In 1978 Mustang was winding down the Mustang II and getting ready for the upcoming third generation Mustang. In its final year of production, Ford gave the Mustang II quite the farewell, launching a limited edition “King Cobra” that was top dog in the pecking order. This was a limited edition car with only 4,313 units produced and was priced at $1,277 as a package. It was the most desirable and collectible of Mustang II generation.
In an era where performance was limited by automakers trying to keep up with smog, they needed to find other ways to build excitement. Pontiac went black and gold with the Trans AM, Ford went just as extreme. Ford have the King Cobra a 302 V8, power steering and handling suspension with 70-series radial tires and cool graphics. Other features included in this one-year-only package, priced at $1,253, were a Targa band, wide hood decal and more aggressive chin spoiler.
Engine & Transmission
The 302-cubic inch (5 liter) V8 was the only engine option for the 1978 King Cobra. The V8 wasn’t much over the standard Mustang II, producing 139 hp with a (too small) two-barrel Motorcraft Model 2150 carburetor. In terms of specs the 302-cu.in. V-8 had a bore of 4.00 inches and stroke of 3.00 inches. The compression ratio was 8.4:1 and the camshaft was hydraulic. The single catalytic converter and exhaust also robbed it of any real power. Not that anybody really cares but the car got 17 mpg. California buyers had another version of the engine, essentially the 302 came with a variable venturi two-barrel carburetor for that market.
The 1978 King Cobra came standard with a four-speed manual transmission. The ratios were: first gear: 2.64:1; second gear: 1.89:1; third: 1.34:1, and 1.00:1 in fourth. The four-speed was Model RAD, made by Borg Warner and the only manual available. The Ford C-4 Select-Shift was optional and was more popular than the four-speed, McLaughlin said. Ford records show that 2,017 four-speed King Cobras were built and 2,289 automatics. The rear end in a King Cobra was an 8-inch Ford unit, a bulletproof unit for the 302 engine. There were several ratios available including 2.75:1, 2.79:1, 3.00.1 and 3.40.1. The four-speed came standard with the 3.00:1 ratio.
The King Cobra evolved from Ford Design, run by Gene Bordinat. That name was originally destined for the Larry Shinoda-designed NASCAR Torino King Cobra.
The King Cobra was a package for hatchbacks only, and it consisted of a front air-dam, rear spoiler, fender flares, reverse-facing hood scoop with 5.0 decal, pinstriping around the whole car, blacked-out trim, King Cobra decals on the doors and rear spoiler, huge snake hood decal like the Trans-Am’s screaming chicken.
The series of appliqués and effects were designed to make the car look fast. Those front air spoiler and rear deck spoiler changes definitely helped the car look quick and when combined with the rear black window slats, the strip package it stood out for sure. The King Cobra also got rear wheel arch extensions, and there’s a massive rear spoiler on the trunk lid too.
The coolest part of the King Cobra design has to be that cool hood decal. That snake, in gold and orange truly dominates the front of this car and is how I remember the car as a kid reading through magazines.
King Cobra interiors were similar to Cobra II’s. The most notable change in the interior from 1977 was the rear seat. Rather than the previous full-length seat, Ford installed two separate cushions, divided by a carpeted hump. There were four interior packages available: standard vinyl, standard vinyl with cloth, deluxe vinyl, and deluxe vinyl with cloth.
In terms of exterior colors, the King Cobra came in Red, Silver, Black, Brown, Blue, and White. Ford went to the extreme with the graphic package on the King Cobra and most people don’t know that there were in fact three colors of striping available: orange and gold, red and black, and blue and blue.
The King Cobra Package
Unlike other special Mustangs, the King Cobra was never a distinct trim level. It was simply an option package on the Mustang II. The following equipment was included in the King Cobra option: 302-cu.in. two-barrel carburetor engine, hood scoop with “5.0L” emblem, rear deck spoiler, hood “Snake” decal, black grille, black headlamp bezels and all window trim.
Also included were a front air dam, pinstriping, “King Cobra” door-mounted decals, color-keyed sport mirrors, power front disc brakes, power steering, four-speed manual transmission, raised white-letter radials, Lacy spoke wheels with trim rings and Cobra center caps, spats on rear wheel wells and Rallye package consisting of heavy-duty springs, adjustable shocks and rear stabilizer bar.
The King Cobra could be ordered with a “T-roof convertible” top. The T-roof convertible was first offered in mid 1977 on the Cobra II and regular Mustang IIs.
Identifying a King Cobra
There is nothing to denote a King Cobra in the Mustang’s VIN. But under the hood is a metal tag, called a “buck tag.” It’s screwed into the body on the front side of the radiator support near the power steering cooling tube. Stamped on that tag amongst all the options and color will be “KC,” denoting a King Cobra built in Dearborn, Michigan, or “KNG,” which signifies a King Cobra built in San Jose, California. Note too that production of these cars started in the first week of December 1977 and ended in July 1978 in terms of build date.