I’ve been on something of a Ford kick, lately. Looking at my body of contributions to CC, I realize they have been overwhelmingly top-heavy with products from General Motors. It was when looking at pictures I had taken of this cute, little muskrat that the mini-Monte Carlo appeal of the Mustang II Ghia suddenly became apparent. I say “Monte” and not “Thunderbird” because I think that at the time of the Mustang II’s debut for model year ’74, it had a lot more in common, both in content and appearance, with Chevrolet’s personal luxury car than with the much larger Ford. Also, it seems pretty obvious that the Blue Oval had gotten more than a little inspiration from its Bow Tie competitor for its own Monte Carlo-sized Elite, especially up front.
I see no visual kinship between the Mustang II Ghia and the sixth-generation Thunderbird, or with the Elite. While the Thunderbird’s pleasingly curved bodysides are apparent from a front or rear perspective, it has no other really interesting exterior surfaces outside of its hood, beak-like grille and full-width taillamps. I don’t find this generation of Thunderbird unattractive (Jason Shafer, don’t tune out just yet); Rather, I find it very benign-looking and simply just a lot of what is is. It didn’t help that this Thunderbird shared its basic platform and many styling cues with its upmarket Lincoln Contintental Mark IV cousin, somewhat diluting the impact of the styling and air of exclusivity of both cars.
The Colonnade-generation Monte Carlo, by comparison to the concurrent Thunderbird, had highly sculpted bodysides, which is a commonality shared with the Mustang II. It’s true that the Monte Carlo was positioned downmarket from the Thunderbird as a personal luxury car for the masses (and was priced accordingly), but it was also visually distinctive, whether its look was to your liking or not. When it comes to dramatic, visual flair, the subcompact Mustang II seemed to have what the Monte Carlo had, but scaled down in proportion to its external dimensions as compared with the midsized Chevrolet.
The Ghia’s main competitor, the Chevrolet Monza Towne Coupe that was introduced for mid-year ’75, possessed a much cleaner, vaguely European look (its opera windows notwithstanding), but lacked many of the Mustang II’s interesting exterior flourishes. While the Monza hatchback was a great looking car from most angles, the notchback, with its completely different body than the 2+2, always struck me as plain, whether in base form or dressed up. Imagine you wanted the personal luxury style of a Monte Carlo but in a smaller, more efficient, more manageable package. The Monza Towne Coupe, while not bad-looking, seems to lack the Ghia’s upscale panache, with the former lacking any instantly recognizable styling cues.
My personal preference among all vehicles in this class would probably have been the (admittedly pricey) Capri II Ghia that was imported from Germany. If my patriotism was in full swing on the eve of the Bicentennial of the United States and I was intent on buying American (a likely scenario), the Mustang II Ghia might have been the way to go among smaller cars. So what, if the Mustang II’s rear seat, in either bodystyle, is (very) cramped? If you were a twenty- or thirty-something single in the market for a personal luxury-type car, absolutely none of your options had truly spacious rear accommodations.
If you were a city dweller where parking was a consideration, you also might as well have gotten a few more miles-per-gallon with a V8-equipped Ghia than you would have in a Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, or Cordoba, all of which would also have been tougher to maneuver and park. The various, performance-leaning iterations of the Mustang II hatchback (Mach I, Cobra II, King Cobra) may not have been convincing alternatives to established performance heavyweights like the Chevrolet Camaro Z28 and Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, but I feel a Mustang II Ghia would have been a credible choice against a traditionally-sized personal luxury car.
This clean, little example was rust-free, likely related to the California plates up front and out back. Regardless of whether its owner is / was a temporary transplant or a new, permanent resident, he or she was in for a shock to their system with the icy, January winds blowing in off Lake Michigan at the time I jumped off the bus to take these pictures. It made me wonder about how it must have been to drive this car over halfway across this country, and also how it kept up with traffic. Even locally, there are some maniacal drivers on the Dan Ryan Expressway, as well as on Lake Shore Drive.
I realize it’s a common perception that the Mustang II is the little pony that people love to hate… but just look at that pretty interior of pleated vinyl as seen through the window. Tell me the front seats of this car do not look cozy and comfortable. I wonder if Jaclyn Smith ever actually got to spend any substantial amount of time behind the wheel of one of these during her days of shooting TV’s “Charlie’s Angels”. My ultimate impression is that it was the Ghia’s execution of a new idea of old luxury that made it so effective an expression of its times, and of all the new ways of thinking the ’70s brought with them. For this last reason alone, the Mustang II Ghia has earned my respect.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, January 19, 2013.
- From Paul Niedermeyer: On The Go Outtake: Mustang II Ghia V8 – Too Hot To Even Consider Chasing; and
- From me: Curbside Classic: 1974 Ford Mustang II Notchback – Mustang II, Recognition Zero.