it or hate it styling, size

There are quite a few people who claim that the Mustang died after 1970. Even now, 35 years since the last one rolled off the line, the big '71-'73 cars tend to evoke love it or loathe it emotions. However, no matter what the opinions, one has to remember that these "Clydesdales," as they're often dubbed, were very much conceived in the late '60s and were a product of their respective era. Yours truly is actually a big fan of these cars (maybe watching the original Gone in 60 Seconds as a kid had something to do with that) and likes the exaggerated styling and sheer presence of them. Because they are quite controversial, even in the Mustang enthusiast community, you don't tend to see nearly as many of them at shows and events as you do the older cars. As a result, demand for them is also less, which means it is possible to get more car for your money than with the '64-'70 models. For $3,500, you'll be able to get yourself into a hardtop, possibly even a regular SportsRoof, but convertibles and Mach 1s will be largely out of reach. Less demand also means fewer options from the aftermarket, meaning you'll have to rely more on swap meets and specialists to get the parts you need, though things are improving. Compared to the earlier Mustangs, the '71-'73 cars, despite their size and outward visibility issues, rode better and in many respects were more tractable. Due to their weight--these cars are around 300-400 pounds heavier than their immediate predecessors--examples equipped with the 250ci, 145hp straight-six are a bit glacial in their acceleration, so a V-8 is preferable. Another good aspect with '71-'73 Mustangs concerns the size of the engine bays, which allow you to squeeze in just about any V-8 you can imagine, including the 429/460. If you're looking at building a Pro-Street-style machine or drag car, a '71-'73 coupe can make a lot of sense. The big Mustangs also make for a great cruiser/bruiser--big-inch power and that long hood can offer a driving sensation like few other cars.

'74-'78 Mustang II
Price Range: $600-$3,500
Pros: A car to consider in times of high gas prices, surprisingly well built, good road manners
Cons: Period styling too much for some, non-V-8s offer little in the way of performance, not much aftermarket support

From one extreme to the other, Lee Iacocca's "Little Jewel" was perfectly timed when it arrived on the scene for 1974, just in time for the first energy crisis. Not surprisingly, it sold like hotcakes with over 385,000 sold in the car's debut season. The '74 models were the first to come without a V-8 and although performance from both the 2.3L four and 2.8L V-6 was lethargic, the car's diminutive size (its wheelbase was just 96.2 inches, versus 109.0 on the '71-'73s) made it much easier to wield, especially on city streets. Rack-and-pinion steering, a well-engineered front suspension, and much improved workmanship compared with the older Mustangs were also pluses. Two body styles were offered: a formal roof notchback coupe and a fastback with a lift-up rear window. A V-8 engine (the 302) returned for 1975 and performance options began to appear for 1976, including the Cobra II package for fastbacks, a four-speed gearbox for the V-8, plus T-roofs later on and ultimately the 1978 King Cobra. Although popular when new, the Mustang II hasn't aged particularly well and was and still is shunned by many (though street rodders cannibalized many in order to get their hands on the desirable front suspension). As a result, prices tend to reflect this, which means that most of these cars can still be had for little more than pocket change. The most desirable are the fastbacks, and although the limited production King Cobras and to a certain extent the Cobra IIs are out of our price range (at least running, driveable ones), you can still pick up a decent, solid V-8 fastback for $3,500 or less. The coupes tend to be cheaper, as are the four- and six-cylinder cars. Although asking prices may be good, parts supply is another matter. Very few companies offer specific parts for Mustang IIs, so you'll need to be patient and dedicated if you buy one that needs a bit of work. The good aspect is just about anything can be done to the 302 V-8, and the four-speed gearboxes and the rest of the driveline is pretty tough.

'79-'86 Mustang
Price Range: $800-$3,500
Pros: Great styling, loyal following, tons of speed parts, great bang for the buck
Cons: Flimsy chassis, many original 5.0L cars wrecked or parted out

When it debuted in the fall of 1978, the Fox Mustang was a dramatic departure from everything that had come. Its sleek, European-inspired looks were right on track for the late-'70s, and although larger in every dimension than the II, the new car actually weighed less. Notchback and hatchback body styles were initially offered and engines were carried over from the Mustang II. An all-coil suspension gave improved handling. The 302 V-8 was dropped for '80-'81, replaced by an anemic small-bore 255 with 118 hp and teamed with the C4 automatic. Performance began making a comeback in 1982 with a reborn high-output 302 dubbed the 5.0L and from there, things only got better. A convertible also returned for 1983 when the car was given a mild facelift, the first Mustang ragtop in 10 years. Most desirable of this breed are the '79 Pace Car Replica, '82-'86 Mustang GTs, the 20th anniversary '84 GT350, and the '84-'86 turbocharged SVO. Today, most of these cars are still extremely affordable, though some of the early cars, particularly '79-'82 models, are getting rather scarce. For $3,500 you'll be able to buy a mint condition four- or six-cylinder base car (coupe or hatchback) or a tired 5.0L that needs a bit of TLC. Most of the 5.0L cars in this price range will have been flogged within an inch of their lives, so check the body structure for stress cracks (floors, A- and C-pillars) and rust, particularly below the cowl and around the front shock towers. The turbocharged four-cylinder cars are a bit of an acquired taste and the early '79-'80 models were particularly problematic. The '83-'84 fuel-injected versions were more reliable and can be built into quite potent machines, though it often requires a bit of creativity. The SVOs are sterling performers in their own right, and although starting to appreciate in value (you can still find them for around $3,000 or so in need of restoration), specific parts for these cars are still very tough to find. Aftermarket support for the others, particularly the '85-'86 cars, is much better.