A Miniaturized Mustang And An Upstart Import – 1974 Mustang II vs 1978 Honda Accord

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Good morning, Autopians! Well, I’ve managed to pull off another Two-Door Tuesday, and I’m pleased to report that both of today’s contestants have more pedals than doors, as they should. (Okay, yes, the Honda is a hatchback. But almost nobody in America refers to this as a “3-door hatch.” No handle, no door.) Before we get to them, though, we need to find out which sedan you chose yesterday:

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Get ready to fix it again, Tony; it’s the Fiat by nearly two-to-one. And I have to say I agree; four-door Darts are just kinda dowdy. Like something your aunt would drive. That little Fiat would be my choice, and in fact, it’s another one I’d probably drag home if I could. I’d get it running, and then love it and squeeze it and call it George. It’s just so adorable.

Speaking of adorable, Torch posted an article a while back asking where all the first-generation Honda Accords went. (The Hondas, I mean, not… Not that Torch isn’t… Oh, this is awkward.) [Editor’s Note: Motherfucker, I am adorable. – JT] This got me wondering if I could find one for sale, and I did! And I’ve been wanting to make fun of – I mean, feature – a Mustang II for a while now, so I’ve found one of those as well. Without further ado, let’s take a look at them.

1974 Ford Mustang II – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: San Mateo, CA

Odometer reading: 162,000 miles

Runs/drives? It does!

Whenever an ad lists “smells like the ’70s” as a selling point, you know you’re dealing with our kind of car. Especially when it’s the much-reviled, downsized, all-new-for-1974 Ford Mustang II. This car gets a lot of grief, but it was also the second-best-selling model year Mustang of all time. It was the right car at the right time for Ford, and let’s face it, by 1973 the Mustang had gotten fat.

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This Mustang features the then-new 2.3 liter “Lima” four-cylinder engine, backed by a four-speed manual. It’s not the fire-breathing monster the Mustang had been only a few years before, to say the least, but by mid-’70s small car standards it was probably okay. No V8 was available in 1974; it returned in 1975, but it produced more weight and noise than power. The little four-banger is probably better suited to this car’s character, really.

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The Mustang II isn’t a bad-looking car, but this one certainly looks rough. The red paint is faded unevenly to a few shades of dull pink, where it hasn’t disappeared entirely, and the interior is a cracked dusty mess. And all the instruments appear to have cataracts.

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It’s a genuine piece of Ford history, the car that shepherded the Mustang nameplate through the darkest times of the American auto industry. If this car had been a flop, there likely would have been no Fox-body GT, no Coyote V8, no modern-day GT500. Damn near every car sucked in the ’70s; the Mustang II is just more famous for it than most.

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Still, it’s $1500 for a running car that doesn’t need to be smogged; they won’t have any trouble selling it.


1978 Honda Accord – $2,222

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: San Jose, CA

Odometer reading: 120,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

The first generation Honda Accord was a hit for the simplest of reasons: it was just so damned good. It drove and handled well, had just enough space in it compared to the Civic to feel like a “real car,” and its styling was elegant, a word not always associated with small cars, especially Japanese cars in the ’70s.

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Unfortunately, rust prevention was not Honda’s strong suit back then, and many early Accords simply dissolved away. I once owned a 1984 Accord, the generation after this one, that practically broke in two from rust, at only eleven years old. It was maddening, because it ran perfectly, and was a wonderful car to drive. This Accord shows signs of rust, despite being a lifelong California car and having sat for long periods of time.

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Mechanically, it sounds like this car is in fine shape, or well on its way to being so. It runs and drives well now, and just needs a little tinkering to really shine. It does have a salvage title, for undisclosed reasons, but for a rare car that’s not terribly expensive, I’m not sure it matters.

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Everywhere you look, if you’re my age, you see little bits of nostalgia in this car: the round speakers cut into the door cards, that big gap between the dash and the center console that’s filled up by a giant center stack these days, the skinny styled steel wheels that are so much of the car’s character, and of course, those quad round headlights.

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It’s an utterly charming little car, and one you certainly won’t see one of every time you turn around. Not these days, anyway.

So there they are: a low point in Mustang history, and the start of something great for Honda. Only one can win our coveted top prize; which one will it be?


Quiz Maker

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58 Responses

  1. My first car was an ’81 Accord and Michigan winters were not kind to that era of Japanese cars in general – I sat with a permanent lean to the left because the floor was rusting out of it. I have tried to find clean examples of the first few generations of Accord without much luck here in the PNW, which despite being adjacent to water, is not nearly as hard on cars as salted roads are.

  2. I don’t feel much for either of them, honestly. I know someone that bought a beautiful baby blue Mustang II not long ago and its a joyous little time capsule of a car. This one decidedly is not.

