There is an interesting species of near muscle car that came into being and briefly existed for a handful of years, beginning in the early 1970s – just as the high tide of the real muscle car was receding. These were cars that did not come with high-powered V-8s from the factory. But which did come with V-8s that could very easily be made high-powered. The rest was already covered. They had the necessary foundations: rear-wheel-drive layout, sporty two-door styling. And they often had advantages many of the factory muscle cars of the ’60s did not, including low curb weight – and a low price tag.
They were “do-it-yourself muscle cars” – just add horsepower.
One of these was the Grabber version of Ford’s Maverick. It existed for five short years, from 1970 through 1975. It was supposed to be merely an appearance package, but soon came to be more than that. The package appeared about halfway through the Maverick’s first full year in production in Dec. 1970 and included:
* Five Grabbber-specific colors: Brite Yellow, Grabber Yellow, Grabber Green, Grabber Blue and Thanks Vermillion (later color choices would include Freudian Gilt, Anti-Establishment Mint, Original Cinnamon and Hulla Blue).
* Special “Grabber” side stripes and decals, blacked-out grille and rear valance panel, dual sport mirrors.
* Trunk mounted spoiler.
* Chrome drip moldings and door frames.
* “Dual dome” hood with dummy scoops (1970-72 models).
* Bench or bucket seats, trimmed in either Ruffino vinyl or Manston cloth (1972).
* 14 inch wheels with special trim rings.
This was in addition to neat Maverick features such as the “flipper type” rear vent windows, which could be opened outward to draw air into the car. “Select Aire” AC could be ordered, but the car’s effective ventilation system made this unnecessary.
Standard under the Grabber’s dual-dome scooped hood was the base Maverick’s 105 hp 170 CID straight six, with two larger (200 and 250 CID) sixes available as step-up options. But buyers in search of a muscle car in the rough checked off the option box for the 302 V-8, which, became available shortly after the Maverick’s launch.
It was not a Boss 302 – or even a four barrel 302 – but it was a V-8 and even better, it was a 302 V-8. The same basic V-8 that had made big power in other Ford vehicles and which only required a dusting with various factory and aftermarket performance parts to rise from its slumber. It had the potential to be a screamer – especially in a car that only weighed 2,786 lbs. – a flyweight even by early ’70s standards. (For some perspective, the “compact” 1970 Chevy Nova SS weighed about 3,200 lbs.)
The little V-8 was factory rated at 210 hp (SAE gross) in 1970 – or about 100 hp less than the output of a healthy 302. Part of the reason for the modest output was the extremely mild camshaft – a stick designed to deliver good low-speed torque for A to B driving. It was further choked-down by its economy-intended two-barrel carburetor and a very restrictive single exhaust system. Restrictive, not because of catalytic converters – these would not be an issue until 1975 – but rather because the super-tight packaging of the Maverick did not allow for factory dual exhausts or even a decent-diameter single exhaust system.
The Grabber’s 302 left the factory constipated – but this proved to be a blessing in disguise.
As far as the government – and insurance companies – were concerned, this was an economy car. Not a performance car. It could, therefore, slip under the radar. It was cheap to buy – and even more important, it was cheap to insure – unlike an out-of-the-closet muscle car. And once the keys were in your hands – and the car in your garage . . . . A weekend and a few hundred bucks later could – and often did – transform the 302 into a ferocious performer. And no one except you – and those you smacked down on the street – would ever be the wiser.
Even without changing cams, simply swapping out the stock two-barrel intake and carb for a four-barrel intake and carb, diddling the ignition timing to more performance-favorable calibrations – and installing what was known back in the day as a “bang plate” (shift kit) in the three-speed automatic (most of these cars came through with automatics) really woke the thing up. I can vouch for this personally, having helped so modify a ’73 Grabber this way. We also managed to install a proper dual exhaust system – it takes some work, but it is doable – and changed out the economy-minded ring and pinion for a more aggressive set. The effect of these tweaks was like jumper cables on your nipples in January. The otherwise stock 302 – never opened up, with its factory low-performance camshaft in place – easily barked the tires on both the 1-2 upshift and the 2-3 upshift at WOT.
