Cheap Cobra: 1978 Ford Mustang II Cobra

Everyone’s favorite Cobra is right here! (hey, where’d everyone go?).. This 1978 Ford Mustang II Cobra is a project car but it’s cheap enough at $2,400 and it comes with enough parts and pieces that it could theoretically be a decent project without breaking the bank. It’s on Craigslist in Duluth, Minnesota (saved ad here) and supposedly it’s all original.

We all know that I like unusual vehicles and therefore it’s a given that I like the Mustang II. It’s arguably, or unarguably, the least loved Mustang in the history of the brand. I had a plastic model of a Mustang II as a kid and I have always liked them. But, I like every vehicle even those that most people hate with the passion of a thousand white-hot suns. Which, the Mustang II could qualify for.

The “Cobra” version of the Mustang II was offered beginning with the 1976 model, two years after the Mustang II debuted. In 1978, the last year for the Mustang II, the King Cobra came out with just over 4,000 of them being made. It was basically a graphics package on the Cobra, but only the V8 was offered. Yes, a person could get a non-V8 engine in a Mustang II Cobra! Luckily, the car offered for sale here has a 302 V8 and it also has a 4-speed manual transmission. You can see that it’ll take a fair bit of work to massage this car back into shape again.

There are only two interior photos and they’re both almost the same, with this one being taken from a bit further back showing the nice driver’s door panel and the classic 1970s bare-foot accelerator pedal! Nice. There are no back seat photos or detail photos. The dash looks as close to being new as can be as does the steering wheel and everything else visible inside. It looks like the interior is loaded up with spare parts and the seller mentions that this car was stored for 22 years in a storage shed. Although there is rust visible, the floors are solid and the body in general is in good shape. Some new metal and other parts come with the sale so the next owner can finish this restoration. A new gas tank and straps are extra, though.

Here’s the ubiquitous Interstate battery and the rest of the 302 V8 under the hood. 135 horsepower isn’t a lot, but this was 1978 and the car only weighs around 2,500 pounds. The 4-speed manual should help at least make it feel more powerful. The seller has all of the window louvers and even though there isn’t any info given on the running condition, I would think that most Barn Finds readers could have this car in working condition again in no time. Are there any other fans of the Mustang II out there?

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Comments

  1. Troy s

    Could be a true sleeper with a lot of help in the “go” department, but these will never catch on like other mustangs.

    Like 1
    • Nick

      I owned a ’76 Cobra II as my first car back in the 80’s. Spent all of $400 for it.

      I promptly pulled the factory V8 out of it and replaced it with a ’67 289 that was sitting in the garage and had been massaged with quite a few go fast goodies. I never put it on a dyno but I would guess a good 275 – 300hp would be a fair estimate. I had a few friends with ’69 – ’70 SS Chevelles (350 and 396 variants) that would shake their heads when this little mustang II (they called it a sporty pinto) would get the best of them.

      Mine had the 4 speed top loader transmission which was a joy to work with when having to pull it out as it was extremely light weight. The V8’s were known to have 2.75 rear end ratio if I remember correctly with the King Cobra having an optional 4.11 ratio. This is going off memory from 3 decades so that may not be accurate.

      Things that stand out to me on this as not being all factory. The door cards and steering wheel should have cobra emblems instead of mustang emblems. There isn’t enough of the speedometer showing to tell for sure but the cobra came with a 120mph speedometer while the mustang came with an 85mph speedometer. Locking gas caps were not a factory option for a ’76, not sure for ’78.

      @glen, side pipes were not a factory option but several people would opt to swap out the factory single exhaust for a dual exhaust that would exit in front of the rear tires rather than bend the pipe over the rear axle and back down to exit out the rear.

      Like 2
      • Mike Williams

        To bad this one was drivin on salty roads.

        Like 1
    • Sean Kennedy

      You’re completely wrong and a lot of these cars are catching on Big Time with a new generation these cars are bad as hell and have light bodies. If you put the right speed component parts into this 302 you’ll have a little world beater. Also these cars have now started to tip off at $12,000 to $16,000 in collectability. The two with its Superior suspension has finally got its due!

      • HARDBALL

        Sean Kennedy Oh, please…..give me a freakin’ break!

