• The Ford Mustang Cobra II: Keeping the Pony Car Alive

    The Ford Mustang II: Keeping the Pony Car Alive
    Ford Mustang Cobra II at the Shelby American Collection Annual Car Show.

    While not universally loved, the Mustang II saved the Mustang for future generations.

    Last weekend, TFL Car covered the Shelby American Collection’s annual car show in Boulder, Colorado. The venue was awash in every conceivable iteration of Ford muscle and sports car heritage, from the first Shelby Cobra produced to the brand new 2017 Ford GT. Also on offer was every generation of Ford’s iconic Mustang. When you see a special Mustang – Shelby or otherwise – on the street in your town, it may be something of an occasion. A gathering such as this is a fantastic opportunity to see every Mustang you can imagine, but certain generations were more common than others. Nonexistent, however, was representation of the Mustang II…except for this one. Its a 1976 Mustang Cobra II.

    I know, I know, the Mustang II is a contentious point in history – particularly among die-hard enthusiasts. Born from the 1973 oil crisis and based on the equally contentious Pinto, this car hasn’t enjoyed the best reputation. However, even if you’re not a fan of the Mustang II, there are two important factors to consider to its credit:

    The Mustang II ensured the breed’s survival.

    In retrospect, some regard the Mustang II as a low-point in the marque’s 52-year history. The car was strangled by government mandates and based on a subcompact econobox. As a result, it was radically different from the beloved, square-stanced pony car people had come to love. When I say strangled, the good-old “5-Oh” wheezed its way to a paltry 140 horsepower. With all those cubes and a grandiose nickname, the top-of-the-line Mustang II engine made 44 horsepower less than my Mazda CX-5. Despite that, Lee Iacocca’s directive to build smaller cars in the wake of the oil crisis paid off: 386,000 units were sold in 1974, the most since 1967.

    Those are the sort of sales numbers Ford would kill to have for the Mustang today. While Mustang II sales did eventually fall off as the oil embargo ended and Americans returned to buying bigger cars, it made its mark. More importantly, Ford kept the Mustang – however derided it was by then – in continuous production. The Mustang is alone in that distinction. While great names such as Charger, Camaro and Challenger have returned in recent years, they’ve all experienced gaps in production. For better or worse, the Mustang II kept the name alive for future generations.

    The Mustang II Cobra is a significantly lower barrier to entry than first-generation Mustangs.

    If you’re looking for a cheaper (and more exclusive) entry into the Cobra world, consider a Mustang II.

    This Mustang Cobra II is owned by a man named Jack. Jack has owned the car since 1987, and has eagerly worked on improving it inside and out. Over the past thirty years, he’s redone the engine, transmission, and interior twice, and continues to tweak and modify to massage more power out of its V8. With 350 horsepower and a curb weight well south of 3,000 pounds, this Mustang II is no slouch. More significant than Jack’s Mustang’s performance, however, is the price.

    While original, first-generation examples represent the halcyon age of the Mustang, they also represent a high barrier to entry for a project car. At time of writing, restored Mustang Cobra II models are available for less than $15,000, whereas the sky is the limit for their predecessors. Weirdly, some may find this Mustang II more appealing. Especially at car shows like the Shelby American Collection’s, first-generation and modern examples were a bit common. This car was the only one of its kind at the show, and its relative rarity lends a sense of exclusivity. I can’t help but acknowledge this car’s underdog status as a reason for wanting one over its more popular brethren.

    Thanks to the Mustang II, Ford kept the name etched in the American consciousness for 52 continuous years. If you’re not harking back to the late 20th century to sate your Mustang appetite, click here to read TFL’s review of the brand new 2017 Shelby GT350.

    Zach Butler
    Zach Butler
    Zach is a writer and Managing Editor for TFLcar. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in hot hatchbacks and off-road rigs. Born and raised in Colorado, Zach holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Colorado State University, and is based in Boulder, Colorado.

