Launched for the 1974 model year and sold until 1978, the second-generation Ford Mustang isn’t only the most short-lived Mustang, but it’s also the most hated model to wear the stallion badge. Rendered ugly, slow, and the black sheep of the Mustang family by purists, the Mustang II is still looked up with derision because of its Pinto underpinnings that robbed the car of much of its sporty driving characteristics, the compact size, and underpowered drivetrains, but most Mustang fanatics often forget a couple of important factors.
First, the second-gen car was the result of a drastic industry shift caused by the 1973 oil crisis. Second, the Mustang wasn’t the only nameplate that was downsized and got smaller, less powerful engines. Considering this, among other aspects, I think that the Mustang II doesn’t deserve all the hate it gets nowadays and I put together a list of five important factors you should consider before you refer to the second-generation pony as the troublesome redheaded stepchild of the Mustang family.
An important thing to remember is that every generation of the Mustang needs to be measured on its own merits. When the Mustang II arrived in showrooms, most first-gen Mustang drivers were quick to name it a disgrace for the stallion badge because of its significantly smaller size and underpowered engines.
However, this didn’t matter to new customers, who rushed to buy a pony that was designed for a market with skyrocketing insurance premiums and gasoline prices and new emission regulations that were chocking the once powerful large-displacement V8 engines. In all, Ford sold nearly 390,000 Mustangs in 1974, within ten percent of equaling the first-gen car’s first year sales record. By comparison, the 1973 Mustang was produced in only 134,817 units. Granted, following model-year sales weren’t as great, but the Mustang II sold more than a million units in only five years, placing it among the best-selling Mustangs of all time.
The original Ford Mustang was popular for many reasons, but it’s compact dimensions and light construction were among its most praised feats. Only 181.6 inches long, 68.2 inches weight, and tipping the scales at just 2,445 pounds in base trim, the 1964 Mustang was a brand-new approach in a market populated mostly by big, heavy cars.
However, the Mustang started to grow and gain weight in 1967, and 1969 brought a vehicle that was six inches longer and 677 pounds heavier. By 1973, the Mustang was eight inches longer, six inches wider, and a whopping 1,100 pounds heavier than the original pony car.
In this respect, the second-generation was a back to basics Mustang. Some five inch shorter and only two inches wider than the 1964 coupe, the Mustang II marked the return of the compact pony. It was also significantly lighter than the final version of the first-gen car and less than 200 pounds heavier than the original Mustang. Granted, it was nowhere near as powerful, but the Mustang II’s power-to-weight ratio was actually similar to that of the base model sold between 1971 to 1973.
Many people seem to believe that the Mustang II was a rebadged Ford Pinto, but that’s not true. While the pony did share some platform components with the subcompact-sized Ford Pinto, these were limited to items like wheel spindles, brake discs, and some suspension parts. Purists also seem to forget that the first-gen Mustang was also based on Ford’s economy car at the time, the Falcon, while the third- and fourth-generation models were based on the Fairmont, another entry-level model.
Comparatively, the first-generation and Fox-bodied Mustangs had more Falcon and Fairmont in them than Mustang II had Pinto, but strangely enough, nobody throws too much criticism in their direction. Also, while the Mustang II is often criticized for looking too similar to the Pinto, a side-by-side comparison reveals that very few body features are actually similar.
If anything, they shared some of the company’s corporate designs, much like the modern Fusion and Focus have almost interchangeable grilles and headlamps.
One of the many arguments against the Mustang II is that the Ford-badged pony was rather ugly and awkward looking due to its short wheelbase, while the rivaling Chevrolet Camaro continued with the aggressive, muscle car-like design it gained in 1970 until its next redesign in 1981. That may be true to some extent, but the issue here is that the Mustang II was no longer competing against the Camaro.
Being significantly smaller, the Ford was aimed at sporty subcompact models like the Chevrolet Monza and Pontiac Sunbird. And let’s face it, the Monza was no show stopper and it wasn’t more powerful either. In 1974, Chevy’s 2.3- and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines were rated at 78 and 87 horsepower, respectively, while the base Mustang came with 88 horses on tap.
The Monza’s V8 engines weren’t doing much better with ratings of 110 and 125 horsepower. The Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire were also very similar in design, while drivetrains were shared with the Monza. As for the Dodge Challenger, it was discontinued altogether after the 1974 model year and a second-generation model wasn’t offered until 1978, the Mustang II’s final year on the market.
But unlike Ford’s pony car, the second-gen Challenger was just a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant Coupe with small-displacement four-cylinder engines. With a design that was almost identical to the Asian-spec Galant and engines rated at 77 and 105 horsepower, the Challenger wasn’t an appealing alternative to a Mustang II that still had some of the spirit of the first-gen model.
Which brings me to another point: Mustang production wasn’t going very well in the final years of the first-generation model. Sales dropped from 150,000 in 1971 to 125,000 in 1972. Although there was a mild increase in 1973 to 134,000 units, the Mustang’s popularity was on the decline due to the oil crisis and output figures of the V8 having dropped below the 200-horsepower mark.
The arrival of the Mustang II essentially kept the nameplate running and the second-gen model is one of the reasons why Ford was able to produce the Mustang for 52 consecutive years as of 2016. Unlike the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, which were discontinued at some point.
Because it’s not as popular as the first-gen Mustang or even the third-gen, Fox Body model, the Mustang II is quite affordable for a 1970s classic. Prices vary depending on specs, condition, and mileage, but you can buy a mint-condition, sub-50,000-mile car for less than $10,000. Running examples with very little restoration needed can go for significantly less than $5,000, but you can also find $2,000 bargains if you’re willing do a little extra work to get it running properly.
For a little more than $10K, you can get very low-mileage, mint-condition V8 cars with Mach 1 or King Cobra packages. At some point I saw a 1978 model with just 82 original miles listed for $25,000; these are rare exceptions. Although you shouldn’t spend that much on a Mustang II, $25,000 is also pretty affordable for a 40-year-old that looks as if it just left the Ford factory.
Another fact to consider is that buying a beat-up Mustang II and turning it into a restomod could also be a good deal. Not to mention that combining the compact body and lightweight construction with a modern Ford V8 engine could give you quite the quick quarter-mile runner.
To be honest, I could add a few more reasons to this list, but I think that the five above are the most important you should consider before bashing the second-generation Mustang. It might look slow and ugly compared to the first-gen car or the more recent Mustangs, but it’s important to remember that its performance and looks were established by the troublesome in which it was sold. If you take a closer look at what happened in the U.S. industry in 1973 and 1974, the Mustang II wasn’t that bad and deserves just as much attention as any other pony car nowadays.
What’s your take on the Mustang II? Comment your thoughts below!
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Images credited to: Mach 1 Club | All Ford Mustangs | Mustang II |