    Still, RWD is better than FWD

  3. This line … WTH
    “The car used to belong to my aunt and uncle so it has unconventional seatbelts. ”
    If memory serves me the shoulder belts clipped to the roofline, and had to be manually adjusted and connected to the lap belt. … This memory is based on my Montego and I think I tried the shoulder belt once and promptly clipped it back up and never touched it again! Ahhh memories 😉

      1. My aunt and uncle were carnies who used the seats and belts from their car when setting up the rusted out bucket on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Here we are two decades into the 21st century and jerks like you are still carny shaming.

  4. I see pictures of Mustang II’s and I think wow, what an ugly car. Especially when decked out with a vinyl roof. However, I have always liked the Cobra II version as seen in Starman.

  5. Even with all the rust, the Honda is the only choice. I just find the Mustang II to be horrendously ugly. I’ve never been able to stand the sight of them. Not even the fastbacks. In Jr. high I had a teacher who drove an orange one. The very sight of it made me cringe.

  6. Hard pass on both.

    Hondas of this era are particularly susceptible to rust and rot is invariably fatal, because they do not have rustproofing. The corrosion protection on these is nil and near everything is structural. And you can’t just galvanize steel that’s already on the car. So that rot on the rockers? You’re going to have to put the whole car on a frame jig and do structural sectioning. If you can even find good cuts.
    You won’t find good cuts. Because they all rotted out. Honda did not – and in many ways still does not – get the American market. The Accord was built for Japan and the Shaken, and it shows. They had to keep weight as low as possible, the engine as small as they could, and they expected it to be scrapped after 5 years or fewer because of corrosion on suspension components or just simple maintenance. These were always designed, built, and treated as disposable cars regardless of the myth of their ‘durability.’

    The Mustang II is much reviled for many good reasons. The Lima isn’t a bad motor, but claiming the V8 was the only one with more weight and noise than power is laughable. The Lima’s an all cast iron affair, with NVH characteristics that make the CVH look good, and a whopping 83HP. And it’s a heavy motherfucker – over 400lbs undressed. Yes Virginia, the Lima weighs more than the Cologne V6 option (about 300lbs undressed.)
    No, what saved and made the Mustang II such a big seller was the very reason this one is still so intact and original. Lee Iacocca always knew his shit. And his biggest demand was not that it get good gas mileage, or get rave reviews for styling. It was that the Mustang II have an extremely high level of fit-and-finish. He demanded that it be the best built car FoMoCo made short of a Lincoln. (Orders which obviously was inverted for the Fox bodies.) It wasn’t there to fight Firebirds and Camaros, it was fighting Celicas and 240Z’s, so the build quality had to match.
    It was the right car at the right time. But we’re not in 1974 any more, and nobody wants to relive those years with good reason.

  7. Easily the Honda

    Also, Ford messed up with the Mustang. The Capri is the real Mustang II.

    Ford should’ve stopped making the classic Mustang after 68, then switch to the Capri for 69. That platform actually ran until the 80sin Europe, just in time for the Probe to take over for the 80s and 90s, and then the New Edge Cougar, then back to the classic Mustang layout in 2004.
    64-68 Mustang classic body
    69-86 Capri
    87-97 Probe
    99-02 Cougar
    04+ Mustang

    1. It’s an interesting thought experiment for sure. And we did kinda get the Capri here in the ’70s, right, sold at some Mercury dealerships as a non-Ford-badged captive.

      (I love to imagine a quiet corner with a Capri and a Pantera sitting there, perplexing the usual Mercury crowd)

      The question your alternate history timeline raises in my mind is: if Ford had done this, would the ’05+ Mustang have in fact been…exactly the same – a retro piece recalling the ’60s versions.

      1. My dad was a die hard Mercury fan from the 60’s through to the mid-80’s. I remember going to the dealership and seeing a Pantera roped-off inside. My dad asked if we should get it. A huge smile grew across my face and then he bought a Montego. “Where would you sit, Max?”

        Also recall seeing Capris there too, but Dad liked bigger muscle cars with the biggest V8 available (iirc, the Montego had a 429ci V8).

        1. My first real car (after Grandpa’s ’62 Caddy) was a ’72 Capri with the 2 liter four. It was a fantastic little car. Handled great, easy to work on, fast enough to have fun but not fast enough to really get into trouble. Learned how to heel-toe on it when a deceleration valve went out in the carb and the engine would die if you tried to stop without revving it. Only thing better would have been the 6 cylinder version.

          And yeah, those Mustangs did nothing but tarnish the name. I’ll take a rust bucket Honda over one of those any day.

