Most driving enthusiasts have a “first brand new car” story they like to tell. Here’s one of mine, where I was saved from a terrible fate thanks to a last-minute – and almost miraculous – intervention by Car and Driver magazine.
In 1978, I went to a local Ford dealer to test drive a brand new Mustang. The salesman eagerly trotted out a 1978 Mustang King Cobra, complete with 4.9 liter V-8 and 4-speed manual transmission. The King Cobra was a variation on the original Lotus Grand Prix-style black and gold car.
I took it around several blocks and was impressed with the suspension (by the standards of the day), compared to other Mustang II models I’d driven. However, in my eyes the styling was a turnoff, especially the giant snake on the hood. That kind of thing was popular back then with the Trans-Am crowd and Ford’s own version of the hood decal was embarrassingly more akin to a giant worm than a snake. I asked the dealer what would be involved with removing it and he said he would get back to me. But even then it was “no-sale”…. although perhaps a “plain” V-8 Mustang might have to do.
Then I drove home and picked up our mail. Terrific news: the latest issue of Car and Driver was in my mailbox and inside was a spy picture of the upcoming all-new 1979 Mustang, based on the 1978 Fairmont chassis. I had been reading about the Fairmont the past few years as it was developed and released. It was positioned by Ford as a “European”-type car in the days before Ford shared platforms with Europe. It was a spartan car, with only a few options, but it was clearly a far better chassis for enthusiasts. And here it was, wrapped in an aerodynamic body for what Car & Driver told us was the all-new 1979 Mustang.
Needless to say, I put my plans for a new car on hold. The salesman was very unhappy: undoubtedly he already knew something much better was coming and was hoping to unload the ’78 at full price.