Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press
Tammy Bonni with her 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra. Her husband, Bill, found it in Steinbach in 2014.
The Ford Mustang is the original pony car. In continuous production since 1964, Ford has sold millions of them to a wide base of customers and today its popularity is as strong as ever.
From its humble beginnings as a parts bin car that borrowed heavily from the Ford Falcon, the Mustang grew to be one of the biggest successes in automotive sales history.
The long-hood, short rear-deck styling gave it a European look that appealed to young adults everywhere.
By 1965 Ford paired the Mustang up with Carroll Shelby and the Shelby GT 350 was born, leading the charge for the Mustang to take on the road racing battle and compete in the Sports Car Club of America.
On the street and dragstrip, the Mustang saw the move to Cobra Jet big-block V-8s and Boss models earmarked for competing in the Trans Am racing series.
If not in the winner’s circle, it was always a fierce contender, but the biggest battle facing the Mustang would come in the early 1970s.
By 1973 the Mustang had increased in size, weight and price, to the point where its affordability was in question. Many marketing surveys conducted by Ford lamented that, and that the original feel and appeal of the car had been lost.
A larger noose strangling the Mustang’s success was the increase in costs of fuel, insurance and meeting stricter vehicle emission standards. The herd was about to change.
As car shoppers began snapping up fuel-efficient, sporty and fun-to-drive imports from Europe and Japan, Henry Ford II promised company stockholders that Ford had a satisfactory product response.
For 1974, buyers were greeted in dealer showrooms by the new Mustang II. Developed by Lee Iacocca, the originator of the Mustang in 1964, the Mustang II was a firm entry into the small, sports-specialty market segment.
Initial response was that the Mustang had become the “Pinstang” and was little more than a thinly-veiled econobox Ford Pinto. A misnomer, the Mustang II was actually a technologically advanced design that shared nothing with the Pinto.
With sales of 385,993 units in it first year, it outsold the ’73 model nearly three-to-one.
By 1976 the 302 cubic-inch V-8 had returned to the option list, along with a new limited-edition Cobra II appearance package.
For 1978, as a direct response to Pontiac’s Trans Am, Ford launched the first 5.0 Mustang, the King Cobra. Wearing all the disco-era duds, the King Cobra had scoops, fender flares, wild graphics and a handling package which included adjustable shock absorbers, front and rear stabilizer bars and performance radial tires.
For Tammy and Bill Bonni of Beausejour, the 1978 King Cobra Mustang is just a member of the family.
“I grew up around a lot of old cars and taking Sunday drives in my father’s ’67 Cougar and ’70 Challenger,” Tammy said.
Her husband Bill had found a King Cobra in 2010 and was looking for a parts car when he found another ’78 King Cobra in 2014 in Steinbach.
Bill said, “It was in pieces and being sold for parts, but it was all there, so I bought it all, got it home and after looking it over, I started reassembling it.”
Before being taken apart, it was a barn-find survivor and Bill had it running before the end of the weekend in time to tell Tammy, “I found one for you!”
“I was ecstatic when he told me, because I know how rare they are and that these are pretty special cars,” Tammy said.
Finished in bright red with red vinyl interior upholstery it’s a real blast from the past.
Under the hood is the original 5.0 V-8-producing 139 horsepower at 3,600 r.p.m., backed by a three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission and 2.79:1 geared rear axle. Optional extras include power steering, power front disc brakes, AM/FM mono radio, luxury light group, cooling package, opening opera windows and an engine block heater.
With an overall length of 175 inches, the 2,733-pound King Cobra rides on a 96.2-inch wheelbase and 13-inch forged aluminum wheels shod with Cooper Cobra performance radial tires. Since acquiring the car a new graphics package, including the Cobra hood decal and a new carpet were installed. In the future there’s a full restoration in the wings for this survivor. “It needs work, but I just love it and can’t wait to take it for Sunday drives,” Tammy said.
Originally delivered to the Thunder Bay region, the one-year-only offered King Cobra is one of only 4,971 produced. Verified by a production number breakdown report from Kevin Marti, from Marti Auto Works in El Mirage, Ariz., the well-optioned car carries some rare equipment.
Today, these once unloved little jewels can be difficult to find, but with their size and weight, coupled with the right equipment under the hood, they can produce some serious performance. Just what every Mustang lover wants.