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4/28: It’s 428 day—Celebrate the 1968 Ford Cobra Jet Mustang designed to hunt Camaros and ’Cudas

Inspired by Tasca Ford, petitioned for by Hot Rod Magazine readers, and proven by Al Joniec’s win at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals
28 Apr 2020
David Kennedy

“Circle your choice in the box provided, and return to Mr. Henry Ford II, Dearborn, Michigan, 48121.” That’s how the infamous Nov. ’67 Hot Rod article by Eric Dahlquist began. In the three pages that followed, Dahlquist asked readers if Ford should build a supercar Mustang from the formulae laid out by Tasca Ford. The resulting pressure from Hot Rod readership persuaded Ford to offer a car that became known as the ’68 Cobra Jet Mustang.

As the story goes more than 20,000 ballots were cut out and sent in. Dahlquist recounted in a Nov. ’13 interview with Hot Rod that he asked Ford PR to let him test the first Cobra Jet. When a car hauler arrived at Petersen Publishing with a Wimbledon White Mustang fastback loaded in the racks, he knew the car was there for him.

According to Dalquist he took the ’68 428-cid Cobra Jet on a spin from Los Angeles to Fresno for the weekend, and then tested the car at Irwindale. He reported “It ran fine. Not as good as it would have run if we spent some real time with it, but we got the first story.”

A few miles further east of Irwindale, the story of the ’68 428-cid Cobra Jet Mustangs would unfold in a much more memorable way.    

In February 1968, four Cobra Jets participated in the NHRA Winternationals race, including Al Joniec, who drove his Rice-Holman entry to a final round win over Dave Wren’s Max Wedge-powered Plymouth. Racing in the SS/E class, Joniec posted an 11.49-second run at more than 120 mph.

Ford built just 50 of the special edition Cobra Jets in 1968, but reportedly, production didn’t begin until December 13, 1967, which left less than two months to prepare for the So Cal season-opener.

Original plans to use a 427-cid engine were scuttled and Ford opted to use the 428-cid engine first developed by Rhode Island-based Ford dealer Bob Tasca, the grandfather of current nitro Funny Car racer, Bob III.  The combination was rated at 335 hp. Ford lightened the Cobra Jets by excluding the radio, sound deadener, undercoating and heater. All 50 of the original Cobra Jets were painted in Wimbledon White with a black vinyl interior, and all of them were manually-shifted.

“We were at least a second faster than the record at the time, but we didn’t want to upset that advantage, so the whole thing got crazy, because we wanted to win,” Joniec said following the landmark victory. “We were only racing fast enough to beat the other guy without encroaching the record.”