Feel the Venom! 1978 Mustang II Cobra

With a new Fox-body Mustang due in ’79, Ford went all out on this 1978 Mustang II Cobra II. The Pinto-based Mustang II deviated from Mustang’s roots (why do you think they call them “Pony” cars?) in its compact dimensions and available four-cylinder engines, albeit with optional sixes and eights. In addition to the Cobra name and logos, this venomous snake packs a genuine American 302 V8 making, (static noises… uh, sorry, you’re breaking up…) 133 horsepower. Sadly, but not surprisingly in an era when “GT” often stood for “Goofy Tape,” the Cobra package could adorn four and six cylinder cars as well (sigh). Thanks to reader Trog Dor who spotted this striped snake offered here on Craigslist out of Junction City, Oregon.

Normally I like the five slot wheels but I’m getting too much of a Maverick vibe on this car. However they are correct so, if you go with something more aggressive, keep these and sell them with the car. That deep chin spoiler tells everyone this machine is ready for some triple digit speeds. Alright; I’m going out on a limb to say that the body kit and spoilers on this car were *not* the product of exhaustive wind tunnel testing, and OK… its top speed is 106 MPH but hey:  that’s three digits. Maybe without the spoiler it would have been 110, but who’s counting?

This Mustang II has it all with louvers, T-Tops, multi-colored stripes, words on the side, and a chrome snake; it’s like ’70s Cool Car Yahtzee! The fastback body and hatchback gives the Mustang II a decidedly more aggressive look and greater cargo flexibility than the two-door sedan’s formal roofline and trunk. Some details courtesy of Wikipedia.

The snazzy all-black interior looks serious, and this one is clean and complete-looking as well. Is that an 8-track? The standard four-speed manual transmission would better serve the Cobra II’s sporting nature. Round gauges and lights lend a sporty look to the cabin. T-Tops can leak when seals become damaged or weathered, so look for signs of soft floor boards and loose headliner that might indicate water ingress.

While the Mustang II is the Rodney Dangerfield of Mustangs, not getting much respect, remember, it was a product of the times. By 1973 the Mustang had grown larger than ever just as the OPEC oil crisis scared buyers away from fuel-thirsty performance cars toward a host of imports and smaller American-made alternatives. Still, the Mustang II saw racing duty in IMSA and other series where its nimble dimensions and 2600 lb curb weight (half a ton lighter than the ’73 Mustang) served it well. If you recall high school physics you know that, to go twice as fast, you can either halve the weight or quadruple the horsepower. A lighter car is cheaper to make fast. While not too fearsome in stock form these cars hold their own from a performance standpoint when modified. I met a girl in Pittsburgh years ago who built a 351-powered Mustang II with a roll cage and other mods and I wasn’t anxious to test her with my 5.0. The seller claims everything works on this car except the air conditioning, and it wears a partial re-spray. After nearly 40 years, will the Mustang II start getting some respect? Who’s ready to strike on this Beaver State Cobra for $6500?

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Comments

  1. T Mel

    Are u saying the pony car term originated from the fact that the mustang II was based on the Pinto? Cuz you would be wrong.

  2. Sam Sharp

    P(h)ony car. Nevertheless, a real piece of automotive history.

  3. Jay M

    Such a pretty pinto. Er, pony.

  4. The Walrus

    This Pinto is a Mustang too.

  5. AMXSTEVE

    I don’t know why everybody hates on these cars as the earlier models bore me. These however you rarely see and if you stick a hot 302 in one then you really have something. Also their front ends are legendary

    Like 1
    • carsofchaos

      I’m with you AMXSTEVE while I do appreciate the earlier ‘Stangs, for whatever reason I’m more drawn to the II’s at shows. Maybe it’s cos of the redheaded stepchild aspect of them, but for some reason I do dig them, especially in Cobra form.

      Like 1
  6. Gene Parmesan

    Super cool. Never understood the hate that these cars get. Insane graphics package, t-tops, louvers, spoilers, slots. If you’re gonna get an emissions-strangled low-horsepower cruiser, it might as well look rad.

    Like 1
  7. thetrick59

    oh my this guy has another behind it!!!!

    • John G.

      That is cool…White with the blue…must be a GT350! :-)

      Like 1
      • Kelly roberts

        The white and blue one is a 76 cobra II.

  8. Rabbit

    My sister had one of these, green on white. The 302 moved it ok, but it was no match for my V8 Monza.

    Like 1
  9. Mike_B_SVT

    Before you throw stones at the Pinto heritage, remember that the first generation mustangs were based on the Falcon, and the beloved Fox & SN95’s were derived from a Fairmont!

    That being said, I would daily drive this sumb!tch for all it’s worth.

    Like 1
  10. irocrob

    I like it and seems reasonable. Not much money these days.