        Like 2
  2. LAB3

    A high school friend had this exact same car except his has side pipes on it. One of them fell off during an unusually heavy snow storm and never did get mounted back on the car!

    Like 1
    • glen

      Were side pipes an option, or just aftermarket?

      • LAB3

        Don’t know, I’m betting a Ford guy could answer that one.

      • JW

        No side pipes were optioned his had to be aftermarket.

        Like 1
      • glen

        Thanks JW.

    • HARD BALL

      HA,HA,HA,HA,HAHA!

      Thanks, I needed that!

  3. TriPowerVette

    My brother and I have a saying for this model: “Mustang 2, Cobra 2, 2+2, Speed – 1/2”.

    The perfect car for some supermodels to drive around in a hokey TV show, in the middle of a decade of automotive disgrace.

    Like 1
  4. grant

    I always did kind of like these, but I would think you could find a less rusty one to start with for the same or not much more money.

    Like 1
  5. slickb

    is it national mustang day or something? LOL

    Like 1
  6. 68custom

    this cars only saving grace is the 302/4 speed combo otherwise the boyracer graphics and tiny wheels just do not do it for me, plus it looks kinda rusty. A perfect example of buy the best one you can find, this one is not it.

    Like 2
  7. ROAR

    If one needs to pass SMOG one can still put a 500 cfm 2 barrel on the ported manifold and heads etc at 2500# 250Hp would be easy and rapid!

    Like 1
  8. CCFisher

    If you want to spend $2400 plus whatever it takes to make this presentable, then spend every cruise night and car show explaining to passers-by why it’s not as bad as everybody says, then this is the car for you!

    Like 1
  9. mike D

    at this point, I don’t think it would make that much difference to take the side graphics off , with the rust repair one is going to need to repaint it anyways , it is my understanding that the current 5.0 takes a lot of work to put into this car, I would like it just for the novelty of it .. when compared to the later ‘Stangs this is a bargain ..No graphics at all with a shiny white paint would make it a looker , but me thinks this has seen a few ” Minisnowda ” winters

    Like 2
  10. Macho Mach

    Put a newer 90s up 5.0 n it’ll Fly..!!

  11. ROB

    I see that as time moved on the Ford had to build a downsized mustang to get sales as gas war started not really a sporty car in MIND it was a over dressed pinto same platform was used .intended for a GasMizer for 1974 4cylinder .but as sales dropped putting a v8 boosted sales but the 7 1/2 compression was not a power house so safety was up..drop a 350 horse 302 in one with 325 gears and nobody will be spitting on you ! ;)

    Like 1
    • Randy Hudson

      Nope. Wrong. Iaccoca ordered 2 design studies for the Mustang II. One study was based upon the Maverick platform, the other on the Pinto platform. The study “based” upon the Pinto platform was chosen due to size. However, the chassis was highly modified, lengthened and strengthened. There is not one body panel from a Pinto that will fit on the Mustang II, and the fact is, the Mustang II shared more parts with the Granada than the Pinto.

      The 302 offered from Ford in the II was horribly under carburated in effort to enhance economy I guess. We all knew that by merely adding a performer intake and small Holley these things would scream. They were the rage of the day where I lived in mid America back in the 70’s.

      The Mustang “purists” as they call them, the ones who don’t understand the Mustang was never intended to be a Muscle Car are the ones who killed the Mustang II reputation.

      A 1975 Mustang II possessed almost the same specs as the 1965 Mustang, and accelerated at about the same rate.

      A 200 horsepower “gross” rating comes out to around 140 “net” no matter how anybody tries to sell it.

      1965 Mustang 289 – 200 HP Gross
      1975 Mustang 302 – 140 HP Net

      Like 3
      • Mike Williams

        I believe Ford retarded the cam a few degrees to pass smog and it really hurt in the perfomance.

        Like 1
  12. phil

    talked to owner purchased stored away there is no MN clear title issued in his name or a open title has been on craigslist over 2 years at same price has not ran in a long time.

    Like 2
    • TriPowerVette

      +phil – You should have 30 thumbs up. That is good info you passed along.

      Like 2
    • Randy Hudson

      Unfortunately, there are really no restoration parts for these cars. I loved them then, and still do today.

