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Fastest Classic Mustang Tests - Who Would Be King?
Inside The Performance Numbers Of The Quickest Classic Mustangs
Yes, we know we're straying into dangerous territory when it comes to the subject matter of this particular article. Historically, anytime a magazine tries to identify the "quickest" or "fastest" car of any genre, it's treading on thin ice. To be sure, jaded readers will be looking for a hole in the story, an omission, or a slip-up of any kind, for it's clear that laying a title on any one car is by default identifying all the rest as mere runners-up. With the quickest/fastest claim a matter of considerable pride and passion for many high-performance buffs, we understand the sentiment, yet we are also undeterred.
Clearly we've seen many lists over the years which attempt to rank musclecars according to their quarter-mile performance, some of which were well thought out, others that were of dubious validity. Almost universally, the lists are a compilation of vintage-magazine test results, which-in an age where most owners are resistant to a full-bore thrash-would seem the most valid way to assemble such data. Be that as it may, there's a whole lot more to the story than pure numbers, and more often than not, the compilations are glaringly short on in-depth facts.
Our approach is purposefully different than the typical compilations-for one, proclaiming an out-and-out winner isn't our sole focus. Instead, the thrust here is to identify which vintage steeds have a legitimate shot at the throne, and then thoroughly analyze nearly 40 period tests that are relative to the discussion. In the end, perhaps it will be easier to throw out one or two of the contenders than to declare a winner. We shall see.
Now for some terminology clarification. For years, any number of sources have used-or misused-the term "fastest" as a way to identify the car with the best elapsed time (e.t.) in the quarter-mile-the gold standard for determining the musclecar king of the hill. Technically speaking, the correct term to use here would be "quickest," in that "fastest" really denotes the car with the highest speed at the end of the 1,320, which is sometimes decidedly different than the car with the best e.t. Of course "fastest" can also be properly used to denote top speed, though this isn't a common theme when it comes to musclecars. For what it's worth, most published lists of the musclecar pecking order use the term "fastest," but we'll hold ourselves to a higher standard of accuracy. Just know that in more uninformed circles, the two terms may be used interchangeably.
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As it turns out, it wasn't difficult to quickly narrow down our list to a handful of distinct Mustang models, not surprisingly falling within that narrow four-year span-1968 through 1971-that turned out some of the greatest cars ever made. If you spend much time sorting through assorted magazine tests from yore, you'll find it was the rare Mustang that cracked into the 13-second zone. As far as we can tell, just three accomplished this task during media reviews in stock form. One other Mustang was markedly close to the 13s in showroom dress, and accordingly, these are the candidates we'll analyze in depth.
By now you've likely flipped further into our story to see who the players are, so we'll dispense with the suspense and get things rolling.
No surprises here, as the 428CJ is the engine that catapulted Mustang into a top-of-the-heap musclecar. We won't rehash the history of how these cars came to be, but we will address one of the most famous drag tests ever performed on a high-performance Ford. Of course, we're referring to the March '68 Hot Rod magazine test of one of the first Cobra Jet Mustangs built, the one in which Hot Rod staffer Eric Dahlquist proclaimed the CJ as "the fastest-running Pure Stock in the history of man." This heady praise is the stuff that FE CJ fans have justifiably hung their collective hat on for years, yet it's important to look a bit deeper.
Hot Rod acknowledged it was playing with something slightly different than your average showroom offering-a reference to picking up the car from the Holman-Moody-Stroppe shop was an obvious tip-off. In and of itself, this shouldn't disqualify the Hot Rod test from being legit for it's hardly the only car in our review to have passed through the hands of a super tuner. The fact that Dahlquist's tester wore standard Mustang trim does identify it as a preproduction unit, however-likely one of the 50 "135 series" cars offered primarily to racers during the infancy of the Cobra Jet program.
Chris Teeling of the Mustang 428 Cobra Jet Registry (www.428cobrajet.org) explained that such early fastbacks differed from production CJs not only in terms of trim (standard instead of GT), but also in their use of aluminum Police Interceptor intakes, a different casting of the 427 Low-Riser cylinder heads, and 390GT exhaust manifolds. Other than the intake's weight reduction, such underhood deviations would have done nothing to improve per-formance over regular production, perhaps even hindered it considering the log-style exhausts, yet it's important to look for other anomalies in the Hot Rod test.
Minimal pictures of the engine compartment raise no red flags, showing its factory air cleaner, smog system, and full exhaust. What we do know is that the preproduction CJs are the lightest Mustangs to ever wave the Cobra Jet banner, with Hot Rod mentioning a lack of sound deadener or any pretense of creature comforts. The near anorexic weight of 3,240 pounds was a huge contributor to the quick 13.56 at 106.64 mph, and it's a couple hundred pounds lighter than a typical '68-1/2 CJ-impressively trim musclecars in their own right. Other important factors in achieving the stellar e.t. were 3.89 gears, a close-ratio four-speed, and stock F70-14 street tires. As was fairly typical of magazine tests in the day, the accessory belts (smog) were disconnected and rear leaf springs were clamped to subdue wheelhop.