  11. Mike

    The paint is super tough. The problem is that every WRX tuner kid will be revving their engines at you at every light and you wont be able to do a thing about it.

    • Andre

      Ya.. especially keep up with them… or the soccer mom in her minivan, for that matter.

      • John G.

        think about it – the Honda Odyssey I think is currently rated at 290 or 300 HP! I know, they weigh a ton but still – 300 HP in a mom-mobile…

  12. Dan

    Pretty much a turd….no offense…

  13. John G.

    My sister had a 75 or 76 Mach 1, silver, black bottom with the V8. At the time it felt ‘snappy.’ Sadly, or maybe it is ‘goodly’, that a modern Fiesta could walk all over this car speed and handling wise!

    (And I am not trying to be mean – I have a 1974 BMW 2002 – top speed of 106 when new – and my daughter’s Fiesta walks all over my German Sports Sedan).

  14. Miguel

    I thought the Cobra II had the V6 and the King Cobra had the V8.

    Did that change for the last year?

  15. Sam Sharp

    Sticker and badge ‘engineered’ cars back then were something we had to live through due to FED REGs. A 455 H.O. Fire Chicken was choked so badly that a lot of owners stuffed a pre-smog BBC under the hood. 145 horses for a 455?

    Even motorcycles suffered. We used to joke at the Honda shop that when the CB 750 K-9 came out, it would be a real dog. Thankfully HMC didn’t do that in ’79. We put a lot of Russ Collins kits in the 750s just to get back to the K-0 performance.

    Still have a few CB 750 engines.

    • John G.

      I owned a 78 Cougar – 351W, 135 HP! Somehow though you could smoke the wheels. Did they still have torque?

      • Buck Spades

        Yeah, they still mostly made decent torque. They just run out of breath really early in the RPM range, so peak power suffers immensely. But the early torque peak means you can still break the tires loose and get that initial push back into your seat, so the car feels faster than it really is.

    • Steve

      The last of the 455 Pontiacs were rated at 200 hp and 330 ft/lbs of torque (these were net hp/tq figures). If gross ratings were still used it probably 30-50 hp more.

      This Mustang is cool and I would rather look at this car than an other 69 Camaro, Chevelle, Mustang ect. Those cars are like belly buttons.

      Like 1
  16. 68 custom

    truly a boy racer graphics package, the interior is very nice though. the King Cobra’s were more pitiful!

  17. Kevin W

    They weren’t what they used to be, but than, neither was anything else. The horsepower war was long over, cars of this era were products of government regulations, the gas crunch, and a new generation of crybabies. Call it what you want, but it was the right car for the times.

    • John G.

      Two things – thank goodness they aren’t what they used to be! :-) Second, I wholeheartedly agree – the right car for the times – think

      BeeGees!

      No caption needed :-)

  18. Adam T45 Staff

    I would be very interested to hear comments from American contributors on the Australian Cobra of the same year. Based on the Ford Falcon, the Australian Cobra was created for two purposes: Firstly, Ford were getting ready to introduce a more “European” styled Falcon, and had 400 two door body-shells that they needed to get rid of. Edsel Ford II came up with the Cobra concept to sell them. They were available with either a 302 or 351 engine only. Secondly, the Cobra allowed the homologation of some performance upgrades to the base Falcon for the legendary Bathurst 1000 race.

    Another interesting fact about the Australian Cobra. While the picture attached may show a white car with blue stripes, the cars all actually started out as blue bodies. They were then masked up in the paint shop and the white was sprayed over the blue. In this day and age that seems like a pretty labor-intensive way of doing things!

    • Tony, Oz.

      Looks like a good start for a Mad Max clone, but then again that would be a sad waste of an iconic Australian muscle car. The local All Ford day here in Adelaide, SA last week had about 12 pristine ones of these lined up together, all had subtle differences in badging, etc. but looked mean and fast just standing still.

    • CATHOUSE

      As an American I really like the Australian Falcons. And the Cobra version of it is just extra cool. I would love to have one.

  19. GhiaBill

    Cobra IIs came standard with the V6 but could be ordered with the I4 or V8. King Cobras only came with the V8 with either the 4 speed or automatic.

  20. John

    Farrah Fawcett (Majors) had one that Charlie gave her. Hated the car, but I could be easily swayed by the driver.

    • Kevin W

      Yeah, she was enough to make your tongue hard, but once again, the beast has outlived the beauty

  21. william ferguson

    I had a 77 mach1 with the 302 and tho not fast according to today’s cars as someone else mentioned you really had to try to Not smoke the rear tires.

  22. Barzini

    I wish there was a car museum that specialized in 1970s cars and trucks with these wild decal packages (Power Wagons, Free Wheeling Bronco edition, etc.). I can’t get enough of them.

  23. W9BAG

    A very sad era for ALL American auto manufacturers. All show, no go, poor build quality. I can’t believe that this one has survived in such great condition.