      • dougie d

        not true randy. i found rear quarters for my 76 cobra at rock auto. you just have to know where to look.

        Like 1
      • TriPowerVette

        @dougie d- Sir as a public service, NEVER refer to your car as a C**ra (can’t bring myself to write it in this context), without using the ‘II” as well. The day your car is eligible for the SAAC Registry, it will be a Cobra, and not until.

        Otherwise, you are deluding yourself and insulting the memory of Ol’ Shel’.

        These Shetland Ponys will NEVER be Thoroughbreds. The consolation is, they were never intended to be. They were designed to be cute, not killers.

        Ford was interested in economy, and emissions… not enthusiasm and excitement. They said as much. You can’t blame the marketing people for being depressed over the situation, getting liquored up one afternoon, and coming up with those ‘Surf’s Up’ graphics, and sacrileging the name.

        Embrace the mediocrity.

        Like 1
  13. Pat

    Not a fan of these, but compared to the 1st ‘stangs, these were far better cars in terms of engineering and safety. Face it, the earliest ones were/are deathtraps. These were smog equipment choked and gutless, but so was every car in that era. Plus the front suspension design lives on under many a hot rod. Also these hatchbacks are popular with autocrossers, because they weight balance is 50/50 front to back.

    Like 1
  14. Larry Q

    Ok..here we go. Four barrel, shorty headers, DOOE heads not hard to find. Fix the rust. Clean it up. Oh yeah a decent cam. Already got a 4 speed. Whheeee!!

    Like 1
  15. JW

    Wife had one new in 78 but with blue stripes. Tried to talk her in to going over the motor with some go fast goodies, losing the hideous Cobra side decals, better and bigger tires and wheels but she refused. So after taking my 4×4 constantly on snow days and leaving me hers I managed to put it in a ditch showing off for my nephew and blowing out the trans trying to get it out. She ended up with a 4×4 Bronco.

    Like 1
    • Pete

      I love it!!

    • Roger

      My cousin bought a identical equipped Cobra II new in 1978 with the only difference being the black paint,he owned it for many years then sold it,despite its negative image I thought it was cool,this one could be brought back and upgraded though if the title issues were resolved.

      Like 1
  16. 408interceptor

    The 302 Mustang II with AC weighed in at over 3,300 lbs. not 2,500 lbs. Removing all the heavy sound deadening under the carpet and replacing the heavy bumpers with fiberglass pieces will bring the car down to 3,000 lbs.

    Like 2
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      408interceptor, you’re probably closer to the actual number, thanks for the clarification.

      Like 2
    • TriPowerVette

      +408interceptor – We all know what happens when I write the truth about Mustangs! Thank you, sir, for doing it for me.

      To all the Mustang freaks out there: It’s a great muscle car! Plenty of grunt!

      Like 3
      • HARDBALL

        @TriPowerVette – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Yep, a lot of Muscle Car there and plenty of good ol’ GRUNT!

        Like 2
  17. David Miraglia

    prefer the earlier mustangs posted, the mustang 2 was never a favorite

  18. Doug Kenney

    Mustang II? Ugggh! These things were, are, and always will be terds.

    Like 1
  19. Tyler

    I don’t get the hate for the Mustang II. And while it may originally have had some origins in the Pinto, by time production rolled around, it had less in common with the Pinto than the original had in common with the Falcon 10 years earlier. These cars sold VERY well, & the 74 was Motor Trends Car of the Year.

    Yes, I like the Mustang II, & would love to have a 78 King Cobra, outrageous graphics & all. But with the drivetrain out of a late model of course, for show & go…

    Like 1
    • Randy Hudson

      I think those of us who lived during that time period have a much better affection for these little cars. They were quite popular back in the 70’s and the Mustang II is still no.3 on the all time best selling Mustang list.

      Like 1
  20. ARuss

    My first car was a 1976 Cobra II white with blue stripes and blue interior. It was equipped with a 302 V8 and automatic transmission.

    The car featured in this article has the revised stripe graphics for 1978 which were pulled ahead early for sale as 1977 1/2 models in the spring of 1977.

