Jim Smart
January 1, 2001
Photos By: Chuck James

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Who can argue with the success of the Mustang at the '68 and '69 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California? Certainly not us, because the history books (and NHRA records) have been speaking for themselves for more than 30 years. In 1968 Ford's secret weapon--the 335hp 428 Cobra Jet big-block--made its debut in the Mustang at Pomona, eclipsing the competition.

The 428 Cobra Jet was born of Bob Tasca's desire to win. Bob Tasca needs little introduction with longtime Ford buffs. But if you're just tuning in, Bob Tasca's Ford dealership in Providence (now Tasca Lincoln-Mercury) was quite active in drag racing back in the '60s. In his desire to win, Bob developed a number of powerful ideas for his Ford race cars, including the '64 427 Thunderbolt Fairlane factory drag car that stood NHRA Super Stock on its ear throughout the '60s. Development began with a 427-powered '63 Fairlane hardtop that Bob campaigned in the Northeast. Ford liked Bob's idea and pressed the thundering, big-little sedan concept into production for a limited number of lucky buyers. The T-bolt Fairlane was a smashing success.

It's safe to say that Bob pioneered the 428 Cobra Jet V-8 using off-the-shelf parts from the Ford parts bin. He took the FE-series 428ci big-block engine--already available as an option in the Galaxie and Shelby Mustangs--and topped it with a 427 medium-riser intake manifold for eye-opening performance. The 428 had one main feature going for it: stroke--a long stroke good for outstanding low- and midrange torque. But it was not a high revver like the big-bore, short-stroke 427. Because the 428 wasn't a high-rpm powerplant, it would prove a reliable drag-racing engine capable of excellent quarter-mile times in the lightweight Mustang. It would be able to deliver run after run and come back for more.

Ford took Bob's idea and further developed it with a stronger block, similar head castings, and a more aggressive hydraulic lifter camshaft to conceive the 428 Cobra Jet. What hurt the Cobra Jet's development was an ugly United Auto Workers strike that shut down Ford during the fall of '67. Development of the Cobra Jet didn't really get underway until December of that year, with the production of a couple of Mustang test mules, then the limited-production run of 50 Wimbledon White fastbacks produced strictly for NHRA competition. Some of those fastbacks were shipped to professional drag racers, such as "Dyno" Don Nicholson, Hubert Platt, and Gas Ronda, as an opening salvo for the '68 season. These gentlemen went to the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona with their fastbacks and earned Ford some respect.

Wendell Malmberg's '68-1/2 Cobra Jet Mustang GT fastback is a gleaming example of what renewed Ford's respect on the street in 1968. This is exactly what the Bow Tie boys saw on the streets of Salt Lake City, where this Mustang was delivered new in the spring of '68. It's a concours restoration, right down to the Goodyear Polyglas bias-belted tires. That's Meadowlark Yellow--the original color--carefully applied by Mike Coble, who also laid down the striking black graphics.

Inside, it's all business with a black standard interior, an 8,000-rpm tachometer, a 140-mph speedometer with a trip odometer, a console, and a Philco AM radio. Underneath is a Top Loader four-speed and a 9-inch Traction-Lok differential with the correct 3.50 gears. Beneath the bonnet is the mill that made this Mustang famous: the twisty 428 Cobra Jet engine, yielding a 4.13-inch bore and a long 3.98-inch stroke. That's nearly 4 inches of stroke, which means boatloads of torque where it counts at a traffic light or down at the dragstrip. All of this quickly gets momentum going.

The 428 Cobra Jet story is more than just stroke, though. Large 2.08-inch intake and 1.65-inch exhaust valves provide airflow o'plenty, which enables the bore and stroke to do their jobs. Shaft-mounted rocker arms with a 1.73:1 ratio intensify camshaft attitude for increased valve lift. A Cobra Jet-specific block with heavier main bearing webs keeps the bottom end contained during wide-open throttle. Even the "IU" nodular-iron crankshaft is Cobra Jet- and Police Interceptor-specific. What may surprise you are the connecting rods, which are also common to the 427. Summing up the Cobra Jet is simple. It's a fiercely reliable high-performance V-8 a person could live with on a daily basis, because it has a stable idle and crisp performance. Yet it can crack healthy quarter-mile times in the 14-second range. Not bad for a '60s musclecar.

When you wrap a powerplant, such as this one, inside a slippery fastback like Wendell's--that has been restored to perfection--it makes a person want to saddle up and be seen behind the wheel on a Saturday night. Not to make trouble on Main Street, you understand, but to leave people fondly remembering an era of brute muscle and the no-holds-barred thinking that Detroit was famous for in the fabulous '60s.