The King Cobra is yet another example of the weird bind Ford was in in the mid-to-late ‘70s. Although it’s often forgotten now, the little-loved Mustang II was actually a huge hit in its time, selling almost 300,000 units in 1974 and continuing to be a strong performer for years to come. While the Mustang II was popular among drivers who desired a sporty car that reflected the economic realities of the recession and the gas crisis, its anemic engine offerings did little to appease drivers who longed for the big block V8s of old.
To celebrate the return of a V8 engine to the Mustang’s lineup, in 1976, Ford released the Cobra II, an appearance-only package that celebrated the racing heritage of earlier Shelbys but offered little in the way of performance upgrades.
Enter the King Cobra
Introduced in 1978, the Mustang King Cobra was Ford’s attempt to truly reclaim its performance car roots, offering not only a cosmetic upgrade, but also a 302-cu.-in. two-barrel carburetor engine, a front-air dam, power-front disc brakes, power steering and a Rallye package with adjustable shocks and rear stabilizer bar. The King Cobra package was only available on V8-equipped Mustangs, and it also featured unique pinstriping, a hood scoop and distinctive snake decal, black trim pieces and more, making a bold statement for any driver willing to pay the $6,350 price tag this top-of-the-line package commanded.
The First 5.0
Another notable feature of the King Cobra was that it was the very first Mustang to wear the “5.0.” branding. Ford had been the first U.S. manufacturer to adopt metric dimensions in their engines, and the Cobra prominently displayed that fact on its nameplates and decaling. Of course, the “5.0” branding would go on to be an iconic part of the Fox body platform, introduced in 1979, which would return the Mustang to its rightful place atop the pony car pantheon.
The King Cobra variant was produced only for the 1978 model year, selling 4,313 units. It remains highly sought after by collectors, both on its own merits and for the important role it played in rehabilitating the brand’s image among performance fanatics.