DEARBORN, MI – Owners and fans of the 1974-78 Mustang II are rejoicing the world over – there has FINALLY been a true Ford-recognized celebration for Second-Generation Mustangs! The first-ever National Mustang II Reunion held on August 21st served as a Mustang II homecoming at the very place where Lee Iacocca and his merry Mustang men had re-invented Ford's groundbreaking Pony Car for an all-new era when build quality and fuel efficiency were more important to buyers than no-frill options and high-horsepower. And what better time to stage such an event than in the 40th anniversary year of the Mustang II Cobra II? Yes, the racy looking Mustang that the late Farrah Fawcett helped make famous turned the big four-oh in 2016.
Add in the fact the that the Mustang II Reunion was held at Ford's own World Headquarters in Dearborn in conjunction with one of the top Mustang shows in the world -- the Mustang Owners Club of SouthEastern Michigan's annual "Mustang Memories" show -- as well as on the same weekend as Detroit's own famed Woodward Dream Cruise, and it just doesn't get any better than that. Well actually, it does – thanks to special appearances by the actual designers who worked on the Mustang II, both for a pre-show dinner with owners plus at the show itself, where those same retired Ford stylists came back to pick their favorite Mustang II’s on the show field for custom, autographed awards.
Most notable however was that fact that a record-setting number of Mustang II’s registered for this historic event – 82! – more than doubling the previous mark set during the car’s 40th birthday in 2014 at the Carlisle Ford Nationals. It was likely the largest gathering of the most beleaguered Mustang since the cars were rolled off the assembly line from 1974 to 1978. And it all came with the backing of Ford Performance, whose enthusiast outreach program has long recognized the importance of the Mustang owner community – all Mustang owners!
Why a national Mustang II reunion? Because it's long past time that true car enthusiasts finally accept the Mustang II. In the proper context of history, now’s the time for all the automotive pundits to stop regurgitating shopworn urban legends about the 1974-1978 Mustang II and passing disparaging judgment on these great little cars that the multitude of II fans have owned and loved for so many years. Would-be auto journalists and so-called experts have gotten the Mustang II so wrong and have taken these cars so horribly out of context for so long that the denigration simply had to stop.
So Ford Performance decided to step in and help owners celebrate the these great-looking, fun-to-drive Second-Gen ‘Stangs together, and steer the non-believers away from the overwhelming tide of misinformation which totally ignores the context of the era in which Mustang II's proved to be such a smashing sales success.
For II fans, the joy of Mustang ownership has been tainted by certain members of the automotive hobby who still hold a personal disdain for all things related to the 1974-1978 Mustang II – as if it were the troublesome redheaded stepchild of the Mustang family. But the fact of the matter is, Mustang IIs have truly never deserved all the demeaning verbiage thrown their way by the so-called “purists” who cling to their exclusionary thinking based on all-too common misconceptions.
Every generation Mustang needs to be measured on its own merits, and taken in context when any form of success is considered. Those who would knock the Mustang II because it was so radically "downsized" need to understand the market dynamics of the 1970s to appreciate the II for being Ford's "Right Car at the Right Time."
When the upsized 1971-1973 Mustangs began floundering in the marketplace, the muscle car era was already coming to an end while insurance premiums were skyrocketing and federally mandated emissions controls were choking performance out of old-tech large-displacement V8s. By that time, the 250ci inline six found in the 1973 Mustang put out only 95 horsepower (with the 1974 Mustang II's 2.8L V6 making 105), and the 302 V8 that came standard in the 1973 Mach 1 was rated at a mere 136 (which is actually three hp less than the 1976-1978 302). Even the 351 that was optional for the 1973 Mustang was only making around 155 hp. And in Mustang's "glory years" of 1965-1967, the comparable small-block two-barrel 289 V8 cranked out just 130 net horsepower. Context anyone?
Mustang production for 1971 had dropped below 150,000 units, and for 1972 fell to a bit over 125,000. In 1973, the nation was rocked by an energy crisis fueled by an Arab oil embargo at a time when Mustang sales were crippled by the gas-guzzling big-blocks and the growing popularity of small, sporty import coupes. Eugene Bordinat, vice-president of Ford design at the time, noted that with the Mustang, ‘We started out with a secretary's car, and all of a sudden we had a behemoth.’ But the ‘father’ of the Mustang, Iacocca, had a plan in place to fix all that and in doing so rejuvenate the Mustang brand with something he called his ‘little jewel.’
The Mustang II bowed in 1974, styled with cues that mirrored the original and praised for its perfect timing in the marketplace, much like the '65. Sales rebounded, and with model-year production of nearly 400,000 units, the all-new Mustang II came to within 10 percent of equaling the original's Mustang's first-year sales record! In fact, the oft-maligned Mustang II sold more than a million units in just a five-year run, and to this day remains among the best-selling Mustangs of all time.
Much trimmer and thriftier than the 1971-1973s, Mustang II was 20 inches shorter, four inches narrower, an inch lower, and almost 500 pounds lighter. (What self-respecting enthusiast wouldn't want his favorite sports car to get smaller and lighter, instead of bigger and heavier?) Despite it being the only year the II wasn't offered with a V-8, 1974 was the year that Mustang was named Motor Trend Car of the Year (the only other Mustang to win that honor was the '94.)
