The '73 Mustang convertible dresses up with optional polished aluminum wheels and Mach-style twin-scoop hood.

The 1973 Ford Mustang

The 1973 Ford Mustang brought the pony car into the final model year of fourth generation. It was still its hefty self, but somehow it picked up some 10,000 sales, to nearly 135,000. The convertible, now the only drop top in the Ford line, soared a resounding 85 percent to 11,853 units, perhaps because Ford announced that it would not return the following year. As we know, the ragtop Mustang would be back, but not for another decade.

The federal government now required front bumpers to sustain low-speed shunts without damage. Though Ford and other automakers met the rule with some pretty awful-looking cowcatchers, Mustang fared quite well, as body-color bumpers were now standard for all models and stuck out only a little more. The bumpers absorbed energy through an I-beam mounting bar with a box-section bracket attached to two longitudinal rubber blocks that gave way on impact, then bounced back to original position.

Elsewhere, base models and the Grande got a grille insert with larger eggcrates, and parking lights on all '73s migrated from beneath the bumper to within the grille, where they were stood on end to resemble running lamps. The usual trim shuffles occurred, and Grabber colors were dropped in favor of quieter "Ember Glow" metallics.

The Sprint package was forgotten, but base models could now mimic Mach 1 via an optional Decor Group ($51) and, for the first time, a twin-scoop hood. Two-tone hood paint in matte-finish black or silver was again sold separately ($35). A functional ram-air hood remained optional with the two-barrel 351 only (at $58). Steel-belted radial tires joined the options list, where snazzy polished aluminum wheels ($111-$142) replaced the familiar styled-steel Magnum 500s. Fastbacks now offered an optional vinyl covering for the front three-quarters of the roof ($52). The Mach 1 got a revised honeycomb grille texture and new lower-body striping. The uptown Grande hardtop now included a useful parking-brake warning light. As it had since '71, the Grande came with a "halo" vinyl roof, so-called because the covering left a slim band of body color around the side windows.

The Grande interior was quite posh, considering the Grande model's reasonable $2946 base price.

To meet new limits on oxides of nitrogen (NOx), all 1973 Ford Mustang engines got a revamped emissions-control system with positive crankcase ventilation and exhaust-gas recirculation. The EGR routed gases from the exhaust manifold through a vacuum valve into the carburetor to be diluted by the incoming fuel/air mixture. This permitted leaner carburetor settings but also diminished horsepower except on the 302 V-8 and 250 six. The two-barrel 351 sunk to 173 net horsepower, the four-barrel version to 259. As noted earlier, the 351 HO got the heave-ho, a victim of weak demand and too much required finagling to satisfy the federal air marshals. Equally disheartening, four-speed manual was now limited to the 4V 351, and automatic was mandatory with the two-barrel unit (though most buyers ordered that anyway).

In other technical news for '73, power front-disc brakes were newly standard with either 351 V-8 and for all convertibles, and both disc and drum brakes were enlarged for cars without power assist. Interiors adopted flame-retardant materials to meet a gruesome new federal "burn rate" standard (four inches per minute), and some hardware was redesigned to be less injurious.

Prices went up a bit for '73. With six-cylinder engine the hardtop started at $2760, the fastback at $2820, the ragtop at $3102, Grande at $2946, and Mach 1 at $3088. Mach excepted, the 302 V-8 added $87.

Time to Start Over

Thus endeth "Bunkie's Mustang, the one that looked like it hit the wall," as Ford marketing exec Hal Sperlich derisively termed it. Knudsen, of course, was long gone by 1973, but many in Dearborn were still mighty unhappy with the Mustang he left behind. Said design vice-president Eugene Bordinat: "We started out with a secretary car and all of a sudden we had a behemoth." Lee Iacocca was even more displeased. "I've said it a hundred times and I'll say it again. The Mustang market never left us, we left it," he declared years later. "If we hadn't gone nuts and put the Boss 429 engine in, the car never would have grown in size. That was what triggered it out of the small-car world -- performance, performance, performance!"

Though 1971-73 Mustangs are often criticized for excessive nose-plowing understeer, especially in tight corners, sportier models like the Mach 1 could be reasonably agile for their size and heft.

But Mustang was about to rejoin the world of sensible sportiness, thanks to Iacocca's push for an entirely new car in the spirit of the original mid-Sixties blockbuster. Though this one would be no less controversial in its way than the 1971, 1972, and 1973 models, Iacocca's new brainchild, for better or worse, was going back to basics for a brave but battered new automotive world.

For even more on the Ford Mustang, check out the following links.
  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • Mustang had it all for 1969 -- except buyers. Sales were lower still in 1970. In 1969-1970 Ford Mustang, you'll find out how a new president infused the brand with more performance.
  • With Lee Iacocca back in the saddle, Ford's ponycar revsited its roots. 1974-1978 Ford Mustang tells the story of the Mustang II with its smaller, lighter design and return to rationality.
  • The 1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351 was Ford's final high-performance Mustang of the classic muscle car era. Here's a profile, photos, and specifications.