The End of an Era
Since its inception on April 17th, 1964, the Mustang has been the epitome of
America’s ultimate pony car. Over the years it evolved into a brutally fast
muscle machine. Nine years after its introduction, government regulations
were bringing the pony and muscle car era to an end. Ford products weren’t
immune to the regulations and 1973 would be the last year for a Mustang as
we knew it. The tide was turning and a smaller version was being readied for
the 1974 model year.
Much of the 1971-1973 body style was courtesy of Semon “Bunkie”
Knudson, a car guy who was persuaded in early 1968 to leave General
Motors to become Ford’s president. And while Bunkie was at Ford for a
scant 19 months, he left an indelible mark on what became the last of the
mid-size Mustang platforms.
At the irritation of traditional Mustang owners, Bunkie wanted a larger,
more comfortable Mustang. He also wanted a wider Mustang so Ford’s
monster 429 cubic-inch engine could fit between the shock towers. While he
was successful in making that happen, shortly after the 1971 model was
launched, tougher emission standards diminished much of Mustang’s
performance capabilities. Add the coming of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo
and you have a muscle car market that all but evaporated. By 1972, the 429
cubic-inch Mustang was history and by 1973 the Boss soon followed suit.
The exterior of Fords famous pony car looked much like it did the previous
year. The urethane covered front bumper, standard on the 1972 Mach 1 was
redesigned to meet the new 5-mph crash standards were now standard on all
models. Rear bumpers, while still chrome plated, were moved further away
from the body to meet the new 2 ½ mph crash standard. Ford boasted in their
press release that the new bumpers qualified the car for a 10% insurance
The base Mustang and Grande grille received a mild refresh. The traditional
horse and corral remained but the twin horizontal grille bars were
eliminated. The chrome wraparound hood trim was also eliminated. New
vertical parking lamps were moved from below the bumper to the outer
edges of the grille on the base model. The Mach 1 grille changed little with
the exception of its parking lamps and mesh design. A new side body stripe
package was included on all Mach 1’s. Interior appointments were left
unchanged with the exception of a tri-bar steering wheel which replaced the
single bar unit of 1972.
The underbody was a mildly modified version of the original platform. The
Mustang rode on a 109-inch wheelbase, stretched two years earlier to
improve ride and add interior comfort. Suspension travel was increased by ¼
inch and braking was improved with drum brakes that were larger. Stylish
15-inch Magnum 500 wheels were off the option list and replaced with 14 x
six-inch aluminum slotted wheels.
Those who wanted good fuel economy could choose the 250 cubic-inch six-
cylinder. But with an anemic 95 horsepower on tap, acceleration was
considered fair at best. If additional power was needed, buyers could order
either a two-barrel version of the 302 or the 351 cubic-inch V8 that produced
141 horsepower or 173 horsepower respectively. While the 351 cubic-inch
H.O. was history, the 351 cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8 remained on the option
list albeit somewhat down on power due to a reduction in compression from
9.0:1 to 7.9:1, necessary to meet tightened federal emission standards.
Transmission choices included a three-speed manual, four-speed manual or
three-speed automatic. Axle ratios ranged from 2.75:1 to 3.50:1.
Sales for 1973 ended with a total of 134,817 units, besting 1972 production
by 9,772 vehicles. The end of an era had come to a close. The upcoming
Pinto based Mustang II was being readied for production and consumers
were clamoring for better fuel economy rather than performance. It was a
good run while it lasted. Today the last of the first generation Mustang is
highly regarded by enthusiasts around the world.