Long Live the King: 1978 Mustang II Cobra V8

With another King Cobra recently featured here on Barn Finds with only 17k miles, I’ll pick up on a bit more of the interesting history of this second-generation Mustang special edition. Found here on Craigslist, with thanks to reader Michael, it’s one of a total production run of just 4,313 – and represents a surprisingly key role in Pony car lineage.

First, we have to travel back in time to 1977 – a time when the best news was the release of Stars Wars, a galactic record-breaking smash of a movie that took us away from worries and memories of the recession, high-interest rates, and even higher gas prices. Does anyone else remember the thrill of sitting in gas lines? The news wasn’t any less bleak for muscle car aficionados, with Trans Am and Corvettes only offering a bit over 200 HP power plants and the Mustang II only coming in between 90 and 130 HP.

Ford had designed the II specifically as a car to be competitive in a world of fuel shortages, high gas prices, and the beginnings of a social move towards conservation with the first mentions of “global warming” as part of the nightly news about the energy crisis. So, throwing a retro Boss 429 engine probably wasn’t the right direction for the Blue Oval Boys to take. The result was a cosmetic make-over made to give the feel of muscle with just a bit more gas consumptions – the King Cobra 302 V8 5.0.

This survivor, bought from the original owner and only driven until 1982, is in fair condition and still has all the decals, stripes, and badging that Ford used for the very limited 4,313 they produced. Considering the King Cobra was the most expensive Mustang since the Boss 429 version, it was a marketing success, even if a relatively underwhelming performer. But with nearly a million Mustang II’s sold in this generations 5-year run, that makes this find a great piece of Pony history!



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  1. Gene Parmesan

    I’ve always been a fan of these, though I know they are constantly met with derision on this site and among car-folks. When taken at face value–the striping, graphics, spoilers, wheels and overall design–I believe this is one of the coolest vehicles that America was offering during this time period.

    They’re never gonna win any drag races, but some speed parts for the 302 coupled with the manual trans in this one would make for a killer cruiser AND you’d be the guy driving something totally weird and different, which is always cool.

    Like 1
    • Rick A. Loera Member

      I agree. My favorite Mustang ll is the 76 Cobra ll in black with gold stripes. 2nd would be a 76 Cobra ll in white with blue stripes. I wish Ford would have kept the original Ghia roofline as the 1974. The 75- 78 Ghia is fine. I just think the 74 Ghia and later base model two doors have the better roofline of the two formal tops. The perfect Mustang ll besides the aforementioned Cobras would be a 74 Ghia with a 302 V-8, not available til 75, with the revised 75 grille and relocated gas filler.

  2. JW

    Fun little cars at the time, just don’t care for the color of this one, would rather have the one featured earlier.

  3. Scott Tait

    Love the body style its grown on me the only parts i dislike are the front end and the tail lights… underpowered but i suppose it could be breathed on with some upgrades?

  4. angliagt angliagt Member

    $11000 for a rusty Mustang II? – No thanks.

    • BOP Guy Member

      I was shocked when I saw the price !

  5. David Betz

    My 77′ Corvette had 170hp….just saying

  6. grant

    I have always liked these, actually. But 11.5k? Legal weed in California isn’t helping this guy’s clarity of thought. This is a $5500 car, tops.

    Like 1
    • Rodent

      Car isn’t in California, it’s just advertised on the Palm Springs CL.

  7. wuzjeepnowsaab

    If you’re going to drive a Pinto…might as well be one with a v8

    But seriously, in a time when we were all lamenting the loss of real muscle, what better than a Pinto with fangs to get the juices flowing again.

    Did I mention that II’s were basically Pintos with lipstick? yeah, I worked on a lot of them…

    • Mike_B_SVT

      Hey, no worse than the Fairmont Fox-body and the Falcon-based first gen Mustangs.

      Traditionally, Mustang has come from very shi…um, humble beginnings. The II’s are no different.

    • Tyler

      Basically a Pinto? Sorry, but these cars had little in common with the Pinto. The first gen Mustang had far more in common with the Falcon than these had with a Pinto.

      And at the time, these sold very well. 4 out of the 5 model years they were produced, were in the top ten best selling Mustangs, for 40 years, until at least 2004, possibly even later as I have not checked the sales data lately.

  8. Retired Stig

    These things are a gross affront to the hallowed name of a Mustang! And so spectacularly cheesy ya just got love the idea of stuffing a Boss crate motor in it and smoking’ Pontiac thunder chickens, plastic Vettes and phoney Z’s of that same period!
    Now where are my Fry boots and mullet? Crystal, y’all were a tube top, here? An gimme ‘ other PBR right quick!

    • Mike_B_SVT

      Gross affront?? The Mustang II is no different than the first gen that came from a Falcon, and the Fox-body that came from a Fairmont.

  9. Rube Goldberg Member

    See? Now this is far more representative of the Mustang ll’s I saw. Different class altogether than the brown one, even though, it’s basically the same car. Most were 4 or 6 cylinders, and had a better chance of surviving, but these, people beat the snot out of them, and they didn’t stop near as well as they went, and plenty were wrapped around trees, I’m sure. For any kind of appeal today, they have to be nice, like the brown one, not that this one is toast, just probably not worth restoring one like this.

    • Shawn Satterly

      The car was in York Pa. It is very worthy of restoring. The floor pans and rocker are near perfect. Very solid car.

      Like 4

    Total A^^HOLES on this comment section. Quite a difference from the maroon one. These clowns are the scourge of BF.

    Like 1
  11. Andy

    Oh my, not another one of these things.

    • Ponyman1

      Yep still know not what you speak of…….

      Like 1
  12. Gay Car Nut

    Although I was way too young to drive a car at the time, let alone learn to drive, I remember the Ford Mustang II. As much as I loved the 1964-67 Mustang, I particularly loved the Mustang II. If I had the money, and could find a decent condition example, I’d upgrade a few things to improve its performance. To give it performance to match its name, King Cobra.

  13. Dale Rabe

    Well written article, Garr. I would like to know the King Cobra Vin#. I have a registry and production numbers on Mustang IIs, King Cobra, Cobra IIs, Stallion, Rallye, Ghia, Mach1 and original #2 invoices. King Cobra, Stallion, Rallye, Limited are very rare production numbers. My is 1 of 6 made Silver/Red. Your comment of 4,313 units produced. The figure is somewhat accurate 4,313 was started with Dale Rabe and Ford Customer Relations which only reflect the Dearborn Assembly Plant. Since then, in 1978 San Jose Assembly Plant had production of Mustang IIs as well. King Cobra had another approx.600 units produced. Approx. Total Production: 4,971 King Cobra


    Like 1
  14. Ponyman1

    Very good info mr. Rabe. Thanks for sharing

  15. Paul

    Given the work it needs, I believe it is overpriced as well. I liked the II and owned several over the years, with this being the last one that regrettably I sold a couple of years ago. While the King Cobra was unique, I found the graphics and stripes over the top preferring the Mach 1 and Sport Ghia models. It was also convenient that the Ghia and Mach 1 had their own production code in the VIN whereas the KC & Cobra models were grouped in with the fastback model 03. They could be modified to be very quick as in the “Low Buck Bully” article a couple of years ago in one of the car magazines and also there was a II running in that speed/distance race outside of Vegas a number of years ago in the 140mph class if memory serves me correctly.

    Like 1

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