"This story starts for me in April 1996," begins Ernie Unhold. "My friend John Carroll and I went to the Spring Little Carlisle swap meet in Jefferson, Wisconsin, and Bob Perkins invited us back to his shop after the show was over. When we got to the shop, the car that caught my eye was a special-order Mack Truck Pipeline Blue '68 1/2 Cobra Jet fastback. When I saw that car, I thought it was the coolest, baddest Mustang I had ever seen!" And so the search was on for a first-year Cobra Jet for ownership, restoration, and enjoyment.
Ernie started looking at prospective cars, but none seemed quite right for him. Then, in March 1997, he spotted an ad in Hemmings Motor News of a list of cars being sold by Phil Pickens from Houston. Within days, Ernie, a 32-year-old pharmacist, flew to Texas and bought the car on the spot. It had vintage speed stickers wallpapering the engine compartment, various Cobra emblems screwed into incorrect areas, and 428 lettering on the quarter panels, along with various other insults a car like this collects throughout its lifetime-but it was all there.
"The next year or so was spent buying up N.O.S. sheetmetal and N.O.S. trim, mirrors, and other parts until it came time to start the restoration," Ernie tells us.
When that time came, he made one small mistake by taking the car to a local restoration shop that thought of it as "just a Mustang." After suffering through the better part of two years, Ernie made the decision to transfer the restoration to Paul's Automotive Engineering in Cincinnati (513/791-1087). Roy Honsaker, who heads up the restoration and paint and body departments at Paul Faessler's Mustang Super Shop, was handed the project.
Roy began by taking out the front and rear suspensions, glass, and the dash wiring; then the body was placed on one of Paul's rotisseries. Meanwhile, Ernie sandblasted the rear axle, driveshaft, steering centerlink, and the front and rear springs. Every part was refinished with the help of D&L Autobody.
Back at Paul's shop, Roy did what he does best-paint and body perfection in gorgeous Wimbledon White. He replicated spot-welds when possible. N.O.S. sheetmetal was used for the front and rear valance, rear crossmember, trunk floor, hood, outer wheelhouses, and quarter-panels. Once all the parts were brought back to Paul's, Roy completed the assembly.
On the other end of Paul's establishment, the machine shop went to work on the Cobra Jet powerplant. The son of the original owner told Ernie the engine had never been out of the 85,000-mile car. Paul's woke up the FE with mild port work to the heads and a Competition Cams bumpstick. Ernie was lucky enough to score an original C8OF-AB carb with the perfect date code for the mid-April build date.
The original exhaust manifolds are intact, feeding into an X-pipe-equipped, 2.5-inch high-performance exhaust. Peed's Transmissions in Kewanee, Illinois, rebuilt the C6 automatic, while Paul's handled the restoration of the 4.30:1-geared Traction-Lok rearend. Strapped down to the chassis dyno, the 35-year-old car laid down 264 rear-wheel horsepower-good enough to light up the tires, as Ernie aptly demonstrated at our photo shoot.
The finishing touches, including the interior trim, headlights, and N.O.S. taillights, as well as the rear bumper, were installed by Ernie. One nod to modern conveniences is the 15x7-inch Torq-Thrust rims wrapped in BFGoodrich Comp T/A rubber-oh, if only they'd come that way in 1968!
Many people consider the '68 1/2 Cobra Jet Mustang among the most desirable ever produced. This car combines the ground-breaking good looks of the first Mustang with the musclecar motivation of the performance big-blocks that followed.
With its concours restoration and subtle restomodifications, Ernie Unhold's flawless '68 1/2 may just be the ultimate Cobra Jet fastback from that half year's short run. We're just glad a loving owner saved this classic Mustang for all to enjoy.