Let’s fall in love with four-cylinder Mustangs


What was the worst Mustang of all time? It’s a question that divides Ford fanatics almost as sharply as the corresponding “best Mustang” topic, and in both cases there are more than a few legitimate candidates for the title. If I had to pick the all-time dog among ponies, I would probably cast my vote for the 1995 “SN95” V-6 automatic convertible, a completely breathless flexi-flyer with a serious weight problem and a distinct inability to show its cheesy retro taillights to a rental-spec Taurus sedan. My Baby-Boomer pals like to complain about the Mustang Grande, a Brougham-ized take on the already-oversized late first-gen cars, which was frequently equipped with the 1-barrel “Thriftpower” six—that thing had all the characteristics of a slug, up to and including a tendency to immediately dissolve upon contact with road salt.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/03/12/avoidable-contact-mustang-ii

I am glad that I am old enough to appreciate the humor I quoted below! Nice article. My Dad was selling Fords in the late 70’s-early 80’s and the 302 version of the Mustang II with a stick was actually fun to drive, like a Pinto with a V8!
“The first year of the compact-class Mustang came as a massive shock to everyone, dropping future auction-floor superstars like the Mach 1 in favor of a glorified Pinto without a single bent-eight on the options list. If ever there was the automotive equivalent of Jimmy Carter throwing up his hands and telling Americans to put on a sweater, this was it.”


Although i imagine that the author thought he was being ‘cooI’, I would have enjoyed this article much more if the writer hadn’t been so hung up on using trendy, cutesy metaphor phrases that sounded more lame than informative…I believe that it’s more likely that grown-ups read these articles…not millennials or wanna-be’s


I think many if not most would agree that the original Mustang II was one of the most poorly proportioned cars ever. To my eye it always looked as if it needed to be stretched lengthwise and perhaps “squished” to bring the proportion of the sheet metal above the wheels into a better relationship with the rest of the bodywork.
I had a lot of fun on my first visit to the USA driving proper Mustangs - even had the pleasure of using a real GT350 for a while, so you can imagine my response when I drove a few of the Mustang IIs - wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. (BTW, I’m not entirely unqualified to comment - I received race training at Motor Racing Stables in the UK and raced Formula Fords there in the late 60s - whoops, dating myself!)


I bought my son a 2017 Mustang Convertible with an Ecoboost engine. It is plenty fast for him, and when he is at college, I get to drive it.

I bought a new 88 Mustang GT back in the day, and it was a blast to drive. I have to say, this car is every bit as fast and probably faster. The only thing missing is the wonderful sound of the 5.0 and the wheelspin.

And, I have to say that the Mustang II is slowly growing on me. In my youth I had a 69 Mach 1 and I looked down my nose at those driving the Pinto-based 4 banger. But I would love to have a King Cobra in my garage now. I don’t understand why, but they have slowly grown on me - louvers and all.


The current “Mazda based” 2.3 four cylinder engines are a far and away improvement over the old “Lima” 4 bangers of the 1970s. The Limas demanded regular oil changes to avoid oil sludging. The sludge would buildup and block oil passages that carried oil to the head and the overhead cams would eat themselves alive really quickly when starved of oil. Back in the day, the trick of finding a good used 4 banger Mustang was to insure that the prospective purchase had a history of religious 3000 mile oil changes, and continue that tradition or your new econo-‘stang would give you a mule train of problems. As those cars aged, mileage, and numbers of owners rolled up, finding one that had been loved on your local used car lots could be a problem. The old turbo models from the 1980s were faster, but the Lima really wasn’t the best engine choice for turbo charging. It couldn’t really handle all the extra heat generated by the turbo (regular oil changes were even more important with the turbos) nor did they like the demands and punishments that performance minded drivers dished out. You can only do so much with a “polished” Pinto motor without spending some real money on parts and engineering to beef it up. Ford did minimal of both. The modern 2.3, given regular oil service and not being completely thrashed by it’s driver, should give superior service and better economy with far less service, even with turbocharging. They also have a timing chain vs. the Lima’s rubber belt. I must admit having a soft spot these days for the old Mustang IIs of my early childhood. Soft enough to fund the restoration cost or splurge for a well restored or miracle surviver example? No! But soft enough to walk across the show field to check one out!


