Mustang Monthly - - ROB KINNAN ROB KINNAN JERRY HEASLEY - Rob Kin­nan TEXT Rob Kin­nan & Jerry Heasley PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Fifty years ago, in Feb­ru­ary 1968, the world learned about Ford’s hot new street and race car, the Co­bra Jet Mus­tang. De­buted at the

’68 NHRA Win­ter­na­tion­als, the Co­bra Jet Mus­tang was out­fit­ted with Ford’s 428ci Co­bra Jet en­gine pack­age, in­spired by Bob Tasca’s

(of Tasca Ford in Rhode Is­land) home­built 428 Mus­tang street racer. Tasca wasn’t sell­ing very many 390 Mus­tangs—thought by Ford to com­pete with big-block Chevys and Hemi Mopars, but hope­lessly out­classed on the street— and he took mat­ters into his own hands by hav­ing his me­chan­ics put to­gether a hot 428 with off-theshelf parts.

The Tasca KR-8 Mus­tang reg­u­larly beat up on those GM and Pen­tas­tar pretenders, enough to im­press Hot Rod’s Eric Dahlquist (who wrote the now-fa­mous story in HR), and even­tu­ally Ford it­self. Ford im­proved on Tasca’s pack­age and came out with the Co­bra Jet op­tion for Mus­tang GTs. And the rest is his­tory.

That was half a cen­tury ago. Many of the orig­i­nal play­ers are still around, and Ford just de­buted the new 2019 Co­bra Jet Mus­tang at the Wood­ward Dream Cruise in Au­gust 2018, so it only made sense to put to­gether a gath­er­ing of all things Co­bra Jet. Or­ga­nized by the Na­tional Mus­cle

Car As­so­ci­a­tion (NMCA) and held at one of the best dragstrips in the coun­try,

Sum­mit Mo­tor­sports Park in Nor­walk, Ohio, the

Co­bra Jet 50th An­niver­sary Re­union on Au­gust 23-26, 2018, was all we hoped it would be.

There were over 200 orig­i­nal Co­bra Jets, and not just Mus­tangs. In the show field there were, of course, Mus­tang Co­bra

Jets, but also Tori­nos, Cougars, Rancheros, Fair­lanes, and Mon­te­gos, all of which could be or­dered with the Co­bra

Jet op­tion (in­clud­ing two four-door CJ Mon­te­gos!). Of spe­cial in­ter­est was Al Joniec’s Rice-Hol­man CJ Mus­tang—the very car that won the 1968 Win­ter­na­tion­als in SS/E 50 years ago—parked right next to the 2008 Co­bra Jet painted in the same liv­ery that John Calvert won the 2009 Win­ter­na­tion­als in! Both cars are owned by Ok­la­homa’s Brent Ha­jek, a huge col­lec­tor of Ford ve­hi­cles. Al Joniec was even present, and gave a hi­lar­i­ous speech at Fri­day night’s Co­bra Jet ban­quet.

Co­bra Jet lu­mi­nar­ies were ev­ery­where: Joniec, of course; CJ en­gine de­signer

Bill Barr; Jesse Ker­shaw (for­merly of Ford Rac­ing and a key fig­ure in the 2008 edi­tion of the Co­bra Jet); Brian Wolfe (Ker­shaw’s boss who made the ’08 CJ hap­pen); Carl Tasca (Bob’s son); Chuck Wat­son (Wat­son Rac­ing); and many, many more. It was truly a who’s who of Co­bra Jet he­roes, and it was quite a sight to see.

There were also Co­bra Jets, both new and old, go­ing wheels-up on the dragstrip in com­pe­ti­tion, with two classes—Mod­ern and Vin­tage Co­bra Jet Show­downs. The event hap­pened the week­end be­fore the U.S. Na­tion­als in nearby In­di­anapo­lis, so the late-model CJs were out in force, test­ing for Indy. Those classes were won by Mike Pustelny in a 2014 Co­bra Jet (Mod­ern CJ class) and Steven Hall in a ’68 CJ (Vin­tage CJ class). Those two faced off for a win­ner-take-all Co­bra Jet fi­nal, and Pustelny’s late­model beat Hall’s vin­tage CJ on a holeshot.

