Thursday, April 24, 2014

1976 Ford Mustangs

Purists blanched when Ford added the Shelby-like Cobra II package for '76 fastbacks, but the option proved quite popular.

The 1976 Ford Mustang

Sales of the 1976 Ford Mustang totaled 187,567, helped in this bicentennial year by introduction of a trim option evoking the late, great Shelby-Mustangs. Called "Cobra II" and available for fastbacks only, it was suggested by Jim Wangers, the advertising whiz who'd helped create the legendary GTO for Pontiac in the early 1960's.

Wangers sold Ford on the Cobra II idea with the understanding that a company he owned, Motortown, would manufacture most of the package's styling add-ons and install them at its small plant near the Dearborn Mustang factory.

The Cobra II debuted as a $325 option, but another $287 was required for a "Cobra II modification package" to ready the stock fastback for all kinds of extra stuff. Immediately apparent were louvered covers on the rear-quarter-windows, a front air dam, a rear spoiler, and a simulated hood air scoop.

Also included were a "blackout" grille, styled-steel wheels with trim rings and radial tires, and bold model badges. Broad Shelby-style racing stripes were applied to the hood, roof, trunklid, and rocker panels in either blue against white paint or gold over black. Other color combinations were added in subsequent model years. The interior was spruced up with a sports steering wheel and brushed-aluminum accents, plus dual remote-control door mirrors.

The Cobra II option did nothing for acceleration, making it a product of its time.

Purists laughed at the Cobra II, especially with the stock four-cylinder engine, but historian Gary Witzenburg observed that "properly equipped, the thing actually performed pretty well by 1976 standards." Incidentally, the option was available for the Mach 1 as well as the base fastback, making a car so equipped a Mustang II Mach 1 Cobra II.

Nobody laughed when road racer Charlie Kemp ran a wildly modified fastback in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) GT class during 1976. Though far from stock and not blessed by Ford, it looked enough like a Cobra II to cheer Blue Oval partisans. Unhappily for them, Kemp's car was competitively fast but unreliable and often ended up in the DNF (did not finish) column. It scored no victories in one of the Mustang II's few attempts at competition.

The Stallion package, another new '76 dressup kit, also did nothing for acceleration but arguably made the fastback look faster.

No less subtle than the Cobra II was the Stallion, another all-show/no-go 1976 package that was also offered (in slightly different forms) for that year's Pintos and Mavericks. Again restricted to fastbacks, it delivered acres of black paint on hood and roof, silver elsewhere, and forged-aluminum wheels, all set off by snorting horse's-head front-fender decals. One other bit of '76 news involved the Ghia moonroof, which was now optional for other models and with either silver or brown tint.

The next two models years also had some showy packages, but performance and open-air driving also made a return.


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