  24. DaVuVuZeLa

    Curse you, computer generated Kurt Russell! Ever since watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I can’t stop looking at these cars and wanting one

  25. Howard A Member

    I’ve always been astounded by the lack of appeal for this, the “Forgotten Mustang”. I lived through the transition of “big” Mustangs, to these, and I liked these a lot. Mustangs had gone the route of the T-Bird in the 70’s, and this car got it back to it’s original roots, a small car ( Pinto/Falcon) with an ( optional) V8, and sold nearly as many as the original, almost 400K in the 1974. ( “big” ’73 Mustang production was just over 100K)
    I had a friend with one of these, blue and white, a V8 automatic when my ex had her V8 Monza. While we never actually raced, like Rabbit sez, I think the Monza was a tick faster, but still, power to pass. They sold over a million Mustang ll’s in 4 years. To be honest, I had an ’88 LX 5.0, and I liked these better.

  26. EJB

    Back in 89′ – 90′ I had a job delivering pizza. Be a car guy I spent a lot of time on my deliveries seeing what people had in their yards and carports. One of my regular deliveries drove a 69′ Cougar as his DD and had a grabber blue Boss 429 in the garage (his retirement plan he told me).
    One day I went to a apartment complex in a run down section of town. I spied the roof of a car sporting blue LeMans stripes over white. I immediately thought Shelby! I did the delivery than ran around the side of the building. It was a 78′ Mustang Cobra white with blue stripes and it was a basket case.
    Man was I disappointed. Whenever I see a Mustang 2 that moment of disappointment comes flooding back.

  27. Jay E.

    One of the problems back then was finding a decent set of rims. The 4 bolt pattern made the nice 5 spoke cragers and keystones out of the question, so it was centerlines, slots or 4 spokers. Also the tub clearance was small so a larger tire wont fit. Even if you change axles today, it is still hard to put on a decent tire/wheel combo. For the time, a Mustang Mach1 302 wasn’t a bad car, but I always hated these stripe kits on them.

  28. BILL GRAHAM

    Mustang II, Cobra II, speed 1/2. Nuff said.

  29. Will
  30. Brian

    https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/Articles/2013/08/13/Horsepower

    “Forty years after the end of the “classic” muscle car era, there is still some confusion over horsepower ratings, especially how they relate to today’s cars. Let’s try to clear it up.

    Prior to 1972, American carmakers used the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) “gross” measurement of horsepower. Gross meant the figure was taken from an engine running on a test stand, with no air cleaner assembly, accessories or exhaust system connected.

    By 1971, carmakers began reducing compression in many engines in order to meet upcoming emissions requirements and to use unleaded fuel. General Motors and Chrysler began advertising both gross and SAE net figures in 1971, derived from an engine tested with air cleaner assembly, accessories or exhaust system connected.

    The net ratings, which were applied across the board for 1972, must have been a shock to some customers. Suddenly, muscle cars appeared to lose 100 hp or more.

    For example, the Corvette’s optional LT-1 350 cu. in. small block V-8 had 370 gross hp in 1970 (with 11:1 compression), then a 330 hp gross rating (with 9:1 compression) for 1971-1972 with a 255 hp net rating. The mighty Chrysler 426 cu. in. Hemi kept its high compression and 425 hp gross rating for 1971 and showed 350 net hp.

    Jim Campisano, editorial director of Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords and Super Chevy magazines, has revisited the classic muscle car horsepower topic numerous times over the years. The magazines have compared old and new muscle cars and have also put classic models on a chassis dynamometer to record rear-wheel horsepower.”

    “Rear wheel horsepower was at least 30 percent lower than the reported gross figure, in some cases even more,” Campisano said.

    There is more at the link.

    • Todd Fitch Staff

      Thanks, Brian. Great info and link. Especially our younger enthusiasts may not realize or fully appreciate the transition from Gross to Net ratings. As you mention, the drop in compression ratios (mainly) resulted in an undeniable loss of real horsepower in addition to the artificial losses from the rating change. The stock 0-60 on this V8 Cobra is over 10 seconds vs about 8 or less for V8 Mustangs of the late 60s. Taking the comparison a step further, *today* is truly the golden age of horsepower, with Net numbers rivaling or exceeding the pre-smog *Gross* numbers. However the old cars deliver a more visceral experience, and that’s hard to get from a car with 25 air bags, 70 lb of sound-deadener, an 8-speed automatic, and a 7″ touch-screen. Of course if you build a ’60s or ’70s motor and throw on some sticky tires and suspension bits you can have what some enthusiasts consider the best of everything.

  31. Tyler

    Coyote motor, 6 speed, 9 inch, most problems solved…

  32. Andrew Carle

    I bought the same color scheme but 4 speed brand new in 1978. should of kept it. didn’t have much power to it but looked good at the time.

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