My sister had that exact red/white vinyl topped 1975 Mustang II in the first pic of this article (except she didn’t have the sun roof). It was a 4 cyl, 5 speed; WHAT A PIECE OF CRAP! (we affectionately call those era of Mustangs “Mistakes” here in Detroit). My sister’s car ended up being recalled twice for piston-scuffing (can’t remember if they rebuilt the motor twice or if they just replaced the engine entirely). It actually got @25MPG, which was exceptional for the day, but again; WHAT A PIECE OF CRAP that car was…

My brother actually worked at Dearborn Assembly during the Mistake II era (he was a government safety inspector at the plant) and he got to walk the whole assembly line and watch them being built. He used to tell me the horror stories of the guys working on the line that were so stoned they could barely talk, and in that condition, they would sometimes be doing “insignificant” jobs like fitting THE BRAKES on the cars! But, being union members, they couldn’t be fired and they could barely be moved to another less-critical job on the line (after writing up the stoned brake fitter guy 3-4 times, my bro got the plant manager to move that guy to fitting door trim instead of brakes).
My brother also said that ALL the V8 fitted Mistake II’s and the V8 Cobra versions of those cars were “baptized by fire” at the end of assembly because the porters who were responsible for taking the brand new vehicle off the end of the line and out into the storage yard of the plant smoked the tires for the first 100 or so feet of that journey! Literally, my bro said that ALL the V8 Mistake II’s left the assembly line going sideways! LoL… I guess that was the Ford prescribed “engine break-in” method? LoL…

If you all remember, that was the era when pretty much every US built car was emissions choked and built like a piece of crap, so the Mistake II fit right into that.
Gas was getting expensive and the Jap. cars were really grabbing a foothold in the US auto market.
Aaaahhhh, those were the days… Thank goodness they are gone…


I am of the age where my first exposure to the Mustang was as the backseat rider of a Mustang II. I was young enough that it wasn’t the problem you would imagine it to be. I guess that’s why I never really hated the Mustang II like others do, though I was never fond of it, either. I think the new body was a much-needed return from the massive bloating that made the earlier '70s Mustang my most-hated. To me, the first Mustangs up to 1968 were the only great ones available until the 1986 GT. The GT adopted modular headlights and had the fog lights for a much better look than the '70s-remnant dual rectangular headlights of everything else.

Then the Mustang declined again when the 5.0 was shunned for the 4.6 V8 and didn’t return to full glory until the 5.0 returned again. It’s not so much that 5.0 is the holy grail of Mustangs, just that it usually returned along with a much-improved car. The Coyote 5.0 is peak Mustang for the average buyer, with the Shelby GT350’s flat-plane 5.2 the desktop wallpaper dream version. I’m still trying to figure out how to make a GT350 work with everyday realities like house payments and college tuition for kids.


I remember well when the Mustang II came out; the post-gas crisis US was a sad, sad time for the auto industry, an era that ended the American love affair with the automobile and ushered in the new age of “auto as appliance,” concern about gas mileage rather than horsepower, and the ubquious econobox that ruled the market for a decade. Working as an auto damage appraiser then I can remember days when every single car I looked at was either a white Toyota Corolla or a white Honda Civic. The pathetic Pinto-based Mustang II was Detroit’s way of saying “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” a stopgap to give them something to sell while they figured out what to do.


Just to clarify, the first year of the aero Mustang GT is 1987. The 85 and 86 were the four-eyed type.


