Jerry Heasley
October 12, 2018

Those watching the Cobra Jets line up on the dragstrip at Summit Raceway in Norwalk, Ohio, for the Cobra Jet Reunion this past August had the opportunity to view a 1971 Mustang SportsRoof with less than 200 miles on it in action. Wearing vintage Motor Wheels and a plethora of stickers and decals from 1971, the car lifted its front wheels off the ground on launch and sent spectators on a trip down memory lane.

That was the idea of the promoters, to have a car show and a drag race—because what were Cobra Jets built for, anyway? The answer is to drag race, especially with Ford’s amazing Drag Pack option. This particular ’71 had not been doing much of anything for the previous 40 years, as evidenced by the odometer reading of 193.2, but it has an illustrious heritage.

Owned by Henry Smith, this 1971 Mustang is a 429 Super Cobra Jet, aka Drag Pack, with white paint and Blue Ruffino/Corinthian vinyl bucket seats that Norris Ford in Dundalk, Maryland, ordered brand new with “no radio and no nothing,” according to Smith—nothing except for the performance equipment of a Drag Pack 429, four-speed, and 4.30:1 gears in a 9-inch Ford rearend with a Detroit Locker.

The reason for such a serious build was obvious. Norris Ford promoted sales with their own drag club, which included members, of course, along with cars they campaigned on the dragstrip. They started with the hottest Mustang possible in the sportiest, lightest no-frills body. Norris ordered this Mustang on October 2, 1970. Dearborn Assembly completed the build on November 12, 1970.

Cobra Jet fans were delighted to see the 1971 Norris Ford–sponsored Drag Pack Mustang pull the tires off the ground on launch.
Here’s the ’71 in action in the glory days of 1971.

Obviously, everybody was excited with the latest and greatest Cobra Jet, the largest ever at 429 ci. Ford Motor Company had grand intentions. Its 429 was based on the company’s new 385 series engine family, using new thin-wall casting technology and highlighted by high-flow, canted-valve cylinder heads from the Trans Am–inspired Boss 302. The block had enough iron to be bored easily over 500 ci.

Of course, federal emissions standards helped bring the muscle car era to an abrupt end. In mid-flight, Ford canceled the 429 Cobra Jet and with it went their Ford Drag Club, which featured national seminars and their Ford Drag Team—one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast.

Meanwhile, Norris Ford kept on the performance path with their drag club and continued to sponsor Fords on the dragstrip. The previous year had been sweet when driver Bud Shellenberger drove the Norris Drag Team’s Torino Super Cobra Jet, which had already changed over to the 429 Cobra Jet, to First Place in class at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over Labor Day. In the lighter Mustang, the 429 would be even faster.

Happy days were far from over. Performance still sold cars in those days. Ford Motor Company had already planned to drop the 429 Cobra Jet from the Mustang lineup for 1972, but a dealership like Norris wasn’t so dialed in, perhaps.

Norris Ford had a drag club and a newsletter.

Norris went back to Indy in 1971. This 1971 SportsRoof, lettered as seen here, placed Second in the SS/E class—not First Place, but still a huge accomplishment at the biggest NHRA event of the year. Of course, Norris had to qualify the car to go to Indy. Then, for unclear reasons, the ’71 got parked and Norris ended their racing program. The Marti Report reveals the 1971 sold on September 21, 1971, fifteen days after Labor Day and the NHRA Nationals. Jim Price was the buyer. He campaigned the ’71 in SS/E for one more year, and “then the car disappeared,” Tim Orick told us.

Orick’s father was in the Norris Drag Club in 1969 to 1971, when Tim was 5-7 years old. He went to all the meetings and drag races, as his father raced, as did many other members. In fact, one year Ford awarded Norris with the largest participation for a local club in the Ford racing program. So, not TASCA, the dealership on the East Coast that got all the Cobra Jet accolades—the Norris club was larger, at least that one year.

Henry Smith bought the car a couple years ago at a Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida, and returned the car to the Maryland area, to the delight of Tim Orick, who joined Smith at the CJ Reunion in Ohio in 2018. Today, happy days are back. Henry Smith is putting the pedal to the metal on the strip for exhibition, such as we saw in the Vintage Cobra Jet class at Summit Raceway. He will preserve the car as much as possible.

