In 1968, Ford rolled out a hot new Mustang at the NHRA Winternationals and cleaned house in Super Stock Eliminator, the class where Ford, Dodge, Plymouth and GM strutted their stuff. The car was the '68 "lightweight" Cobra Jet Mustang, which Ford prepared especially for drag racing. It packed a healthy 428 CJ engine, and with Al Joniec behind the wheel, it captured its first Wally in its very first outing.
Fast forward 41 years, and Ford is once again building race-prep Cobra Jet Mustangs--and fast ones, at that. To commemorate the '68 win, the gang at Ford Racing decided to build 50 turnkey NHRA-legal racers, this time for the Stock class.
Rather than a carbureted 428, the modern CJ utilizes a mill similar to the 5.4 Shelby GT500 engine, albeit a detuned version that's rated at 425 hp to better classify it within the NHRA ranks. The new "lightweight" CJs also get a serious race treatment with a six-point rollbar, a 9-inch rear, racing wheels and tires, and a fairly complete gutting of the radio, heater, and sound deadening. They are specially built on a niche line and are not street legal.
Amazingly, the '08 CJ debuted at the very same track (Pomona Raceway in Pomona, California) exactly 41 years after the original. It also debuted at the very same event--the NHRA season-opening Winternationals. And in storybook fashion, the CJ once again came away a winner.
The action took place this past February, when seasoned Ford racer and multi-time national event winner John Calvert qualified Second in the field of 87 with a 10.08, and then rowed the G-Force Racing Transmission in the Brent Hajek-owned CJ through seven rounds to victory, running in the A/Stock class.
Like the CJ cars of past, all 50 of the new models were fashioned in white. Those who recall the '68 win and then watched Calvert's win may have had a sense of deja vu. That's because Hajek had Calvert's machine lettered identically to Al Joniec's winning '68 CJ, with Rice and Holmann on the door and all. Talk about irony!
"I am really excited and pleased at the result," said Calvert. "The thing I am most pleased about is that Ford Racing thought about this project and reached out to the grassroots level of racing. This wasn't an easy race weekend; in fact, I would say it was difficult. The weather certainly created some consistency issues, especially with an iffy track. Still, the Cobra Jet ran very well in the elimination rounds, and we were able to bring home the trophy," adds Calvert.
The FRPP boys in Dearborn were pleased as well. "I couldn't be happier for Brent Hajek and John Calvert, who have taken the car that we designed and created a championship racecar in just six weeks," says Brian Wolfe, Director of Ford North America Motorsports. "I am especially happy that John was able to drive the Al Joniec tribute car that won in 1968 to a victory in 2009. It is an unbelievable debut for the Cobra Jet." Calvert, a former world champion and a three-time NHRA Winternationals champion, normally runs a '68 Cobra Jet in Super Stock.
In just a few short months, the new Cobra Jet Mustangs have created quite a stir on the NHRA scene. The NHRA Stock ranks are made up of a diverse cross-section of early and late-model American muscle, but there hasn't been a dominate supercharged car, and this one has the brand-x troops up in arms. The "soft" horsepower rating and the untested potential of the blown engine have many racers wondering just how fast this car can run.
Thankfully, MM&FF will be following the drama up close, as we have hitched up with Ford racers Herb and Erich Bollman of Delaware. The Bollmans, who run a 7-second V-8 Ford in Comp Eliminator, purchased FR500CJ number 18. MM&FF was there to watch the assembly process, and we'll be following it from to the dyno and then to the track.
"How cool is this? It was like a storybook ending that was meant to be," says Hajek, who entered four Cobra Jet Mustangs at Pomona. "It's our first time entering a national event--and we won! This program was always about paying tribute and respect to the drivers from 1968 who started the legend of the Cobra Jet. This was about upholding their honor, and everyone involved with this project deserves a great deal of credit. I am so proud of this group, and I hope the legends from 1968, including Al Joniec, Gas Ronda, Hubert Platt and Randy Ritchey, are proud of us."