Jerry Heasley
May 9, 2011

"I had talked to Ben Cole, David Garton said. He said I wasn’t going to believe this phone call he just got."

Garton didn’t know what to think when Cole gave him the news. Another "135" car had turned up, but this one was not in the 135 letter that circulates every year. No one knew this car existed.

Garton already owns the last Cobra Jet production car built at San Jose, along with number 48 of the 50 ’08 Cobra Jet Mustangs. Acquiring one of the 50 original ’68 Cobra Jets race cars that Ford built for Super Stock drag racing would top off his collection.

So what was the scoop and could he acquire the CJ? The phone call to Cole came from Joe Boda in Maryland. Not a collector, Boda was handling the estate of his cousin, James Heidenreich, who died at the age of 59 in California in August of 2008. Heidenreich left behind 26 cars, some collectible, and one very significant.

Under a car cover in the backyard of Heidenreich’s home in Glendora, California, was 8F02R135045, one of the 50 Cobra Jet Mustang fastbacks built for drag racing. For decades, it had been hidden by Heidenreich, who Boda described as a Ford man since he could talk and a hoarder of the first order.

Over two years, Boda and his wife made six trips to the west coast to handle Heidenreich’s estate. They found car titles scattered around the house, car keys stashed in buckets, and stuff piled to the ceiling inside.

Boda had no idea of the importance of the white fastback with Cobra Jet lettering on the rear quarters. To his credit, he did not get in a hurry.

He harbors fond memories of his cousin. I was born in Chicago, Boda told us. My family moved to California when I was in the eighth grade. Years later, we moved back to Chicago, stayed there a couple years, then moved back to California. One of the strong bonds he made in California was with his cousin, Jim Heidenreich.

I used to hang out with Jim when we were kids, Boda continued. He was a big car enthusiast. He could name the make and model of every car on the road.

Heidenreich began to collect cars. One was a ’70 Boss 429 he bought new from Russ Davis Ford. Later, instead of selling the muscle Mustang, he kept it while purchasing other cars, mostly Fords.

I remember him stashing the Boss 429 in his parent’s garage, then his own garage, Boda said. You couldn’t see the car because he had so much stuff on top of it.

Heidenreich even saved his parents’ cars, although they were not particularly collectible. He quickly ran out of space. Boda remembers Heidenreich stashing cars all over southern California at friends’ houses.

Around 1999, Heidenreich moved into a house with a six-car garage on three-quarters of an acre in Glendora. He eventually rounded up his cars and parked them on this property. When Boda surveyed the cars in the backyard, he found the Boss 429 under a car cover beside the white ’68 Mustang fastback.

However, was the ’68 a real CJ or just a regular Mustang with Cobra Jet lettering? To make matters worse, Boda couldn’t find the R-code VIN on the dash because he was looking on the wrong side. He opened the hood to discover that the engine was missing.

On the inner fender apron, Boda found an S engine code, which decodes as a 390 because Ford built the early Cobra Jets using the big-block 390 chassis. But how could Boda, a novice, know this?

Eventually, Boda found an article about Ben Cole’s ’68 Cobra Jet race car in the September 2008 Mustang Monthly. The article mentioned that Cole operates Roy’s Fried Chicken in Coweta, Oklahoma. Boda found a phone number for the restaurant.

Cole recalled, Boda called me one night. He had some guys trying to buy the Cobra Jet and Boss 429. They were really low-balling him.

Word had spread in the immediate area and people were showing up in Glendora to buy the cars, especially the CJ fastback and Boss 429.