Fun Stuff

Find of the Week: Chicken-Killing 1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra

Our Find of the Week is a car that has a famous badge but is from a generation that's not as fondly remembered as the ones that came before or after. It's a car that's very much of its time, which happened to be a time that wasn't the best for exciting new cars. This one makes up for it with a graphics package that just might be the boldest to ever come out of a new car assembly plant, and one that we're going to say is better than Pontiac's Screaming Chicken Trans AMs. It's a 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra.

We'll put this right up front: The Mustang II is the Ford Mustang that is pretty much ignored by enthusiasts, but maybe that's not fair. It was tough for Ford to top the original car that smashed records for how quickly a car could sell, especially when that replacement for a performance car arrive just in time for a recession and fuel shortages.

See, it was easy to look at the Mustang II with a critical eye in the 1990s or 2000s, but you need to look at these cars for when they first launched. The first-generation Mustang had grown significantly from the car that arrived in 1964, picking up 300 mm in length, almost all of it in the nose and tail, and gaining nearly 500 kg depending on trim. The 1973 Mustang was a bit of a boat, and the cars were sitting on dealer lots like anchors. Sales had dropped from a first-year high of more than half a million to just 134,000.

For the Mustang II, Ford shrank the car back down to just shorter than the original. It cut much of that weight gain back as well, with styling that was all-new, and was much more attractive than the 1973 Mustangs. The new car won Motor Trend's Car of the Year award in 1974, and over the next five years it ticked four of the 10 best Mustang sales years ever. Ford built more than 400,000 in just the first year of production.

So why is it seen with less fondness today? The blame for that is probably on the ensuing oil crises and increasing emissions standard. What was once a 7.0L Cobra Jet-powred monster was suddenly not even available with a V8. Not at first, at least. Buyers at the time didn't care, obviously, but today people seem to be bothered by it.

This car, though, solves that V8 problem: It's the Ford Mustang King Cobra. In an era where performance was limited by automakers trying to keep up with smog, they needed to find other ways to build excitement. Pontiac went black and gold with the Trans AM, Ford went just as extreme.

It starts with a massive front air dam that wears a stripe to match the ones on the bumper. That stripe continues, and sometimes grows, the whole way around the car. The King Cobra got rear wheel arch extensions, and there's a massive rear spoiler on the trunk lid. It's enough to make you forget about the bumper guards that were everywhere at the time. This one's fitted with louvres on the rear windows that are wonderfully period-appropriate, but that weren't a factory option.

The V8 wasn't much over the standard Mustang II, giving the car about 130 hp, but that was about what you could expect in a year where even the Corvette's bigger 5.7L V8 still started at just 185.

But we've skipped what really makes the King Cobra special: That hood decal. It's extremely loud, and we can't think of a car that took a bigger chance with its decal. It's impossible not to notice the striking snake, in gold and orange, that dominates the front of this car. We can't imagine the board meeting that lead to this one getting approval, but we're guessing it was a Friday afternoon after a many-martini lunch.

This car is for sale in the Montreal suburb of Repentigny, QC. It's got just under 47,000 miles on the odometer and it's an automatic with the optional AM/FM cassette. The first time Ford offered one of those on the Mustang. That hood isn't for everyone, but it's a shockingly bold look at an era in cars and culture, one that wouldn't look to bad in your driveway, either.