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FEB 29, 2024 | By Adam Nelson

Adam Nelson Finds Out That His ‘German Export’ 1978 Mustang II King Cobra Is Somehow Not A T5

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We met Adam Nelson from Wausau, Wisconsin, during Mustang II Reunion VII, hosted by Iowa Mustangs Unstabled in June of 2022 at their massive “Stang Invasion VI” event that summer. When we heard his blue King Cobra was an export model – complete with an export “95 DSO” number on the door tag – we couldn’t figure out why the car wasn’t badged as a “T5,” like most Mustangs that Ford built for export up until that time. So Adam said he’d send us the story behind this car someday. Well, that someday has arrived – and the story behind the Nelsons non-T5 badged Export Model 1978 Mustang II King Cobra proved to be as interesting as we’d hoped. But don’t take our word for it – check out Adam’s story below. And feel free to shed any insight you might be able to share on this by emailing us at ClubHub@Ford.com.

“The story of my 1978 Mustang II King Cobra starts on the day it was ordered by the original owner. (It took me forever asking people to help me find the original owner, but I was finally able to talk with him a few years ago before he passed.) He’d heard that Ford had come out with the King Cobra and even though it was late in the model year he wanted to order one. He was in the military at the time, stationed in Germany, so he went to the Ford dealer rep on the base to order the car. He told them he wanted to pick up the car in California when he comes back from deployment before he had to go back to Germany to close out his tour of duty.Old photo of Cobra II

“To get a Ford Mustang in Germany you could not order it as a Mustang because that name was already trademarked in Europe before the Mustang ever came out. To sell the car there, Ford renamed the car as a ‘T5’ – which included removing Mustang badging from the car and replacing it with T5, among other changes. But because it was to go to California, he discovered that he did not have to order his Mustang II as a T5 Package car, and as an American service member it could retain the mph speedometer and not have to have the export kph speedo, even though he wanted to drive it while stationed in Germany. As it turned out, when he ordered the car, Ford had a promotion for service members that if you ordered a new Ford to be shipped to your base overseas, they would ship the car back to the States for free after your deployment. So the car was ordered and built in Dearborn as a King Cobra and not with T5 badging -- but instead of a USA Destination door tag code with a DSO (District Sales Office) number from 1-90 for the States, it was built with a 91-99 DSO number for Export – this one being 95.INterior of Cobra II

“The issue he faced was that he wanted the King Cobra to be equipped with the four-speed manual transmission, but due to the emissions laws in California at that time you could not order the manual transmission with the 5.0-liter V-8 – it could only be ordered with the automatic. They had figured out that if they ordered the King Cobra as a “DSO 95 Export” model and it was being shipped with military export paperwork, then it could come into California equipped with a four-speed. So that’s what they did, and he came back to the base in California to pick up the car and drove it around there for about two weeks before being redeployed.Close up of Headlight

“Since it had export paperwork, he had the car shipped to his base in Germany, where he was able to enjoy it there for the last three months of his deployment. He then had the King Cobra shipped back to the base in California before coming back and driving it home from there to Deadwood, South Dakota. Once he was home for a while, he did what many enthusiasts did back then -- which was to strip off most of the power-robbing factory anti-smog emissions equipment. To upgrade the engine he installed a single-plane Holley Street Dominator four-barrel aluminum intake manifold with a 600 cfm 4-bbl Carter carb, along with a clutch upgrade (super stiff but grabs really well) plus a true dual-exhaust system. It was then that he noticed his King Cobra was equipped with slightly different emissions equipment because it was built with Ford’s export car emissions for Germany, with an export air pump, EGR valve and a variable venturi-style 2-barrel carburetor. But hey, at least he was able to get it with a four speed!Rear three quarter image

“The original owner kept the car clean as a whistle as far as body and rust goes, although at some point there was some house-painting going on and there was overspray on the car so it got repainted in the original color of Dark Midnight Blue. Unfortunately, soon after that – sometime around 1981 -- a motorcyclist smashed into the passenger-side rear quarter-panel right behind the door. The quarter panel had to be replaced and repainted again, but it was not re-stickered with all of the King Cobra striping and decals. Soon after that, he sold it to its second owner in Oklahoma where it stayed for some time (the car still has its 1990 Oklahoma safety inspection sticker in the window).Mustang II along Gaurdrail