We had the opportunity to interview Dahlquist specifically for this story, and he reports that after his Nov. '67 Hot Rod coverage of Tasca's KR8, Ford PR gave him first shot at testing an early CJ. Dahlquist explains, "There were four or five identical-looking CJ Mustangs on a Ford transporter when I took delivery of the car, and this one had virtually no miles on the odometer."
Dahlquist remembers it being a Friday afternoon; on Saturday, he loaded up his family for a day of driving in an effort to properly break in the engine. Tests were conducted at Orange County International Raceway (OCIR) on Sunday or Monday with Dahlquist at the wheel. He reports practicing his launch technique repetitively, optimizing rear tire pressure and power shifting the four-speed to the big e.t.'s, but maintains the car had every appearance of being production ready and was "certainly no ringer."
Whatever the verdict on the original Hot Rod Cobra Jet test, there were a handful of other stock 13-second 428CJ performances published by an assortment of magazines during the next 2-1/2 years of production. If nothing else, repeatability proves this car deserves a shot at the title.
• Cubic inches
• Light to modest weight
• Torquey engine character
• Smallish F70-14 tires compared to competitors
• Easily handicapped with poor gear ratio selection and optional equipment such as A/C and so on
Period Tests: 428CJ/SCJ
Mar. '68 Hot Rod, 13.56 at 107 mph, '6811/42 fastback, CR fourspeed/ 3.89, ram-air, F70-14s, text by Eric Dahlquist
Oct. '68 Car Life, 14.57 at 100, '68 GT500KR fastback, CR four-speed/ 3.50 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB/tilt steering. E70-15s
Nov. '68 Car and Driver, 14.3 at 100, '69 SCJ Mach 1, AT/3.91 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, AM/FM stereo, F70-14s, appears stock, same car as 2/69 Super Stock test
Nov. '68 Hot Rod, 14.01 at 103, '68 GT500KR fastback, CR four-speed/ 3.50 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, E70-15s, believed to have loose accessory belts and no air filter, text by Steve Kelly
Jan. '69 Popular Hot Rodding, 13.69 at 103, '69 Mach 1, AT/3.50 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, F70-14s, "pure stock condition"
Feb. '69 Sports Car Graphic, 14.0 at 102, '69 GT500 SportsRoof, AT/3.50 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, tilt, F60-15s, appears stock
Feb. '69 Super Stock, 13.94 at 103, '69 Mach 1 SCJ, AT/3.91 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, AM/FM stereo, F70-14s, accessory belts loosened, text by Ro McGonegal
Mar. '69 Car Craft, 13.73 at 102, '69 Mach 1 SCJ, AT/4.30 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, AM/FM stereo, F70-14s, appears stock other than upgrading from factory 3.91s (13.89 at 102) to the optional 4.30s
Mar. '69 Car Life, 13.86 at 103, '69 Mach 1, AT/3.50 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, F70-14s, appears stock, same car as Jan. '69 PHR test
Sept. '69 Super Stock, 13.87 at 105, '69 GT500 SCJ SportsRoof, CR four-speed/3.91 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, AM/FM stereo, F60-15s, carb tweaked to make secondaries open sooner, text by Ro McGonegal
Nov. '69 Super Stock, 14.11 at 101, '70 SCJ Mach 1, CR four-speed/3.91 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB/PW, F70-14s, appears stock
Feb. '70 Road Test, 14.31 at 100, '70 SCJ Mach 1, CR four-speed/3.91 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, F70-14s, appears stock
Mar. '70 Popular Hot Rodding, 14.03 at 99, '70 Mach 1 SCJ, CR four-speed/ 3.91 Trac-Lok, ram-air, PS/PDB, F70-14s, appears stock
This selection may surprise a few as the Boss 429 has been much maligned over the years for being a classic underachiever. In stock form, that opinion is certainly shared here, yet it's true that the biggest Boss is still one of the fastest stock vintage Mustangs. The basics just can't be denied: 429 cubes, mandatory close-ratio Top Loader, mandatory 3.91 gears and limited slip, Holley carburetion, dual-point distributor, big tires, trunk-mounted battery, and so on. This is the stuff that should've made for dominating times at the strip, and though the Boss 429 didn't live up to its potential, it does appear on any number of "quickest" lists as a 13-second performer. What we found through analysis, however, is that such times were not accomplished in stock form, but with mild modification.
Though not tested as repetitively as 428CJ Mustangs, the Boss 429 got plenty of press when it was introduced, though often with not-so-flattering commentary. It wasn't that the car was such an awful performer; in fact, Car Life liked the car immensely, remarking "the Boss 429 seemingly has everything." Instead, the negativity which typified most tests was that given the car's exotic hardware, it wasn't enough for the Boss to simply be a strong performer; it should've easily trounced most musclecars of the period, which of course it did not.
