Unloved Pony: 1978 Mustang II King Cobra

1978 Mustang II King Cobra

Josh MortensenBy Josh Mortensen

Here at the BF office, we have a rather impressive collection of old car magazines. I’ve found reading all the old articles to be an enjoyable activity and in some ways even more so than reading brand new issues. We have over 50 years of old publications and I’ve managed to read or browse through many of them. I’ve recently been spending more time reading up on the late ’70s domestic cars. While many of these cars haven’t ever been all that inspiring, the fact that they still had some of the flare of the muscle car era and that they can now be bought on the cheap, has been a major draw for me. It seems I’m not the only one, as Chuck F sent in a 1978 Mustang II King Cobra that he spotted here craigslist in Pensacola, Florida for $3,400. After reading some old reviews from when this car was new, I’m starting to wonder if these are really as bad as everyone says.

Mustang King Cobra Interior

Now I’m going to admit that while I’ve driven plenty Fox body Mustangs, I’ve never actually driven the Pinto based Mustang II and much of this information comes from old magazines. Reviews for the King Cobra when it was new were a mixed bag. Some reviewers complained that the sporty suspension was too stiff and the ride was uncomfortable on anything but a perfectly smooth road. Some complained about the excessive power assist steering and Ford’s attempt to make it feel like a race car. You have to remember the times though, the fuel crisis and emission regulations were in full swing.

Mustang II King Cobra 302

Speaking of the engine, Ford only offered their 302 V8 in the King Cobra. It was far from the engines found in any of the previous Mustangs to bear the name Cobra. Emissions equipment strangled the 302 so badly that power was down to just 140 horses. Performance was dismal compared to the Pony cars of old, but compared to most of the 4 cylinders of the day, the V8 seemed pretty peppy. I’m sure with an upgraded carburetor and a few tweaks, this engine could be made to put out considerably more power. Perhaps someone can make a few recommendations on what to do to get it to a more impressive number?

Mustang II KC Rust Spot

This King Cobra is in need of work, but it looks complete. The seller claims it was run about a year and a half ago, so hopefully getting it going again will be a simple matter. From what is visible of the interior, it looks to be in good shape and ready to go as is. The body needs the most attention, as the paint doesn’t look great and the rear bumper has been removed. The seller claims there is minimal rust, but given its history, I’m going to assume there is more rust than just the one spot they show. I would be sure to check it out extremely closely for structural issues. It is hard to justify spending thousands of dollars fixing rust on a car that isn’t all that valuable in perfect condition. If it is solid, it could make for a fun project and interesting driver. At the very least, I’m sure there are a few desirable parts that could be salvaged.

Mustang II King Cobra Ad

Overall, reviews of the King Cobra were actually better than I thought they would be. Most reviewers appreciated what it was, an attempt to give the Pony back some of what made it so lovable in the first place. The execution might not have been the best, but given the times and what Ford had to work with, it was better than nothing. It might not have been a great daily driver, but for all the negative things people say about the Mustang II, it actually sold quite well and managed to keep the Mustang alive during some rough times. Will they ever become highly collectable? I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure special editions like the King Cobra will always have a small but dedicated following. Sure they won’t ever be as collectable or hot as ’60s Pony cars, but they also won’t ever be as expensive.

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Comments

  1. Dan h

    Ughh..late 70’s American cars…such an era of wasted displacement.
    ‘Bout the only thing “hi-performance” is that steel braided vacuum booster hose.
    Front spoiler is kinda cool in a Mad-max sort of way, though.

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  2. J.W.

    The King Cobra was not the only Mustang II with a 302 V8, my wife bought a brand new 78 Mustang Cobra ( White With Blue Graphics ) with a 302 and it was a fun car to drive. Yes the suspension was stiff but it wasn’t built to ride like a LTD and the steering was quick but once you got used to it you could do donuts in the Midwest snow at every corner which we did. I had bought a new Ford 4×4 pickup at the same time so moving my butt from the 4×4’s seat to the Cobra’s seat was an experience just to say the least but I wouldn’t trade those days for today as you had to actually be a good driver to roam the roads in those days because technology wasn’t invented yet to do it for you. Myself I would fix the body rust & paint then leave everything factory except the exhaust, put a set of headers on it with some flowmasters and maybe a nicer set of tires & wheels then drive the crap out of it.

