Motor Trend, February 1974 (reprint)

Motor Trend, February 1974 (reprint)

Ford Mustang II

Motor Trend’s selection of the Mustang II as the Car of the Year for 1974 was, for the first time in many years, a somewhat effortless decision.  In 1974, in a time of introspection about the function and purpose of the automobile, and in a time when the entire motoring world is being reevaluated and radicalized by and energy crisis of enormous dimension, the Mustang II, as the advertisements declare, is indeed « a new class of small car. » Ten years ago, the first sporty, performance-oriented but functional Mustang appeared. Those were different times, perhaps happier days. The Mustang then was most of all an « alternative car »; the swoopy, full-sized American car was both within the financial grasp of most Americans and it also was affordable to maintain and drive. Gas was almost half the price it is today, and there was plenty of it, and Ford engineers were not limited by power and economy-sapping anti-pollution devices.  The free-wheeling, wide-open era of the American automobile, unfortunately, is over. Time to face reality.  So, you ask, why is the Mustang II the Car of the Year?  Here we go: Mustang II represents an excellent balance between a highway cruiser – now impractical for may – and the smaller urban/suburban economy car. Simply put, it is the right size at the right time for greatest number of motorists. Not small enough to be cramping, and not big enough to be excessive. Timing in the marketplace, and timing in the middle of a strangling gasoline crisis, could hardly have been more perfect. It is, we suggest, the size of the immediate future. With perhaps two other exceptions, it is the only really new car produced for the 1974 model year. The Mustang II need not be a « second-class » car for those buyers who cannot afford a host of add-on options. The fact is that the base car is very near to the top-of-the-line model, and with a base price of $2895, it’s a remarkable bargain in 1974. Additionally, the number of options permits the customer to tailor the car to suit his needs. The Mustang II is the result of long-range, carful planning toward a goal, and not just a one-shot plunge into a given market area. The car, we suggest, has been totally thought out and conceived. Our final motive may sound vague to many, but its something that has been on our collective mind for some time. The Mustang II is one of the first American cars in many years that represents a serious return to standard-shift transmissions. This car literally helps the driver instead of hindering him.  More than anything else, in selecting the Mustang II, we feel Ford, and perhaps all of Detroit will follow, has placed good taste, function and handling/performance before frill, flash and fad. 

Variations on a Theme

Part of the beauty of Ford’s new Mustang II is that is is not « the right car at the right time, » but the right cars at the right time. For the new Mustang II is actually four distinct and different cars using the same nameplate; each buyer can individually tailor his car to his own tastes. There are two body styles, the so-called notchback two-door hardtop and the three-door 2+2, and each body style can be further subdivided into tow well-defined models.  The base model Mustang II with a list price of $2895 is a two-door hardtop, but to call it a base car is to insult it. Standard features include an economical 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, fully-synchronized four-speed manual transmission, rack-and-pinion steering, manual front disc brakes, and a walnut burl tone instrument panel complete with 6000 rpm tachometer and real guages (not idiot lights) for fuel, anmeter, and water temperature. The standard interior in most low-priced Detroit cars has long had a reputation for being perfect for taxi-cabs and rent-a-cars but not much good for anything else. Well, the standard Mustang II interior changes all that. Thick cut-pile carpeting covers the floor and runs up the sides of the deluxe soft vinyl door panels and the super-comfortable all-vinyl bucket seats are the low-back style with full-width headrests. Other standard items on the lowest-price Mustang II are a soft vinyl headliner, full wheel covers, color-keyed urethane-covered bumpers and lots of bright exterior mouldings that you’d pay extra for on many other cars.  The next model in thelineup is the standard three-door 2+2 which features all the same items as the hardtop plus a swoopy fastback roofline, a large hatchback-type rear door and a fold-down rear seat. With the seat down this rear cargo area offers 27 cubic feet of storage space for everything from golf clubs to kitchen sinks.  The luxury model of the Mustang II, the Ghia, is based on the two-door hardtop body style but comes standard with many of its own distinctive features. There’s a padded vinyl roof with Ghia emblems, dual color-keyed remote control mirrors, vinyl insert bodyside moldings, special pinstriping, stell-belted whitewall radial tires, special wheel covers, and a luxurious interior with deluxe vinyl or cloth bucket seats, special door trim panels, extra-thick carpeting, a super sound package for that typically quiet Ford ride, and a digital clock. With a suggested retail price of $3325, Mustang II Ghia becomes a new standard of small car luxury.  Topping out the lineup of Mustang IIs for ’74 is the exciting Mach I model that’s based on the three-door fastback but include raised white letter steel-belted radials, styled steel wheels, the potent 2.8-liter V-6 engine, and a unique appearance with the black lower bodyside paint treatment. The Mach I combines performance car fun with the utility of a hatchback and the economy of a Mustang II.  Now that you’ve selected just he right Msutang II for your personality and pocketbook you can further enchance its beauty and fuctionality with judicious selections from the option list. There’s enough optional equipment available to suit every taste, from the Rallye package, competition suspension, forged aluminum wheels, and radial tires for the performance enthusiast to the tinted glass, air conditioning, automatic transmission, and super sound package for the luxury-minded. In between are items like the 2.8-liter V-6 engine that’s standard on the Mach I, power steering, power brakes, manually-operated sunroof, four different radios, luxury interior group, light group, protection group, digital clock and flip-out rear quarter windows.  With four different models and dozens of attractive options, Motor Trend’s Car of the Year will appeal to a broad range of new car buyers in 1974. In short, Mustang II has something for everybody. 