Remember, this car only weighed about 2,800 pounds.
A new (2013) Mustang GT weighs 3,622 lbs. – 800 pounds more.
A new Mustang GT also costs $30,750 – vs. $1,995 for the base 1970 Maverick, plus another $194 for the Grabber package. Add the V-8 and you were maybe up to $2,500 or so in early 1970s dollars – about $14,000 in 2013 dollars. Imagine being able to buy a RWD car with a V-8 engine for that kind of money. Not used.
This was part of the Maverick’s genius. It was incredibly affordable, yet it wasn’t a bottom feeding basic transpo unit like many of its competitors, especially those from Japan. You could get a V-8, after all. You could also get AC. And in addition to the Grabber package, there were almost as many a la carte options for individualization of each car as the 1964 Mustang had offered. In fact, the man responsible for the ’64 Mustang was trying to recreate history by reviving the same basic idea – fun, affordable, personal – behind the ’64 Mustang. In 1969, then-Ford Vice President Lee Iaccoca told Time magazine: “You dumb foot draggers — you in Detroit — what took you so long to know imports were going to hit a million? Now the market is damn well defined, and you know what the market says? ‘Give me a hell of a good buy for two grand, will you? ‘ “
Thus was born Ford’s answer to the imports – among them, VW’s hot-selling Beetle.
But like the four-cylinder econo-boxes from Japan, the four-cylinder-only Beetle could never even dream of being a muscle car, while the Maverick – in Grabber trim – could be one with just a little bit of work, most of it backyard mechanic doable with basic hand tools.
There were only two really significant issues with the Maverick, from the standpoint of high-performance. First, there was no limited slip differential option – and the most aggressive factory gearing was 3.08 (most Grabbers came through with a burnout-unfriendly 2.79 ring and pinion). Second, while a manual transmission was available, it was only a three-speed manual. If you wanted a factory four-speed car, you had to move up to a Mustang. And there were incidentals – such as the absence of a factory-available tachometer or “rally” gauge cluster. You got a speedo, fuel gauge and a few idiot lights.
Even so, the Grabber was still a low-bucks way to get into a brand-new RWD/V-8 performance car – or at least, a RWD car with a V-8 that could be made into a performance car. Even by 1974, with inflation eating away at everything – by causing the prices of everything to rise – the Maverick’s base price was still just $2,591. With the Grabber equipment, the V-8 and AC, the out-the-door price was in the neighborhood of $3,400 – just under $16k today.
Not everyone could afford a GTO – or a Mustang. As much then – as now. Cars like the Maverick Grabber gave buyers who wanted something more than an import econo-box but which was still priced about the same a real alternative. Something they could work with.
In 1973, the Maverick lost its dual-dome scooped hood – but since the scoops had never been functional anyhow, there was no loss in performance. What did hurt the Grabber’s performance was creeping curb weight – up to 2,957 lbs. by ’75. The additional beef was seen as well as felt. The 1970 model’s aesthetically appropriate thin-line bumpers (available with twin vertical bumperettes) were replaced – also in ’73 – with a set of massive-in-comparison “energy absorbing” bumpers easily three times their size.
All the cars of the period were similarly afflicted – and if you wanted to identify the moment in time when external forces (the government and insurance mafia) were consolidating their death grip on the American car industry – the moment at which these forces and not consumers would determine what kinds of cars would be allowed on the market – it was the dread year 1973. “Unilock” seatbelt buzzers and ignition interlocks were mandatory standard equipment – and catalytic converters were less than 24 months down the road. The buzzers would go away for awhile – then return to afflict all new cars to this very day. Catalytic converters, of course, never went away. We just got more of them (most new cars have at least two and many have four or more).