      2. Remember that’s the same time they did that new retro T-Bird, based on the Jaguar platform that spawned the S-Type and Lincoln LS. The 4th gen S197 Mustang is a derivative of that platform.

        The biggest difference I could foresee is that it would’ve had IRS instead of the live axle. The Mustang finally got that 10 years later in the S550

    1. I react more from the perspective that this car even exists. I’m in CT, every single one has been gone for decades to rust. I have only seen one in the past 10 years around where I live, maybe one.

      The rust is repairable, and could be fixed.

  8. I knew I would be in the minority voting for the PintoStang, but I had a 74 with the Lima. While it was not a great car by any stretch of the imagination, I do have this weird desire to resto-mod one with a turbo-Lima from an 80’s SVO, T-Bird Turbo, or Merkur.

  9. The Fords from the 1970s are *almost* as bad for rust as the Hondas. So really, there is no true advantage by going with the Mustang… which is worse in every other way.

    So my vote goes to the Accord.

  10. The Accord was hands down a better car than the Mustang II when both were new. In fact, most Japanese cars were better than their American counterparts in the ’70s.

    That said, 40+ years later I’d have to say the Mustang is the better buy. It looks to be a solid car that begs for a retromod treatment. My idea is to strip it down inside and out, give it a new paint job and refresh the interior, and put in a 4.0 V6 with a 5-speed gearbox.

    On the other hand, the Accord is already showing the inevitable rust that killed most of its kind. It would really depend on how bad that deterioration is as to how viable a restoration would be. It might just be a case of tuning it up and driving it until it finally comes apart–the proverbial beater that’s a fun car while it lasts.

  11. Mustang all the way.
    My best friend in high school had this exact car, only Ford racing white with the blue stripes.
    The 2.3 was peppy enough, and with the 4 speed you could wind it out pretty well. It handled decently for a 1974 small American coupe.
    This one shows no major rust and has a clean title. A salvage title kills anything for me.

  12. In the last 2 days you featured my first 2 cars. My first car was a Dodge Dart. It was turd brown with a slant 6. It could do burn outs but was terrible at catching air. My 2nd car was this very same Accord. My dad made me buy it. I wanted a truck. I abused that thing by jumping it over railroad tracks and taking it off road. When I decided to get the oil changed, the mechanic pull the drain plug and nothing came out. I must have drove it without oil for weeks but it kept running. I’m still driving Hondas to this day.

  13. The Mustang II was a compromised abomination that only sold based on name recognition and shaky claims of decent gas mileage. Cars like the Vega, Gremlin, Volare/Aspen, and this were obvious signs that the automakers of the United States were woefully unprepared for the import boom that was started by the Beetle and spread to Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and many other Japanese car companies in the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis. The Accord is a far different tale. It was designed from the ground up as a modern economy car, with front wheel drive, a 5 speed manual as standard(at a time when most American compacts still offered 3 speeds), an advanced completely independent suspension system, a robust list of standard equipment like an AM/FM radio, tachometer, and cloth seats, and aside from some rust problems, it was as reliable as Old Faithful. My choice should be obvious.

  14. The Honda seems like the way to go. I’m young enough that, having grown up in deep rust and salt country, basically everything of this era had long since rotted away by the time I was aware of cars. There were a few early-early 80’s Hondas in my neighborhood that ran until they were barely four wheels and a seat. The Accord, from my modern vantage point just looks so much more liveable. More attractive, too. The Mustang seems huge even if it isn’t, and I have a hard time believing those few, sickly ponies under the hood can move it worth a damn.

    Honest question: my unscientific perception is that 70’s era UK Fords are thought of much more highly than American ones. Given that there was institutional knowledge for how to build a less thirsty and perhaps less shitty car than Detroit was capable of, why didn’t they just make the Cortina or whatever here? Same basic question applies to GM, also.

    1. I like your question, but can’t say I know. But I’ll hazard a guess just for conversations’ sake (I’m sure others are more enlightened that I am here and will chime in)…perhaps corporate culture as a big culprit?

      Given the general attitude the Big 3 had toward the business (here in the States I mean) then, they really didn’t see things changing enough to change themselves in any big way. I suspect they thought both the import invasion and the energy crisis were temporary, something to be weathered rather than something that should set off alarm bells.

      I mean look how long it actually did take them to seriously compete with imports.

  15. Mustang all the way, but only because I have semi-fond memories of my first car, which was a 74/75 Ghia with the V6. Metallic brown with the white vinyl roof. Man, was I cool! Why 74/75? Well the back half was a 75 and the front half was a 74, which I only figured out after careful inspection a year after buying it.