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  3. stanleystalvey

    I’ve seen people make these cars very fast. It will take a V-8 engine so who’s complaining..?

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  4. jim s

    interesting car that is worth making a daily driver out of. would need to check the transmission also as i think they were a problem in these cars. nice find.

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  5. Mark E

    Pity they didn’t keep the cat from rubbing up against the rear bumper and knocking it off…

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  6. Rancho Bella

    Hideous.

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  7. Barry Thomas

    Josh, I think that this generation of Mustang will always have its detractors (and never the twain shall meet). I’ve never gotten used to its oddly portioned and under tired look. How much it is worth? No idea, but based on those pics, I sure can’t believe it’s anywhere near the $3400 asking price. It will be interesting to see what the more knowledgeable readers think.
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

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    • geomechs

      Hi Barry. I tend to agree with you in regards to this generation of Mustang. It never lit any fires with me. I do admit that the newer generation gets my blood pumping. One of these would almost have to be forgotten on my driveway for me to take an interest in it.

      PS. I’ve stopped by Wheel to Wheel a few times. Doing good.

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  8. fred

    I’ve never particularly liked these, but one thing I’ve learned when it comes to collectible cars as an investment is that what is despised or unloved now may be cherished later (station wagons for example). So if you don’t mind a gamble, snap these babies up while you can.

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  9. John

    This is a Ford Pinto with a few sexy body pieces added on. Somehow I never cared for cosmetic surgery no matter what kind of body its used on.

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    • MikeW

      the Pinto never came with a V8!

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      • Russ

        A friend of mine did a meticulous V8 conversion of a Pinto in the middle 1970’s. It looked like it could’ve come out of the factory that way.

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  10. Chuck F

    They only made 4306 of these, there is little after market parts support for all the Mustang IIs, and checking Ebay I only saw one King Cobra and it was in bad shape compared to this one. One could probably part it out and make some money on the KC only pieces, I saw a old price list and the spoilers were going for $600 used, good Hemmings article from 2005. (http://www.hemmings.com/mus/stories/2005/06/01/hmn_feature20.html)

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  11. Mark in Medford

    I worked for a Ford dealer when these were new and did pre-delivery on them. I had a few friends that drove Mustang IIs and every one of those cars were good reliable cars. The main competitor for the Mustang IIs wasnt Camaros or Firebirds it was Monzas and even Toyota Celicas and if you compare the Fords against the GM built cars the Mustangs were much better cars and there are still quite a few still driving around, when did you last see a Monza Spyder ?

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    • j.boyd

      so true, a friend had a monza in the early 90’s it was on its last leg then. Horrid cars

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  12. Sam

    If the seller would just take the time to get it running (he says drain the tank, etc.), he could get the more money (not sure I’d pay $3400) for it. I’m no fan of the Mustang II, but they are a rare oddball kind of Mustang now (as one commenter said, a Pinto with sexy body parts), but I recall the days when Nash Metropolitans, Edsels, Ramblers, and many more were dismissed as junk. Now, I have a neighbor who proudly drives his little Metro all over the place, and people give him thumbs up. So, don’t dismiss these too lightly.

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  13. DT

    looks like it comes with matching chinese floor jacks

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  14. Shilo

    I hated these things when they came out because I loved the 60’s mustangs and these were horrible pretenders. But…. This thing is a mustang, is complete and is somewhat low production. It is a good deal and will go up in value. Guaranteed

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  15. Brian

    I was a very little car-loving kid when these were new and it seemed like at least half of my parent’s friends, relatives, and neighbors had one. When I was little, I loved them because they were so much a Mustang to me, long hood, short deck, scallops on the side – of course, at 5 years old, I had no idea how slow they were! As a teenager, I hated them! All the third class used car lots that I was shopping for a Fox Mustang, were full of them and I was too stupid to understand how simular the 4 and V6 Fox Mustang was to the II, so I completely overlooked them because their body style was so out of date in the mid 1980s!

