The 1970s weren’t a particularly kind decade for performance vehicles. Most of the fire-breathing options found on muscle cars of the past had been reduced to nothing more than an appearance package with a stripe or two.
Rising costs for fuel and insurance took their toll, as did stricter emission regulations and safety requirements. For many manufacturers, they simply let several performance models fall by the wayside and concentrated on style and luxury as a replacement.
At Ford, the Mustang II introduced in 1974 was an anomaly. Sales were stronger than ever and there was a solid following behind the car as it strived to offer economy, function and at least a semblance of performance. In the five years of its production cycle there were many trade-offs. Engine performance was severely detuned in favour of emissions, even with the reintroduction of V-8 power in 1976. And as hard as they tried to appeal to performance buyers it really, to many, felt as if they had purchased a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
For 1978, the Mustang II was reigning supreme over the competition in its sport compact class. The Mustang’s unique personality had appealed to young buyers and the proliferate dress-up packages seemed to be popular offerings. A new King Cobra model was a last gasp at securing sales, with its in-your-face graphics package.
A $1,253.00 option, it came with the 139-horsepower 5.0 V-8, spoilers, fender flares and graphic package. It didn’t stop there, as the full line of optional equipment was available, including a popular T-Top roof option, light packages and a four-speed manual transmission.
For Bill Bonni of Beausejour, his first car when he attended high school was a 1977 Mustang II. Liking the look of the ’78 King Cobra, he even tried to make his ’77 model look like one with added graphics. As the years passed, he never forgot about his Mustang, or the fact he wanted a real King Cobra. In 2010 he spotted a black King Cobra for sale online.
The price was too high, but when he saw it offered a year later, at a more reasonable price, he purchased it.
It was originally a Toronto car and had been driven hard, but it was still in decent shape for a restoration, with several desirable options. Black with a black interior, the rare radio-delete King Cobra is equipped with T-Tops, power steering, power front disc brakes, four-way adjustable front seat, tinted glass, digital clock, remote driver’s side mirror and the dealer option, sport slat rear window louvers.
Starting underneath, Bonni stripped the chassis and sandblasted and painted it before installing all-new suspension, braking and steering components. Moving inside, a carpet change revealed a clutch pedal under the old carpet, meaning the car had been converted from a rare manual transmission to an automatic.
Under the hood, the 5.0 V-8 engine was completely rebuilt and fitted with a performance camshaft, Edelbrock Performer II aluminum intake manifold, topped with a 650 c.f.m. Holley four-barrel carburetor and a full custom dual exhaust system. No longer a 139-horsepower weakling, this 5.0 really packs a punch in the 2,800-pound King Cobra. Bringing it back to original condition included the installation of a rebuilt four-speed manual transmission.
For the rolling stock, Winnipeg Wheel Works CNC re-cut and repainted the 13-inch, lacy-spoke aluminum wheels and they were shod with new, period-correct, Renegade belted, raised-white-letter tires.
Of the 4,971 King Cobra models produced in 1978, only 2,017 were equipped with a four-speed manual transmission.
A Marti report from Kevin Marti Auto Works gives a further breakdown of production figures and options that places Bonni’s car as one of only 20 T-Top King Cobras built, with the black paint and cloth interior.
While many may see the Mustang II as a lesser car than the other Mustang offerings, you have to only look at it for its own merits. Its impressive sales figures show it wasn’t far behind the original Mustang and it did keep Mustang enthusiasts loyal to the Ford brand.
In terms of performance, it was a lightweight, but at only six horsepower less than a comparable 305-cubic-inch Camaro, weighing several hundred pounds more, it still came out on top.
In the automotive sales arena — when the going gets tough, the tough get going — and from 1974 to 1978 the Mustang II did the job.
For 1979, the Mustang would move to an all-new Fox platform, which would take this legendary model to a new high.