Ford Mustang II 1973-1978 - Monroe Handler
The Mustang II might be considered to be an anaemic pig-faced wretch of a car by some, but it’s amazing what a bit of aftermarket tweaking can achieve, especially if you’re aiming to inject some performance into it!
From here to obscurity — Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
The Ford Mustang II was once considered something of a leper in the model’s long and often distinguished history. It represented the Blue Oval’s response to the 1973 Oil Shock, and its anaemic performance, regardless of engine, upset the muscle car faithful. However, there was always the aftermarket. The car pictured here was variously a promotional weapon and a magazine project vehicle. It also employed body panels made by a third party that were inspired by contemporary racing versions. It also roused a legion of copyists. Behold, the mighty Monroe Handler.
The car was created as a means of promoting the new line of Handler shock absorbers, Monroe joining forces with Hot Rod to build a show car. That said, this was to be no mere trailer queen, the magazine’s staff twisting arms and calling in favours to get assistance from a raft of suppliers that included Ford, BF Goodrich, Centerline, Motorola, and so on. Jack Roush, for his part, provided a 363cu in ‘Windsor’ small-block that produced around 400bhp. The body, meanwhile, was restyled by Dave Kent, the Handler’s steel panelwork being inspired by those of the semi-works Mustang IIs competing in the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) series.
Hot Rod serialised the build over three issues, the finished article causing a stir in the June 1977 edition. An announcement was then made that it would be going on a promotional extravaganza, as would further replicas. The report stated: ‘According to Monroe Auto Equipment, our cover car, along with six duplicates, will be on tour throughout the country during the latter part of the year. Basically, the program consists of transporting the seven ’Stangs in a specially built trailer to 130 car shows, putting them on display at various major races starting, hopefully, with the Indy 500. Even Revell plans on producing a 1/25-inch scale model which should be available in late ’77.’ It did, too.
Distinct from the original car, the six Handler ‘clones’ featured an eight-piece glass fibre panel kit manufactured by Creative Car Craft. These cars were then given away as prizes in 1978 in association with the project’s various backers. However, rumours persist that a seventh car was made in secret at the behest of a prominent politician, but we have yet to see even trace elements of evidence that substantiates this. The story didn’t end there, either. Creative Car Craft went on to offer the package which comprised the fender extension, front air-dam, rear spoiler and so on with official blessing.
Promoted as the Handler II, these were offered as a kit with prices starting at $1250. As to how many were made, that rather depends on whose estimates you credit, but the general consensus seems to be around 30. One car even made it to the UK in period, although anecdotal evidence suggests that it didn’t stay long. Monroe, for its part, attempted to build a show car along Handler lines for British audiences, too. It did so using an Opel Manta as a starting point.