    In the last ten years, I’ve again softened on the IIs. Although the back seat is completely uncomfortable, the front seats are very nice and the driving position and front leg room is very good. Driving one sure takes you back to a time when even compacts were easy to get in and out of and had enough headroom to feel non claustrophobic. They are all (4, 6, and 8 cylinders) slow, but as others have noted, can be made fast. Just about anything can be shoe horned under the hood and since the 4 cylinder and 302 were built forever, part and performance goodies can be found anywhere! I agree with the others, right now they are the last of the “poor man’s Mustang” that have simple mechanics … no computers … if you like, buy before the prices go up! Personally, I like the cheap, plain looking models with and upgraded V8!

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  16. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Someone a few streets from me had a King Cobra in perfect condition. It has since disappeared, but I had to admire the guy/gal for putting that much love into a pretty much unloved car.
    I know that I enjoyed seeing it. How many more of these are you ever going to see in perfect shape?

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  17. tom999

    Hmm, over 1 million mustang II’s sold in four years, they must have not been as bad and hideous as you posters are saying….. Are you the same ones that say that a Porsche 914 isn’t a Porsche? Or Corvairs were junk, even though 1.8 million were sold?..Hmmmm…..I would say that you were in the very vast minority..

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    • Shilo

      Actually they were good reliable cars. At the time they were one of the best cars available. My best friend had one and put over 200,000 miles on one. Hardly ever got the oil changed. It kept the Mustang marque alive and tons of hot rods have benefitted from their front ends. But if I have the choice between one of these Mustang II’s or a 1965-1970 mustang, I will take the sixties car.

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    • St.Ramone de V8

      I think that the 1974 Mustang was the best selling Mustang of all time for many years, maybe still. It was the right product at the right time. Only year Mustangs were not available with a V8. I had one with the 2.8 and four speed. Gutless pig, as everything was becoming then. To look at pics of these now, I find no desire to get involved at all, and I’m sure most of us would agree. Collectability is going to be spotty, and they look, well , awkward.

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    • Russ

      How many Vegas did Chevy sell? No matter how many, it would not be proof that they weren’t junk from day one.

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  18. CV

    I had always believed these were Pinto based, but according to Ford Racing’s John Clor, that’s not the case. http://jalopnik.com/why-the-mustang-ii-doesnt-deserve-all-the-hate-1309074977.
    It appears to have been a pretty successful car, as well. I just remember Charlie’s Angels drove them.

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  19. Steve

    I had a pumpkin orange 77 with the 2.8 V6 with the four speed. It was actually quite good except it didnt run well in the rain. Some ignition related electicrical bugaboo I never could find.

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    • Old bastard

      Ma had an orange 77 also. 4 banger,4spd. I learned to drive in it. Then a COP ran into her. And blamed her for not yielding…. Ahhh! Dumb car tho. The mini van of the day. 0- cool points Bro! HA!

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  20. tom999

    Two years ago I had a factory Bright Yellow KC, 302, manual shift, air conditioning, T-tops, black interior. I heard they only made about 125 yellow ones. I sold it to a guy in Florida who restored it. I’m glad people are still keeping these alive…

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  21. tom999

    The rarest and most valuable King Cobras are the Monroe Handler cars…

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  22. usmc89

    I had one of these as my second car (first was a 75 trans am with a 455) after someone smacked my first and totaled it. I wish I had never sold it. Mine had a 302 and a 4 speed with 4.11 gears. I changed the intake and carb and added headers and it was a tire smoking machine.