Simple, affordable cars were on the way out. Simple, affordable RWD cars with V-8 engines were soon to be rendered extinct forever.
Ford discontinued the Grabber package after the ’75 model year. The Maverick would live on for another two years. During these final two seasons, Ford gamely tried to keep the idea alive. A Stallion package that offered many of the erstwhile Grabber features appeared – very briefly – in 1976. It also had a sporty exterior/interior – and could be ordered with the 302 V-8 as well as Lacy Spoke aluminum wheels – which had never been available with the Grabber. But by ’77, the gig was up. Maverick was cancelled – and both the Grabber and the Stallion were automotive history.
The Maverick Grabber and Stallion (as well as their Mercury Comet equivalents) and a number of other almost muscle cars built during the early-mid 1970s like the Oldsmobile Rallye 350, the “Heavy Chevy” Chevelle, the Buick Apollo, the Dodge Aspen R/T, etc., are today perhaps the only not-yet-mined repositories of affordable old-school RWD/V-8 performance. Cars of a type that will probably never be made again.
You can still pick up a nice one for under $5,000 or so.
Good luck finding a factory-built muscle car – that still runs or with a body not Swiss-cheesed by rust – for anything near that.
Nearly four decades after the last one left the line, the Grabber’s appeal continues to increase. As they were when they were new, these cars are a performance bargain – and potential wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Throw it in the Woods?
My first car was a ’73. Bought it from a little old lady for $500. It had a 302 in It when I bought It.
I put a fat cam, 4bl intake and carb, and a set of headers and boy was that fun for a 16yr old kid who didn’t know much just from shop class. Just bolted cherry bombs on the end of the headers. Put the B&M shiftkit in her, put a set of sweet aluminum slots on. Oh and a floor shifter from a mustang. She was a screamer.
My junior year I took first in the high school drags, senior year the spoiled rich kid I beat the year before got me. So I got 2nd place.
I would have that car to this day if I hadn’t wrapped it around a tree at 90mph. I do miss her
Reg; “wrapped it around a tree at 90mph” You have gearhead ghosts commenting on this blog, Eric. Anybody who wrapped a Maverick around anything at even less then 90-mph is a dead person. The Maverick was so lightly built, that the floor of the trunk was the top of the gas tank. You could total one hitting a garbage can.
Only in 70 71 had the tank under the trunk floor 71 and up
I had a set of Cherry Bombs. Got a ticket when they were a month old. With 11.5/1 compression and a Duntov cam it was pretty raucous. Got searched on that one too since my hair wouldn’t stay under a cap.
My first car was a 1971 Maverick I6 200. I wish I could have known there would ever be any interest in that turd. I always suffered with electrical problems. For $0.50 and help me push start it I’ll give you a ride home. That was my car in high school.
My parents lived “in the Boonies”, in 1996 it became the secondary septic tank.
Someone must have fouled it up before you had it. The electrical system on a Maverick is really simple and there isn’t much to go wrong and other than one thing that was the result of body shop laziness I can’t think of any electrical problems I’ve had with the two mavericks I’ve had since the 80s.
I have a 73′ Maverick Grabber with a 200 straight 6, 3 speed transmission. I am restoring. Also looking at purchasing a 75′ Maverick Grabber with a 302 V8 automatic transmission. To find new performance parts does anyone know where a good place to shop. I’ve visited many junkyards in my area and, most of the cars that are compatible are either a twisted pretzel, been crushed, or a pile of rust. I am 23 years old and wished I could have lived in that era. I have an extreme dislike of my generation and the modern times we live in. New cars are eye sores to me. So if anyone knows where to find parts or other compatible cars, I would greatly appreciate it.
The good news is the Maverick’s mechanicals interchange with other Fords – in particular, the same-era Mustang. Any 289/302 will bolt right in (it’s possible you may need Maverick-specific exhaust manifolds to clear the shock towers and possibly a Maverick-specific oil pan – from a factory V-8 Maverick- but otherwise, it’s a snap to slide a small block Ford V-8 into your car).