Of the four tests we reviewed in depth, two appeared to be in bone-stock form: the July '69 Car Life test of a '69 model and the Jan. '70 Car Craft test of a '70. Both tests were within a whisker of each other, with Car Life recording a 14.09 and Car Craft a 14.08. Tests in Super Stock (June '69) and High Performance CARS (Sept. '69) were obviously run in the same car-said to be the fifth unit built-with performances of 13.60 and 13.64 coming with disconnected smog equipment, a recurved distributor, a rejetted carb, a plastic flex fan, slapper bars, and a Hurst shifter. Of interesting note is the fact that the Boss 429 and 428CJ drivetrains were nearly the same in terms of weight, meaning there wasn't a meaningful edge between the like body styles.
Potentially clouding the picture of Boss 429 performance is the timeframe in which a given car was produced. According to Dr. John Craft's excellent book Boss & Cobra Jet Mustangs, the first 200 '69s used "S" engines, built with heavy NASCAR connecting rods and a rather tame hydraulic cam. The rods were intended for high-rev, 500-mile durability, not quick acceleration, and the whole package was a rather poor-performing mix. Also reported were weak valvesprings that limited rpm on this obvious deep breather. Surely much better for straight-line performance were the subsequent "T" engines, which used a far-lighter con-rod (814 grams compared to 1,145 grams, according to Craft) and most receiving a far superior solid-lifter cam sporting 300 degrees duration and more than 11/42 inch of lift-good for a reported extra 1,000 usable rpm.
'69-'70 BOSS 429
• Cubic inches
• Modest weight
• Standard close-ratio four-speed
• Standard 3.91 Trac-Lok
• Standard 15x7-inch rims, F60-15 tires
• High-flow semi-hemi heads
• Trunk-mounted battery
• Poorly executed package in light of hardware
Period Tests: BOSS 429
June '69 Super Stock, 13.64 at 105 mph, '69 Boss 429, PS/PDB, same modified car as Sept. '69 CARS test, photos by Ro McGonegal
July '69 Car Life, 14.09 at 103, '69 Boss 429, PS/PDB, appears stock, mention of hydraulic cam most likely indicates early S-series engine
Sept. '69 High Performance CARS, 13.60 at 106, '69 Boss 429, PS/PDB, fifth unit built means S-series engine, disconnected smog, recurved distributor, rejetted carb, plastic flex fan, traction bars, Hurst shifter
Jan. '70 Car Craft, 14.08 at 106, '70 Boss 429, PS/PDB, appears stock. All '70s had either the T-series or A-series Boss 429, either having a lighter reciprocating assembly than early'69 S-series
Boss 351s have long had the reputation of being the quickest Boss on the block, and many owners have pushed even further, advocating for the title of quickest/fastest vintage Mustang ever. The Boss 351 was clearly an impressive package that could give the big boys a run for their money, and nearly every magazine test we reviewed was loaded with similar sentiment. As a whole, the combination was well matched, from a high-compression and free-breathing top end to a mandatory 3.91 gear/four-speed tandem that made the Cleveland powerplant sing. Also working in the Boss' dragstrip favor was the low 2.78 First gear in its wide-ratio Top Loader, a softer bottom end that made launching the car easier than many big-blocks, and a good-size footprint via Firestone or Goodyear F60-15s.
Not to rain on the parade of middle Boss fans, but as we've reviewed no less than nine tests of the day, we see the majority of 13-second timeslips were obtained with cars-often the same press car-fitted with aftermarket headers. Car Craft's Mar. '71 test (13.74) even mentions its Boss was prepped by Stroppe's shop, with at least Doug Thorley headers and Superior Industries rear stabilizer springs. Additionally, it states, "We also suspected the engine had been romanced." So equipped, the same car as tested by Hot Rod's Steve Kelly eventually worked down to a best of 13.58 by bypassing the rev-limiter and uncorking the headers. Motor Trend's 13.80 (Jan. '71) and Road Test's 13.98 (Mar. '71) were also obtained on test cars with headers-impressive, but simply not stock. Still, two tests stand out as achieving the coveted 13-second timeslip in stock form: the Mar. '71 issue of Super Stock (13.93) and the Feb. '71 issue of Car and Driver (13.90). Interestingly, the Car and Driver evaluation noted, "You'll probably never find a stock Boss 351 that's any quicker than the test car. It had been specially prepared by Ford engineering for an East Coast press preview." While Car and Driver officially listed its e.t. at New York National Speedway as 14.10 at 100.6, the magazine explained its test pilot scored the 13.90 when using "the approved Ronnie Sox method of driving, which is to say wide-open throttle shifts." Perhaps Car and Driver had a policy of not listing its best e.t. when it involved abusive tactics?
