February 1, 2004

Mark Babb was describing for us his '69 428 Cobra Jet Mach 1 that we'd photographed for our sister publication Mustang Monthly, when he told us about his other Jet. He was laughing with glee over his Rare Find.

The first words out of his mouth were "4.30 gears, Locker, factory all-original, still has the Ford headlights." He e-mailed pictures. Wow, the car looked sharp. We wanted to know where he dug this one up.

"In Duncanville, Texas, in a garage," he said. "It's a cool car."

"Cool" was the understatement of the year. Most Rare Finds don't just pop up in everyday conversation, as this one had. What was the story?

"I knew about the car in the '80s," Mark says. "He [the owner] just kept saying, 'Ah, I'm going to restore it. I'm going to restore it.' The typical story." Yes, we know. Everybody is going to restore, but they don't. This time, a couple decades of persistence was about to pay off.

"He works in the jet shop here in Dallas," Mark says.

The jet shop? Did Mark mean Cobra Jet?

"It's a used jet-engine overhaul shop here," Mark says. "He's a mechanic there. And, obviously, my engines go over there for overhaul." By the way, Mark is a jet-propulsion engineer for Southwest Airlines.

"One day I was walking into the shop to look at one of my jet engines," Mark says, "and he was working on it. I asked, 'Are you ever going to sell me that Cobra Jet car?' He said, 'You know what, man? My wife just wore me down last night over that car. Here's the price-take it or leave it.'"

Mark took it. The catch was, the car would have to be dug out of the family garage first. The owner of the '6811/42 fastback said it was "buried under tons of stuff" and he "hadn't seen the right side of the car in years."

Sometimes, it's amazing what is buried right there in suburbia, under our noses. "So, I go over there Saturday morning," Mark says, "and he dug it out. It still had air in the tires."

The {{{CJ}}} hadn't been started since "1980-something," added Mark.

The last registration was 1984, which back then was a false alarm. The owner procrastinated about the last time he had driven it. In reality, he had to go back to the '70s to find a time when the car was driven on the street.

"I couldn't get the thing to roll to get it on a car trailer," Mark says. "I had to drag it around the block with a pickup truck to unfreeze the brakes." Once home, Mark pulled the spark plugs and squirted oil in the cylinders. He freed up the engine so it would rotate by hand. This process took several days. Finally, when the 428 was "nice and free," Mark ran a compression check. It registered 130 psi, cold, on every cylinder.

Mark couldn't believe it. "I put the plugs back in," he says, "and I rebuilt the original 735 that was still on the thing ... and put a brand-new gas tank in it. I stabbed the starter and that thing had the nerve to spark, to come to life. Scared me to death. It ran for probably 4-5 minutes and came up to temperature. The oil pressure came up just fine and it idled like it was a brand-new car."

The odometer registered a little over 50,000 miles. Somebody put headers and a PI (Police Interceptor) manifold on the CJ. It was wearing huge 50-series tires on vintage Cragars. With all that aftermarket stuff on it, Mark was overjoyed to get the original "slotted" wheels along with the original intake and headers.

The CJ was running fine, so Mark wondered if the old car would drive. He laughed as he told us the story.

"I got in that thing and put it in low gear, and down the road I went. Now, I've never driven a car with 4.30 gears and a Locker before, and it was a handful. Like in the middle of Second or Third gear-stand on it and you can't go around a curve. It just goes straight!" Mark put about 10 miles on it without so much as the engine getting hot. He has registered the car and is going to restore it.