Why The 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra II Was One Of The Worst Fords... Ever..

In a sea of amazing Mustangs, the King Cobra II stands as one of the automaker's biggest disappointments to date.

When it comes to Ford's vehicles, none of them are as beloved and iconic to the entire car industry as the Mustang. Introduced in 1964 as a fun and smaller alternative to the big muscle cars of its day, the Mustang captured a youthful spirit that helped turn it into an absolute legend. One look at the roads today will tell you just how successful the Mustang was, as they are still made to this day with the same spirit the original set out to embody.

While the Mustang has been a great success and a benchmark car for Ford, the brand has had its share of failures and crappy cars. Unfortunate names like the Pinto or Edsel come to mind, but for those who love the Mustang, another car comes squarely to mind - the Mustang II.

The guiding principle behind long-running car models is to improve upon the vehicle with every generation, tweaking and upgrading it along the way, while keeping true to the name's spirit. But to many, the Mustang II was more of a butchering than an improvement.

Even worse, the special edition Mustang King Cobra II seemed to make a complete mockery of performance Mustangs, earning it a reputation as one of the single worst cars Ford has ever made. But what about it was it so bad? Read on to find out...

Tough Times For American Muscle

Cars can typically be seen as a product of their time, and for the Mustang II, this was especially true. The trouble began in 1973, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) launched an oil embargo against the USA, cutting off gasoline supply nationwide.

The heavy hit this dealt to America brought the country's reliance on foreign oil into question, but more importantly, left the drivers of big and inefficient muscle cars with no fuel to feed their hungry beasts.

Japanese imports began taking advantage of the sudden fuel shortage with their small and efficient economy cars, dealing a blow to the market share of American automakers. The second blow came in 1975, when the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) laws were drawn up, threatening fines if American automakers didn't reduce their cars' fuel consumption. While these laws would fully go into effect in 1978, it was enough to scare automakers into taking drastic action.

This was a disaster for muscle cars, as the big V8s they relied on simply couldn't meet these targets while still providing the power and speed buyers demanded. Most big V8-powered cars were simply killed off, with only the smaller "Pony Cars" like the Mustang and Camaro surviving.

A New Breed Of Lame Horse

When something great is taken from you, you long for the good old days of when you had it. This was no exception when it came to the legendary muscle cars of the 1960s. All the supposed promise of improvement and ultimate muscle of the future was gone and had been replaced by cars that were pathetically under-powered. People yearned for the days of fun American cars to make a comeback.

Ford took their shot at the end of the first gas crisis in 1974, introducing the Mustang II as a new Mustang that supposedly could meet fuel demands and provide the driver with a fun time.

But the second half of that wasn't entirely true, as the Mustang II had 2 engine choices: a 2.3L 4 Cylinder pushing out a mere 88 hp, or a 2.8L V6 with 105 hp. On the V6 option, 0-60 mph took 13 seconds, unimpressive even for its time. The only saving grace for the Mustang II was the fact that it made good on the promises of better fuel economy, at the cost of all noticeable power.

In 1975, however, the defining feature of previous Mustangs had returned, a 5.0L V8 was finally available once more. Although the excitement quickly faded as people realized that a larger displacement engine needed to be choked down to comply with the new laws, meaning this new V8 Mustang II made only 130 hp. These were dark days.

But it was the darkness surrounding performance cars at the time that made the Mustang II sell so well. Simply put, it was one of the only options people had for a car that wasn't completely boring to drive. The Mustang II surprisingly had some of the best sales figures of all Mustang production years, with 400,000 Mustang IIs being produced in 1974.

Glorious-Looking But-Skin Deep

When Ford had revived the V8 Mustang in 1975, it was seen as a true return to form. So to celebrate, a special edition was released in 1976, known as the Cobra II. But this was entirely form over function, with the Cobra II only receiving special paint and decals as "upgrades" (if you could call them that).

Finally, in 1978, the Mustang II was ready to be retired, so Ford decided to release yet another special edition upgrade package, this time, the King Cobra II. And yet again, it was a package consisting entirely of cosmetic upgrades, with the same 5.0L V8 found in the standard Mustang II, and no true performance improvements to speak of.

But it can't be denied, the King Cobra II looks pretty damn cool, with enhanced fender flares, custom paint and graphics, and a re-designed front body kit. Unfortunately, it isn't backed by any real substance. But, this was directly intended to compete with the similarly themed black and gold appearance package the Pontiac Trans-Am of the time was available with, and popular mostly because of.

Well-Deserved Hate, Or A Misunderstood Classic?

So, it prioritized style over performance, was pathetically underpowered, is pretty damn ugly (to most people), and just didn't accomplish anything noteworthy. It's pretty easy to look back at the King Cobra II, and all Mustang IIs, and hate them for being a terrible excuse for a Mustang. But, the Mustang II was among the best-selling Mustang generations of all time, providing a beam of hope for fun-loving car enthusiasts.

Objectively speaking, the King Cobra II was a classic case of beauty being only skin deep, with the wild and outrageous graphics signaling power it didn't have. But that beauty is pretty damn cool today, with boxy body lines and wild graphics becoming appreciated by more and more car enthusiasts, as the current car industry shifts to mostly generic SUVs and Crossovers that take design cues from a Blobfish.

But the King Cobra II can be acknowledged as one of the worst attempts at a performance car to ever come out of Ford, and also as an interesting footnote in the history of muscle cars that shows just how bad the times were. Appreciating this duality makes it easier to accept the King Cobra II for what it was, a desperate attempt to keep the badass spirit of muscle cars alive.

While it is undeniably an in-your-face vehicle, with no real power or speed to back up the looks, it must be given the credit it deserves, as without it and the Mustang II, we may not have the Mustang we all know and love being sold new to this day.

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