Dale Amy
August 1, 2009

Few investing their valuable time to read this magazine would disagree that each and every '68½ 428 Cobra Jet Mustang was something special in the rich history of the world's first and foremost ponycar. The mid-year advent of the Cobra Jet engine option, with its notoriously underrated 335 horsepower and effortless long-stroke torque, firmly and decisively ended any doubts about the Mustang's ability to show its taillights to the competition-on or off the racetrack. And while many of us likely remember the earliest CJs mainly for their dragstrip exploits and successes, it's easy to forget what a civilized street package the production GT-based CJs could be, at least with careful attention to the option list. David Garton's striking Meadowlark Yellow fastback is a prime example-in more ways than one.

Far from a stripper-in any automotive sense of the word-David's Cobra Jet rolled out the San Jose factory door loaded with no less than $1,618.35 worth of options on top of its $2,818.07 V8 fastback base price. Add in the almost comical $18.45 transportation charge, and you end up with a CJ/GT carrying a $4,454.87 sticker price, meaning few items on the option list had been left unchecked. Outside it may appear like most any other scooped and striped first-year CJ fastback, but inside is where the bulk of those multiple options combine to set it apart, making this a true GT in the original sense of the Grand Touring designation. The invoice list includes the 428 CJ engine, GT Equipment Group, Select Shift Cruise-O-Matic, Convenience and Visibility Groups, Sport deck rear seat, floor and overhead consoles, power steering and disc brakes, adjustable headrests, Interior Dcor Group, and Tachometer

Don't know about you, but Comfortweave bucket seats, overhead consoles, and adjustable headrests aren't the first things that come to mind when thinking about the strip-earned, tough-guy reputation of the early Cobra Jets. A possible clue as to why this particular CJ was so heavily optioned comes near the bottom of the original window sticker, which shows it being sold to "Ford Motor Company, Salt Lake City, UT" and not to a particular dealership. That and its "Special Purpose Vehicle" order type clearly indicate that Ford had some internal plans for it.

One thing for sure: Its road-friendly 3.50:1 Traction-Lok (9-inch) axle ratio pretty much rules out any intended dragstrip duties, as does the dressy and comfortable cabin. Optioned so liberally, one might assume that this was to be a show, display, or press vehicle. But while such corporate uses might seem logical, the yellow GT's July 29, 1968, build date seems too late for any likely promotional purposes. With serial number 8R02R172223, David's fastback is the last 428 CJ assembled at San Jose for the model year. Why would Ford want to promote the '68 CJ when the radically restyled '69s were just weeks away? The question remains unanswered for now because, try as he might, David has yet to ferret out his unique GT's original corporate duties or any registered owners prior to 1971

For the record, the overwhelming majority of '68-or '68½, if you prefer-CJ Mustangs were built in Dearborn. Of the 1,299 non-Shelby, first-year Cobra Jets, only 171 came together in San Jose. The northeast assembly plant at Metuchen, New Jersey, built none, according to Kevin Marti's production statistics.

Whatever its earliest history, David concludes he is the CJ's third registered owner, an honor he achieved by successfully outbidding the competition in the wee hours of the morning during an eBay online auction in 2003-using a dial-up connection, no less. When the Mustang arrived from Oregon to his central Florida location, it was in solid condition but was sprayed in dark blue with a heavy metalflake, the apparent result of an earlier owner's brother wanting to try out the skills he'd learned in body shop school. That earlier owner, by the way, reportedly received the muscular CJ as a graduation present in 1971 (I think I got cufflinks).

A Ford Senior Master Technician by trade, as well as a longtime fan of the first-edition Cobra Jets (he recently sold a '68½ CJ convertible), David immediately began gathering NOS parts and ultimately sent his R-code GT to Vail's Classic Cars in Indiana for restoration after seeing examples of the company's work at the Mustang 40th Anniversary Celebration in Nashville.

The result is as detailed a '68½ Cobra Jet as you're ever likely to see, and one well equipped to show that these first-year 428s were certainly more than just drag racers.