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1969 Ford Fairlane Cobra - The Other Cobra
Ford's MidSize RocketShip Was A Powerful Response To Detroit's Crowded And Competitive Musclecar Field
The musclecar wars of the late '60s were nothing to take lightly. They didn't just happen on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and Van Nuys Boulevard in Southern California, they happened from coast-to-coast. Scores were settled on isolated stretches of highway and drag strips all over the nation. Sometimes Ford won; sometimes Chevrolet won. And sometimes it was another nameplate entirely. Much of it depended on who was in better tune on a given night. it was great fun to watch from the cheap seats.
Ford's midsize Torinos and Fairlanes with big-block power were at the center of the musclecar wars, even though the Mustang gets a lot of the credit. Many of these Ford and Mercury intermediates had the 390 High Performance V-8, which, in modified form, lived up to its High Performance name. However, the 428 Cobra Jet, with its greater stroke and larger bores, delivered something the 390 could not-abundant torque right out of the box.
In 1974, Don Pendziwiater had just sold his '64 Galaxie XL hardtop and was looking for another toy to keep him on the streets. His brother, who worked for a local Ford dealer, called to tell him about a Fairlane Cobra that had just been traded in. the country was in the midst of the Arab oil embargo and doubling fuel prices. This would not have been an easy car for the Ford dealer to sell. Don ran down to the dealership and snapped it up for a daily driver. Eventually, the car wound up as a full-time IHRA drag racer in the late '70s and '80s. In time, it became too costly to race, and Don put it back on the street.
This is Ford's '69 Fairlane Cobra. A lot of us tend to call them Torino Cobras, which didn't happen until 1970. In 1969, they were Fairlane Cobras, available in fastback or notchback form-sharp-looking rides with plenty of room inside.
Only one powerplant was available: the 335-horse, 428ci, Cobra Jet FE-series big-block, with a choice of either the Top Loader four-speed or C6 Select-Shift. Like the Mustang, you had a wide selection of axle ratios ranging from 3.25:1 to 4.30:1. If you opted for the 3.91:1 or 4.30:1 with Traction-Lok, you got the Drag Pack option with an oil cooler and the 428 Super Cobra Jet.
Don's Cobra is dipped in liberal layers of Ford's Black Jade for 1969, expertly applied by Rich Wright. This is a deep ivy-green metallic color that leaves us wondering where the "black" part comes in. Nonetheless, fresh and restored, it's a beautiful color in the sunlight. When you lay down the gold appointments, Black Jade comes alive, striking and rich in appearance. The 428 Cobra Jet hoodscoop isn't just an add-on doodad, it is a functional ram-air system that opens to the slipstream at wide-open throttle.
We like the slippery Torino/Fairlane fastback roofline inspired by NASCAR. Not only did it function well on the superspeedways long ago, it still looks fast today just sitting in the driveway. This is the Fairlane Cobra as it came from the Lorain, Ohio, assembly plant.
Those 14-inch styled steel wheels, which first appeared in 1968, are as at home today as they were in 1968-1969. They accent the body nicely, wrapped in period Goodyear Polyglas GT bias-belted tires.
Don tells us the greatest challenge in restoring this car was finding the right parts. Unlike the Mustang, the Fairlane doesn't have a wealth of reproduction parts, so Don had to look for used or new-old-stock parts.
Thirty years ago, owning a car like this was about bolting on aftermarket parts and going faster. Today, it is more about appreciating the way these midsize Fords rolled off the assembly line. As this car stands in 2005, we find ourselves admiring its many nuances. The way the roofline blends into the tailpanel is pleasing to the eye. Those twin-set headlights mounted in the horizontal grille say "Ford" without us even seeing the nameplate. The rich Fairlane 500 interior with bucket seats speaks of sporty luxury, but with a strong hint of an atmosphere for the common man, like we could light up a cigarette or wolf down a burger and fries without much concern for the vinyl. The way the gold wraps around the Black Jade makes this a Fairlane to catch the eye just about anywhere it goes.
The Fairlane Cobra was a nice exclamation point toward the end of an era most of us fortunate enough to have lived through will never forget. For Don Pendziwiater, it is certainly a wonderful musclecar memory he gets to relive anytime the Pennsylvania climate permits.