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