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    12 thoughts on “The Ford Mustang Cobra II: Keeping the Pony Car Alive

    1. I bought my first car in late 1979, a 1974 Mustang II notchback, chocolate brown with the back half of the roof covered in white vinyl. It had a 4-cylinder automatic and a rust hole the size of a hockey puck in the back fender. But it ran well, and I paid $1,750 cash for it, from money I made delivering newspapers while in high school. I wish I had a picture of it. It was such a dog, but it was beautiful, made more so by the fact it was my first. I eventually wrapped it around a pole, with a little help from a senile old driver who ran me off the road, coupled with my lack of experience in knowing how to handle that situation. I later got a 1966 notchback, dark blue with the factory wire hubcaps, a 289 automatic, and the Pony interior package. God was that car beautiful. I later sold it and used the profits to factory order a 1989 5.0 hatchback, bright red with the gray interior and a 5-speed. That car was so much fun. Put in a Hurst shifter, Walker Dynomax 2.5″ cat-backs, Kenny Brown weld-in subframe connectors, Fittipaldi wheels, a Ford Motorsport 140-mph speedometer and a set of FMS 3.55 gears. Kept it for 26 years. There will always be a special place in my heart for the Mustang. Someday I will get another…

    2. The Ford Mustang 2 is a crap car it’s fn ford pinto for Christ sakes the ford probe gt is a better car and definitely looks better but their both crap cars FORD PINTOOOOO

    3. wow! crap car? think what you want, ive owned one since 2000 it may not be the coolest mustang ever built, but i have one and respect it.

    4. Thanks for writing such a great article Zach! I’m a personal friend of Jack and a fellow Mustang II owner. I’ve owned 8 Mustangs over the years (5 of which have been II’s), but my favorite is my ’78 King Cobra. You’re right that these cars haven’t been afforded the same stellar reputation as the models that came before (or after) them…but I can also verify what you’re saying about the air of exclusivity around them lately. More and more these days it seems my old Cobra II and my current King have drawn more and more positive and nostalgic attention at shows, gas stations, parking lots and even just at red lights! And as I always tell folks, the moment you start installing things like aftermarket 4bbl carbs, headers, MSD ignition and other common mods that you might do to ANY Mustang, these little cars come to life and prove to be a ton of fun!

    5. What sad group of people not even the average mustang crowd has respect for the pinto mustang owners again the probe which sucked had more goin for it then the pintostang in this case this is really crap painted to look like better crap

    6. Brandon you are very misinformed. Both the Pinto & Mustang II were bigger successes than the Probe.THe Mustang II is NOT a Pinto. Try thinking before you post. My car gets plenty of respect. Especially when I’m on the track.

    7. Uh it’s based on the same platform so no I’m not miss informed not stupid and yes I know what I’m talking about maybe you don’t secondly I clearly said the probe was a crap car to just a way better looking crap car then the crap Stang 2 theirs a reason why mustang magazine doesn’t even ever reference them they suck their ugly and small and ugly ass crap it’d be like if they based the camaro on Chevy cavileir no body likes the mustang two, but the five people who bought them I like the 94 5.0 but most people don’t it’s reality and life

    8. Not based on a Pinto. In order to be based on a Pinto. They would have to share the same platform. No body parts interchange. The wheelbase is different too. With over a million sold in 5 years. That’s a bit more than 5.

    9. Mean while what’s the other number on the other mustangs tens times that. And your point on the chassis is wrong the hummer h2 and suburban based on one another Pontiac solstice/sky sits on shortend corvette chassis and pt cruiser the neon do I need to go on they may be different dimensions but same chassis

    10. Nice read. These sold very well and kept the mustang alive. Very light and responsive to mods. To all the trolls out there, keep hating. You probably drive a Chrysler product that was not even good enough for America. Daimler in 97. Then Fiat, Next the Koreans before they realize what turds they are.

    11. Well written article, Zach. I would like to know the CobraII Vin#. I have a registry and production numbers on Mustang IIs, King Cobra, CobraIIs, Stallion, Rallye, Ghia, Mach1 and original #2 invoices. King Cobra, Stallion, Rallye, Limited are very rare production numbers. My is 1 of 6 made Silver/Red King Cobra.


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