Vroom-vroom-vroom! At the front of the green Mustang II, the V8 roars shamelessly, behind the two Magnaflow tailpipes gurgle. Step inside, the wide door falls heavily into the lock. Automatic in D and gas in it. The big car thunders away. The rear wheels sing, the driver’s eyes wander from the left fender to the hood, hood, more hood… ah, there’s the right fender. What a masterpiece! Everything is wide, thick, big, made in macholand.

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang II, considerably shrunken compared to previous Mustangs.

Ford Mustang

At least the 1971 Ford Mustang is still nice and chunky.

Mustang-II is a smooth coupe

Next to him is his immediate successor. With a steeply raked front wing, white lettered tires, front fenders marked ‘V8’, ‘T5’ and ‘Mach 1’… But let’s be real: he looks as impressive as an eight year old with a Batman costume. The Mustang II is a smooth coupe, not narrow, but two classes shorter from head to tail than its brutish 1971 sibling, even shorter than the primitive ‘Stang. It sits on 13-inch wheels and its wheelbase is the same as the first Ford Ka. In addition, its design does not exude the sharpness of the first pony car. Displacement junkies still shake their heads in disdain because the Mustang II was initially only available with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder (88 hp) or a 2.8-liter V6 (105 hp) from Cologne. A 4.9-liter V8, around 140 horsepower, throughout the Mustang II’s entire production run, was the largest engine obtainable, even in the King Cobra. As desperately as Mustang II fans fight for the reputation of their beloved, no generation has been more reviled by Mustang aficionados than this one. What the hell happened there? It is not because of the oil crisis, that is clear.

Ford Mustang

The 1973 Ford Mustang, scaled down and with too-small engines.

It already went wrong with model year 1971

To understand the shuffling of the Mustang II, it helps to first understand the shuffling of its predecessor. Because with this fat horse, the head of Ford, Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, came to a dead end, which the American legislature was mainly building. In the late 1960s, American automakers were in a race for riches. The highlight at Ford was the 429-cubic-inch V8 in the 1969 Mustang. A 7-liter V8 so big that mechanics complained about the cramped underhood. So Bunkie just made the next generation wider. And longer AND heavier Mustang creator Lee Iacocca didn’t like it at all and expressed it openly. By the time Henry Ford II fired Knudsen on September 11, 1969, it was too late: the 1971 Mustang had already spread widely and was introduced in September 1970.

Ford Mustang

Low emissions and lead free

At precisely this time, the US environmental watchdog EPA announced that hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions were to be reduced by 90 percent by 1975. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) were also criticized by the EPA. And the engines had to be able to run on unleaded gasoline.

How could all of this be accomplished at the same time? The manufacturers had no idea, the catalytic converter was only invented in 1973. They experimented with all kinds of sensors and lower compression ratio. Result: low performance and high consumption. And to emphasize that, the manufacturers also changed the method of measuring power. Until 1971-72, SAE horsepower was measured gross, excluding draw from the alternator, fan, and water pump. After that, net horsepower was measured at the crankshaft, so the performance figures were lowered even further.

Back to Ford: Mustang sales took a big hit. But that wasn’t the only problem facing Lee Iacocca, who had become Ford president in the late 1970s: Sports cars were completely out of date, buyers didn’t know what to buy, and Japanese cars were on the rise. Furthermore, Ford had no real solution to polluting exhaust gases, and since the Chevrolet Corvair scandal, it has become abundantly clear that manufacturers are responsible for the products they ship out into the world. Iacocca’s response: We’re slashing the next-generation Mustang and selling it not as a sports car, but as a small luxury coupe — a whole new segment.

Ford Mustang

The interior of the Ford Mustang II.

Pinto-based

Under the code name Arizona, Nat Adamson developed a car based on the small Ford Pinto, from which only the front suspension, rear axle and trunk floor were adopted. Iacocca had demanded that the new Mustang be “a gem.” Especially thanks to the all-new front axle and engine subframe, it drove much more civilized than the Pinto.

To make it clear to customers that this wasn’t just any 1974 Mustang, but a car that was rebuilt from the ground up, Ford named it the Mustang II. That does not mean that we should suddenly call the 1971 Mustang I, because it is already the fourth generation.

Opened in 1973

Introduced at the end of August 1973, it was in dealerships on September 21. The responses were underwhelming and disappointing. In the first month, the planned 31,000 units were not sold, but only 18,000. The Mustang II was quite heavy, lightly powered, and more expensive than its big predecessor.

But then came the oil crisis. On October 17, 1973, the price of a barrel of crude oil rose 70 percent, and until 1974 the price even quadrupled. A shock to the US, a boon to the Mustang II. Customers in droves rejected his V8 and bought the ‘gem’. Nothing less than 385,993 units in the first year of the model; by a gigantic coincidence, the flop became a hit.

Ford Mustang

Today, both generations have few fans. A 1971 Mustang is like 1976 Elvis: an overweight superstar, while a 1976 Mustang is like 1971 Shakin’ Stevens: an insecure copy of a superstar. In both cases you are not expecting that, but they are interesting from a historical perspective. At least they both rock more than Cliff Richard.