'71 BOSS 351
• 11:1 compression ratio
• Standard wide-ratio four-speed
• Standard 3.91 Trac-Lok
• Standard 15x7-inch rims, F60-15 tires
• Standard ram-air
• High-flow canted-valve cylinder heads
• Modest bottom-end torque makes for easier drag launches
• Well-executed package
• Heavier than we'd like
• Cubic-inch challenged
Period Tests: '71 Boss 351
Jan. '71 Motor Trend, 13.8 at 104 mph, PS/PDB, noted aftermarket headers
Feb. '71 Car and Driver, 13.9 at 102, PS/PDB, AM/FM stereo, appears stock
Feb. '71 Hot Rod, 13.80 at 105, PS/PDB, same car as Mar. '71 Car Craft test, meaning Stroppe prepared with headers/stabilizer springs. HR disconnected rev limiter allowing 6,500-rpm shifts, text by Steve Kelly
Mar. '71 Car Craft, 13.74 at 104, PS/PDB, Bill Stroppe prepared with Doug Thorley headers, Superior Industries rear stabilizer springs, text by Ro McGonegal
Mar. '71 High Performance CARS, mentions testing two similarly equipped Boss 351s, one with 3.90 gears (3.91), best of 14.02 at 103; the other with 4.10s (4.11s), best of 14.12 at 102. No mention of modifications, however, the 3.91 car appears to be the Mar. '71 Car Craft tester, meaning Stroppe-prepared headers/stabilizer springs
Mar. '71 Popular Hot Rodding, 13.76 at 103, PS/PDB, equipped with Doug Thorley headers and traction bars
Mar. '71 Road Test, 13.98 at 104, PS, Bill Stroppe prepared with Doug's headers, suspected to be the same car as CC/HR/CARS/SCG tester
Mar. '71 Sports Car Graphic, 14.7 at 96, PS/PDB, states same modified car as tested by Hot Rod
Mar. '71 Super Stock, 13.93 at 101, PS/PDB, AM/eight-track, appears stock, testing included "all of the usual tricks"
Anyone surprised by the presence of another '71? You shouldn't be: Particularly in Super Cobra Jet form, the engine itself is arguably the most potent of our four in stock form.
Consider the 11.3:1 compression ratio, 780 Holley, and solid-lifter cam; then combine it with the 3.91 or 4.11 cogs that dictated the SCJ-this is a car that warrants respect. Unfortunately, it also suffers from being the portliest machine in our quartet of contenders. The 429 engine itself weighs about 200 pounds more than a 351C, a reality reflected in Sports Car Graphic's Oct. '70 test that reported a 3,936-pound test weight. Nevertheless, the potency of a 429-powered '71 should not be underestimated.
Of the five '71 Mustang big-block tests we could uncover, all were CJ cars rather than the top-of-the-line SCJ. That's a shame, because the performance difference between the two engine combinations ought to be significant. The quickest e.t. we reviewed was a barely 13-second 13.97 at 100 mph, a Super Stock magazine test of an automatic- and A/C-equipped Mach 1 with an unknown gear ratio. On the surface, a single test endorsing the '71 as a 13-second performer isn't particularly inspiring, yet we're confident the SCJ version could get the job done. For an inkling of what a '71 SCJ Mustang might be capable of, be sure to check out our highlight of a period '70 SCJ Torino test in the "Intermediate Reinforcements" sidebar.
• Cubic inches
• Lofty 11.3:1 compression ratio
• High-flow canted-valve cylinder heads
• Optional 15x7-inch rims, F60-15 tires
• SCJ version sports a 780-cfm Holley, solid-lifter cam, forged pistons, and oil cooler
• Heaviest of the bunch-oink oink
• Easily handicapped with poor gear-ratio selection and optional equipment such as AC and so on
Period Tests: '71 Boss 429CJ
Sept. '70 Road Test, 14.43 at 99 mph, '71 Mach 1, 429CJ/four-speed/ 4.11 Detroit Locker, PS/PDB/PW, F70-14s, stated to be a production-ready prototype. While mention of 4.11s would imply an SCJ, it appears to be a CJ per several mentions of the 370hp engine (elsewhere explains SCJ is 375 hp) and lack of an oil cooler. Appears to be the same car as the Oct. '70 Sports Car Graphic tester-clearly a CJ car
Oct. '70 SCG, 14.6 at 99, '71 Mach 1, 429CJ/CR four-speed/3.50, PS/PDB, F70-14s, appears stock
Jan. '71 MT, 14.61 at 96.8, '71 Mach 1, 429CJ/AT/3.25, AC/PDB, F60-15s, appears stock
Feb. '71 SS, 13.97 at 100, '71 Mach 1, 429CJ/AT/unknown gear ratio, AC/PS/PDB/PW, AM/FM stereo, G60-15s, appears stock
Apr. '71 High Performance CARS, 14.15 at 102, '71 Mach 1, 429CJ/AT/3.91 Trac-Lok, AC/PS/PDB, AM/FM stereo, appears stock, yet despite 3.91 gears, states not an SCJ car. We wonder if Ford swapped in the deeper gearset for testing purposes?
