Home » Ford Missed Out By Not Offering This ‘Big’ Mustang Alongside The Pinto-Based Model We All Know

Ford Missed Out By Not Offering This ‘Big’ Mustang Alongside The Pinto-Based Model We All Know

Mustang 74 2 Topshot Pv
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Some time back, I was in a sales training class where a person walked out in a huff because they claimed we were being taught to manipulate people. This was rather amusing and perplexing to attendees such as myself that were knowingly and willingly paying to be instructed how to gain this particular brand of mind control. I hate to say it, but that’s very much the heart of marketing, and most if not all of us have been (or are, and may yet again be) victims of advertising purporting half-truths. And to be certain, the car industry is as guilty as any when it comes to mind-altering messaging.

The seventies and eighties were likely the height of car companies messing with our heads, particularly in terms of what a “big” and “small” car actually is. They didn’t make cars “more compact” anymore, they downsized them (a term that transmogrified into “rightsizing” as a way to make executives feel better as they hand employees a box for their personal items and a severance check).

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Vidframe Min Bottom

In the flurry of activity to shrink – sorry, downsize – cars, some confusing overlaps occurred. At one point we had “full-size” General Motors and Ford sedans that were only as big as (or even a bit smaller than) “mid-size” offerings at that same dealership, a disconnect that no doubt had salespeople scratching their heads as to how they could spin this on the customer. Consider the example below:

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Ford

The “full-size” Panther LTD coupe (with odd horizontal opera lights) is actually more than a bit smaller than the “mid-size” rebadged Torino LTD II. And to complicate things more, I bet that Panther has more room inside. If adults were confused by this narrative, you can only imagine how an elementary school-age person such as myself at the time felt. Naturally, I believed the stories the Big Three were feeding me, only to find out later that I was brainwashed, particularly with their malaise-era sports coupes.

A Tale Of II Mustangs

In researching my earlier post on the controversial, compact Pinto-based 1974 Mustang II, I found out that Lee Iacocca might have had a hand in distorting views of certain Ford ponycars. Lee went on record as saying that the Mustang of 1971-73 had gotten “fat” and needed to be right-sized to a much smaller offering to meet consumer demand and fight the imports. He was partially right, but off on a few facts. Let’s start with the 1971-73 model shown below:

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1971 Ford Mustang Ad 01 4 26
Ford

As I demonstrated in my earlier post, this alleged “giant” Mustang was barely any larger than the concurrent Camaro, and the 1974 Mustang II that replaced it ended up possibly overshooting its target by going smaller than even General Motors subcompacts:

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The Autopian

There’s nothing wrong with a small car, and the Mustang II did have first-year sales that came close to the record-breaking 1964 ½ original, but demand dropped off quickly. The malaise-era styling combined with emasculated performance caused the faithful to throw a fit not seen again until the Blue Oval threatened to make the front-drive Probe the new Mustang. Also, the Mustang II had to do the heavy lifting of competing with a whole range of cars from not-shrunken over-400-cubic-inch Firebirds all the way down to imported four-cylinder coupes like the Toyota Celica. One car alone would have a difficult time trying to capture that wide of a market even if it was the greatest automobile in the history of Western civilization (which the Mustang II unquestionably was not).

This made me think that Ford might have needed to bring a larger AND smaller Mustang to market for 1974. I’ve already shown you the small Mustang II-sized “Stallion” model that a reader asked to see come to life; you can see it below and read more about here.

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In the absence of the misinformation that lingers today, we now know that the “big” Mustang wasn’t really that large to begin with, and we’d want a new 1974 version of that larger-of-the-two cars for the lineup to be the same size as the Camaro/Firebird and satisfy that part of the “true” pony car market. Actually, I want to grow the “big” Mustang even more, but not in the way you think. Let me explain.

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Not Bigger On The Inside

Even if the 1971-73 Mustang wasn’t necessarily any bigger than a Camaro, the critics were right about one thing they bashed: the space efficiency. The “big” Mustang competed with Ford’s own Continental Mark coupes in its ability to pull a “reverse TARDIS” by being smaller on the inside than one expected based on the car’s outside, with the sparse space poorly put to use at that.

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Ford

That low roofline made for undeniably one of the slickest-looking Mustangs ever, but it played hell with interior space. The problem was exacerbated not only by the way Ford partitioned the interior but by how the design limited access. Despite the seeming mile and a half distance from the top of the rear window to the bumper, there’s only a relatively short opening deck lid that reveals a rather small space that appears to be spare tire storage but purports to be “the trunk.” A deflated spare instead of a full-sized tire helps the situation as you can see on the gold-colored car pictured below, but it’s still pretty embarrassing for a car this large. Yes, I know that the second-gen Camaro trunk is equally pathetic.