Smith put on a helmet and took on the quarter-mile, not without trepidation, as he initially had to work through setbacks to get the car to Ohio. He said, “I broke two axles, the transmission, clutch fork, and starter in preparation.” The fuel pump was weak in Ohio, and Smith was eliminated in the second round. He did run an 11.60 at 118 mph, which he said, “wasn’t bad; being starved for fuel.” At the Nationals in 1971, this car ran low 11s, and pictures reveal a typical dial-in was 11.10 for its SS/E class.

Henry Smith (left) and friend (and Norris Ford historian) Tim Orick brought the ’71 to the Cobra Jet Reunion.
Smith drag races the ’71, but not to any great extent. He wants to both preserve the car and keep it in shape for its intended purpose.
Getting the original Motor Wheel Spyder wheels was a big deal for the same look.
Henry Smith replicated the rear Firestone “Drag 500” tires in a novel way. The tires are Phoenix FX from the same mold as the Firestone 500s. He sanded the raised letters off and stenciled on “Firestone Drag 500.”
Firestone “Drag 500” tires replica
Incredibly, Paul Hogge, the same person who built the 429 SCJ to Super Stock specs, was the man that rebuilt the 429 SCJ in 2000. Super Stock allowed certain modifications. Smith mentioned “some cylinder head work,” a dual-point distributor, aluminum intake, and lighter pistons.
Norris Ford re-did the car in the late 1990s—paint work, new tires, wheels, engine. Freshened by Hogge, “Norris Ford Drag Team” was put on the side and that was it. Orick said, “Myself and Henry and Paul at Grizzly Graphics did the rest of the decals.”
Henry Smith sent us this photo of the ’71 on display in the showroom of Norris Ford.
This old photo shows driver Bud Shellenberger with the ’70 Drag Pack Torino that took a class win at the Nationals in 1970 at Indy.
Bud Shellenberger worked at Norris Ford, and he had a history driving for Ford. He was Ford’s E-stock Eliminator at the ’65 Indy Nationals.
Although stock gears were steep at 4.11:1, the car now has 5.13s.
This is the racing cockpit of the ’71 as it appeared in 1971—a tach on the dash; extra gauges in the center of the instrument panel; a rollbar to climb over; stock seats; Hurst T-handle shifter; and that thin two-spoke, stock steering wheel.
The rollbar rose behind the driver to the headliner.
The 429 SCJ had ram air, as seen on the underside of the hood.
The seats were modified for racing harnesses.
Two old timeslips from the Maryland area back in the day reveal two wins—a 10.97 @ 122.78 mph at 75-80 Drag-A-Way in Monrovia, Maryland, and an 11.16 @ 125.34 mph at Capitol Raceway.
This pair of old photos reveals the Norris Ford car hauler for the ’71 Mustang and ’70 Torino drag cars, plus crew members.
Henry Smith will keep the legacy alive with occasional dragstrip runs.
All the stickers are back on the car, as they were in 1971.
Vintage personalized tag adds nostalgia and remembers the old Norris Drag Club.
Bud Shellenberger in a recent photo, looking at his old ride, the Drag Pack ’71 Mustang.
How it was done—turn tach 90 degrees for functionality.
Odometer displayed 193.2 at the Cobra Jet Reunion in the summer of 2018.
The car weighs 3,435 pounds, which Henry Smith believes is “OEM weight as it sits.”
Bud Shellenberger signed the glovebox door.
Henry Smith bought the 1971 Drag Pack Mustang from Cobra Jet collector Don Fezel. The car had Weld wheels with Goodyear tires, Cobra graphics on the quarter-panels, laser stripe, and gold leaf accents. Smith worked with Tim Orick and Paul Denick from Grizzly Graphics to reproduce “all of the graphics the car was wearing in 1971.”

How Henry Smith Got the 1971 Drag Pack

“I had located the championship Torino in November of 2015. That car is in the process of a full restoration. When I found out that the Mustang was going to auction in Kissimmee in 2017, I absolutely had to have it. I had seen the Mustang in 2015 at Ford Carlisle. I wanted to bring both cars back together and back to Maryland where they belong. Tim and I both grew up in the area close to Norris Ford.”