One common knock against the II is its relationship with the Pinto, a much different car with a smaller wheelbase. First-generation Mustangs were also based on Ford's economy car at the time (Falcon), plus the third- and fourth-generation cars were based on Ford's entry-level car of their era as well (Fairmont). And technically, the Mustang II's platform was quite different than the Pinto's, with only a few chassis items such as wheel spindles and brake discs common to both after 1973, when Pinto got heavier and was in need of sturdier componentry found in the II's front suspension (which became the model for many street rods.) Comparatively, the first-generation and Fox-bodied Mustangs had more Falcon and Fairmont in them than Mustang II had Pinto – yet oddly, nobody demeans them for it.
Finally, there is the rap that the Mustang II was embarrassingly underpowered. But when its performance is put in context of the times, Mustang II actually offered segment-topping bang for the buck. True, the 1978 Mustang II 302 V8 made 139 horsepower, but its nearly 250 foot-pounds of torque was available at a seriously down-low 1,800 rpm. It rival, the heavier Chevy Camaro, got only six more horses (145) from its 302ci V-8. Even the four-barrel 350 V8 in the slow-selling Z28 made just 185 horsepower, and with a sticker price of $6,500 the Z28 was some $2,300 more than a base Mustang II V-8 coupe – which was big money back then for only 46 extra ponies. Heck, Smokey and the Bandit's ‘mighty’ 400ci 1977 Pontiac Trans Am delivered a mere 180 horses, and it was a so-called Hollywood performer!
The self-proclaimed Mustang purists should also consider that performance actually dropped from Mustang II levels into the Fox-body era when the 118-horse 255 V8 replaced the 302. And when performance was ‘reborn’ in '82 with the Mustang GT, its 5.0-liter cranked out a whopping 18 more horses than back in 1978.
You see, the fact of the matter is that the Mustang II was as viable a performer during its time as almost any other era Mustang. (If blame need be assigned, it was the EPA, not the Mustang II, that decided the final output of the II's 5.0 V8, and any perceived shortcomings there could be quickly and easily remedied with the help of a Ford Performance Parts catalog.) With more than a million owners still fondly recalling how much fun these smart-looking little cars really are to drive, this year's first-ever National Mustang II Reunion was an “automotive happening” to remember.”
For that reason, Mustang II’s from all across the country made their pilgrimage to Dearborn to participate in the Woodward cruise, Mustang Alley, and other MOCSEM pre-show activities – including a visit to Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant (home of the new Mustang), a stop at nearby Watson Engineering (where the Cobra Jet Mustang race car is built), a tour of the private 50-Mustang collection of Ford exec Mike Berardi, and, of course, that “Dinner With The II Designers.” Special guest-speaking appearances were made by Howard “Buck” Mook and Dick Nesbitt, primary designers of the II, as well as II design manager Ari Ekizian, II interior design manager Howard Payne, plus Al Carpenter and Wayne Tanner who managed 1976 Cobra II production for the Motortown Corporation. Many had brought their own original sketches to be put on display – including Mook’s huge line sketch that was first shown to Iacocca to gain the initial design direction for the II. Even a Mustang II owner from Sweden came all the way to Dearborn to be part of this historic event. As a testament to owner interest, the after-dinner autograph session lasted more than two hours!
Among the 82 cars lined up for the II reunion at the Mustang Memories show were many custom II’s and muscle machines – including a twin-turbo V-8 II. There was also a II “convertible,” a “Monroe Handler” feature car, the one-off “Western Edition Mustang II” prototype, plus a 1976 Stallion model, several Ghias and Mach 1’s and many Cobra II’s. There was even a “Reunion Angel” on hand for a “Farrah” photo op – and Lauren Parrot of Harper Woods, MI, dazzled the crowd with her big smile and flowing blond hair, taking Cobra II owners back to 1976 and the “Charlie’s Angels” era.
They were all among the 853 Mustangs and Fords assembled in the north parking lot of the Ford World Headquarters for the 2016 edition of “Mustang Memories.” This annual show, which attracted car enthusiasts from more than a dozen states and Canada, not only set a record for the most Mustang II’s in one place, but also for the most Red Mustangs in one place – 153. It was part of the show’s “Color War” between the Yellow and Red Mustang Registries.
According to Mike Rey, president of the Mustang Owners Club of Southeastern Michigan (MOCSEM), it is the second largest event of its kind in the country, and the largest in the Midwest. MOCSEM has more than 700 members and is one of the largest regional owner’s clubs in the world. MOCSEM also donated $850 in show proceeds to the Fallen and Wounded Soldiers Fund, an organization that provides aid to Michigan veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and provided a $1,000 college scholarship to one of their younger members.
For Mustang II fans, however, it wasn’t just a show – it was a validation of their devotion to second-generation Mustangs, and a sign that the Mustang II is finally being recognized for its contribution to Mustang’s success story. With transaction prices in the collector-car community nearly doubling for Mustang II’s in the past five years, and now this record-setting national reunion that raised enthusiasts eyebrows all over the world, perhaps second-gen Mustang owners are now entering a new era where enthusiasts have finally understood that Mustang II’s are Mustangs, too!
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY II OWNERS & ISAAC IRELAND