    The Mustang II gets a bad rap for being based on a Pinto but the Mustang II had its own unique unibody with an isolated front subframe to cradle the engine and subdue vibration and harshness. As a matter of fact the only body parts shared with the Pinto were a piece of the rear floorpan and inner rear wheelhousings.

    Of course the Mustang II shared engines, drivetrain, steering and suspensions with the Pinto as well as an assortment of stardard body and interior trim parts and hardware.

    The Mustang II was the right car at the right time. Before 1970, loyal buyers of Mustangs complained how much they had grown too big and yearned for it to return to the smaller economical size of the original. Also, the overgrown Mustangs were on a continuous sales decline as smaller sporty efficient subcompacts including Ford’s own Capri, the Toyota Celica and the Datsun 240Z started gaining popularity. The Mustang was nearly considered to be completely replaced the Maverick. Instead Ford decided to work on a new smaller Mustang based on the Maverick. The program changed and they decided instead to engineer it based on Pinto based mechanicals and size.

    The Mustang II was introduced in late 1973 well before the gas shortage occured in 1974. However as a result of the gas shortage, the Mustang II reached sales numbers close to that of the original classic Mustang. The Mustang II saved the Mustang legacy from going extinct. The Mustang II was only in production for five model years.
    1974 was the only year a Mustang did not have a V8 option (except in Mexico). The Mustang II was replaced for 1979 with the Fairmont based Fox platform which greatly improved interior room and handling. However the new Fox Mustang carried over all engines with malaise performance directly from the Mustang II. The legacy of Mustang performance would not rise again until the 1982 Mustang GT with it’s 5.0 liter High Output V8.

    Like 1
  21. Scott Brown

    I had several M2’s in the early 80’s. The black with gold pinstripes 78 2+2. V8 i had was pretty decent once i put the 351 windsor heads and Holley 4v carb on it. I had to change the firing order to 351w spec for it to run. Those changes really woke up the 302! I never did upgrade the camshaft and add headers. I had a friend whos dad was a Ford dealership tech. He said that those two added fixes would have made that Mustang nearly as quick in stoplight drag race as any smallblock Mustang ford sold in the sixties. Everyone. really should admit that the Mustang 2’s contribution to automotive history is its simply wonderful front suspension design! There are thousands of hot rods and kit cars driving on that EXACT design today.

    Like 2
  22. Dovi65

    I’m with ya, Scotty; I love almost all cars, even the ones that 99.999% of the car people hate with a passion. As a general rule, that unloved-ness makes the cars more affordable.

    Like 1
  23. Claus Graf

    Love it. When I was in high school someone at the golf club had one just like that.

  24. Matthew

    I’ve always loved the II, and I always will. I had a 78 Cobra in high school. It was a beast, and could not be beat. It was not the original engine, of course. I plan to get a King Cobra next year. I’d give anything to find one with the Monroe Handler body kit.

    Like 1
    • TriPowerVette

      @Mathew – Respectfully… No you didn’t. What you did have was a Cobra II! Which was a marketing gimmick. You state that you “love the II’, then when referring to yours, you leave off the ‘II’. Hmmmm. Not feeling the love.

      Like 1
      • TONY MILO

        My old 68/ l71″was 100%” org till I got my hands on it. To me NCRS means no corvette remains stock.Too many mods to lst.

  25. sam

    i have a 75 m2 6 cyl. prototype that will eat up 5.0,s all day long. as long as there stock. and theres not another like it. only one ever built. 5,800 miles. actual

    • Matthew

      Wow Sam. That is cool. Do you know anything about it like why it was never put into production (or was it)? How did you get it? Is it original to the car? Upload a pic of the car?

      • sam

        it was built by a turbo co. in ohio. in hopes that ford would build a hi po m2. like rough & seller do today. ford turned down the concept deciding to use a low hp 302 to fool us all. however ford did use it on there test tract to develop the 80,s svn,s. it set in a ford dealer showroom for 30 yrs. then started going thru classic car auctions. it has never been own by privet person until now. everything is orig. to car except tires. they were org 50 series, now 60. 95% orig repaint after body was tubed. 14 in mags. 6 point roll cage, all gauges were put in dash. leather racing seat belts. side scoops are used to direct air to rear brakes, shark gills vortex air to front brakes. heres a pic. if its still on internet look up 1975 mustang2 turbo charged prototype. that info indicates a dyne of 300 hp at rear wheels. it also uses achole & water injection system. only factory parts in engine are: block, bored,heads that were reworked, & connecting rods. its appraised @ 20,000. but i would sell it for less.