Now that you have an overview of all the tests we reviewed, you can see that declaring an out-and-out winner is no easy task. As we stated early in the story, perhaps this is better approached as a process of elimination. If so, the first to fall from grace is the Boss 429 as it simply didn't crack the 13s in stock form in any test we could find. Were we voting for the Mustang with the most performance potential, it would be a different story, but we're talking stock production here, and the simple fact is that the Boss 429 wasn't the quickest.
With three candidates still standing, let's consider the car we know the least about from the data compiled-the '71 Mustang 429. While just one of our period tests support these cars as legit 13-second performers, it's important to note that none of the '71 429 tests had the benefit of top-gun SCJ equipment. Given the maximum performance nature of the Boss cars, it's inherently unfair to compare the '71 big-blocks in any form other than their nastiest, yet it's something we simply don't have the data to do.
In light of the fact that the two fastest 429 times (13.97 and 14.15) were turned in by loaded, air-conditioned CJs, we feel the absence of more 13-second timeslips is simply due to a lack of SCJ testing. The real question is, how far into the 13s would such a car likely go? Could it be that the 429SCJ Mustang is really the sleeper of the bunch, discredited in large part due to ignorance and a lack of media coverage back in the day? The '70 SCJ Torino test mentioned elsewhere in this piece might make one think so, yet we're resistant to extrapolate data from this single test of a different model and claim it representative of our subject matter here. Nevertheless, the potential of the '71 SCJ is obvious and well deserving of its role as one of our top three competitors.
From there, more serious consideration for the quickest title is hampered by an approximate 3,900-pound weight that conspires to limit the performance of any big-block '71. With a general rule of thumb being that every 100 pounds is worth a tenth of a second in e.t., the weight issue ultimately compels us to downplay this platform as the strongest candidate for vintage-Mustang supremacy. No doubt some readers will disagree with this opinion, but in the absence of supporting data, opinion is all anyone has to offer. We move on to our remaining competitors with this parting thought: Those who squared off against a sharp-edged '71 429SCJ back in the day needed to be on top of their game.
And then there were two. Our finalists for the title of quickest stock classic Mustang are as close to neck and neck as you'd likely get, and in the end would almost assuredly come down to driver skill and track conditions. Our period editors (see Editor's Choice sidebar) are even split on the issue, which should tell us plenty. Regardless, let's take a look at some pertinent considerations and see if our data points to an edge for either the Boss 351 or 428CJ.
If crowning a winner was based on all-around performance, the Boss 351 would clearly take the cake, being an able handler as well as a straight-line performer. Were the winner to be determined by being the biggest overachiever, likewise the Boss would get the nod, for it's midsize displacement clearly puts it into the role of underdog. These aren't our criteria however, and what the 428CJ has going for it is what is normally a huge predictor of quarter-mile supremacy-we're talking power-to-weight ratio, or in this instance, cubic inches to weight. There's no need to tell you the Boss is down on displacement, but at somewhere just north of 3,700 pounds, the Boss 351 is also disadvantaged in the weight department compared to many 428-powered Mustangs. Sure, certain high-content Shelbys and CJ Mach 1s could exceed the weight of the 351 by a small margin, yet many others were trimmer on the order of 100-300 pounds. As already discussed, even this seemingly minimal difference is an important consideration.
Now let's take one final look at the extensive list of tests we reviewed. Throughout, Boss 351s proved consistently quick, and with the only anomaly of a Sports Car Graphic (Mar. '71) 14.7, all other e.t.'s hovered in the 14.0s and marginally better. Likewise, most 428CJ performances were in this same zone. Perhaps we're splitting hairs here, but beyond the ominous 13.56 in the Mar. '68 Hot Rod, we can see four other "stock" CJ tests (13.69, 13.73, 13.86, 13.87) which better the "stock" Boss (13.90, 13.93) by an admittedly narrow margin-again, pointing to driver skill as the likeliest influence on the outcome of a duel between these two factory supercars. We won't shy away from the tough choice, however, and bet on the lightest-possible 428 Mustang to take a Boss 351 on most days. It's important to acknowledge that most 428s weren't stripper models at all, so the more typical middleweight CJ Mach 1 versus Boss 351 face-off would be an honest-to-goodness dogfight.
In the end, rather than cause division within our own ranks by pumping a hands-down winner, we submit that our study highlights several Dearborn offerings capable of showing GM and Mopar a pair of distinctive tri-bar taillights. Each of our candidates has its own strengths and weaknesses, hold a unique place in Mustang's history, and have developed a group of faithful followers. In this light, we really have no losers here, but rather winners all around.
