Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
Answering the call for a lighter, more nimble Mustang, Ford's Lee Iacocca, dictated that the new Mustang, officially called the Mustang II, which debuted in 1974 would be light, sporty, and more European. Iacocca wanted it to be "a little jewel" and this direction drove every aspect of the new design. Under this new direction, V8s were declared too heavy, and thus the Mustang II was powered by a new 2.3 litre 4-cylinder engine or a 2.5 litre V6.
The 2.3 4-cylinder engine was the first Ford 4 cylinder engine since the last Model B in 1934, and the first metric engine built in the US. It was loosely based on the Ford of Europe's 2.0 litre Cortina
engine, although it was so extensively modified that only the nuts and bolts could be shared. The 2.3 litre engine featured an overhead camshaft within its iron heads and was topped by a two-barrel Weber-Holley
carburettor which fed fuel through an aluminium intake manifold.
The engine was rated at a rather weak 102 bhp. The optional 2.8 litre V6 was a slightly enlarged version of the Capri's optional 2.5 litre V6 and was rated at a marginally better 119bhp. This was a far cry from the 275bhp 351 Cleveland V8 available in the Mustang just two years before.
The Mustang was now based on the Pinto chassis, which was not a performance car by any stretch of the imagination. The chassis was heavily modified to give it more of a luxury feel, "mini-limousine" as Iacocca wanted it. The Mustang II was a foot shorter than the original 1965 Mustang and just 300 lbs. heavier, but weight distribution was still horrible with 58% of the weight over the front of the car.
It was offered in four-cylinder Mach 1 or "mini-limousine" Ghia form. Ford expected it to be a huge success. It wasn't. Only 18,000 were sold the first month, compared to 22,000 on the first day back in 1964
. Performance was dismal, with the V6 needing almost 14 seconds to hit 60 mph and almost 20 seconds to go through the quarter mile. But the Mustang II was saved by the OPEC oil shortage of 1974
. Long lines and high prices for gasoline drove up sales of the more fuel efficient Mustang II's.
Too Heavy, Too Detroit
When the motoring press were introduced to the Mustang II in Dearborn they were not all that impressed with what they had seen. Most observers felt the new Mustang was too large, too heavy, too Detroit; it seemed to miss the mark. This was a time that Ford's European design team were leading the way, particularly with the brilliant Ford Capri
, with its compact size, crisp handling and reasonably light weight. By contrast the new Mustang was larger, heavier, less efficient in its use of outside dimensions for carrying passengers and luggage - and not nearly as sporty as the Capri
But the product planners in the USA knew their market, just as those in Europe did; and apparently they decided that masses of Americans were not ready for a strictly European approach. There was also, they said themselves, the specter of forthcoming safety regulations hanging over the Mustang IPs design - something not so influential when the Capri
was originally designed. In the end, it was a take it or leave it proposition. The Mustang II represented progress at least - just maybe not in the right direction.
Fastback Mach I V6
If you really wanted to part with your hard-earned and buy a Mustang II, then the only version worth considering was the fastback Mach I with V-6 engine and 4-speed gearbox. The basic 3-door Mach I model included the 2.8-litre German V-6 engine with dual exhausts, BR70-13 radial tyres
on styled steel wheels, dual remote-control outside mirrors, fold-down rear seats and identifying exterior trim. You could option wider CR70-13 radials fitted to 5-in.-wide alloy rims, "competition" suspension
, power steering
and brakes, air-conditioning
and the Ghia interior trim package - bringing the price tag up to (1974
price) US$4500 and the curb weight to a hefty 3120 lb, about $1000 and 700 lb more than a comparably equipped Toyota Celica
, for instance.
There were interior "group" options available too, such as an anti-theft package including an alarm, an inside hood release and a spare-tyre lock, and the other a bunch of lights for underhood, glovebox, ashtray and map reading. The first group was useful - with the alarm set for action the horn sounds intermittently when the rear hatch was opened before the doors, for instance - but the second included a set of buzzers that in the end only served to drive the owner crazy.
Although the cam, valve train, rods and distributor were carried over from the Capri's 2.6-litre V-6, the 2.8-litre V-6 was otherwise new. Designers couldn't satisfactorily achieve the 2.8 capacity by just stroking, so they bored also and this required a new block. Despite the size increase the V-6 was as mechanically quiet as its predecessor, and it was exceptionally smooth. Fan noise, however, distracted from the otherwise refined nature of the engine - above 4000 rpm it was all too prominent - and many road testers felt a viscous or electric drive should have been used.
Underpowered and Overweight
Even though the Mustang II was powered by this enlarged V-6 engine, it was hard-pressed by the amount of weight it had to pull around; and the Mach I lacked the eager response for which the Capri
was noted. The slow throttle linkage and awkward pivoted accelerator pedal had a lot to do with this impression, but with 1/4-mile times in the mid 19-second region the Mach I owner was going to find themselves looking at the taillights of many lesser powered 4-cylinder cars - and that was not ideal for a car with some sporting pretence. And nor was it a case of "slow and steady" - there were drivability problems too, with engines from lean surge at light throttle openings and being reluctant to accept any throttle when cold, balking and stumbling for several minutes when fully warm even though the engine would start easily in relatively mild ambient temperatures.
