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1970 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Sportsroof - Thanks For The Memories
Original owner Tony Rainero and current owner Bob Wytosky can relive their drag racing days with the restoration of this ’70 Cobra Jet SportsRoof
"It shocked the living daylights out of me!" says Tony Rainero when describing his reaction to seeing his old Super Stock '70 Mustang for the first time after its recent restoration by current owner Bob Wytosky, who was asked to display the freshly restored SportsRoof at the 2013 SEMA Show. "When Bob pulled the cover off, it was like a time warp."
The burgundy Mustang with Boss-style striping brings back a lot of memories for Rainero, who grew up near Detroit and worked for Ford as a gas turbine developer. Like many young men from the area, he started drag racing during the early 1960s, first with a Falcon and later a Hi-Po Comet. By 1968, Tony and Frank Lundgren were campaigning a two-car team in Modified Production, eventually selling their cars to switch to the up-and-coming Super Stock class. They used a friendship connection to the president of the Ford Dealer Council to get one of the 50 '68½ Cobra Jet drag cars.
At the 1968 U.S. Nationals, Rainero and Lundgren caught Ford's attention when they beat Al Joniec, who just a few months earlier had famously notched the new Cobra Jet's first win at the 1968 Winternationals. With a 428 cobbled together from a Mercury block and pieces from two previously blown engines, Rainero also qualified well under the existing index. "That opened the door for us to work with Ford," says Rainero. "The next year, they called to ask if we were interested in a newer Cobra Jet Mustang."
In exchange for a dollar, Rainero picked up the car, a '69 SportsRoof with '70 sheetmetal, at Ford's experimental garage in the fall of 1969. "My cousin worked there," Rainero says. "He told me that it had been used as a Boss 302 brake development car. They snatched out the Boss engine and transmission right before I got there."
The Mustang body was then delivered to Holman-Moody/Stroppe in California, where it received its CJ drivetrain and a racier paint job in preparation for the 1970 Winternationals in Pomona, California. "Some friends at the Ford design studio came up with the paint scheme and graphics," Rainero recalls. "It was painted in the Stroppe paint booth right before the Winternationals."
With sponsorship from Stark-Hickey Ford in Royal Oak, Michigan, Rainero campaigned the Mustang around the country for four years in the SS/H class, where it was always competitive and also good-looking enough to earn an article in the December 1971 issue of Popular Hot Rodding. When Ford dropped out of racing in the summer of 1970, someone "suggested" that Rainero drive his truck to Kar Kraft, where he loaded up lightweight body panels from the Trans-Am program, including fenders, a hood, and headlight doors. At one point, Rainero took advantage of Super Stock rules by returning the car to its original '69 configuration, painting it blue with "Tony Rainero" lettering across the sides.
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When partner Lundgren joined the military in 1974, Rainero sold the Mustang to North Dakota's Larry Thiel, who campaigned the car for a year before selling to Bob Wytosky. "I was bracket racing a '66 Mustang hardtop," Wytosky explains. "I wanted to move up to Super Stock and had seen this '69 SportsRoof at the track. It was for sale."
Wytosky raced the Mustang for four years, updating it along the way to conform to rule changes, including the addition of a four-link rear suspension and tubbing the wheel wells to fit fatter slicks. Facing rising costs as Super Stock racing became more competitive and less fun, Wytosky hung up his racing helmet and retired his Mustang in 1978. "I oiled everything down and put it into storage," he says. The odometer showed just over 800 miles, most of them added at Ford's test track in the late 1960s.
Wytosky knew the Mustang's history with original-owner Rainero, and the two occasionally talked by phone, usually discussing what should be done with the old race car. Three years ago, Rainero got a call from Wytosky. "He said he wanted to restore it to the way I originally campaigned it," Rainero says. "I asked him if he knew how much that special paint and gold-leaf lettering cost in the 1960s!"
Undeterred and with a handful of vintage photos supplied by Rainero, Wytosky delivered the Mustang to Bryon Thiessen at Creative Concepts and Restorations in Saskatchewan, Canada. Fortunately, Wytosky had saved many of the original parts, including the Fenton Gyro front wheels and special offset Ford steel rims for the slicks. Even better, he had lubricated and stored the "lightweight valve" 428 engine that Rainero had built in the 1970s. Cleaned and reinstalled in the Mustang, it fired right up.
The biggest challenge was the paint. ‘We spent the better part of a year sending color samples back and forth until they got it right," Rainero says. "They were also trying to replicate the multi-colors on the hood. My wife inspected the rendering and said, ‘I looked at that car from the starting line more than anyone else and it's missing one of the colors.' They went back to the drawing board and added the fuchsia. Bingo! It came back to life!"
Wytosky ordered a Marti Report, which confirmed the Mustang's original delivery to Ford Division Product Engineering and order type as a "test vehicle." The door data plate carries a regular 9F02R109564 VIN, but the windshield VIN tag has an experimental number.
Rainero was reunited with the restored Mustang at the SEMA Show, where he and Wytosky spent four days talking to attendees and posing for photos. "Now it looks exactly the way I raced it," says Rainero, as he reflects on his days as a Ford-supported drag racer in the early 1970s. "We had a good time back then."