The question was simple. We asked three former magazine staffers which of our four candidates they'd pick to drive in a grudge match-in completely stock form, of course. The individuals we queried aren't simply a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys who know more about cars from what they've read in a book. Eric Dahlquist, Steve Kelly, and Ro McGonegal have the kind of hands-on experience that precious few possess. All three were magazine staffers in the heyday of the muscle era, hammering many of the cars in question long before any collector was worried about ruining their precious matching-numbers via a rod through the block. Editor bios and thoughts are as follows:
As mentioned earlier, Eric Dahlquist is best known in Ford circles as the author of the Nov. '67 Hot Rod article on Tasca's KR8, along with the famous first test of a '6811/42 CJ Mustang in Hot Rod's Mar. '68 issue. A lifelong high-performance nut, Dahlquist was a competitive drag racer from 1957 to 1975 and Hot Rod's feature editor and primary test pilot from 1964 to 1968. Dahlquist switched to a similar post with Motor Trend in 1968, eventually working his way into the editor's chair before departing in 1975. Since leaving the magazine biz, Dahlquist has been the main man behind the Vista Group, an automotive public relations and product-placement company, which he runs today with his two sons.
Dahlquist offered to converse with us on the phone rather than put his thoughts on paper, and when queried about his feelings on our candidates for the fastest vintage Mustang in stock form, he wasted little time in picking the '6811/42 Cobra Jet Mustang. Perhaps this choice is no surprise from the guy whose original synopsis of the CJ test went like this: "The Cobra Jet will be the utter delight of every Ford lover and the bane of all the rest because, quite frankly, it is the fastest running Pure Stock in the history of man."
Of course, early 1968 was the leading edge of a musclecar juggernaut that wouldn't end until 1971, but the fact remains that the CJ left a mighty impression on Dahlquist. In our recent conversation, he explains: "The original CJ Mustang was a simple, very light car, also very predictable and repeatable as opposed to something like a Hemi. It was a great car to go round after round of eliminations because it would continue to run consistently." Dahlquist says he would equip his ride as lightly as possible because "weight is a penalty no matter what you're doing with a car," and the '68 body is as light as they come. Additionally, Dahlquist would go with 3.91 gears and a four-speed, suspiciously similar to the 3.89/four-speed combo he raved about back in the day.
Steve Kelly and Eric Dahlquist's experiences at Peterson Publishing were almost a mirror image, as Kelly started with Motor Trend in 1965, then went to Hot Rod in 1968 as Dahlquist headed to Motor Trend. Kelly stayed at Hot Rod for about five years, testing and writing about many of the best cars made during the heyday of the musclecar. Kelly left the staff job for freelancing and a book deal and eventually found himself in a variety of sales and marketing positions, primarily for import brands such as Mazda and Honda, the latter being his employer for the last decade. Don't think Kelly has strayed to the dark side however, as he counts a '29 Model A roadster with a late-'50s Hemi as his pride and joy. His thoughts are as follows:
"The 428 CJ Mustang in any form was a quarter-mile killer. If I were to spec it, the car would have an automatic and a 3.91 gear. With some practice in both driving and selecting shift points, this car would easily be the quickest, with the 3.91s keeping wheelspin to a minimum (compared to 4.30s). The 428 motor had just a ton of low-end torque and would be easy to break loose without judicious use of the throttle. There were times when I would get the best low end by simply putting the car against the automatic with a build up of gas-pedal pressure, roll out easily, and within five feet or so, just slam it to the floor. Shift points could be varied, but 6,000 was too high. It would really jump when shifted about the mid-5,000 mark. That engine was supreme on torque."
As one of the senior members of the automotive enthusiast press, Ro McGonegal needs little introduction to those who've long read a variety of high-performance car mags. His first gig was fresh out of college as an associate editor at Super Stock & Drag Illustrated from September 1968 to September 1969; then it was on to Car Craft through 1976, Hot Rod until 1978, and various Motor Trend posts until 1991. Ro was back at Hot Rod from 1996 to 2003 and then served as editor of Chevy High Performance into 2005. Today he uses his considerable talents as a freelancer on a variety of titles, and his recollections are invaluable to our study.
"Eric asked if I would record flashbacks, but all this stuff is wrapped in overcoats of moldy gauze. Immediately though feebly, I glommed the '6811/42 Mustang 428CJ as the ultimate pure stocker but quickly deemed it invalid because I never drove one. I can remember driving four Ford Motor press vehicles in the heyday: a '69 Shelby GT500, a '69 Boss 429, a '69 Cyclone CJ, and a '71 Boss 351. Pin me down, huh? Make mine the Boss 351.
"I drove our Car Craft 'project' Boss 351 for about a month and thoroughly enjoyed it, the Hurst shifter in particular. In the story I wrote for CC, I praised its well-balanced nature and its mighty similarities to the LT1 Z28. I took the car from Bill Stroppe's guys after a dog-and-pony show at the old Orange County Raceway-not an auspicious beginning. Stroppe had already installed prototype Doug Thorley headers (171/48x34 inches) and Superior Industries helper springs to staunch axle windup. Somewhere along the line, the Boss lost its OE-steel rolling stock and acquired Motor Wheel Spyder wheels and Goodyear F60-15s that were heavier than what we took off-I think we were on some ad guy's agenda.
