Saturday, June 24, 2017

Motor Trend Car of the Year for 1974

Some cars live strange lives. When we were getting ready to open our shop in Gowanus 5 years ago this was parked with a for sale sign in the window at a local gas station. I even had a friend who was considering buying it for $5,000 years ago (I told him it hadn't moved from the lot in years). The gas station where it lived is now gone and so here we find this little ride, 10 blocks to the north:
This is a 1974 Ford Mustang II in Bright Red. *This is a rare case of perfect timing with an all new design. Somehow the folks at Ford knew to start planning on a tiny version of their Mustang even as the trend was still bigger is better.
*All the more astonishing from the folks who brought you the Edsel!
From what I can tell these turn signals are the one clue that this is a 1974. That horizontal bar in the middle of the lens was a first year only detail for the II.
The sky was falling in 1974 for the domestic automobile market. From October '73 through March of '74 the gas crisis caught the public by surprise. In a land where plentiful cheap gas was taken for granted the cars were enormous and thirsty. In a cruel bit of timing this same year ushered in new efficiency and safety regulations that had automakers scrambling to make their dinosaurs compliant. Here comes the Mustang II in drastically scaled down fashion with a design that accommodated the larger bumpers nicely. It was an instant hit.
There isn't a single bolt on this car that was carried over from the previous generation. In fact the Mustang II shared a platform with the compact Pinto.
The wheels on this ride are from an '80s Mustang 5.0 a la Vanilla Ice. They look a bit oversized for my taste but whatever. Styling cues harken back to the original 1964.5 Mustang such as that simulated scoop on the door. This thing is very tidy overall.
They also produced a fastback/hatchback version of this car which looks plenty cool, but I like this notchback model. My babysitter had one of these when I was a wee sprite in the '70s. I can still clearly remember sitting in the backseat admiring the steering wheel with its circular openings on the spokes.
After all this time these have aged really well. The big taillight clusters look cool with their angled edges conforming to the body shape. Even the huge mid-'70s bumpers look justified with their red cladding.
Who needs plates? Park a car in Brooklyn with nothing on it and the cops will roll right on by for weeks or months (this has already been where I took these pics for at least a month).
As much as this looks like a hardtop there is a thin B pillar between the door and rear quarter glass. In addition the rear quarter is fixed in place and doesn't have a roll down mechanism. There was never a convertible either making this the only generation Mustang to lack one.
In this first year of production there was no V8 available giving it the dubious honor of being the only year Mustang without an 8 cylinder option in its entire 53 year (and counting) run. The base engine was a 140 Inline 4 cylinder. The sole upgrade was the German built Cologne V6.
I love white interiors and this one with the red dash and carpet is fantastic! This ride seems decently appointed as it has an am/fm Stereo (possibly with an 8 Track but I can't be sure from this view). Being an automatic means this ride is S L O W. Those 3 round gauges are all the basics with Fuel being on the left, ALT in the center, and the temp on the right. That little white nub on the door panel is the remote side mirror adjustment. If there was a/c there would be large vents hanging under the dash. This has the basic wheel but the sporty GT wheel was what I remember.
Where there we have it; the perfect mini placeholder for a marque while the 1970s sorted itself out. Lee Iacocca was responsible for the II and insisted that the overall fit and finish were of the highest order. He specified that the Mustang II ought to be "a little jewel" and as a result they're very stout little rides. 4 of the 5 years the II was produced are in the top 10 of all time for Mustang sales. There were stylish Ghia and sporty King Cobra editions too. If you like the looks of this beast just go get one as there are a ton of them out there!

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