(first posted 8/16/2014) The larger Mustangs of the early ’70s might not get the respect of purists, but I was more than happy when I came across this blue 1973 convertible last week. There’s a lot here to like, as I’m sure a lot of our readers will echo. It was parked in front of the local hospital and I wouldn’t be surprised if the owner is a CC reader. After all, it was the only interesting car in what appeared to be the doctor’s parking lot, populated mainly by the likes of the BMW X5 and other similar expressions of modern brougham.
Another factor in my suspicion of the owner’s love of CCs: this car may be an obvious garage queen, but it’s a ’70s Mustang, often derided for having rather vulgar appeal. The nice thing about many of our readers is that they have less to prove than some other enthusiasts; there are fans of the Mustang II among us, and lovers of the LTD II and Torino, too. And perhaps this appreciation is a matter of pragmatism; no, ol’ blue here may not be as lithe and lean as an original ’65, but were mainstream ‘stangs genuinely sporty before the Fox went to the gym thirty years ago?
The Mustang was an affordable expression of style as a personal, intimate car; one which helped kill high-end versions of the Falcon and the Corvair. That it got a bit chubby doesn’t really dilute such appeal. We’re not talking a 240Z, here; we’re not even talking about a Barracuda, so is the added dash of luxury really that dishonest?
If so, it’s very hard to take most people’s criticism seriously. Unless it’s coming from someone who’s driven ultra high-po versions of the original body style with regularity, it’s hard to see what the fuss is all about. The average Mustang cloaked its stylish intentions behind a dynamic image and was never particularly straightforward in its early life.
I mean, I get it; six hundred pounds of weight gain over six years is plenty, and compared to the likes of the new-for’-71 Camaro and Firebird, the Ford’s sense of focus is certainly lacking. GM managed to pull off a much more aggressive presentation with a degree of international flair that the more domestic Mustang lacked. But it’s all a matter of expectations, and with the F-body twins sharing space with the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix, the Ford had to be all things to all people. Now, if someone wants to bash the Mustang II for erring too far in the personal luxury direction, especially once the Elite came along, I’d be less likely to challenge them.
So what powered this more-obscure Mustang for 1973? I’m not quite sure what’s under the hood of this convertible, but with its Cruise-o-matic and high level of trim, I’m guessing at least a 302; maybe even a 351 (the 429 was only available for ’71). So if it’s been kept stock, this 3,200 pound convertible is pushed along by about 177-ish even tempered horsepower at 4,000rpm, with 284 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. A “Q-code” low-compression 351 crypto-Cobra Jet was available as well, with a full 266 horsepower and 301 lb-ft of torque, but very few were made.
The Camaro, not available as a convertible, was more on the ball, with a more widely-available optional 245-horsepower 350. That, along with other factors, makes it obvious which of the two rivals is the stronger contender. I still like how this Ford presents itself, though. If you think I’m crazy, blame that pristine two-tone interior with white upholstery and woodgrain. If Ford’s offerings of the era were shamelessly bloated isolation chambers, the Mustang at least delivered the same experience in a more manageable package with some genuine perceived quality.
That wasn’t enough for most buyers, though, as sales of this jack-of-all-trades Mustang were a low 135,000 units. That was more than the Camaro managed, but Mustang sales were generally expected to be much higher. Nearly 60,000 more had been moved as recently as 1970, to say nothing of the 500k sold in its inaugural year. So it’s odd that this, one of the least offensive of Dearborn’s overwrought “Better Ideas,” actually makes a good example of what was wrong over at HQ throughout the decade.
Having shocked and appalled the more orthodox contingent of our readers by professing my love of this car’s Personal Luxury Lite ethos, I’ll allow for the criticism which may come my way. One caveat, though; my favorite Mustangs are the pre-facelift Foxes, so it’s not that I don’t get the pony car. It’s a matter of being too far removed from the muscle car era; the sixteen-year-old in me more easily imagines doing donuts and 3,000 rpm clutch drops in an ’86 302 HO than in a 1968 428. Credit the car’s impeccable condition if you must, or my unfulfilled desire for a drop-top, but something about this ’73 brings out the old man in me in a way I cannot resist.