1974 Ford Mustang

For the Mustang purist, 1974 stands as a watershed year. Led by now-president Lee Iacocca, who had championed the “small” original 1965 (really 64½) Mustang, Ford killed the “big platform” Mustang once and for all. The “big platform” marked the height and end of the pony car era.

In its place, Iacocca, who again used an in-house competition for the design spec, wanted to return the Mustang to its roots. A shrewd judge of the market, according to HowStuffWorks.com, Iacocca rightly guessed that the “big platform” had outlived its useful life. It might have been great as a Torino, but for Iacocca, it was apparently not what was needed in the product mix he envisioned. He wanted a return to the “small platform” or “classic” Mustang that over 400,000 people raced to buy in 1965.

The initial prototypes were greeted less than enthusiastically by Iacocca. He was adamant that the formula for continued success was going to be a return to the “small platform” so he turned to the Ghia coachworks, a company Ford purchased in 1970, for a prototype and a prototype was returned in 53 days. Iacocca, in fact, drove the proto – done in red-and-black – as his company-assigned vehicle. The in-house battle continued and the results would turn out shocking to performance Mustang aficionados – the 1974 Mustang – renamed the Mustang II – bore little resemblance to the model it replaced.

Its styling did retain the “classic” long front/short rear look, but that’s about all the resemblance it bore, even to the original. It was a full 6 inches shorter than the 1965, two inches narrower and a full inch shorter than the original. Against the model it replaced, it looked like a mini-sized vehicle. The 1971-73 Mustang was 20 inches longer and 13 inches wider than the Mustang II and the lines were different.

While retaining the classic dual-headlight front end, the 74 – available in only two configurations a fastback and a notchback (added at the last minute) – featured an oval egg-crated pattern grille and unique bulging fenders that swept back toward the body. The long hood, actually pretty well fared into the vehicle for a 1974 American model, ran straight back to the raked windshield and held the line of the fastback through the roof and backlight. The fastback did feature a European-style functional hatch.

On the interior, as auto historian Gary Witzenburg has noted, the design team ripped up the book and designed a single oval design that contained the tach, ammeter and temperature gauge, as well as warning lights. This put all of the key controls close at hand.

Iacocca, who did away with an eight, wanted an economical car and borrowed the inline Pinto four – bored out to 2.3-liters – and the Capri small V-6, as the only powerplants available. There was a Rallye package available that featured stiffer suspension settings and more precise handling, but, on the whole, the world, except the nearly 400,000 buyers, was less than impressed. As had been noted, the Mustang II was basically a rebodied Pinto with some Capri parts; less-than-spectacular handling and performance, all in a vehicle that, while 500 pounds lighter than the one it replaced still topped out a nearly 3,800 pounds and cost nearly $4,000 (a fortune at the time).