At mid-model year 1968, the Mustang's 427 option was retired in favor of Ford's new 428 Cobra Jet, a huskier big-block with vacuum-actuated ram-air hood scoop. For drag racing and insurance purposes, it was advertised at 335 horsepower on 10.7:1 compression, but was doubtless much stronger. A quarter-mile zip of 13.56 seconds at a trap speed of 106.64 mph caused Hot Rod magazine to sing its praises.
The "CJ," as it came to be known, was a better idea of Bob Tasca, then the country's number-one Ford dealer. Tasca had been backing big-block Mustang drag cars that tore up the strips in 1965-66 and had customers flocking to his Rhode Island showroom. But while Tasca welcomed the factory 390 option, he found it wasn't strong enough to be a winner in local drags, and that was costing him sales. When an employee blew up a stock 390 car, Tasca ordered his mechanics to piece together a more competitive engine using only the Ford parts catalog. Starting with the "short-block" 428 Police Interceptor, they bolted on a pair of 427 low-riser heads, a big Holley carb, and 390 cam, then turned a 13.39-second quarter-mile at 105 mph. Dearborn was impressed -- even Henry Ford II took note -- and used Tasca's monster mongrel as the starting point for the production Cobra Jet.
Announced at about the same time as the CJ was a fortified 302 with high-compression heads, larger valves, wild cam timing, and a pair of four-barrel carbs. Humorously rated at 240 horsepower, it was Ford's new weapon in Trans-Am racing, but unexpected troubles delayed production after SCCA approved it, and few were actually installed this year. Not that it mattered. Mark Donohue's Camaro won 10 Trans-Am contests to Mustang's three, and Chevy collected the manufacturer's trophy.
Buyers Shift Gears
At over 300,000 units, Mustang's 1968 model-year sales were far below the heady days of 1965-66 and thus a disappointment to Ford executives hoping for an upturn. In fact, the pony car market was nearing its peak, though no one could know that at the time, least of all Ford.
But there was a hint of a trend in optional equipment orders, which showed a shift in buyer preferences from low-priced sportiness toward convenience and luxury features. Cruise-O-Matic, for example, was fitted to 72 percent of '68 production vs. just six percent for four-speed manual. V-8s claimed fully 70 percent of sales. Power steering was specified by 52 percent of buyers, air conditioning by 18 percent, tinted windows by 32 percent. By contrast, only 13 percent ordered power brakes, another 13 percent the power front discs, and a scant 3.7 percent a limited-slip differential. Increasingly it seemed, Mustangers were less concerned with price and pure performance than with going fast in comfort and looking good while doing it.
Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:
- Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
- America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
- Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
- The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.