T he all-new Mustang introduced by Ford for 1974 represented the most comprehensive redesign since the original had debuted. They decided to call it Mustang II, since it was a new type of pony car designed for an era of high gas prices and fuel shortages.
Mustang II was the all-new down-sized Mustang. Introduced for 1974, in the midst of a gas crisis, it sold extremely well.
Times had changed considerably since Ford introduced the first Mustang in April 1964. Back then, gas was cheap ‘ around 25-35 cents a gallon ‘ and nobody worried about availability. But by 1974, gas prices were at record highs, and fuel shortages seemed to spring up almost on a weekly basis. To make sure they wouldn’t run out, people often sat for hours in line at gas stations waiting to top up. The only time there were lines at the gas pumps in the 1960s was when the station was giving away a free gift with a $5 fill-up.
For 1975, Ghia’s vinyl top included opera windows, which were very popular in the 1970s.
Mustang originally had been a lithe and athletic compact, but had grown larger over the years. By 1971, Mustang’s curb weight was about 400 pounds greater than the original, its wheelbase was an inch longer, and the car was 8 inches longer overall and 6 inches wider. Engine sizes ran all the way up to a humongous 429-cid, 370-horsepower V-8! After insurance claims began to rise, young drivers got hit with increased premiums and surcharges. Although more than 600,000 Mustangs had been built in 1965, by 1971 sales had sunk to about 150,000. To counter this, Ford decided that the 1974 Mustang would be a small, sporty coupe, like the Mercury Capri and Toyota Celica.
Mustang II’s wheelbase was just 96.2 inches, more than a foot shorter than the 1973 model, putting it squarely in the subcompact class. That set the tone for the rest of the new Mustang’s specs; it was 4 inches narrower, 20 inches shorter in length, an inch lower in height and 400 pounds or more lower in weight than the prior Mustang.
This comparison by Ford illustrates the difference in size among the 1965, 1973 and 1974 Mustangs.
Thankfully, Ford stylists endowed it with classic Mustang styling touches, including a long hood and short rear deck. Mustang II’s front-end styling consisted of an egg-crate grille with inset turn indicator lamps and long fenders housing round headlamps set in square frames. Front and rear bumpers were body colored with bright rub strips. Bright moldings adorned the wheel openings, drip rails, windshield and back window.
Mustang II was offered in two distinct styles: a four-passenger notchback coupe and a 2+2 hatchback with fold-down rear seat. The notchback coupe could be had in base or luxurious Ghia trim, while the 2+2 hatchback came in either a base model or in Mach I performance trim. Mach I’s standard equipment included a V-6 engine, styled steel wheels with trim rings and raised white-letter radial tires. The Ghia targeted luxury buyers and included whitewall radial tires, vinyl roof with Ghia badge and spoke wheels.
Even the basic Mustang II notchback coupe, priced at $2,895, included neat bucket seats, four-speed transmission and rack-and-pinion steering. Base Mustang II’s standard engine was a 2.3-liter (142-cid) four developing 88 horsepower. Standard on Mach I’s and optional on other Mustang II’s was a 105-horsepower, 2.8-liter (170-cid) V-6. There were no optional V-8’s.
Mustang II for 1976. The Ghia trim was still very popular among buyers. Performance had become secondary to luxury.
The new car boasted a handsome interior with standard low-back vinyl bucket seats, cut-pile carpeting that carried over onto the lower part of both doors and European-type armrest/door pulls. A floor shift and pull-up parking brake were also included. There were gauges for fuel, ammeter and temperature, plus a 6,000-rpm tachometer, set in an instrument panel featuring burled walnut tone accents.
Mustang II won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 1974, with special praise going to its smooth ride and exceptional handling. The magazine felt the power available from either engine was adequate, and said gas mileage of 19-24 mpg could be expected. Acceleration times were modest, however. Motor Trend’s V-6, four-speed Mustang II recorded a 0-60 time of 14.2 seconds; the automatic was even slower.
Cobra II for 1977 was quite an eye-catching package, recalling the muscle cars of the early 1970s.
But regardless of weak acceleration and lack of a V-8, Mustang II sold very well in its first year. Some 385,993 Mustang II’s were produced during the 1974 model year, of which 44,046 were Mach I’s.
