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

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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61 Responses

  1. Just wanted to say thank you for this article! That Honda Accord was my first car way back in the day…bought it used with 100K Miles on it for something like $1500. I Loved that car! Living here in the rust belt it ended it’s life with almost 400K Miles, and was 95% bondo and 5% rust (no actual metal left I think) when it finally gave in. Thank you for the pictures and the great words about this car..you made my day.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Got to be the ’78 Honda. It was Hightower approved as evident by how fun it looked to raise hell running through the city at night (okay, that one was a civic but this is close enough).

  5. ’78 Honda all day. It was approved by Hightower himself as evident in his driving through the city and raising hell with it at night (okay, that one was a civic but close enough).

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. The Accord over the Mustang. The Honda was a genuinely good car at the time and a significant milestone. The Mustang II is a Pinto Brougham for those who prefer their malaise era “fun sized”

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Mustang II all day. I’d yank the powertrain out of the rusty project of one that I have now and drop it into that California body, then take the now 300 horsepower Cali car to the body shop for some paint.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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