The transmission was the U.S.-built, Pinto-based 4-speed. Shifter action, like the engine, was reluctant when the machinery was cold (especially 1st gear) but was crisp and light when everything was warm. Gear ratios were identical with those of the Capri V6
but the final-drive ratio was 3.55, vs 3.22 for the Capri, an attempt by Ford to compensate for the heaviness of the car. The weight, gearing and the emission controls California-version Mustangs conspired to produce poor fuel economy: 16.5 mpg.
Smaller but Better Equipped
Market research told Ford that Americans wanted the new Mustang to be a smaller car but plush and lavishly equipped; so every Mustang has cut-pile carpeting, Thunderbird-like seats and simulated woodgrain on dash, gearshift knob and parking-brake handle. The result was a pretty rich-looking interior, and all of that was before you took a look at the lengthy option list. When the Ghia
option was ordered, the seats were covered with a softer grade of patterned vinyl, color-coordinated to the exterior and carrying contrasting accent stripes on both seat and back cushions. Door panels were trimmed with "wood" similar to that used on the dash, and larger European-inspired armrests like those found on BMWs were included: super-plush carpeting covered the floors. This interior was definitely luxurious but a bit pretentious; we think most people would have preffered the more direct approach taken by the Capri
Behind the Wheel
In typical Detroit fashion, therefore, the emphasis was on effect rather than real comfort: the seatbacks didn't even adjust. Seating was low, as usual in sporty Detroit cars, and bolt-upright with driver and passenger squeezed between beamed doors on one side and the wide transmission tunnel on the other. You could buy the Mustang II Fastback as a 2-seater. Ford realistically called the fastback with four seats a 2+2. Luggage space was also more appropriate to a 2-seater than a full 4-seater, and a fold-down rear seatback was available on all 4-seat models, standard on the Mach I and 2 + 2. With the rear seat folded the cargo area of the fastback, including only that volume below the head restraints in their maximum extended position to allow for rear vision, was increased by 18 cu ft.
Poor seating was combined with a big, low steering wheel leaving little thigh room underneath, and surprisingly in a car of sporting pretense the wheel was made of unpadded plastic. A padded wheel was available but it was of the same large diameter. The seatbelt system integrated with the then mandatory ignition interlock. The Mustang II, like most U.S. cars from the era, had a combination of ratchet retractors for the lap belts with the shoulder belts on inertia reels. Ventilation was, surprisingly, a Mustang II strong point. If you optioned air-conditioning
you would have found it to be both effective and well integrated, while there was also plenty of fresh-air supply to cool the car in mild weather without resorting to air-conditioning
(not such a bad thing on a car with poor fuel economy).
If you optioned the "competition" suspension
you got stiffer-than-normal springs
, larger front anti-roll bar
and added rear bar, and Gabriel adjustable shocks. With this combination the Mach I became a reasonably good-handling car despite its 58% front weight concentration. The bars helped it corner "flat" although the extreme front weight left it with equally extreme understeer at the limit. In more gentle driving it was more neutral. It was possible to get the Mustang's tail a bit if you used abrupt and exaggerated reverses in steering lock.
On the Road
In ride the Mustang II was considerably more refined than the Pinto from which it sprang, but the ride was far from first-class. With the competition suspension, and having the adjustable shocks set at their softest setting (this is the way they come from the factory), the car had a bad case of front-end float. Since the shocks could be adjusted easily we assume most owners would have done that pretty quickly, even though that would have also resulted in an increase in ride harshness. At the rear there was a typically American lack of suspension travel - but at least the hopping axle of old Mustangs was gone because of staggered mounting for the rear shocks.
Mustang II's could be ordered with power assist for their rack-and-pinion steering, a first in U.S. cars, and with that intimidating front weight bias it would have been wise to order it - at least if you also were ordering the V6 engine and any of the heavier optional items. Sure, it also resulted in a loss of road feel with the lightened effort, but without it driving the Mustang was not at all enjoyable, and felt like a slug. As an added bonus, the power steering was much quicker than its all-manual counterpart.
were part of the Mustang II concept; the largest were 70-series size. The vacuum-assisted disc/drum brakes
of the Mustang II scored high marks in every department, and by every road tester that put them through their paces - even though a few noted a little fade after prolonged punishment. They took just about the right amount of pedal force and were up to the task of stopping the car in short distances from highway speed with good directional control. Vacuum assist was optional, and if you could only have one option this would have been it. Without it the braking was way too heavy, with it and you would have found improvments to the brake-to-throttle pedal relationship for heel-and-toe downshifting.
It would have been unrealistic to expect Ford of Dearborn to produce a European-type sporty car. Instead they came up with a distinctively American interpretation of a sporty, compact car. A long option list was part of the theme, and unfortunately the car's great weight and poor balance made some of those options virtually necessary; hence there was no chance of getting a light, direct and simple sort of sporty car out of the deal. To get that, you needed a Capri. On the other hand, for the American driver that was not bothered by such considerations the Mustang II may have appealed. It was solid, well-built, quiet and plush - and not at all unpleasant to drive on the road as long as you don't ask too much of it.