Jim Smart
March 1, 2006

For 37 years, some of us have referred to these not-so-sedate Fairlanes as "Torino" Cobras, but the Torino Cobra wasn't introduced until 1970, when the Torino and Fairlane took on more of a slippery, NASCAR-inspired coke-bottle body. The Fairlane Cobra was a '69-only high-performance intermediate with one basic engine choice, the 335hp 428 Cobra Jet FE-series big-block. The 428 Cobra Jet made these hardtops and fastbacks tire-burning hotshots right off of the assembly line.

The Fairlane Cobra was all business, with a simple approach to the business of performance. It was a dressed-down ride with a taxicab interior, column shifter, horizontal-sweep speedometer, minimal instrumentation, and a lot of power. The 428 Cobra Jet engine had 735-cfm Holley carburetion with center-pivot fuel bowls. Above the Holley was a ram-air induction system that gathered high-pressure air along the hood's leading edge. The result of all this performance thinking was 440 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. That fact alone made the Cobra Jet all but unbeatable off the starting line, especially when equipped with 3.91 gears and a close-ratio four-speed.

Chuck Fisher has owned this Fairlane Cobra hardtop since 1972. He and his then-wife needed a second car. When most folks think of a second car, they think of something economical like a Maverick or Pinto, but not Chuck. Although high on fun, the '69 Fairlane Cobra was anything but economical. In addition, Chuck's friends owned GM and Chrysler musclecars, but at every turn, Chuck kept returning to Ford.

When he found this hardtop, he liked its lines and the throaty bark of the 428 CJ. The Cobra was unique because it wasn't a fastback. It had a formal roofline, making it decidedly different than the commonplace fastbacks he was used to seeing. It also had a set of slotted chrome wheels, popular in those days.

Chuck offered $1,200 but the seller wasn't biting. Because his wife loved the car so much, Chuck called again a short time later and offered $1,300. The seller took the offer and is probably kicking himself today.

Although it may be hard to believe, this Cobra was a daily driver until 1976. After an exhaust valve burned, it wasn't driven again for a long time. This kind of problem used to be common because the leaded fuels of those days dirtied up the combustion gases and oil, yielding sludge and caked-up valves, which held in heat, leading to more failures than we have ever seen with unleaded fuel.

Chuck tore down the top end of the engine in good faith, planning a valve job and a little more power, but it didn't turn out that way. The car sat without its cylinder heads and intake manifold until 1990, when his son was ready for a driver's license and the keys to the Cobra. They worked together to return the car to what it was in 1969, and it's been back on the road since 1995.

Chuck says he owes his former wife a debt of gratitude for her support when he was trying to buy this car a lifetime ago. "She was the one who fell in love with this car and told me to offer the guy more," he said. Approaching four decades later, Chuck regularly enjoys this car, driving on weekends in good weather.

With a car like this, what excites the senses is its powertrain. Not only does Chuck get to enjoy Cobra Jet power, there's nothing quite like a vintage Top Loader four-speed to get the memories rolling. It's the feel of an old-fashioned Hurst shifter, the T-handle, and the whine of First gear during hard acceleration. Those 3.50 gears give Chuck a nice compromise between all-out drag racing and good cruising ratios. Granted, this is not an ideal setup for driving an old musclecar hundreds of miles to a show. Expect to see 3,500 rpm at 70 mph with these gears, but imagine the 3.91 or 4.30 gears which were also available.

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Chuck looks at his collectible Ford musclecar with great fondness and a deep sense of relief that he didn't sell the car when fuel prices escalated during the '70s. He never lost sight of what he and his former wife loved about the car back in 1972. And that's part of the charm of a really big sting that hasn't lost its edge in 34 years.

The Details
1969 Fairlane Cobra hardtop
Owner: Chuck Fisher, {{{Avalon}}}, PA

Engine
428ci Cobra Jet V-8
4.160-inch bore, 3.980-inch stroke
Nodular-iron crankshaft
Forged I-beam connecting rods
Cast pistons
735-cfm Holley 4160 carburetor
Dual-advance single-point distributor

Transmission
Close-ratio Top Loader four-speed

Rearend
9-inch
Traction-Lok
3.50 gears

Exhaust
Factory dual exhaust

Suspension
Front: Stock coil-over upper-arm, Bendix power-assisted steering
Rear: Stock four-leaf springs

Brakes
Front: Power single-piston disc
Rear: Dual-servo drum

Wheels
Front: Steel with corporate hubcaps, 14x6
Rear: Steel with corporate hubcaps, 14x6

Tires
Front: Goodyear Polyglas bias-belted, F70x14
Rear: Goodyear Polyglas bias-belted, F70x14

Interior
Standard with AM/FM stereo

Exterior
Fairlane Cobra package with ram-air hood and Cobra graphics