Keep in mind, the Mustang II did get a few things right, especially their front suspension and steering. This set up is still the go-to when building a street rod out of those old 30’s and 40’s cars.
I built a 1975 Pinto with a hopped up 2.3, bored .030 over with a Manley cam and a bunch of cylinder head mods, an Offenhauser 360 deg intake, Holley 390 cfm four barrel and a Hooker header. I took the 4 speed trans and the 8" rear end with 3.55:1 gears out of a 76 Mustang Ghia plus both of the front and rear anti-roll bars and all of it literally bolted right in. That little Lima packed a terrific punch in a 2000lb car and I regularly beat Camaros and 280Z’s in street races. Plus it handled really well with the optional deluxe rims and 70 series tires. Plus I lightened the car with aluminum bumpers off of a 76 model. Way too much fun for a 4 cyl. Go ahead, make fun, but most guys had respect when I laid fifty feet of black marks while the thing screamed under the hood and I still got over 20 mpg.


Ah, you are right. I think in my head I was remembering 1986, but that may have been from when they were introduced, not the model year. Either way, to me, it looked like a massive improvement over the 4-light version.


I worked in a Ford dealership in the mid to late 70s. They were decent cars that sold to a variety of buyers. I distinctly remember receiving the Cobra II’s right off the truck and getting 2 gears of rubber with those little stick shift 302’s. I know this is a mustang post, but another overlooked ford pocket rocket was the V6 Pinto.


I forgot to add in my original post what became of our family’s Mustang II–something that happened to many other Mustangs: it’s chassis and powertrain became the platform for a kit car. I had been promised the Mustang would be my first car before it was transformed into a delight suitable only for a senior citizen. Instead, I ended up with a sufficiently generic Japanese econobox from a brand that no longer sells cars in the US.


I had a Mercury Bobcat Wagon with the V6 and the thing did hum along pretty good. It was the 2.8 liter that was right out of the Capri.


Having driven all types of 4 cylinders I personally like the sound of a four banger being wrung out. However, the Mustang II is a horrible vehicle.


Interesting how everyone forgets, the V8 w/4-speed transmission may have wowed the audience, but from that day in 1964 when the first Mustang rolled off the assembly line it was the in-lines (first 6s, later 4s) with their 3-speed transmissions (manual and automatic) that paid the bills at Ford and kept the Mustangs coming.
People may bemoan the Mustang II as a “compact”. But, as Ford hyped in their advertisements, it was, within inches, the same size as that original 1965 Mustang. To some the Mustang II may have been a glorified Pinto, but then the original Mustang was itself an unabashed glorified Falcon - the Pinto’s predecessor in the market of “compact” cars.
I like the Mustang II, even if in the “MPG” version it took underpowered to new lows. Now its successor, there is a car that should have been left in Australia.


JB- always great articles. Part history, part philosophy even part vocabulary! My father bought a 1964 Impala SS with the 327c.i… I asked him why not the bigger engine? The upgrade at that time was, i think, $64. He said, with much prescience, “that is for you to do.”


It is 1980 and my parents are looking for a new car. The '72 Gran Torino is literally and figuratively a pig. The Datsun 200SX shows up and we are wowed by the thing. It’s got fuel injection and two plugs per cylinder, but my folks cannot stomach the price, $9,000 I think. A few months later they pull the trigger on a '80 Mustang, a pretty car with a two-tone blue-over-white paint job, $7,000-something.

The Thriftpower Six --thanks, Jack, learned something new, didn’t know what this POS engine was called-- had all the power of a three-cylinder, if that. Build quality… what’s that? There’s a crevice the size of the San Andreas Fault slicing across between front seats and rear side window. “They are all like that,” the dealer says. The POS six hesitates and stalls at will --take the POS to every mechanic in town and no one can solve it-- and, when I inherit the car, I leave it in 2nd of the three gears just so I get the sensation of forward motion. Worst thing, though, was the windshield wipers failing during a rainstorm while on the freeway. Fun times!