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Cold Start: Look At This Lineup


Are you having trouble getting motivated this morning? I get it; work is, well, work, and sometimes productivity is a hard thing to move into, saddled with the inertia of pleasant non-productivity from the weekend. You know what might help? Maybe a refreshing spoonful of schadenfreude.

Just imagine you’re 1978 Ford and almost half your lineup is this: a Pinto, a Granada, and the Mustang II. Somehow, you need to sell as many of these dogs as you can, and you know damn well what they really are: an exploding deathtrap (albeit with an excellent engine), a disappointing sequel to a legendary car, and a car that marketing keeps trying to insist is as good as a Mercedes, which it very much isn’t.

They got through it and now make things like the wonderful, cheap Maverick. If they did it, so can you.

You know, if I had to drive one of these today, I’d go for the low end: I’d genuinely like a first-gen Ford Fiesta like that yellow one there, and I’d be lying if I said that Pinto doesn’t have some appeal, too.

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57 Responses

  1. I actually liked the overall styling of the later 70’s Ford line up, except the Granada, for the era. The problem with every single one of them was Ford not giving a styling crap about the bumpers and just tacking on the mandated ones. Sure, they sorta tried with the Mustang II by color coding, but really, this was an era where the US manufacturers resisted the safety mandates and didn’t bother to spend anything on actual integration.

  2. If the Mustang II was named something else, and never pretended to be a Mustang, would people hate it so much still? Now I’ve never driven one, but I’ve always thought it was a sharp sporty little car for back in the day.

    1. I think it being hated is actually extremely important. If it was just some Ford, it would have been forgotten entirely. But it being a Mustang II did something important.

      It proved that people still wanted a muscular Mustang rather than a sporty commuter car. It functioned as a way to focus the development of the next gen, and make it more in line with what people wanted. The Ford Probe actually served the same purpose in the ’80s – Ford likes to go off the script on the Mustang and it tends to revive the brand when they do. They keep New Coke-ing the thing.

      I assume it’s bad because it’s an American car from the ’70s, but while it might be better regarded if it wasn’t a Mustang, if it wasn’t I’m not sure we would still have the Mustang.

      1. People wanted the Mustang II. They sold a shit ton of them. It was the right Mustang for the moment. Then they came up with the right Mustang for the 80’s. Really, Ford’s never failed when it comes to the Mustang.

      2. I agree with you that the Mustang II was a stepping stone to reviving the follow-on design, mostly by showing Ford what Mustang buyers really wanted.

        I also agree that the main problem with the car was that Ford brought all its Malaise Era powers to bear on it when it was built. Lee Iococca wanted a return to what the original Mustang had been–small, nimble, and sporty. The engineers took those marching orders, looked at the parts bins, and built the Mustang II.

        Honestly, later year models of the Mustang II, when Ford got the message and started focusing on making it a decent sports car, weren’t all that bad.

    2. Not gonna lie, I still think the Mustang II is by far the best-looking Mustang. I had one for a while. To me it looks fully American with Italian influences. The hatchback version looks especially Italian, but I always liked the notchback better, with no vinyl roof. Vinyl roofs look awful no matter what car they’re on.

      The Mustang II was never more than basic transporation, even with the V8 installed, and that’s why the performance guys hate it. It was never a fun car like prior versions. All looks and nothing more.

      I also used to drive a 78 LTD II. Not a bad car, but definitely a malaise-era boat. You had to stomp hard on the gas if you needed decent acceleration, and even on premium the engine would rattle like a pop can full of nickels. I can’t imagine how much less enjoyable it would be to have that powertrain in the 78 LTD full size.

    3. For that matter, is a Mustang II really any worse than a smog choked F-body, or do those just get a pass because they looked way more bitchin’ than their specs? For that matter, if the Mustang II looked like the Maverick (the 70’s one, although I’m here for the chaos of a hybrid Mustang pickup), would it be less despised even if it kept all the same Pinto stuff underneath?

    4. 100% agree. If Ford had called it the Palomino or something, it would be remembered much more fondly at this point.

      Kinda like how (IMO anyway) if Ford hadn’t called it the Mustang Mach-E, there’d be no residual enthusiast anger right now and no awkwardness later when Ford actually does debut an electric real Mustang.

      I mean would it have been so bad to say bring back the Galaxie name instead?

      1. I mean I do like the cross-over with the styling of a Mustang look. A neighbor just got one and I think it’s really sharp. However, it does create some confusion, and you’re risking pissing off the purists.