So whether it was see­ing Co­bra Jets of all types on the show field, watch­ing them race, or meet­ing some of the he­roes of the Co­bra Jet world, there was some­thing at the NMCA All-Amer­i­can Na­tion­als

50th An­niver­sary Co­bra

Jet Re­union for any Ford fan. Al Joniec ended his Fri­day night speech say­ing some­thing to the tune of, “I prob­a­bly won’t be around for it, but here’s hop­ing for a 100th An­niver­sary Co­bra Jet Re­union!”

We can only hope.

With Ford’s in­tro­duc­tion of the 2019 CJ Mus­tang, there’s hope, even if they’re elec­tric-pow­ered Mus­tangs in 2068!

John Calvert brought his orig­i­nal “135” 1968 Co­bra Jet to Nor­walk, and he had his name­sake CalTracs bars set on kill for wheels-up launches ev­ery time.

What? They made Co­bra Jet Grande Mus­tangs? Yes, they did—as proven here by Jim Woods’ ’69 Grande. This one has the 428CJ non-ram air, a four-speed, and sur­pris­ingly, no vinyl top (which was op­tional, though most Gran­des were or­dered with a vinyl top).

The Go­ing Thing was a re­gional “drive and buy” pro­mo­tions pro­gram in 1969 with spe­cial-or­der Mus­tangs shipped di­rectly to Thomp­son Drag Race­way in Ohio. Par­tic­i­pat­ing deal­ers would let peo­ple drive them and sell them right at the track, or if they didn’t sell, take them back to the deal­er­ship for show­room dec­o­ra­tion. This Go­ing Thing is owned by Travis and Julie Crate of Venus, Penn­syl­va­nia, and has a long rac­ing his­tory.

As spelled out on the wind­shield of this 1970 Mus­tang Co­bra Jet, of the 191,522 ’70 Mus­tangs built, only 116 were stan­dard Sport­sRoofs with 428CJ Ram Air (R-code) en­gines.

The Ronzello & Wright 2008 Co­bra Jet con­vert­ible may just be the rarest of the late-model Co­bra Jets, as it was the pro­to­type for the rest to be built off of and the first con­vert­ible Co­bra Jet. It was good to see Jimmy Ronzello beat­ing the snot out of the price­less car on Sum­mit Mo­tor­sports Park’s 1,320.

Bill Law­ton was Bob Tasca’s worst night­mare in 1967, con­stantly beat­ing up on Mus­tangs with his Chevy and do­ing burnouts in front of Tasca’s Ford deal­er­ship. That delin­quency prompted Tasca to build the KR-8 Mus­tang that in­spired Ford to build the Co­bra Jet. Law­ton was a good driver though, so Tasca hired him to race for his team. This is the ’68 CJ they raced.

Bob Perkins brought his glass-sided trailer with all kinds of Co­bra Jet mem­o­ra­bilia and dis­played this 428 CJ cut­away en­gine for all to see.

There were two classes for the Co­bra Jets—Vin­tage and Mod­ern—with the win­ners of those two fac­ing off for the King Co­bra Jet ti­tle. Steven Hall (shown here) won the Vin­tage CJ class and run­ner-upped to Mike Pustelny’s late-model CJ in King.

This 1969 Fair­lane Hard­top is one of 17 built with a 428CJ, four-speed, bench seat, and man­ual drum brakes and steer­ing. It was or­dered like that for drag rac­ing (duh) and was pur­chased from the orig­i­nal owner by Ar­tie Medice in No­vem­ber 1976 with only 7,924 miles on it. The dis­play board said, “This car looks a lit­tle on the rough side, but it is 100% orig­i­nal Ford body, in­te­rior, and paint.” The paint is Black Jade.

Al Joniec won the 1968 NHRA Win­ter­na­tion­als in this very car, in the Co­bra Jet’s de­but to the world. Now owned by Brent Ha­jek, who also owns the iden­ti­cally painted 2008 CJ sit­ting next to the ’68 (which John Calvert won the Win­ter­na­tion­als with in 2009!). Check out all the Wallys!

You want to talk about sig­nif­i­cant? This is 1968 Co­bra Jet num­ber one—the first one built. It is owned by Jacky Jones, who you can read all about on Mus­

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