Jim Smart
January 1, 2000
Photos By: Tom Rounds

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P86608_large 1968_Ford_Mustang_Cobra_Jet Front_Passenger_SideP86610_large 1968_Ford_Mustang_Cobra_Jet Rear_Driver_SideP86611_large 1968_Ford_Mustang_Cobra_Jet EngineP86612_large 1968_Ford_Mustang_Cobra_Jet InteriorP86613_large 1968_Ford_Mustang_Cobra_Jet Interior_Dashboard

Eric English smiles when he speaks of his first Mustang: "It was 1967 when my parents gave me a Mustang pedal car for Christmas. It was my first Mustang, so to speak." In addition to the pedal car variety, the Mustang Eric remembers being fond of as a youth was the Wimbledon White '68-1/2 Cobra Jet hardtop. "My history with this particular Mustang dates back to the early '70s when, as a grade-school boy, I would frequently see it parked at a local grocery store..." says Eric. He liked the hoodscoop, the masculine profile, and the power.

When Eric was cruising around in his first car, a well-worn '68 Mustang hardtop, he read all the Mustang literature he could get his hands on, including Mustang Monthly. At the time, he read that the 428 Cobra Jet engine was available only in fastbacks. Based on what we know today, this simply isn't true. During the early '80s, Eric wondered about the white hardtop with the hoodscoop. He would soon learn that the experts who wrote the books were wrong.

Eric took a closer look at the white hardtop shown here, with its hoodscoop, '69 Mustang wheel covers, and the VIN--8F01R173082. He struck up a conversation with its owner, a woman who lived nearby. She mentioned its racing history with a Walnut Creek, California, Ford dealer where she and her husband bought the car in 1969. Shortly after purchasing the car, she and her husband moved to the Seattle area where Eric lives today. When Eric discovered the Mustang, it was powered by a 289 engine--not the original and certainly correct 428 Cobra Jet. The 428 was ditched for the 289 in the pursuit of fuel economy. And one other thing--the car was not for sale. Despite the absence of the original CJ mill, Eric watched over the R-Code hardtop for the next eight years.

You can imagine Eric's shock when he discovered the car was for sale after the couple learned it needed a lot of expensive suspension work. Eric nearly lost out on the opportunity to buy the car when the local Ford dealer's service department was working up the estimate. The service manager knew what the car was and was determined to buy it. Through a generous twist of fate, the service manager was busy when the woman arrived to pick up the Mustang. A preoccupied service manager missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime; Eric was there with the cash and enthusiasm.

Eric understood the significance of the Cobra Jet hardtop. Based on conversations he had with the Walnut Creek, California, Ford dealer service technician who remembered the Mustang from 1968, Eric learned the race driver was Wayne Torkelson, a Ford service technician and well-known drag racer. Rett-White Ford, as it was known in 1968, was well connected with Ford Motor Company--thank goodness. The connection enabled the dealership to acquire the groovy iron to race and win with, which bolstered Ford's reputation regionally. All it took was a phone call to acquire a '68-1/2 Cobra Jet hardtop for drag racing. Campaigning a CJ hardtop would certainly get the dealership needed attention.

When the car was delivered to Rett-White, it had the mandated GT Equipment Group, but was void of GT C-stripes--a stripe delete, if you will. The radio also was deleted. The car was originally a dollar car--sold to Wayne for just $1 to campaign and use as he so desired. Rett-White pulled the factory CJ engine and installed a race-prepared Cobra Jet, C6, ladder bars, manual front drum brakes for reduced rolling resistance, a racy paint scheme, and more. The result was a nasty hardtop capable of quarter-mile times in the 11s--not bad.

Wayne soon moved on to other types of race cars, leaving the Cobra Jet hardtop behind. The car was stripped of its racing graphics, repainted, outfitted with a 289 V-8, and sold off Rett-White Ford's used car lot. Eric hit pay dirt when he contacted Wayne Torkelson, who still had the original 428 Cobra Jet engine in his California garage. Because this hardtop has a unique racing history, Eric elected not to restore the car to stock. Instead, he wanted the car to remain in its as-raced condition of 1968, but with a twist. He installed Weld Pro Stars on all fours, abandoned the loud and obnoxious graphics, went heater and radio delete, and laid down the hoodstripe.

Randy Sargent of Sargent's Auto Rebuild in Duvall, Washington, applied the glistening Wimbledon White. Bliss Performance in Spanaway, Washington, built the brute Cobra Jet mill inside--a matching number block, we might add. Inside the CJ are forged 0.030-inch over TRW pistons, stainless steel valves, hardened exhaust valve seats, roller rockers, chrome-moly rocker shafts, a Crane solid lifter camshaft, a 427 Sidewinder intake manifold, 735-cfm Holley from The Carb Shop, Mallory Unilite ignition, Milodon 9-quart-deep sump oil pan, and Hooker Super Comp headers.

Eric's goal is to do some nostalgia drag racing to show today's enthusiasts what real cubic inches are all about. We're convinced he'll succeed.