        1. The more Mach-Es I see in the wild the better it looks. I still don’t like the Mustang badge on a large crossover, and the name Mach-E doesn’t fill me with Good Vibrations, but the actual car itself makes the argument that Ford finally hit a hot streak.

          1. Totally agree. The rear end is esp. good looking.

            I just think Ford messed up name-wise by not fully committing to/believing in it. The Mach-E stands on its own and doesn’t need Mustang affiliation to give it street cred. It could have been the start of a whole new vehicle family.

          2. It is a good-looking car, but I think they should have named it the Maverick-E and given it a full-on Grabber package as an option. They could then call the Maverick truck the Courier and we wouldn’t be so confused or pissed off.

      1. That is an excellent point – Ford almost always did the overhead shot in Mustang II advertising, didn’t it?

        The direct side shot is esp. rough, as the small wheels are fairly overwhelmed by the bodywork.

      1. The ’78 was better. I was in one that was T boned by a deer running into the passenger door while we going about 60mph. Other than dragging the deer (antlers caught in window) 300′ or so, the deer then ran off, and the Pinto needed a new door skin and alignment. No explosions at all.

      1. I had a terra cotta ’80 Fiesta in the early ’90s, a low-mileage car that replaced my rusty red ’79. Wonderful little cars, although when I bought a new ’93 Mazda Protege, it was a different world.

  3. Pintos actually weren’t mobile fireballs looking for a place to happen, less than 1% of all fatalities involving a Pinto were from fire. On top of that, the Corolla, VW Bug, and Datsun 1200/210 of the same era all had more average deaths per year.
    Gary Schwartz debunked the fireball myth back in 1991 in a paper published in the Rutgers Law Review

    I get that now its just a feature of automotive legend, James Dean’s Spyder is cursed, Smokey Yunick raced a 7/8 scale Chevelle, and Pintos explode when you tap the rear end, but those are all just myths

    Gimme the Pinto.

  4. I’d agree with your assessment of what cars would be worth driving from Ford of that era; in the long run, the only thing people decided was worth keeping from the Mustang II was the front suspension.

    I’d love a Fiesta with a warmed-over Kent engine.

  5. I’ve lived long enough to have experienced most of that lineup.

    I actually owned a 1st Gen. Fiesta and love it. It was a nimble little German car that, while not particularly fast, was fun to drive. My mom had a brown metallic Pinto wagon that wasn’t nearly as fun to drive, but actually kind of looked pretty good. Still, it was a generally crappy car.

    The LTD II was just a rebranded Elite, which wasn’t all that bad for a Malaise Era car. The same with the LTD. We had both when I was a kid, and both were big gas-guzzlers that weren’t likely to go much past 100K miles before they gave up the ghost–typical for cars of that era.

    I took Driver’s Ed in a Granada. It wasn’t the answer to European cars Ford seemed to think it was. The main impression I got was that the car was somewhat fragile.

    I knew a few people who had Mustang IIs. I think the car actually got a bad rap–it was better than it was ever given credit for. I think most of the gripes people had about it had more to do with the way Ford built cars in general in the ’70s. That and the fact that they tried to market it as a little personal luxury car with the Ghia, which was a colossal mistake. People who wanted a personal luxury car were going to buy a T-Bird or an LTD II. Mustang buyers wanted performance cars.

    While offering a four-cylinder in the Mustang II was a reasonable choice for an oil crisis car, not initially offering a V8 was a bad call. Ford should have stuck with selling the Mustang as a performance car from jump street. The factory-built Cobra II with the 302 was actually a pretty capable sports car by ’70s standards.

  6. It is fun to think about how cool these cars were but thank your lucky stars you didn’t have to live with them. They were all ill-built pieces of crap. My girlfriends Fiesta would leave her stranded regularly. Just quit for an hour or so. Between her mechanic, Father and I we replaced or rebuilt everything and it still happened. My sisters V8 Maverick would not idle. Just wouldn’t. Wheel bearings every year if not sooner. Interior fell apart. My dad had a Torino with a 351 Cleveland. Cool, huh? No. Ate driveshafts. Ate ball joints. Ate steering components with abandon. And of course it wouldn’t idle and the interior fell apart. Pieces of crap all of them.

  7. My first car was a ’78 Zephyr, so I already have a bit of a soft spot for the Fairmont. Zephyr was better looking, though, and I was always disappointed that the Fox body Mustangs never really looked like Mustangs.

