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1968 Ford Drag Team ~ Dearborn Flashback

1968 Ford Drag Team at Pomona

1968 1/2 428 COBRA JET MUSTANG

Bill Lawton's Tasca Ford Funny Car

In the early 1960's Ford realized winning at the strip on Sunday sold cars on Monday, and so began the Total Performance era. Company and dealer sponsored cars popped up at drag strips all over the country. Drag racing was a perfect advertising medium, spectators who watched these fast Fords blast down the quarter mile wanted one of their own. As drag racing quickly evolved, the stockers and super stockers led to the wild A/FX and match race cars. These cars were being modified on an almost weekly basis, adding injectors and blowers, stretching the noses, and radically altering the wheelbase. These mods resulted in a new term: funny car. Next came the even wilder tube chassis flip-top funny cars, which looked nothing like what was sitting on the showroom floor. Next to a production car, these cars did indeed look funny. FoMoCo and performance dealer Tasca Ford both realized they had strayed from the proven sales formula, and thus began the shift back to racing door slammers, cars that more closely maintained the factory appearance. And on the street, the muscle car wars were heating up considerably. Ford wasn't winning nearly enough, but that was about to change.

Al Joniec Gets the Trophy and the Chicks

Enter the 1968 Cobra Jet Mustang. It's introduction was essentially the reason for the 1968 Drag Team's existence. In 1967 and early 1968, aside from the pricey GT 500, the top Mustang one could purchase was the 320-horse 390 GT. The Mustang was redesigned for the 1967 model year to accommodate the big FE engine, previously the top engine was the 289 Hipo. The first big block pony car was indeed a great machine, but compared to the competition, it was relatively underpowered. This fact was becoming more and more evident on the street, the 390 just couldn't quite hang with it's rivals. Ford's brass didn't seem to be too concerned with addressing this problem until they were presented a solution: the Mustang KR-8. KR meant "King of the Road", and the 8 referred to the 428 engine. Amazingly, the KR-8 wasn't dreamed up in Ford's engineering department, but in a Ford dealership's service department. This wasn't just any dealer, this was Tasca Ford, the legendary Ford store in Rhode Island owned by Bob Tasca. Tasca was at the forefront of Ford racing in the 1960's, operating a top-running drag team of their own. Tasca competed with Galaxies, Thunderbolts, A/FX Mustangs, and early Funny Cars, all piloted by the late great Bill Lawton. The KR-8 can be considered the very first Cobra Jet Mustang, even though the actual CJ name came along later. Tasca's shop took a Mustang with an exploded 390 and replaced it with a 428 PI short block equipped with 427 Low Riser heads and a 735 Holley carb. Even after reviewing Tasca's creation, Ford still wasn't totally convinced they should produce the car. Bob Tasca was the firecracker, but Hot Rod magazine readers lit the fuse. Surprisingly, it took an article published in the November 1967 issue of Hot Rod to finally seal the deal. The article prompted readers to mail their opinions to Henry Ford II himself, which they did. The onslaught of letters asking him to build the car was enough for the Deuce. He gave his blessing, and approved Tasca'a creation for production. The KR-8 name was dropped, replaced with the new "Cobra Jet" moniker. Thanks to the basically off-the-shelf content of the engine package, the Cobra Jet program was fast tracked in late 1967. The next step for the Cobra Jets would a surprise visit to Pomona.

Lightweight #135019 Tasca King of the Road -  2008 Ben Cole

In December 1967, Ford whipped up a batch of fifty "lightweight" 428 CJ Mustangs. These "135 series" cars were built to qualify the Cobra Jets as production car, allowing them to compete in NHRA drag racing. The 135 designation comes from the first three digits of their vin numbers, the cars were numbered 8F02R135007 through 135056. The 135 cars were all Wimbledon White non-GT fastbacks equipped with an aluminum Police Interceptor intake manifold, 390 GT exhaust manifolds, drum brakes, radio delete, and power steering delete. Only approximately twenty of the fifty were actual lightweights, built without sound deadener and seam sealer. Unlike other lightweight Fords, there were no acid-dipped or fiberglass body panels. While intended for the strip, they were actually sold as street cars. Many of these cars did go direct to the strip as intended, and endured a lifetime of merciless quarter mile pounding. The regular production street going CJ cars were released on April Fools day 1968, and they proceeded to decimate the competition on the street, and on the track. While only about 2,900 CJ Mustangs were built in 1968, their legendary status is sealed. Ford also offered the 428 CJ in Fairlanes, Torinos, Cyclones, and Cougars in 1968. The production numbers increased considerably as the engine's use continued in these models in 1969, and in the Mustang and Cougar only in 1970.

