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 Mustang-360.com.