Because the Maverick is light, a moderate performance build (say 300 or so hp) will give you a very quick/fun to drive car. There are a number of possible options:
Find an rebuild a junkyard 302. Have you got the mechanical ability to tear down an engine and put it back together? If yes, this will likely be your least expensive option. With an older (non-EFI/no computer) engine, you can get 300 hp with a mild street performance cam, medium-rise intake/4BBL carb and an otherwise stock-type rebuild.
Find and buy a used – but mechanically sound – 5.0 (302) from a late-model Mustang or other Ford vehicle. These are still plentiful in salvage yards. But you’ll need to buy the computer harness, etc. if you want to run the factory EFI.
Buy a crate engine. This is maybe your best option as you’ll be getting a new (or thoroughly rebuilt) engine that’s ready to run and will deliver the power/performance you want “out of the box.” Check out JEGS (see here: http://www.jegs.com/c/Engines-Components_Engine-Assembled-Ready-to-Run/10763/10002/-1 ) or Summit Racing (see here: http://www.summitracing.com/search/department/engines-components/section/engine-assemblies )
Transmissions: You can go either way (manual or automatic) but if you plan to drive this car regularly, I’d recommend a modern overdrive box (either manual or automatic) as the driveability will be vastly improved (as well your gas mileage) and you can run a pretty aggressive rear axle ratio without killing your highway “legs.”
Eric, there are a number of gotchas going from a 200cid I6 to a 302V8. Thankfully he has a ’73 which means most of them were resolved by ford reducing parts variation at the factory. However it’s not the dark ages any more, and for spending bigger money the six can be built. That’s the route I’m going. Very mild engine with a new aluminum cylinder head from classic inlines for my 250cid I6.
But if he really wants to go the ‘put a V8 in it’ route, he’ll need new front springs possibly a new bell housing to start with. But if going that far might as well go 4 or 5spd trans too. I think by ’73 everything else on the 200 was the same as the V8. ’73 was the first year ford dropped all the weaker 6 cylinder only stuff. The brakes are probably 4 wheel drum and should be upgraded for daily travel in the 21st century. I am going with a manual front disc set up borrowed from a ’77 monarch.
What sort of maverick parts are you looking for?
Mechanically with the internet you can get parts just about everywhere. For standard mechanical stuff I use rockauto. Suspension, drivetrain, and more interchanges with Mustang. Rockauto’s website and other sources can be used to see the interchange years.
If you are looking for Maverick specific items, autokrafters.com has a maverick specific catalog. They were the first to have it and I ordered a number of things from them back in the 1990s. There was another source, a small place that sold maverick parts called the maverick connection. I don’t know if they are still around or not. That’s the place to find NOS. That and ebay. Ebay is wonderful for maverick specific parts. Be patient. Wait for stuff to pop up. Lastly, the maverick forums… http://maverick.to/ Oh and craigslist, stuff pops up on craigs frequently. Never bought via CL because well it’s never been stuff I needed when I saw it, but stuff does show up there.
Let me know, I’ve been in an out of mavericks since the 1980s. Parts are actually far easier to get now than they were in 1989. I have been gathering parts for the last few years and I hope to start turning wrenches on my ’73 again soon. (most of my car time has gone to a pair of SN95 Mustangs (mine and my dad’s) in the last few years)
I had a buddy in Highscool who owned a dark Metalic Green 1974 Maverick Grabber with white stripes and rocker panels.
The car came from the factory with a 302, 3 speed column shift. We converted it to floor shift.
The car was fast, even with the 2bbl carb, the car was fast….we had a blast in that thing. The Maverick like everything else have gotten very pricey over the last few years.
