When Ford Motor Company took a gamble and launched the Mustang in April of 1964, they hit the automotive equivalent of a grand slam home run. The Mustang opened up a whole new genre of cars, the personal sporty car, and those that came later were often referred to as “Pony Cars”’ in honor of the ground-breaking Mustang. For over two years, the Mustang had no competition, and by the end of the 1966 model year it had racked up sales of over one million cars. With a “Pony Car” market of that size, the competition would not be silent for long.
Ford’s archrival General Motors was the first to strike back, with not one, but two new cars. First, the Chevrolet Camaro was unveiled in September of 1966, followed by Pontiac’s introduction of the Firebird four months later. The GM cars would take a serious bite out of Mustang sales in 1967, despite a freshened-up Mustang design. Sales of the original Pony Car fell to 472,121 units that year, while the combined sales of the Camaro and Firebird reached 303,466.
There’s an old adage in performance car sales that says, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” The Mustang had dominated at the drag strip until 1967, when the Camaro and Firebird started taking home their share of trophies. Ford had upped the ante by making their 390 cubic inch V8 an option for the ’67 Mustang to protect their drag strip success, but it wasn’t enough. Camaro had an optional 396 cu. in. V8, while Pontiac offered its 400 cu. in. motor. Both GM engines were strong and the 390 Mustangs were having difficulty getting through the timing lights first. As a result, Mustang sales were suffering.
Early in 1968, Ford realized it needed more ammunition under the hood for 1969, but there was no engine in production that would help them. The Ford 427 cu. in. engine would be strong enough, but it was specifically built for racing and wasn’t suitable for use on the street. In addition, it was expensive to build and repair. They also had a 428 cu. in. engine on the shelf that was used in the bigger Ford road cars and in their police cars, but as built, it was not suitable for racing.
At the suggestion of Ford dealer Bob Tasca, one of their major Mustang drag racers, Ford engineers mounted the cylinder heads of the racing 427 on the street 428, beefed up the bottom end of the 428 and voila, the 428 Cobra Jet engine was born. The Cobra Jet’s debut in a ’68 Mustang resulted in an NHRA Super Stock class win at the 1968 Winternationals. With the 428 Cobra Jet, Ford was back in the game!
The 428 Cobra Jet engine was conservatively rated at 335 horsepower, but actually produced about 400 horses. For 1969, this engine would be an option for any model of the Mustang, Torino, Fairlane, or Mercury Cyclone. The Cobra Jet could be had with a ram air intake that included an air intake scoop mounted on a fiberglass hood. A wide black stripe extending from the front of the hood to the windshield molding made sure that everyone knew that this was a ram air Cobra Jet.
For the performance offered by the 428 Cobra Jet, it was a bargain. The ram air Cobra Jet option could be had for a cost of $421 and came with Ford’s full 5-year/50,000 mile warranty. Either the four-speed manual transmission or Ford’s Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission could be ordered.
The availability of the Cobra Jet continued through the 1970 model year, but stricter emission regulations, an all-new bigger and heavier Mustang for 1971, and a general shift away from performance caused Ford to discontinue the Cobra Jet engine option halfway through the 1971 model year. By any measure, the 428 Cobra Jet was a success – but automotive evolution is continuously moving the yardsticks, and by the standards of 1971, it no longer had a place in the Ford lineup.
Cobra Jet Registry: https://www.428cobrajet.org/428cj-history-bill-barr
My Classic Garage: https://myclassicgarage.com/marketplace/knowledge_base/1967-chevrolet-camaro
Car and Driver Blog: http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Camaro-Mustang.jpg
First Generation Firebird: http://firstgenfirebird.org/1968-info/1968-pontiac-firebird-history/