“From 1991-1992, my dad was looking at Wausau newspaper ads for cars -- you know, the ones with only one 4-inch by 2-inch black-and-white pic (we still have the cut-out of that ad!). So he sees an ad for a blue 1978 Mustang II King Cobra with 103,000 miles on it down in Oklahoma. That’s a long way from Wisconsin, but my dad still wanted the car. Well, he had to talk to my mom and ask her if we could buy it. So with big, ole puppy dog eyes he shows her the little tiny black-and-white ad and she says, ‘OK, if you can come up with the money’ – which of course he did the very next day.taillight


“Dad called the owner in Oklahoma and yes, he still had the car – and as luck would have it, it turns out he was coming up from Oklahoma to visit family in Wisconsin so he agreed to drive it up to Racine where dad would meet up with him and buy the King Cobra. He could see that it was repainted, but it was so clean underneath that he could still see the yellow ‘US Steel’ ink stamping on the gas tank! It still had its original 5.0 V-8, 4-speed trans and 8-inch rear end, plus the original suspension, springs and shocks as well. In addition to the original owner’s intake and carb upgrades, we found it had Hedman long-tube headers with a full 2-inch dual exhaust and also a 3-core aluminum radiator to improve cooling.Interior of Mustang II


After dad got the car home he did some needed maintenance, installing a new water pump and timing chain. He dove it occasionally from 1992 to ‘96, putting about 3,500 miles on it. After 1996, the King Cobra was only taken out on the road a few times – and perhaps only three or four times more between 1999 and 2007, adding just 227 miles on the ticker over those years. It spent most of its life in our garage covered under blankets, with the occasional boxes sitting on it. But by 2016, I decided I needed to start working on it to get it back on the road after sitting for so long.Rear end of Mustang II


It definitely needed an overhaul as its last oil change was 1996 and the tires dated back to 1988! I performed an entire fluid change of the oil, coolant and even the gear lube in the trans and the rear end. It was leaking power steering fluid from the rack, which I replaced. I got new tires and did a full service inspection and was able to get it out to a car show or two whenever I could. By the time 2020 rolled around the car was taken to plenty of shows, local car meets and out cruising. It went from 106k miles on it when I resurrected the car in 2016 to 110k on the odometer by 2022. With some road time under its belt and new tires, I drove the car from Wausau, Wisconsin, to the 7th Annual Mustang II Reunion in Iowa in 2022 and had a blast seeing so many more Mustang II’s and meeting new people. It ran great driving on the highway, humming along at 75-plus with the 302 singing at 4,000 rpm and still netting me 24 mpg! But then it started to run rough at idle, so I stopped and swapped plugs -- but it didn't help. I drove it like that and didn’t find out until after the long drive home that the reason it was running rough was because of a loose bolt holding the carb to the intake!Engine bay of Mustang II


Since then the King Cobra has been my weekend back-up driver car. By no means is it perfect in any way shape or form -- it shows its wear and tear like any car of this age. I want to keep the car pretty much a survivor and at some point restore it -- not to original but just to have it period-correct and dependable as a running and driving Mustang II King Cobra. It shows 114,000 miles on it now and it is driven to be enjoyed. It’s an export Mustang II that’s not technically a T5, so it’s a cool piece with an interesting history. Our thanks to Ford Performance for letting us tell the story of this unique King Cobra in the Ford Fan Spotlight.”



Here’s How YOU Can Get In The Spotlight: For more than 15 years now, one of the most popular features on FordPerformance.com and in our weekly Fast News e-newsletter continues to be "Ford Fan Spotlight," where readers can send in their own reasons why they're fans of Ford Motor Company and its vehicles. You know who they are: Ford "superfans;" grassroots Ford racers; unique Ford vehicle owners; loyal Ford enthusiasts; notable Ford club people; special Ford families; and/or any avid supporter of Ford, Ford vehicles, Ford motorsports or Ford Performance who deserves a little bit of special recognition.

All you need to do to get you, your car or candidate considered is to send in a brief description (200-500 words or less) and a few photos (in .jpeg format, preferably around 1 mb in size) with the owner’s full name and hometown, please. Just tell us about the vehicle(s) and why you think Ford Performance should feature it (them) in the "Ford Fan Spotlight" for an upcoming installment of Fast News as well as for posting on FordPerformance.com. Then email it to:
ClubHub@Ford.com with your contact info. Your submission allows us the rights to use your words and images (along with any edits) for editorial purposes; we’ll choose one submission in random order to post online. We hope to see YOU and your Ford in our Spotlight soon!