I’ll go for it. I’d settle for a small block V-8 in a 3,000 lb car. Or a ’72 98 with TBI. Pull the boat, pull the travel trailer, pull the stock trailer or just set it at 100mph on cruise with ALL your friends. That was one of the few cars I can remember when 8 people could be fairly comfortable and 4 had their own “zone”.
Back in the 70s my older brother bought a new Maverick Grabber 302. I used to borrow it on weekends and being young and reckless take it to our local illegal Saturday night street races. Power braking would light up the tires. It was fun. But looking back the Maverick really was a cheap car in virtually every respect. Only through the soft focus lens of nostalgia can anyone be complimentary of that turd.
Dunno about you, but I would not object to a return of the days when RWD/V-8 powered cars could be purchased cheaply.
Eric, these are great to do on many levels. It brings back memories for those of us who experienced this era but with your consistent mention in your current reviews of lighter weight cars of this past era, these retro reviews really back that up.
And, if you would, could you please send me an e-mail for other future business.
Thanks – and sure, will do!
Around 2003 I noticed a Maverick near a friend of mines house that looked like it had not been driven for a good while. I left a note and received a prompt call in return.
My son and I went up checked the car out while waiting for the owner. Looked good and solid and had a manual tranny with the 200″ six. We danced around on the price and settled on a case of PBRs. Not to bad of a deal for a rust free 72′ Maverick ‘Grabber’ that needed a clutch, carb, and some clean-up. We grabbed the trailer and hauled it to the shop.
We wanted to go low budget grudge racing and needed a car for the Spring opener at PIR, which was coming up in a few weeks. A quick trip to the loft revealed a roller 89′ Mustang GT engine and tranny. We called the yards and found a Lincoln disc rear-end and some disc’s for the front off of a Granada. After market sway bars, gas shocks, tires, and some other fussing, completed the basic build, and we had our Wednesday night warrior.
First run revealed some issues, but we had our baseline time, a dazzling 17.++. Not exactly burning up the track, but we were racing in the middle of the week and having fun on a school night, and that was a nice midweek excursion enjoyed by all.
Soon some of my son’s fabrication shop classmates were attending the races with us, and then a couple of instructors from his tech school were attending, soon we had a crew and knew where we were going to be on Wednesday nights.
By the end of the season ‘Borrowed Parts’ was in the low thirteens, and a lot of fun was had by all…Priceless!
At the end of the season, we tried to donate Borrowed Parts to the school, but they couldn’t utilize it for liability reasons, so next season a new adventure.
The Silver State Classic. O’boy! What were we getting into. Borrowed parts spent the Winter getting some expensive parts for its next adventure.
I had been collecting parts for an upcoming build, a cloned Panoz LMP-1. The 572″ Chevy crate motor and Doug Nash road race 5-speed found their way into Borrowed parts. A newly built safety cage and fire suppression system was installed. New x-rayed wheels and ZR rated tires, along with new Wildwood brakes and NASCAR wheel studs, two race seats and harnesses, remote safety shutoff, and many other parts were added to meet safety tech and provide speed and reliability. Suspension adjustments lowered the car to just a few inch’s off the tarmac. Open road exhaust and some signage/numbering, completed the build just in time to load it on the trailer.
We entered Borrowed Parts in the SS 170MPH Class. With her Rat Race demeanor, she was quite the sight among the bright and shiny big buck exotics and full race cars, she got a lot of attention, sure, some of it probably was snickering. We had our share of troubles, and didn’t place high, but we sure had fun.
The final sum of Borrowed Parts was quite a departure from her days of reliably, and economically ferrying owners around for thirty years. Stripped of her go-fast parts, she now gathers cobwebs at our storage facility in Central Oregon.
A juicy tidbit for those who can appreciate it.> http://portland.craigslist.org/clk/cto/3683519635.html
Great stuff, Deuce!
