There's a dead zone in the history of performance cars between the hairy-chested muscle cars of the 1960s and the rebirth of power in the mid-1980s: the 1972–82 "malaise era," when machines were so strangled by new emissions rules that their performance levels were an embarrassment to even today's compact cars. Automakers slathered flashy paint and taped racy stripes and stickers to the hoods of the cars, but these 10 just couldn't get'er done at the dragstrip.
1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra
Ford's legendary performance car hit its nadir with the downsized Pinto-based Mustangs of 1974–1978, called Mustang II. Although this generation of Mustang came with a V-8, it was a 302 cid V-8 with a mere 139 hp. Yes, you read that right. Second-gen Mustangs pumped out just 19 more hp than you'd get from the 1.6-liter four-cylinder in today's Ford Fiesta.
But that's not the most embarrassing part of the Mustang II. That would belong to the rare one-year-only 1978 Mustang King Cobra. The Cobra name should have been kept off junk like this, but Ford had already resurrected the "Cobra" name as a sticker and spoiler package for 1976. The '78 King Cobra got some really special performance enhancements, such as a hood snake decal, even more stripes, and 13-inch "Lacy" aluminum wheels. You could buy the King Cobra in black with gold trim—an obvious attempt to lure would-be Trans Am buyers. But with a deficit of 81 hp compared with the top Trans Am, the Ford wasn't much of a threat. Thankfully the all-new 1979 Fox Mustang would kill the King Cobra and mark the return for Ford performance.