428 Cobra Jet invades RM Sotheby’s London auction with muscle car brawn

1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet

RM Sotheby’s October 2019 London sale is, naturally, chock-full of Aston Martins and Jaguars. It seems that the only thing that’s really missing from the auction to represent British sports cars is a Lotus or two. Alas, there are none to be found.

What the RM London sale will offer is an all-American counter to Colin Chapman’s mantra of “simplify, then add lightness”: the Mustang Cobra Jet. OK, so Detroit’s solution for producing race cars was more like, “just give it a bigger engine,” and that formula is exactly how we got muscle cars. They’re not the lightest vehicles on the road, but with a pushrod V-8, you’d have to agree that they are simple. We’re not complaining.

Ford wasn’t after nimble British sports cars and their exclusivity when it built the 1968 Cobra Jet; it had plenty to worry about from its domestic competition. Mustang sales were phenomenal from the get-go and the K-code 289 was quite a lot of fun. However, Mustang’s pony car competition was offering more power and bigger engines. Ford’s solution to big-block-powered Barracudas and Camaros came from Ford dealer Bob Tasca, who proved that the medium-block FE engine could be coaxed between the Mustang’s shock towers.

1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet
1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet
1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet
RM Sotheby's

Like Pontiac’s V-8 engine family, the FE didn’t have the bore spacing of its big-block, 385-series brethren that would come later. That didn’t stop Ford from delivering big-block-like displacement by adding a long stroke. Starting with an inauspicious 332 cubic inches, the FE family eventually grew to 427 and 428 cubic inches.

While it doesn’t have the same mystique as the big-bore 427 that powered Shelby Cobras and GT40s, the 428 still brought monster torque to the lightweight Mustang, and its 335 horsepower—laughably underrated—was merely a jumping-off point for drag racers. At its debut at the 1968 Winter Nationals, Al Joniec drove his Rice-Holman Cobra Jet to an 11.49 elapsed time and a Super Stock class win.

This gorgeous example in Acapulco Blue has a well-documented history and features an original exterior and a restored exterior and powertrain. Its options include a C6 automatic transmission and a limited-slip rear differential. It might not be the best road racer, but we’d definitely take it against any Elan on the dragstrip any day.