    I owned two Mustang IIs, a ’76 with the 3.8 German V6, and a ’77 with the 2.3 4 cylinder into which my buddy unfortunately installed a horsepower cam that came at the expense of all off-idle torque, which was deathly in an automatic car. But otherwise I liked both a lot. They just needed fatter wheels. And they were both notchbacks. As much as I love T-tops, the fastbacks look way too much like Pintos. And Pintos… Ugh.

    1. I remember them all so very well, too!

      Our family had Pintos, and we all lived to tell the story.

      Tiny correction: The V6 was a 2.8L engine, and actually had adjustable valves.

  8. The Fairmont is a Fox body, so lots of potential to have fun with a Fairmont wagon

    The Mk1 Fiesta is cool

    There’s also the Capri from Germany, which we got as a Mercury. I like the MkII Capri

  9. The first car I can remember riding in was my parent’s 1979 Fiesta S, dark navy blue with the white ‘S’ stripe. IIRC it had sort of black and gray mini-checked cloth interior, and I was obsessed with the shift knob – it was a 4 on the floor, and it had the shift pattern sort of stamped into the top of the knob, rather than having an inset piece with the pattern printed on it, or whatever. To this day that car is very fondly remembered by the whole family. I’d love to find one to buy, but they seem to have all gone the way of most ‘disposable’ economy cars and have all ended up scrap, at least here in the US. I’ve vaguely considered importing a left hand drive car from continental Europe, as some of the sporty spec (XR2) Mk1 Fiestas have been saved there, but haven’t gotten serious enough to start navigating the red tape.

  10. Had a 1971 Pinto with a 1.6L Kent 4 cylinder 4 speed manual. Fun little car. Later put a 2.0L into it. Great mileage peppy but not fast . Fun on the back roads and it handled off road and winter pretty good with the right tires and a little bit of a lift.

  11. First car I ever drove was a Ford LTD Brougham back in 19Zebedeesomething, aged 14, around the parking lot of an Ottawa, Ont, mall. As a young Scotsman who had only seen the Yank Tanks on TV it was absolutely amazing experience. Talk about slow? My cousin made sure I never went above 15mph: tectonic plates move quicker but I was so hyped up it didn’t matter.

  12. I’d sell them like this, ” give your future grandchildren something to LS swap and go drag racing in!”

    I mean come on! Best sleepers EVER!

    and hotrods and kustoms crave the Mustang II suspension….still sold to this day! Hell I got a set in my shop for a customer right now!

    It may not be much now! But give it 40 years!

  13. I’m a Ford guy, but I hate this era, all the way through 1980 or so.

    Fiesta is acceptable, as would be an Inline 6 Fairmont 2 door, although I’d MUCH rather have the Mercury Zephyr version (had two, great cars for their time). The rest? Meh.

  14. Fuck it.
    Gimme the land barge with Barcaloungers, throw something with enough torque to alter planetary rotation under the hood and a GPM rating, and find a thousand miles of rail-straight interstate.

  15. Ah, the memories!
    My mom drove a Pinto wagon before I started driving. (Upgraded to a Cordoba afterwards, which is what I learned to drive in).

    I drove a Mustang II hatchback for in high school after rolling my Spitfire (Triumph, not Supermarine, unfortunately, since Supermarine Spitfires can generally survive rolls).

    Threw a rod in the engine of the Pintostang (4-cyl), and wound up buying a Mercury Monarch (i.e., Granada). It had been my dad’s before he sold it to a neighbor who then sold it to me. It was actually a really nice car for the time, as my dad had optioned it up: black 2-door with burgundy leather, power everything, vinyl roof, and a 351 V8. Had that until I smashed the oil pan while driving like a teenager on a dirt road.

  16. I remember a relative (great aunt and uncle, I think) owned an LTD very similar to the one in the ad.
    Tons of room, but slooooow, and handled like crap, but very smooth ride.
    Everyone in the family borrowed it for long trips where you just needed to eat up the miles, say from South Jersey to Cincinnati to attend a wedding.
    Three adults, two teenagers, a trunk full of luggage and twelve hours each way, and all the LTD asked was a gallon of gas every 12 miles.

        1. Thank you! That must be exactly why I subconsciously liked them…MG wheels!

          (I didn’t even know the name. Learn something new every day, and I feel my wheel game is dangerously weak as it is for this crowd)

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