Road Test and Engineering

« We wanted to do a little car that had some class in its fits and finishes. I told ’em: Don’t fool around with a lot of heavy moldings » 

Lee Iacocca

Ford President Lee Iacocca’s directive on the Mustang II nails the concept of this new pony car right to the bench. A little car with lots of class and no fiddling around with unnecessary pieces. Every part, piece, and function has been carefully thought out and for each there is a reason, from the standard front disc brakes to the European-style three-color taillights. Even the traditional Mustang horse emblem has been redesigned for Mustang II.  Mustang’s secret is that standard is good enough. In fact, better than most. With the exception of radial tires, which should have been standard, and a radio, which we all like, you don’t really need anything else. The base car has excellent seats with very good support, rack-and-pinion steering which doesn’t need power, and a four-speed manual trans, all for just $2895. Or you can option yourself all the way up to $4700, to the first-class Ghia set-up, a preview of what all personal luxury cars will be like some day.  When the original Mustang was conceived, Ford’s product planners started with a set of existing pieces belonging to the Falcon. Mustang II, on the other hand, was created from a a clean sheet of paper and what Pinto hardware was found suitable was revised and refined. From the beginning the emphasis was on a smooth and especially quiet ride, despite the fact that Mustang II’s 96.2-inch wheelbase is over a foot shorter than that of the ’73 Mustang. Suspended between the front side rails of the underbody is a rubber-isolated subframe that serves a two-fold purpose of providing a rigid mounting base for the front suspension as well as isolating engine and road vibrations from the body proper. The tuned front coil spring sit on the lower control arm and are anchored at the top to the suspension cross-member, a design similar to that used on larger Ford cars which reduces transfer of road shocks directly to the body structure. The lower control arm is further held in place by a compression drag strut that allows the wheel to move slightly rearward as it moves up in response to a heavy road-shock. Shocks are concentrically mounted within the front coil springs and a link-type stabilizer bar is used to reduce body roll when cornering. This combination imparts exceptional rigidity to the subframe, permitting the suspension components to move freely in compliance to road imperfections but the liberal use of fairly stiff rubber bushings at all mounting points keeps the passenger compartment virtually isolated from road harshness. Rubber isolation also serves to reduce the natural feedback that rack-and-pinion steering provides along with its precise control, and the optional power steering eliminates any remaining that may creep through.  The fairly standard rear suspension of parallel semi-eliptical tuned leaf springs with staggered rear shocks has also been sound-deadened by use of rubber iso-clamps and large springs shackle bushings. These iso-clamps completely surround the spring at the mounting point, thus preventing any metal-to-metal contact between the springs and spring mounts. With the optional radial tires and rear stabilizer bar, Mustang II handling is on par with almost any European car you want to name. It’s a smooth ride, free of annoying harshness, but still it transmits enough feel to let you know precisely what’s going on under your wheels. The Mustang II talks to you without shouting.  The standard 2.3-liter OHC four-cylinder engine is a revision of the original 2-liter Pinto engine, but done so drastically that almost no pieces are interchangeable. It’s also the first mass-production engine built in America using metric measurements, has a five main bearing crankshaft and utilizes a cross-flow cylinder head. The 2.8-liter V-6 is a slightly enlarged version of the Capri 2.6 of last year, but unfortunately the improvement in the V-6 is less significant than that of its four-cylinder sister. Smoothness and silence are excellent, but power is lacking. Power from either engine is adequate, however, and gas mileage varies form 19 to 24 mpg when driven carefully. With the current fuel shortage, the mantle of uncanny timeliness has been placed on the shoulders of Mr. Iacocca, again, and the priorities for more horsepower have been indefinitely postponed. 