        Like 1
      • sam

        dash pics, scoop & shark gills

        Like 1
      • sam

        side scoops

        Like 1
      • sam

        shark gills

        Like 1
      • TriPowerVette

        +sam – The turbo co was correct. This should have been a production option. The package just looks so right. 300Horses will definitely get the job done.

        Like 1
    • Randy Hudson

      That is some cool stuff right there.

      I have often wondered about doing a SVO 2.3 litre swap into a M2.

  26. Paul

    I am one of the die hard haters of these cars, I drove one for 1 1/2 years however it only took 1 1/2 days to realize how much I hated it……the rest of the time it was needing repairs……..it was a 2 year old car at the time with only 14000 miles on it. The poor soul that ended up with it after me junked it with 60,000 miles on it and it was shot. We are no longer friends.

    Like 3
  27. Miguel

    Why did you say this “but it’s cheap enough at $2,400 “?

    Who has ever paid that much for a Mustang II?

    By the way, why don’t I get notified of new comments even if I click the box to get the notifications?

    Is anybody getting notified of new comments?

    • JW

      I haven’t been getting notified of new comments for quite some time and I always click the box.

  28. D.P.

    Back in the mid 80’s my cousin bought a black 78 Cobra automatic with a V8, probably the 302 can’t remember. Would’ve been MUCH cooler with a manual, but still pretty cool.

    A gal I went to college with had a black King Cobra, same automatic with V8. Too bad we didn’t hook up, would’ve been nice to get to drive it. lol

  29. sam

    tripowervette you are correct. i was told that the co. had around $25,000 in car in 1975. when finished. they used nothing cheap. thanks

    Like 1
  30. Randy Hudson

    Do not believe the hype as promoted by Mustang “purists” about this car. The 75 through 78 Mustang with a 302 was a formidable performer back in the day with only a few hot rod adjustments. When equipped with the Ralley Pack suspension the II got rave reviews. The 302 in the 75/78 is basically the same one in the 79 which got ran up the flagpole as the best thing since sliced bread. These cars, factory with the 2.75:1 gear and a 2bbl carb which was like a McDonalds straw could do 0-60 in around 9 seconds, or shall we say, faster than an automatic 1977 Trans Am and just as fast as a auto Z28. This feat was accomplished through 13″ bias ply tires which the 240ft/lbs would shred upon request. Having said that, the mere addition of a performer intake and 4BBL really brought these cars to life. The rear end housing was too small from what I remember to house anything over a 3.00:1 gear.

    People who complain about the “malaise” era cars do so because they do understand, the muscle car era only lasted a few years. Prior to that, we had to modify our cars in our garages, and during the 70’s we did the same thing.

    Like 2
    • HARDBALL

      @RandyHudson – During those “malaise” years, I was buying the BADDEST muscle cars ever made…Hemis, 6 pacs, anything with a big block, for next to nothing. ’67 Shelby GT 500 for a grand, AAR Cuda for $1500. I loved those years and laughed at the new cars. Because of insurance and gas prices people lost the faith! If people had refused to buy that crap from the car makers, the era of limp garbage would have ended sooner. Look at what they are making these days. Detroit has relearned what performance means…and what it takes to sell a car.

      Like 2
      • TriPowerVette

        @HARDBALL – BRAVO, sir! BRAVO.

        Like 1
  31. JoeNYWF64

    Is the rear end from the pinto too? Yowsir! I would think any of the mods above would prove disastrous unless you went to a 9 inch rear? – how hard is that to adapt to this car?
    Also, the stock auto & manual transmissions – can they handle the above modifications?
    Will tires/wheels say 215 60R14 or 15 fit on this car w/o modification?
    I’d like to see someone put a shaker scoop on this gen.
    Wonder why they moved the HVAC to the left of the driver! Younger people today would not tolerate THAT (much less no a/c or p/w!),especially passengers that want separate zone climate control.

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