Mustang MonthlyFeatured Vehicles
1968 1/2 Cobra Jet Mustang - Out Of This World
Cobra Jet Mustangs Are Always Impressive, But Tom Cantrell's 256-Mile 1968 1/2 Coupe Borders On The Miraculous
When Tom Cantrell first encountered the '68 1/2 Cobra Jet Mustang sprawled across these pages, he knew there wasn't another like it on the planet. It wasn't just Marti Auto Works' revelation that only 221 of the unpretentious coupes were produced with the legendary long-stroke big-block. There's more to it than that. Take a look at the odometer and it all comes into focus. The 256 miles shown isn't smoke and mirrors or Photoshop tomfoolery-it's the real deal. Viewed another way, such scant mileage is barely more than a tank's worth of high-test if you consider usage at a 13-15 mpg rate. Out of this world? You'd better believe it.
Of course, once you learn of this Mustang's barely driven status, the logical questions are something along the lines of "how?" and "why?" The tale goes back to the days of early 1968, when Cobra Jet Mustang lore was in its infancy, and the factory Super Stockers were fresh off impressive victories at the '68 NHRA Winternationals. As service manager for the Ford dealer in O'Donnell, Texas, H.L. Lawhon had heard of the CJ's dragstrip prowess early on, and quickly ordered one to get in on the action. At the time, Lawhon's team was having modest success with an early K-code Mustang, and the new CJ seemed a logical step up the Ford performance ladder.
With only one thing in mind, this Candyapple Red gem, sparsely equipped and ready to rumble, was delivered to O'Donnell's Forbes Motor Company. Beyond the CJ-mandated items that included the GT package, front disc brakes, and F70x14 Goodyear Polyglas rubber, the only options consisted of a C6 automatic and a 4.30 Traction-Lok setup in the nodular-case 9-inch rearend. The N.O.S. wheel-lip moldings are owner added. The factory cosmetics yield a decked-out impression to be sure, yet this was about as stripped as it got in the first year of Cobra Jet Mustang production, with nary an AM radio to distract one's attention.
When it came time to hit the track, our story is as surprising as any 36-year-old Mustang with just 256 miles. While many teams quickly had their CJ Mustangs running at the front of the C/SA and SS/EA packs, Lawhon doesn't appear to have delved very deeply into the coupe's potential. In fact, when purchased in the late '80s by noted restorer Bob Perkins, all the factory underhood equipment was still intact, save for the smog equipment. Perkins believes the car was run in this configuration along with a set of slicks, and was told the team abandoned the effort after just a few weekends due to some now-forgotten teething issues. The team soon returned their efforts to the Hi-Po 289 car, while the CJ was relegated to the proverbial corner.
Twenty years flashed by with little action, that is until Perkins picked up the trail following a tip from a fellow enthusiast. Lest anyone wonder why some guys have all the luck, the tip did come at some financial cost: a complete smog system for a '70 CJ. Perkins figured the price of admission to be worth it, and soon found himself en route to West Texas to have that all-important look-see. What he found was pretty much as described: a bone-dry, rust-free, complete '6811/42 coupe with unbelievably low miles. A barrel full of 428 CJ take-off parts was included as well-the unwanted discards of several Cobra Jet cars that came through Forbes Motor Company in the early days.