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Volo Cars (car for sale), rk motors

Behind the cramped rear seats, there’s a narrow space for cargo just like on a VW Beetle, albeit much smaller and even harder to get to (and unlike the Bug it was way too small to ride in as a little kid, and yes, I did try). Folding down the back seat gives you a more sizeable area to work with, and a little access panel lets you connect to that tiny trunk. The fly in the ointment is that any cargo you want in this space has to either be shoved in behind the front seats (like on the equally bad C3 Corvette) or fit into the mail slot of an open deck lid. Marketing pics often showed skis going in there, since longish but very skinny objects are the only thing that might fit easily. It’s not unlike having a large backpack with only a few six-inch-long zippers on each side to access your stuff.

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Volo Cars (car for sale)

You expect to make sacrifices with sporting cars, yet with the 1973-4 energy crisis Ford could no longer turn a blind eye to a car the length of a Volvo 240 station wagon but with Pinto interior space. Not only that, but contemporary testers found the cabin dark and cramped feeling thanks to the tiny rear windows combined with the low ceiling.

Clearly, the length of the 1971-73 Mustang was not the problem; the car just didn’t provide any more useable space than the original 1965 car. Honestly, the Camaro and Firebird were no better and somehow got a pass. Our “big” version of the two 1974 Mustang offerings will need to improve on this; as is often the case, the solution was right under Ford’s nose.

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You Couldn’t Call It “Milano” Anyway

It’s quite rare that an auto show car would demonstrate features more practical than what would end up appearing on the production version, but there’s at least one Ford concept that did just that.

In 1970, Ford teased showgoers with the Mustang Milano, a concept with a name that apparently will get you a cease and desist from the Italian government today. The Milano used a 1970 Mustang as its base and was supposed to preview some of the features that would be on the upcoming new 1971 car, even though at that point the design had long since been locked in. The bumperless front and back were far more radical than the production car.

Milano Concpet 4 26
Ford

The rear roofline and quarter window treatment were nowhere to be seen on the soon-to-be-release fastback ‘Stang, but the design did appear to make a trip to where the cool Fords went to hide during the malaise era in America: the Land Down Under. The roofline of the Milano was emulated on the awesome Australian Falcon XB coupe that featured prominently in Mad Max films.

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Seven82Motors (car for sale)

Surprisingly, this late-sixties Hot Wheels-toy-dream of what the next decade’s cars might look like had the practical-but-not-produced feature of a hatchback over the cargo area. If the Milano was in fact built on an existing Mustang body, it’s really a proof of concept that the car of this size just didn’t need to be as inherently impractical as it was. That lovely spokesmodel appears to have plenty of room lying around in the Milano’s cargo space; if she were to attempt that in the 1971-73 production car it would look like an abduction in process, provided that she could even fit at all.

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Ford

There’s something very nice about this Milano concept that seems worth revisiting. As much as I like that SportsRoof 1971-73 Mustang, I know it needed some major changes to become a more useable car, if for no other reason than to allow the beancounters to allow it to live on another day.

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For 1974, beyond the fuel crunch there were two seemingly disappointing things that happened at Ford which, in retrospect, could have been used in positive way; “flip the script” is the painfully annoying term that’s been used since the pandemic.

First, the government mandated 5 MPH bumpers that resulted in huge steel girders stuck onto the ends of cars like park benches. However, a few manufacturers (like Chevy with the Corvette) employed body-colored urethane bumpers that actually improved the looks of the cars. The other disappointing thing from my viewpoint was Ford’s 1974 discontinuation of the ultra-cool fastback “Get off my lawn” Torino mid-sized coupes, which were dropped from the lineup as rooflines became more formal as demonstrated by Starsky & Hutch’s “Flying Tomato” Torino.

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RK Motors (car for sale)

Combined with the end of the “large” Mustang in 1973, this move left Ford in the US without any fastbacked mid-sized or large car as cool as that XB Falcon. Producing a version of the Milano concept as the “bigger” 1974 Mustang could have solved that.

As with the Ghia proposal that I turned into the “Stallion”, to productionize the Milano we’d need to raise the back of the roof on the Milano to allow more headroom for rear passengers that the concept car didn’t have (it was strictly a two-seater). To my eye, such a change doesn’t damage the appearance nearly as much as you’d think. Also, the Milano concept would never work with standard bumpers, but by using a “soft nose” we could keep that loop-shaped nose that simulates the front of the low production 1969 Shelby GT500. Covered headlamps and low turn signals would take the look of the 1971-73 cars to a clean and aggressive next level. A functional rubber spoiler would assist in downforce and pushing air to the radiator.

