TBT: ‘The Right Car at The Right Time’: Mustang II Takes Pony Car in a New Direction

Oct 05, 2023

The 60th anniversary of the Ford Mustang is right around the corner, but you can’t tell the history of the iconic pony car without mentioning the compact Mustang II, which was introduced 50 years ago last month. 

Mustang II arrived during a time of skyrocketing gasoline prices and a drastic increase in the sales of vehicles imported by Ford’s foreign-based competitors, particularly in the small car segment, which was the fastest growing at the time. It was “the right car at the right time,” and “one little jewel of a car,” according to a brochure for its introductory 1974 model. 

While 18 inches shorter than the previous Mustang, the new car retained the original Mustang’s long hood and short deck silhouette. Luxury appointments were emphasized with the Ghia and hardtop models, while “fun” and “action” were the key words in describing the 2+2 and Mach I, three-door hatchback models with fold-down rear seats. Mach I stepped up to a standard 2.8-liter V6 from the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine of the others, though customers could opt for the smaller of the two engines. Cobra and King Cobra models had been added later in the production run of the Mustang II. 

Ford had sold three million of the original Mustangs by the time of the introduction of the Mustang II on Sept. 21, 1973. Ford President Lee Iacocca, who notably revealed the original Mustang nine years earlier, said many buyers were reluctant to sacrifice “style, comfort and convenience” of many vehicles, but promised Mustang II would set a new bar for luxury in small cars.  

“Mustang II will be the first of a new generation of little Mustangs that we predict will set a new luxury and quality standard for all cars sold in the U.S. – including foreign cars,” Iacocca said in a company press release. “Mustang II will be tuned to today’s market and establish a new class of jewel-like small cars. It will be highly styled and luxurious and will offer excellent performance.”

Ford had invested $160 million specifically on development of the Mustang II, and its arrival brought another $250 million investment with an expansion of small car production capacity for it, as well as the company’s other small cars. The Lima Engine Plant was also added to help supply Mustang II’s power plants. 

Ford invited automotive media to test-drive Mustang II models equipped with the 2.3-liter engine, and the car consistently exceeding 20 mpg. One publication’s test driver topped even the Volkswagen Beetle with 23.2 mpg during their trial. MotorTrend cited the car’s fuel economy and “outstanding value” in naming the Mustang II its Car of the Year, while Iacocca was named Automotive Man of the Year for “perpetuating Ford’s history of innovation.” 

When it came time for Mustang II to hit the streets, the first one went to a stockholder and Mustang owner who had grown dissatisfied with the increasing size that occurred in the years following the car’s 1964 debut. In addition to reducing the car’s length, Mustang II also weighed almost 500 pounds less than its predecessor. On top of that, the larger of its engine offerings was only two-thirds the size of the smallest engine on the previous Mustang. Those changes, however, were not reflected in its Mercury counterpart, the Cougar, which actually grew in size for the 1974 model year.

Elsewhere, Mustang II was revealed to thousands of spectators in the downtown centers of Chicago, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Cleveland, as they emerged from the melted blocks of ice in which they had been encased. Sales of the car were nearly as hot as the original Mustang’s, as well, with first-year sales of nearly 300,000 units, almost 2.5 times as many as the outgoing Mustang it replaced. More than a million Mustang IIs were sold in its five-year run, ending in 1978.

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