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.

Boda said, I think the first offer I had was someone who came to a garage sale on the property. He was pushing hard to purchase both the Boss 429 and the Cobra Jet for $70,000. I wasn’t sure of their value.

Cole told Boda that the value was much higherin the neighborhood of $225,000 for both cars. Of course, someone needed to inspect the cars, so Cole suggested Randy Gillis, who owns a ’68 Cobra Jet fastback. Boda invited Gillis to the property, which resembled more of a car salvage yard than a residence.

An expert on high-performance Mustang parts and cars, Gillis gave an accurate description of the 428 CJ in as raced condition. He noted a sticker on the windshield, dated 1969, for the Kern County Racing Association, so the car ran at Bakersfield, California. Bill Stroppe’s shop had welded lift bars onto the frame. The hood was modified with four pins and there were no hinges.

Thanks to the Southern California climate, the paint and lettering were original. Gillis described the paint wear as bald spots on the corners where the car cover rubbed.

Gillis noted the Keystone Kustom mags, Goodyear all-weather front tires, and XS 250 M&H Racemaster slicks. The interior still smelled new with a pristine dash and nice original carpet. The floor had been modified to fit a Hurst vertical gate shifter.

He noted that the odometer showed 178 miles.

The radiator and engine were missing, but the transmission was still intact. Boda surmises that the engine blew up, probably while drag racing. Parts included one head, all eight rods (two of them damaged), Venolia pistons, C8AX-D cam, and original distributor, carburetor, and spark plug wires.

Gillis described the Balanger headers as very odd, as most race-prepped, 135 series CJs used Jardine’s or Doug’s headers. The Balanger headers were in great shape. They are most likely original to the car’s modification due to the presence of the vintage Balanger decals on the front fenders.

Garton was eager to purchase the car, but Boda was biding his time. In Garton’s words, He was searching for history and trying to put a drag racer’s name on the car. I had to let him be until he was satisfied but I checked with him every month.

October 18, 2010, was a busy day for Garton. He didn’t check his email until 11:30 that evening. To his surprise, he found a note from Boda. He was ready to sell. He even priced the car. Was Garton too late? Had someone else opened their email sooner and made a deal? An interesting midnight scene unfolded as Garton typed a reply and his wife asked if he was typing a letter to Santa Claus. Garton hoped Boda was still up and on his computer. But Santa had gone to bed.

The following morning I called and spoke to Boda’s wife, Garton explained. She confirmed that they had received my email and gave me Joe’s number at work. It was probably eight in the morning when I talked to him hoping the car was still available. Luckily for Garton, the car was not sold and he made the deal.

David has no plans to restore the carjust clean and detail to retain the original patina. A period-correct 428 Cobra Jet Super Stock engine will bring the car back to life.