One of the special featured vehicles for the 2021 Carlisle Ford Nationals was the 1971 to 1973 Mustangs. It was the “Big Horse Mustangs” 50th Anniversary and many were on the show field and in displays in Coupe, Fastback, and Convertible form.
The 1971 model year had its beginning in early 1968 with the arrival of newly installed Ford Motor Company President “Bunkie” Knudsen. This was the heyday of the pony car wars, started by the original 1965 Mustang. Each of the Big Three had pony cars that were becoming bigger, heavier, and faster with big-block motors. The new big Mustang even used styling cues from the final years of the Shelby GT350/500 with its enlarged grille opening and the integrated twin NACA scoops dominating the hood lines. By the time the 1971 Mustang started showing up in the fall of 1970, the automotive world as we knew it was changing. Government-mandated safety equipment and emissions controls were starting to impact enthusiasts and their beloved vehicles. Automobile insurance rates were climbing for 300-plus horsepower cars and high-performance sales were greatly affected.
During the last year of the dwindling horsepower race, the 1971 Mustang was the last of the big-block years with 370 and 375 hp versions of the 429 Super Cobra Jet making its only appearance in the 1971 model year. The 1971 Boss 351 was also a one-year-only option and made 330 hp from the last of the Boss Mustang series. The standard 351C-4V was rated at 285 hp but was lowered to 280 hp late in the model year to be carried over to the 1972 model year. Other V-8 engine options were the 351C-2V at 240 hp, 302-2V rated at 210 hp, and for the more economy-minded, the 250-1V six-cylinder engine with 145 hp.
By 1972, the emissions and safety standards saw cubic inches, compression ratios, and horsepower reduced further. The 429 Cobra Jet option was gone as well as the Boss 351. The Boss was replaced by a lower-compression version of the 351 called the R-Code “H.O.” for High Output. It’s 275 net hp was also short-lived, seeing service only for the 1972 model year. The Cobra Jet moniker became attached to the Q-Code version of the 351C-4V engine rated at 266 net hp. The other engine options were a 351C-2V, now with a net hp at 177, and the venerable 302-2V now down to 140 net hp. Bringing up the rear again was the 250-1V now rated at 98 net hp.
The 1972 model line for Mustang saw few external changes from the previous year. Among them was the deletion of the pop-open gas cap on the Mach 1, which was replaced with the standard twist-on cap found on the other Mustang models that year. Also, the block letters across the deck lid were replaced with a Mustang script logo. Another interesting side note was the Ram Air Induction NACA hood scoop option introduced in 1971 could only be ordered on the 351C-2V versions in 1972 and 1973 model years. Ford had neglected to have the 4V version certified by EPA, and it couldn’t be used in production models those years.
By 1973 the handwriting was on the wall for the last of the first generation of Mustangs as the smaller and more fuel-efficient Mustang II was on the horizon. The big engine was the Q-code, again rated at 266 net hp for its final year. Next in line was a 351C-2V with 177 net hp, the 302-2V at 141 net hp, and the 250-1V in-line six-cylinder, again with 99 net hp. Externally, the front grill was changed from the previous years to make the turn signal lamps vertical from the previous horizontal in-grill lights, but it retained the same basic body shape.
Between the 1971 to 1973 model years 409,950 “Big Horse Mustangs” were built. The first Mustang had a near-monopoly on its segment of the automotive industry. In fact, the term pony car was named for the Mustang as the other manufacturers eventually played catch-up with the Camaro, Firebird, Javelin, and Challenger. The Plymouth Barracuda had actually beaten the Mustang to the market by two weeks. However, it was the Mustang that arrived in the style that people connected with and continue to do so, 50 years later.
Check out the gallery of Big Ponys we found at this past Carlisle All-Ford Nationals below!