    The thing was a total shitbox but it would outrun my brother’s VW super beetle, mostly because the VW never ran. I had to replace the timing gear (took a month to figure out the reverse thread on the crankshaft) and SEVEN starters. Yes, SEVEN. No idea why, but they never lasted more than a couple months. Fortunately the first one had a 1 year warranty and the rest were “free”, except for the labor to replace them. The first one took me a couple days and then last was something like 30 minutes, including loosening a cross member and the driver’s side exhaust manifold.

    Traded it for a stripper Ford Fairmont with a 3 speed on the floor and a burned spot on the hood. I’m not sure who got the better deal on that one.

  16. I had a 1974 Mustang in that configuration. Not the position of the fuel cap, below the crease in the rear quarter panel. Miserable. Using a typical fuel nozzle at the gas station was a constant source of frustration as it always shut off every 30 seconds. 1975 and on they moved it to be above the crease. The timing belt on my 2.3 jumped 2 teeth while I was driving it, total loss of power. Had one of the rear leaf springs crack, replaced both stacks with salvage parts. The only thing that made it drivable was the 4 on the floor transmission. I can’t imagine how horrific driving one of the 2.3s with the auto trans would have been. Granted I only paid $65 for it when I got it with over 100K miles on it…

  17. I may be the only one here (unless there’s a retired used-car dealer among us, plaid suit and all) who has owned two of both of these. I had a ’77 Accord, then a ’78 Accord (both hatchbacks like this), and a ’76 Mustang II and a ’77 Mustang II (both coupes like this), and I had buckets of fun with all four. This would be a tough choice for me. Both manual transmissions: big plus, advantage to neither. Mustang II has the 2.3L four. So did my ’77, with the ill-advised addition of a horsepower cam that made it an utter dog off-idle. Advantage: Honda. The Mustang II is smog exempt: big advantage! I wonder if it still has its government-mandated seatbelt interlock system, wherein you can’t start it without fastening the seatbelt first. Probably not; everyone disabled that, especially when it became legal to do so within months. Another disadvantage to the Ford: upgrading the engine will require changing out the entire drivetrain and suspension, whereas the Honda is already a hoot to drive as it sits. The Honda is rusty, though weirdly not much rustier than my ’77 was in 1987. But the Mustang II is not free of rust, plus it’s waaay too sun-baked and beat. At least they’re both the correct body style. The Accord sedan is sensible, staid, and frankly boring (though it was amusing to grab the kidney grille and hood ornament and badges from a junkyard 320i and fool your unlettered schoolmates into thinking you drove a BMW), and the Mustang II fastback just betrays its Pintoness way too nakedly, especially from behind.

    Bummer, Mustang II, you little jewel. If you were one year newer with a V8 and weren’t so neglected, I’d pick you. As it is, gimme one more trip through the CVCC!

      1. Yeah, I’m not sure you can squeeze a small-block Ford V8 into a ’74. Shouldn’t be a problem with the ’75-’78 ones, but you’d also need to replace that rear end. The one from the four-banger ain’t gonna hold up.

  18. The Accord, no question. My dad had one and it was perfect- solid, decent handling, dependable, a serious, functional interior, and with a smooth shifter no other car ever had. Some sanding and a respray and you’ve got a piece of history. The Mustang? I can smell it from here- yech. Sloppy everything with cheap, smelly interior.

  19. Honda for me just for nostalgia. My first car was a used Civic (no a/c, AM only radio) back in the 70’s. The Accord was something I would imagine “upgrading” to one day. After graduating college and getting real job money I skipped right over it and bought a new Prelude.

  20. Anyone voting for the Mustang hasn’t driven one, or did so long ago and the real experience is lost to the fog of history. I like Mustangs, and currently own one. But, the Mustang II was a POS. I had a ’76 in college, so I know. I also had a ’78 Honda, but it was a 1200cc Civic. If the Accord is anything like the Civic I had, it’s light years better than the Mustang. I do note some concerning rust on the Accord, so best to check the subframe before purchase.

    1. Except that that Honda is not “JDM.” JDM is ‘Japanese Domestic Market’ that is a car built in Japan for sale in Japan. This Accord was built for the American export market. All these kids nowdays think any Japanese car is ‘JDM’ (and some Korean cars. Just had an argument on Facebook with a kid who could not accept that his freaking Hyundai is not JDM…)
      We will forgive the ignoramuses but we are car people dammit let’s get it right.

      1. In fairness, he seems like he might mean that the frenzy over actual JDMs is inflating the value of old Japanese cars period. Which seems true, at least anecdotally.

        But I’ve definitely noticed what you mention, JDM now being used as a synonym for any old but desirable Japanese car (usually means it has a manual). I’ve even seen some (other, not this one) car people sites utilize the term in a technically-correct-but-misleading way, seemingly to drive clicks among a target readership…

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