1968 Shop Tips - Charles Morris Photo

Ford showed up at the Winternationals with not one or two cars, but eight. Ford's 1968 Drag Team consisted of eight Wimbledon White Mustang fastbacks, all equipped with the brand new 428 Cobra Jet engine. The list of chosen drivers was essentially a "who's who" of top drivers of the era. That list included Dyno Don Nicholson, Gas Ronda, Al Joniec, Hubert Platt, Jerry Harvey, Carl Holbrook, Bill Ireland and Phil Bonner. A common misconception is that these eight cars were part of the 135-series group of R-code CJ cars, they were not. They were actually 390 fastbacks that were pulled from production and sent to the Holman & Moody - Stroppe shop in California, where they were converted to 428 Cobra Jet power and prepped for dragstrip combat. The four primary cars driven by Ronda, Harvey, Nicholson, and Platt were all uniform in appearance, white with large orange Cobra Jet logos painted on the rear quarter panels. The other cars had slightly different graphics. Each car had a different Ford dealer logo painted on the doors, including Tasca Ford, Paul Harvey Ford, Dick Brannan Ford, Rice & Holman Ford, and Russ Davis Ford. The cars utilized both Cragar S/S and chrome reverse wheels. The competition at Pomona was overwhelmed by the Cobra Jet onslaught. Not only did Al Joniec beat Hubert Platt with a 12.49 pass in the SS/E final, he also beat Dave Wren's Mopar in the Super Stock Eliminator final. Quite a debut for the brand new Cobra Jet.

Ex-Dyno Don Winternationals CJ Mustang

As for the current whereabouts of these eight cars, three have surfaced. Al Joniec's Rice Holman Ford car had been tubbed back in the 70's. During it's late-90's restoration, the rear floor was replaced, returning it to it's Winternationals winning configuration. Dynos Don's Dick Brannan Ford car was sold immediately following the Winternationals and went on to a successful racing career. In the 1980's, it was also restored to it's 1968 appearance, and has been featured in several magazines. Gas Ronda's Russ Davis Ford car, like Joniec's and so many other old race cars, was cut up and tubbed sometime during it's racing career. It currently retains the wheel tubs and big tires, but has otherwise been restored to it's Winternationals appearance as well.


Copyright 2008 Auto Imagery Inc

2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the Cobra Jet Mustang's introduction, and the Winternationals victory. In a fitting tribute, modern day Super Stock racer John Calvert recently updated his CJ Mustang to replicate Joniec's '68 livery, and competed in the 2008 Winternationals at Pomona. Read Bob Frey's article on Calverts car at


Al Joniec vs. Hubert Platt at the Winternationals (Hot Rod photo)

Al Joniec vs. Hubert Platt at the Winternationals.

Al Joniec's 1968 race cars (Legendary Ford photo)

The March/April 2008 issue of Legendary Ford Magazine features 40 Years Of Cobra Jet. Includes an excellent interview with Al Joniec about his Winternationals exploits. Click here to subscribe to this fantastic Ford magazine.


Dyno Don Mustang at the 1968 Winternationals

Dyno Don's Winternationals car.

Dyno Don's Winternationals CJ Mustang

Dyno Don's Dick Brannan Ford sponsored car with a couple of very stylish chicks in a '68 Winternationals promo shot. While it is one of the most well known Winternationals cars, this car saw little action on race day. Dyno's Cobra Jet spun a bearing in Round 1 and on the trailer it went.


Tasca KR-8

The Tasca KR-8 is featured in this Mustang Monthy article. This was the prototype for the 428 Cobra Jet Mustang.


Lightweight #135019 Tasca Demo in 1968 -  2008 Ben Cole

The Tasca 135 Mustang in 1968.

Lightweight Mustang #135019 in 1970 -  2008 Ben Cole

The Tasca 135 Mustang in 1970.

Ben Cole's Tasca Ford CJ Mustang The Tasca 135-series Mustang is nearing completion of it's restoration. Owner Ben Cole sent us these new photos in June, 2009.

Ben Cole's Tasca Ford CJ Mustang

Power comes from a Tunnel Port 427.

Ben Cole's Tasca Ford CJ Mustang

Tasca called this car "The East Coast Exhibition Car" in period magazines.

Ben Cole's Tasca Ford CJ Mustang

"Street Burtha" was another name it went by.


Lightweight #135054 Gas Ronda - 2009

Gas Ronda's 135054 CJ Mustang on display at the Gilmore Car Museum's drag racing exhibit in September, 2009. More photos at the Gas Ronda Cobra Jet Mustang page. and at the SAAC Forum.


1968 Ford Drag Team at the Winternationals
Gas Ronda, Jerry Harvey, Hubert Platt, Don Nicholson

Dearborn Flashback

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