My friend’s Maverick was a ’73 and it had the 302/automatic combo. We put an en Edelbrock Performer and a Holley 1850 on it, a set of headers and that made it a lot of fun to drive without getting into the engine. It sounded great (Ford small block V8s are like that) and felt quick enough to be amusing (easy burnouts, tire-barking upshifts). I don;t think my friend had $2,500 in that car – including what he paid for it (this was early 1990s).
PS: That black Spyder looks magnificent!
I think the Maverick actually outsold the Mustang after Ford made the Mustang into a tuna boat for 71-73.
In the early 80s A couple of friends of mine had Mavericks, and Falcons as they were, used, cheaper than Mustangs,
I preferred my ’69 4 door Thunderbird with the 429 engine.
For an entire extended model year starting April 17, the first year maverick out sold the first year mustang.
Usually maverick production is chopped into ’69 and ’70 or Mustang’s record is stated for a 12 month year to avoid the issue.
Both cars were introduced the same way, as the next year’s model on april 17th, so I think the comparison is fair.
Production figures here: http://home.comcast.net/~petebre/maverick/stats/index.html
See Brent’s post – it did sell very well indeed!
Ah, the things we took for granted – such as “economy” cars with available factory V-8s and RWD layouts….
Mavericks had the image of being the car for librarians or accountants. And they were among the last people you’d expect to spring for a V-8. So a V-8 Maverick Grabber “could have been” a perfect stealth car…..if it weren’t for those garish, conspicuous paint packages. 😉
The Grabber package didn’t offer anything mechanical really.
It offered different interior and exterior goodies, but the car was the same mechanically as a regular maverick ordered with a V8.
The more time passes, the greater the distance between now – and then – the fonder I grow toward cars like the Maverick.
Even stone stock, one of these would be – in my eyes – a really neat car to have.
The ’73 I mentioned in the article was all kinds of fun to drive. The only thing I didn’t like about it was removing the spark plugs!
Eric…. So much I can add to this. Back in the 1990s I learned everything Maverick I could find to learn. My very dated website is still up… perhaps you came across it 🙂
Ford marketed the Maverick in the USA intentionally such that it did not infringe upon Mustang sales. However, Ford did not sell the Mustang in Mexico and Brazil, but it did sell the Maverick. Thus in these countries the Maverick did get a muscle car options. Four speed transmission, tach, etc and so forth. In Brazil Maverick has often been the dominating muscle car.
Here is a photo of a 1978 (yes, the maverick went to 1979 outside the USA) Maverick GT:
Oh and how could I forget the Shelby of Mexico Maverick:
Mavericks also have a very rich racing history. From Drag racing in the USA to tracks in Brazil.
Mechanically the Maverick can accept practically everything an early mustang can. In fact, to update an early Mustang one route is to seek out late Maverick brakes and other components.
Big bumpered mavericks can be retro-fitted back to small bumpers. It takes gathering the parts and swapping them out. Probably with a little drilling here or there. In the back some welding is required for the internal bracketry differences.
The ’76 Stallion was an appearance package for Pinto, Maverick, and Mustang, as was the ’72 Sprint package. They were one model year only. The ’76 Stallion is another one of those cars my father would not stop to let me take a look at…. It was beat to hell but it is still the only one I have seen in person. Of that list is also a ’69 Boss 429 Mustang…. which at that time was affordable. I did have the opportunity to buy a ’75 grabber. The problem was it had been hit hard in side of a rear 1/4 panel. The whole back end was twisted. Beyond my ability, facility, and finances to fix at the time so I passed.
Maverick was to be replaced in 1975 with Granada… but sales ticked upward so Maverick lived until 1977 alongside Granada. It’s something to be sold along side a replacement product. The granada was based on the four door maverick. Mechanically again compatible… which means something because the Granada begot the Versailles. And as a Lincoln, it got four wheel disk and a 9in rear. A 9in rear that bolts into cars back to the Falcon.
So, if someone was so interested and could find the parts, quite a Maverick could be built by only using Ford production parts.