What is it they say about hindsight? It’s always 6’4″? That’s not right. Hindsight is always something. Something that means from our vantage point in the future, we can easily spot all the mistakes of the past. Mistakes like, oh, let’s just say something like literally exploding to smithereens one of the most desirable of classic Ford Mustangs in order to not harm what is pretty much universally accepted as the least desirable Ford Mustang. A mistake like that, to our modern eyes, seems absolutely batshit. And yet, here’s the thing: that exact situation happened, not once, but twice, thanks to the magic of a ridiculous 1970s television show called Charlie’s Angels.
I’m sure you, a metabolizing human capable of reading the written word, has heard of Charlie’s Angels, a show about a private Los Angeles detective agency staffed by three beautiful, ass-kicking women, some sort of valet, and run by a disembodied voice on a speakerphone. If you need a little taste of the peculiar sort of magic this show was, here’s the opening from season one:
There you go! Now you understand! Anyway, one of the Angels, Kelly (played by Jaclyn Smith), drives a Ford Mustang II, which is, according to current thinking, the Mustang most likely to be considered “garbage” by, well, pretty much everyone. I mean, I kinda like them, but partially because everyone thinks they’re garbage.
Anyway, in season one, episode 13, titled Angel Trap, which you can see in full here that Mustang II gets blown up! With a bomb that looks like it was borrowed from a Road Runner cartoon’s Acme products stash:
The blowing up, along with some good Mustang II hooning, can be seen at 25 minutes into the episode. Let’s see what happens as Kelly parks her car:
Okay, all looks fine. Next, she runs away, but Charlie, on a very loud and surprisingly clear early car radio-telephone, tells her she needs to go back to the soon-to-be-exploded car and get some briefcase, which is full of very important plot devices. Then it’s cool for her to run away to safety:
Of course, soon after she gets away, we get the payoff:
Yes, yes, kablammo, and then we see the sad, smoldering aftermath:
Yikes, what a mess! That Kelly sure got lucky!
But wait a minute – let’s look at that Mustang II again:
Something looks a bit off about it, right? Computer! Zoom, enhance, compare with timecode something something!
Holy crap. Look at that. The Mustang that blew up doesn’t look like a Mustang II at all! It’s a first-generation, 1964 to 1966 Mustang, cleverly disguised with Mustang II taillights (it was the first American car to have amber rear turn indicators in those lights, by the way) and a half-vinyl roof and some hastily-applied tape to simulate moldings and other trim!
But make no mistake: that’s an original Mustang, the kind people will harass you at your home in order to get, as we’ve learned. But back in 1976, when this episode was being shot? It was just some 10-year-old heap. The Mustang II was the new car, and it seems had too much value to be just blown up, especially when there were plenty of old Mustangs around LA a Charlie’s Angels producer could get for a few bucks and a wad of hair you claim was from from Farah Fawcett. Maybe a faked autograph, too.
Incredibly, people seemed to really want to watch Kelly’s Mustang II getting blown up (perhaps a bit of foreshadowing of the future of automotive culture there), so it was blown up again, in another episode, and they used the same put-an-original-Mustang-in-a-Mustang II-costume bit again:
You can see it even better here, all the Mustang II visual cues tacked on, and then seem to be the first things blown off when the car explodes.
I’m really fascinated by this, because it’s such a great example of how we generally have no idea what will be valuable one day when it comes to cars. I mean, we can make educated guesses and some smart predictions, but back in 1976, it’s very clear that nobody was thinking an original Mustang would be the collector car icon it is today. And, even better, nobody seemed to realize that the Mustang II would be seen as, charitably, an embarrassing interlude in the Mustang’s evolution that was a necessary evil in the era of the Gas Crisis.
If we peek at some recent prices of original Mustangs and Mustang IIs we can see some pretty significant differences. First-generation Mustangs sell for $30 to $80,000 routinely, and even the best Mustang IIs don’t always even hit $10,000. They’re getting a bit more pricey, mostly because there’s hardly any left, because so few people bother to keep or restore them. In fact, I remember the curator of the Petersen Museum in LA telling me that the hardest Mustang to find for their retrospective exhibit was a Mustang II, because nobody really restores those!
But, again, that wasn’t the case in 1976! I suspect that if you were to tell a hardcore Mustang lover that you once worked on a TV show in the 70s and made the call to explode two original Mustangs to save one Mustang II, I’m guessing you’d be seconds from either a harsh, wrathful slap or watching an adult sob, openly, unashamedly. Probably both.