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.