Owner Feedback

What do the owners of the Mustang II have to say about there newly purchased ponies? To find out, we took a list of 48 new purchases and narrowed that down to six families in the sprawling L.A. area. Here’s what they said…. 

Milford G. James is vice principal of a public school in Los Angeles. A bachelor, he is 46. The model: Ghia V-6 with automatic transmission and air conditioning.  Why did you buy a Mustang II? I was ready for a change, although I’ve had Mustangs for years. I had a 1965 Mustang, also a ’68 and a ’71 Mustang, so I stayed with the car. We take it, then, that you’re quite satisfied with the car? Yes. Is there anything you dislike about your Ghia? I don’t really like the seat-belt buzzers and the interlock system, but if they make the car safer, then I guess it’s okay. Any other comments about Mustang II? I just think it’s great. 

Mr. and Mrs. Gunnar Jacobson are in their late fifties and live in Pasadena. The man of the house knows his cars – he drives a 280 SE Mercedes-Benz. This time we let Mrs. Jacobson do the talking. The model: Ghia, V-6 with automatic transmission and air-conditioning. Why did you buy the Mustang II? We were driving down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena and passed a showroom and my husband said, ‘Oh, we have to go in and look at the new Mustangs.’ So we did, and we ended up driving one off the floor. We wanted a smaller car and it was so beautiful with all those carpets and color is outstanding. I’ve never had a small car before, either. I’m very happy with it because I think I’m going to get terrific mileage. But I don’t like all the (warning) buzzers and bells and lights. I asked if they could disconnect some of it and they said not legally. Otherwise, it handles beautifully; it handles like a larger car. It doesn’t have quite the speed, but I think I’ll get much better mileage. And I think that will make up for it. Is there anything else you’d like to say about your new Mustang II? Well, I’ve only had it a short time, but I think I’ll be very, very glad to have this car as we get into this energy crisis. We were absolutely smitten by the car because it looked so smart. The dealer had an old picket corral fence around it, with sawdust on the floor, and it just looked so smart.

Harry A. Knowles of Garden Grove is a radar technician with the U.S. National Guard. He is married, 40, and the father of one child. The family owns two Pintos, a ’72 Runabout and a new Pinto wagon bought with the Mustang II. The model: four-cylinder, two-door hardtop with manual four-speed transmission. Why did you buy a Mustang II? Actually, I went to the dealer to look at the ’73 Pintos, because I thought it was the best time to buy the model (year end) but the salesman misunderstood me, and showed me the car that I now have. Are you happy with your new Mustang II? Yes. It rides like a bigger car and I think it handles like a Triumph TR-4. I like the fuel mileage that I am getting and particularly the styling. I would say, however, that it does need reclining seats. And I didn’t car for the buzzers, but they were easy enough to disconnect. Other than that, I really like it. 

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