For 1975, Mustang II offered the same four models as before with little exterior change, aside from a new grille, plus opera windows that were included when the vinyl roof was ordered on Ghia hardtops. New this year was an optional 122-hp, 302-cid V-8, available only with the automatic tranny. Also new was a glass moon roof with one-way glass for privacy. A Silver Luxury Group option became available on Ghia models and featured Silver Metallic paint, silver half-vinyl roof, red tape stripes and silver side moldings. Inside was cranberry-red velour upholstery, with color-keyed sun visors and headliner.
A mid-year addition was the new Mustang MPG equipped with a 3.18 axle ratio that helped it score an EPA rating of 34 mpg highway, 23 mpg city. Although it wasn’t as quick as regular Mustang II’s, many buyers wanted better fuel economy and were willing to give up some speed to get it.
The economy was in a slump, so for 1976, Ford added special packages to attract buyers. Shortly after the new cars were introduced, Ford revamped the line-up, making every four-cylinder Mustang II an MPG model. The 2+2 became the MPG 2+2, the hardtop became the MPG Hardtop and the Ghia became the MPG Ghia. To get a non-MPG model, customers either ordered a Mach I (with a standard V-6 it couldn’t be a MPG), or they ordered a regular Mustang II with an optional V-6 or V-8 engine.
The Stallion package for 1976 gave Mustang II an aggressive, racy look at low cost.
An odd model for 1976 was the MPG Cobra II 2+2 hatchback; it was aggressive-looking with racing stripes, front and rear spoilers, non-functional air scoop, styled steel wheels, raised-white-letter tires and Cobra II emblems ‘ but with a four-banger under the hood. Also new was the Mustang Stallion package, which included a black grille, black moldings and wiper arms, black lower body and bumpers and styled wheels. There was also a Mustang II Limited Edition that gave buyers $137 worth of extras, including special two-tone paint, accent stripes, styled steel wheels, unique upholstery and a brushed-aluminum instrument panel applique, all at no charge. Buyers could also opt for the new Rallye Package with Traction-Lok differential, competition suspension, extra cooling package and dual chrome exhaust extension.
Ford dropped the Mustang II MPG model designation for 1977 when fuel shortages eased. A new Ghia Sports Group, available with either black or tan exterior, included a half-vinyl top, black grille, trunk-mounted luggage rack and cast-aluminum wheels with Chamois-painted spokes. Inside was black engine-turned trim for the instrument panel, doors and console, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A new 2+2 Appearance Decor Group included two-tone paint, brushed-aluminum instrument panel applique and paint stripes.
For 1977, the Cobra II model was offered in Polar White with red, blue or green racing stripes, or Black with gold stripes. A new Rallye Appearance package in black or white debuted mid-year offering dual accent stripes, trim rings and brushed-aluminum instrument panel applique.
Big news came in mid-1977 when a new T-Roof Convertible option was announced. Its two removable glass panels did manage to offer some of the feel of a true convertible. The T-Roof Convertible included a stylish Targa band ‘ except on Cobra II models. The T-Roof option was priced at $629 for regular 2+2 models, and $587 on Cobra II’s. I don’t know how many were sold, but overall, Mustang II had a pretty good year in 1977, leading the sporty coupe segment with 153,173 built.
For the 1978 model year, the Mustang II line-up included both the Cobra II and a new King Cobra model offering an even more aggressive package of equipment that included a 302 V-8, power steering and handling suspension with 70-series radial tires. Other features included in this one-year-only package, priced at $1,253, were a Targa band, wide hood decal and more aggressive chin spoiler. The balance of the Mustang II line was mostly carryover, since this was to be the final year for the Mustang II. In its final year of production, 192,410 Mustang II’s were built.
For 1979, Ford was planning to introduce a new Mustang, sans the “II” designation. Although the all-new Mustang would be larger, it was still more compact than the 1973 models; many people felt it was even closer to the original than the Mustang II.
Many people have never warmed up to the Mustang II, some even complaining it reminds them of the Pinto. But in its day, the public and the press sang praises for the little Mustang II. After all, a car with excellent fuel efficiency, sporty looks and a low price tag will always find acceptance. Mustang II was a success, simply because it was the right car at the right time.