"The Boss was a pragmatic package. The thing would break into the 13s bone stock. Our car (with mods) ran a best of 13.74 at 104. Even in those days of cheap gasoline and no political correctness, the lights on the musclecar midway were getting dim and the dyno cells had all gone cold. Given the change in climate, I thought the relatively rare Boss 351 made a lot of sense-and I was a die-hard Chevy geek."
While we all relish the heyday of the most muscled Mustangs, it's important to note that legitimate high performance preceded the big-engine/midsize formula that generally defines the musclecar. Prior to 1966, it was the fullsize Fords that offered the premium performance powerplants (T-bolt- type specials aside), arguably sporting some of the best hardware of the decade. To be specific, we're referring to the 406- and 427-powered production cars from 1962 to 1967, though most often found during 1962-1964. At least two publications (Car Life and Hot Rod) tested the '65 R-code 427 Galaxie with similar results, and we dug into the April '65 Hot Rod to find some surprising numbers.
Hot Rod was flattering to the performance of the 425-horse-rated dual-quad mill, believing it to be "a strong contender for AA/Stock honors at the strip." Packing the mandatory four-speed trans and weighing 3,900 pounds with manual brakes and steering, the 3.50-geared Galaxie turned a 14.93 at 102 with help from a set of sticky and smaller-diameter Casler "cheater slicks." Removing the cooling fan and disconnecting the exhaust from the cast-iron manifolds netted a best effort of 14.43 at 108. Surprised? It's worth mentioning that Hot Rod was pleased with the performance and went on to tout the Galaxie's potential by noting the '65 Winternationals AA/S victory by Mike Schmitt in his Desert Motors-sponsored '65-a 12.77 at 114.77 mph.
If nothing else, the 427 Galaxie test is indicative of the rapidly escalating performance environ that Detroit was creating during the mid-to-late '60s. Frankly, what was competitive one year was apt to be an also-ran the next. With slicks, the stock 427 Galaxie was running high 14s, while just 3-6 years later, intermediates and ponycars-some nearly as heavy-were readily beating these times with automatic transmissions, power accessories, air conditioning, and less exotic powerplants. For the record, it's important to note that Hot Rod tested an early '65 Low-Riser car, which was supplanted by the superior Medium-Riser 427 a short time later.
In looking to reinforce our thoughts about the fastest Mustangs, we also perused tests of several corporate intermediates to see if their performance was consistent with their ponycar brethren. Obviously we could do this only with our Cobra Jet tandem as the Boss motors were limited to Mustang sheetmetal. The results were in line with the Mustang tests, with Eric Dahlquist scoring a 13.86 at 102 in a C6/4.11-equipped '6811/42 428CJ Cyclone (Aug. '68 Motor Trend, colder than stock plugs, and accessory belts removed), while Steve Kelly ran 14.23 at 101 for Hot Rod (Apr. '70) in a '70 Cyclone 429CJ with C6 and 3.50 gears.
Perhaps most notable of the intermediate tests we reviewed was the Super Stock test of a '70 Torino Cobra with 429SCJ and C6, believed to have 3.91s in the pumpkin. The magazine was duly impressed, titling the article "The 'Real' Boss 429 Is Here!" The car eventually wrung out a 13.63 at 106 with a super tune that was limited to tweaking the stock 780 Holley and dual-point distributor. With big-block Torinos hovering around the 4,000-pound mark depending on equipment, the 429SCJ clearly made fantastic power.
Feb. '68 SSDI, 13.52 at 105 mph, '68-1/2 Torino GT, 428CJ/AT/3.89 limited slip, PS/PDB/PW, AM/FM stereo, F70-14s, w/loose belts and no air cleaner, prototype claimed to be stock-and you thought Hot Rod's '68-1/2 Mustang test seemed optimistic.
