In this edition of Muscle Car Milestones, we’ll look back at the 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1. 1971 was a year full of changes. The voting age was lowered to 18, Amtrak took over the nation’s passenger service, and cigarette advertising ended on television. Even David Bowie recorded his signature song “Changes” in 1971. Changes were also in store once again for the Ford Mustang. The Sportsroof body style made its debut and it was the last year for big block power. All these changes raise the question – was the 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 the last great Mustang from the classic muscle car era? Let’s take a closer look.
The first generation Ford Mustang would go through a major restyle for the 1971 model year. The Mustang was now three inches wider, its front track widened by three inches, and the body was just over two inches longer than in 1970. It also tipped the scales at 400 pounds heavier than the 1970 model. These changes to the once athletic pony car were credited to Ford Motor Company President Bunkie Knudsen. Word is one of the main reasons for the radical change in styling was to accommodate the 429 Cobra Jet engine. Even Lee Iacocca, who is credited with creating the Mustang, expressed his displeasure with the new Mustang by calling it a “fat pig”.
The 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 featured an impact-resistant front bumper, a honeycomb grille with sport driving lamps, and NASA-style dual hood scoops. Black or argent lower body paint, front and rear valance panels, and wheel trim rings with hubcaps round out just some of the Mach 1’s standard equipment. Out back, the Mach 1 sported a honeycomb back panel applique, a pop-open gas cap, and chrome dual exhaust extensions. A rear deck spoiler, power front disc brakes, and Vari-Ratio power steering were just a few options available for the Mach 1.
Inside, drivers were greeted by the Mach 1’s slim-profile high-back bucket seats, floor console with lighted ashtray, and color-keyed nylon carpeting. An optional Mach 1 Sport Interior option featured high-back bucket seats with knitted vinyl inserts and accent stripes, deluxe two-spoke steering wheel, and electric clock. Bright pedal pads, molded door trim panels, and ammeter, water temperature, and oil pressure gauges were also part of this dress-up package.
New for the 1971 Mach 1 was the 429 Cobra Jet V8. This powerhouse was rated at 370 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. And even with the new Mustang’s added heft, the 429 Cobra Jet was a decent performer. Sports Car Graphic magazine put the new Mach 1 Cobra Jet to the test and walked away with a 0 to 60 time of 6.3 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.6 seconds at 99.4 miles per hour. Summing up the review, SCG stated “But whatever it isn’t, it is exciting, and even in these troubled times no Mach 1 is going to rust in a showroom. It has a gutty, masculine, beasty appearance which is strongly reinforced by sound and feel, and good numbers or not, no hairy man’s man is going to be able to pass it up without a second look.”
Drivers craving more performance could opt for the Drag Pack. This package featured a long duration, high lift cam with mechanical lifters, cap screw connecting rods, and a modified crankshaft. The Drag Pack also comprised of a 3.91 or 4.30 rear axle with Traction Lock or a 4.11 ratio with a Detroit Locker rear. Choosing this performance package turned your Mach 1 into the coveted Super Cobra Jet. The Drag Pack also bumped the power slightly to 375 horsepower.
So, was the 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet the last great Mustang from the classic muscle car era? It certainly seems that way. The 429 Cobra Jet was not carried over for 1972, leaving the 351 cubic-inch V8 powered Mach 1 as the top performer. Inflated insurance rates on muscle cars and rigorous emission standards mandated by Uncle Sam can also credited to the death of the 429 Cobra Jet. The good news is the 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 429 Cobra Jet still delights drivers that are lucky enough to own one.