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  23. Jim

    Ahhhhh, my first car. 1978 Mustang II coupe in light-aqua metallic with a matching vinyl top! It had a V-6 that got 13 MPG and used a quart of oil every 250 miles. And that was when it only had 30,000 miles on it. Luckily, dad got it from a family friend cheap because we ended up trading it in two years later for what he paid for it! Had it painted back the original color with a white stripe at the bottom and put some American Racing Hurricane 2 wheels with spinners on it. Made it look tons better. Still, that thing was a POS!

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  24. Z1rider

    The criticism of the II is always interesting to me. American cars have always been roundly flogged for being bigger than necessary. Lee Iaccocca concluded the Mustang had become too large and the II was the result. This was before GM started downsizing (in response to CAFE) their lineup. Furthermore the product planning timing meant that the decisions would have been made long before anyone had even heard of OPEC. That worked out well for Ford when the oil embargo happened. In addition ALL cars suffered performance reductions from compliance with ever more stringent emission controls. Why do you think Porsche put a turbo on the 911?

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    • Russ

      The fastback Mustang II wasn’t so bad looking but the coupe’s roof appeared too big for the lower body. The coupe looked like something Sherman and Mr. Peabody would drive.

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  25. MikeW

    We loved our 78 Cobra II with the 302 at. I had a chance later to buy a King Cobra from a friend, I’m sorry I didn’t.

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  26. MikeW

    I’ve heard the low HP was do to a cam retard and you could get it back by advancing the cam. or better yet buy a high performance cam.

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  27. stanleystalvey

    In the early 80’s I was a Ford line technician. One of these cars came in for a heater core and it took me the better part of 2 days to get it replaced. This stands out in my mind as the worst repair I ever did. My hands were all scratched up and bleeding before the end of the first day. The clearance between the engine and firewall was nearly impossible to negotiate. Still, there were 3 of these cars in the small city where I lived and they were out-running nearly everything in town for awhile. Population there was 50k and home for a bunch of street racers. From my upstairs bedroom window I could climb out, sit on the porch roof and watch the drag racers headed for swamp road every Friday night. I saw just about every kind of fast car ever made in those days.. It was a thrill to see them..

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  28. Mike_B_SVT

    I would love to have one as a daily driver! I love the ’76/’77/’78 Cobra II cars (and the ’78 King Cobras). Heck, 302 / 4-speed, what more do you need for a cool commuter? Prices on these are “rock bottom” due to lack of interest. Nice ones are out there, but you have to filter through alot of junky abused versions to find them.

    It always amazes me that folks malign these so much. Yet when you ask the majority of the “hot rod” crowd what kind of front suspension they are running, what do they tell you? “It has a mustang II front suspension”. Huh, how about that.

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  29. Savage1

    “I’ve never actually driven the Pinto based Mustang II”

    Biggest MYTH about the Mustang II. They ARE NOT based on the Pinto. They share NOTHING that’ll bolt on to one another. NOTHING! The only resemblance to one another is in the front suspension. The greatest hot rod suspension ever made. Not a bad thing to share. It’s a common mistake made by just about EVERYONE! The cars are not even dimensionally the same. Width, height, nothing.. Put them nose to nose and you’ll see. They had a similar look from the rear in hatchback form if the Mustang had no spoiler. That’s about it. The Mustang II was a victim of the gas crisis.. As in there WAS NO GAS and the Ghia models VERY dated “Disco Styling” of the times. The plain jane moldings coupes and the Cobra, King Cobra, Mach 1 and Stallion editions with V8’s and spoilers were very nice cars and built FAR better than the FOX body that came after it. The Fox was horrible quality wise until at least 1986. The Mustang II couldn’t help it’s 145Hp ratings and neither could the Vette (150hp) or the Trans Am (155hp) during this time. Who cares? That’s what the speed shop is for anyhow.. Pull that 5.0 and go through her.. New heads, crank, cam, intake and carb.. You’ll scream out 300hp and KILL 64 1/2 -73 Mustangs! I know! I do it all the time.. Try me.

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