Aug. '68 MT, 13.86 at 101, '6811/42 Cyclone, 428CJ/AT/4.11, PS/PDB, F70-14s, had colder plugs and accessory belts removed, 14.12 at 99 bone stock, text by Eric Dahlquist
Mar. '70 SSDI, 13.63 at 106, '70 Torino Cobra, 429SCJ/AT/3.91, PS/PDB, F60-15s
Apr. '70 HR, 14.23 at 101, '70 Cyclone, 429CJ/AT/3.50 Trac-Lok, PS/PDB, G70-14s, text by Steve Kelly
Wanting to be completely up front, it should be known that author Eric English is a longtime owner of a '68-1/2 CJ Mustang. Some readers may jump to the conclusion that our story is therefore biased, but clearly Eric has gone to great lengths to fairly evaluate each and every model in our study and demonstrates a logical analysis and healthy respect for all high-performance Mustangs. Eric says his opinion wouldn't change were he to own the slowest stocker in our group, the Boss 429, and suggests any Boss 429 owner thinking otherwise should offer to trade him cars as proof. -Mark Houlahan
Determining the pertinent magazine tests to review wasn't the toughest part of assembling this story-actually getting my hands on them proved another issue altogether. Making a huge contribution to the cause was M&F Editor Mark Houlahan and Barb Thompson of the National Automotive History Collection/Detroit Public Library. Without the help of these two saints, I'd probably still be hunting down the necessary materials. Another big "thank you" goes to Eric Dahlquist, Steve Kelly, and Ro McGonegal, whose mark on this story is particularly appreciated. -Eric English
Some readers might be surprised to learn that the legendary '67 and '68 GT500s didn't make the quickest Mustang cut in our analysis. The fact is, nowhere could we find a vintage road test in which either year 428 Police Interceptor- powered Shelby even threatened to break into the 13s in stock form, whereas Cobra Jet-powered '68 KRs and '69s were routinely close. That's not to say that with a few tweaks the '67-'68 GT500s couldn't be right with the others, but it's plain to see that in stock form, the CJ was worth several tenths.
Another interesting observation we noted about Shelby's PI cars were the similar e.t.'s, which the dual-quad '67s and single-four '68 GT500s demonstrated. While twin Holleys would in some cases be superior, the cam and exhaust on the '67s seemed to limit their effectiveness.
While the Boss 429 Mustang generally didn't live up to expectations, some enthusiasts of the day gave it a shot with mixed results. Hi-Performance CARS magazine ran an enlightening story in its Nov. '69 issue, reporting on a stock class Boss 429 campaigned out of Tom Larkin Ford in Flat Rock, Michigan. The story diagnosed some of the 429's maladies, reporting sloppy blueprint specs, the mismatched S-motor juice cam, and a poorly functioning hoodscoop that actually hindered performance. In addition to common drag modifications such as spring and shock alterations, the Larkin Boss was fitted with 4.71 gears, JR headers, a full engine blueprint, and the T-motor solid-lifter cam.
These mods helped the Boss, running in B/Stock, to 12.09 at 118.21 on slicks, with more development still to come. The magazine mentioned the class record of 11.85 at 119 held by a '67 427 Fairlane, so the effort still faced an uphill climb.
Interestingly, this same article explained the B/Stock classification was due to an NHRA 435hp refactoring for Boss 429s with the T-motor solid cam, while at the same time dropping S-motor hydraulic cam cars to 370 hp (5 hp less than advertised) and a C/Stock assignment-where 428CJ cars were fierce competitors. CARS reported the Larkin Boss picked up nearly a half second on e.t. by ditching the factory air-cleaner assembly-the stock ram-air system proving so ineffective that it actually starved the engine. This was a real handicap in that NHRA rules didn't allow for aftermarket designs, while other cars in its class had effective scoops-not to mention more compression and carburetion, limited by class rules as well. In the end, it appears the Boss 429 Mustang fell victim to what it was-a homologation effort to get the engine legalized for NASCAR racing. Make no mistake, the engine was a major success in that venue and a big contributor to Ford winning the '69 Grand National championship. Had Ford devoted the time and effort to develop the Boss as a street or NHRA Stock and Super Stock competitor, there's no telling what its credo could've been. Clearly the basis for a monster performer was in place-the supporting hardware sadly failed it.
Here's another can of worms, but one we'll take a look at anyway. First off, we're not even going to consider specially constructed racers such as the factory '65 A/FX Mustangs as the gist of this story is street cars. So how about a wolf in sheep's clothing, perhaps best defined by the '64 Thunderbolt? We'll pass on it for this discussion as well since there's simply no doubt the T-bolt was a thinly veiled racer to the core. For what it's worth, though, we uncovered a T-bolt test in the Feb. '64 issue of Hot Rod, where Butch Leal ran an early Mickey Thompson four-speed car to 11.61 at 124.88, with the implication of nothing more than cheater slicks. It's interesting to note the weight of the car was 3,228 pounds with a full tank of fuel.
Now we come to another car of some debate, the 427 Cobra-certainly not a musclecar in the true sense of the word, but arguably a production car that could be obtained by a well-heeled John Q. Public. Perhaps the most famous test of the 427 Cobra was documented by Brock Yates in the Nov. '65 issue of Car and Driver, which reported a quarter-mile run of 12.2 at 118 mph. Years later, our sister magazine Musclecar Review interviewed both Yates and then-Editor David E. Davis in regards to the circumstances of the test. The consensus was that the 12.2 e.t. was obtained by Shelby American in the absence of Car and Driver staffers, so little is known about the configuration of the car that laid down the remarkable numbers. Yates reported that Car and Driver was never able to achieve this same performance in later years, though Musclecar Review's own test of a correct 427 netted an easy 12.56 at 117 on street tires. With just 2,390 pounds to haul around, it's hard to believe any traditional musclecar could equal the Cobra's performance, so if you're looking for a Ford production-car crown, we'd argue this is it.