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Ford and The Bishop

Instead of the sunken back of the Milano show car, my production 1974 big ‘Stang would have a convex urethane fascia panel that could withstand the 5MPH mandated hit (the “gas cap” is of course a fake). Triple recessed slots on each side house the traditional-looking Mustang taillights; the slots continue down, terminating in twin exhaust pipes and the backup lamps.

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Mustang Large Rear 4 28

A hatchback! The 1974 big Mustang would be a hatchback! Now there’s far better access to the space available and in folding down the rear seat you’d be rivaling a Saab for how’d-ya-fit-that-in-there versatility (though sadly lacking the low liftover of that car). You can see in the picture below where the fold-down seat would be; it’s the vertical line between that rear seat side panel (with the armrest, ashtray, and power window switch) and the Quadrophonic Ford rear speaker (which would be cranking Carl Douglas’s Kung Fu Fighting many, many times in 1974). The cover on the side near the back of the car would be where the vertical deflated spare tire would fit (the jack and tire iron would fit in the identical compartment on the other side).

Scan 20240427 2a Hatch

For such a sleek, menacing-looking car, you’d never guess that it could carry about four or five more bags of mulch than you could in a Trans Am (hey, I carried many mulch bags in our 2+2 Nissan S30 and Z32). Honestly, that’s kind of what happened when the hatchback Fox-body Mustang premiered later in 1979, arriving with more rear seat and cargo area than the second- and third-generation F-Body coupes.

Mustang Sally Needed Power Assists By Now

Let’s be honest; no matter what we do, the performance of any 1974 American car is going to suck. It took another decade before Detroit (or anyone) really figured out how to deal with smog regulations and still give us anything to match the heyday of late sixties horsepower. At the very least, though, I just can’t put that damn Thriftpower six in the big ‘Stang as a base motor. If you really would want the only engine to rival the Mopar Slant 6 in durability and sheer boredom, don’t buy a Mustang.

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You’d get the 302 Windsor as standard, and extra carburetor barrels plus the larger Cleveland as an upgrade. The only engine worth having would be the leaded-gas-running 351 4 Barrel Clevland with the four exhaust outlets shown and a dismal 255 horsepower; even that would likely disappear soon after 1974. Power steering would have to be standard, as well as power front disc brakes, but really the less we talk about mechanicals on this thing, the better. Yikes.

While I gave the smaller “Stallion” Mustang a double-cowl dash like the original 1964 ½ car, for the “big” Mustang I wanted to keep that separation but make this wider car still be driver focused. I utilized a design very similar to the early Z cars with a giant tach and speedo in front of the driver, and then having secondary gauges in the center angled towards the driver. The console and dash below that also aims slightly towards the pilot, with Ford parts bin radio, HVAC, and mechanical digital clock are all plopped in place. The console has two storage bins, though the smaller second one is filled with the power window controls if you spring for that option.

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II Mustangs is Better Than I

Ultimately, we probably never should have fat-shamed the 1973 Mustang any more than we blasted the 1974 model as the “puny car.” These were spot-on with the competition, and the right cars for their times; comparing them to products from other eras isn’t really fair.

I’ve heard the saying that “there’s an ass for every seat” as it relates to there being buyers for almost any car. That’s true, but in Ford’s case, the problem was the reverse of that. They really left a lot of asses seatless in 1974 that ended up finding their butt holders at General Motors or even imported car dealerships. The Mustang II tried hard, and it had success that few people give it credit for, yet ultimately there was money left on the table that the Blue Oval could have grabbed with a more expansive model lineup. The import-oriented “Stallion” would have been the first of the two-pronged attack, while a larger more traditional Mustang could have put paid to the competition in the hotly contested two-door “sports” car market.

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Fast-forward to today and the once-thriving coupe market is but a distant memory and the Mustang is not only the sole “pony” car available in America, but the only actual no-truck, no-crossover that Ford offers at all.

Relatedbar

These Old Ford Styling Concepts For The Mustang II Show How Wild It Could Have Been – The Autopian

Meet The Man Who Brought The Only Mustang II Out Of Over A Thousand Mustangs At The Mustang 60th Anniversary Event – The Autopian

A Daydreaming Designer Looks At An Alternate Reality Rebirth For The Unloved Mustang II – The Autopian

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There Should Have Been Two Fords With The Mustang Badge In 1974, And Here’s The First One – The Autopian

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LostinTransit
LostinTransit
16 days ago

A buddy of mine in Goldsboro NC is restoring one of these in his mustang shop..

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
18 days ago

The ’71-’73 is the best Mustang in this guy’s opinion. Awesome as always, Mr. Bishop!

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