The Ford Mustang II was still a ‘pony’ car, an affordable model with a highly stylized and sporty image, but it was much smaller than the iconic first generation. It’s seen now as being cramped, slow and underpowered, but at the time it was a very sensible response to the conditions in the United States. While it may have lacked power and style, the Mustang II would run rings around the original when the roads got twisty.
The Mustang II was so much smaller because many felt that its predecessor had grown too large for its role as a sporty coupe. It made perfect sense to design the Mustang II around the new clean sheet platform that underpinned the small and sensible Ford Pinto sub-compact. When the original Arab oil embargo hit in 1973, the product planners looked like geniuses. The public agreed, because during the life of the Mustang II, from 1974 to 1978, Ford sold more than 1.1 million. As Ford said, it was clearly ‘the right car, at the right time’ and it was awarded Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine in 1974.
Today however, the Mustang II is generally considered too small and slow. The complaints about performance are easy enough to justify, since there were only two engine options when the car was launched – a 2.3 liter in-line four-cylinder producing just 88 horsepower, and a 2.8 liter V6 producing 105hp. Both are lukewarm by today’s regular family car standards, and a huge letdown from the muscular V8 motors of the early cars. At least the trim size and modern production combined to take at least 500 lbs off the weights of the outgoing car.
In 1975 the oil crisis was over, and Ford relented, adding the popular 302 cubic inch V8 option. This produced 140hp, still modest by any standard, but at least is made the right noises and had potential. When Road and Track magazine tested the V8 powered car (with a three-speed automatic) they still only achieved a top speed of 105mph and a 0-60 time of 10.5 seconds.
At least they looked good, with an exterior design refined by a consultation with the Italian Ghia design studio, recently acquired by Ford. Two body shapes were made, a ‘notchback’ coupe version, and a fastback model incorporating a very practical hatchback. There was also a ‘T-top’ version of the fastback, with two removable glass roof panels. During the life of the car, Ford offered special edition ‘appearance packs’ with custom exterior trim and decals. These included Mustang Stallion and Cobra II editions in 1976 and a King Cobra model in 1978. Unfortunately, due to gas prices and smog regulations, Ford did not add any additional power to these models.
When it was launched, the Mustang II was designed to compete with compact, sporty, foreign imports like the Toyota Celica and Datsun 240Z, and it was well suited to that. Today’s top Mustangs might be fire-breathing V8 monsters, but in 1973 the Mustang was an everyday sporty model aimed at a thriftier, less ambitious audience, much like today's lower-spec EcoBoost Mustang.