A young Bob Tasca Jr. launches...
A young Bob Tasca Jr. launches the KR-8 Mustang in the Tasca backlot in 1967.
The story has been told in numerous books and magazine articles. For years, we've known how Rhode Island Ford dealer Bob Tasca replaced the blown 390 in a '67 Mustang with a 428 Police Interceptor equipped with 406 heads and other modifications from the Tasca Ford parts department. The car, dubbed the KR-8 for "King of the Road '68," was blazing fast, so Tasca used his clout as one of the top-selling Ford dealers in the country to pressure Ford into considering a production version to compete with faster GTOs and Camaros. Hot Rod magazine staffer Eric Dahlquist wrote an article about Tasca's KR-8 and suggested that readers contact Henry Ford II in Dearborn if they wanted to see the car in production. Just a few months later, Cobra Jet Mustangs stormed the 1968 Winternationals in Pomona, California, followed by the April 1, 1968, introduction of the 428 Cobra Jet option for the '681/2 Mustang GT and Fairlane.
You can see the KR-8 hardtop...
You can see the KR-8 hardtop in this photo, taken at Tasca Ford around April 1967 to celebrate the Mustang's third birthday, with driver Mario Andretti as special guest. The KR-8 is parked right behind the Ford GT-40. Bob Tasca Sr. is on the left next to Andretti.
That's the story in a lug nut. But what about the actual KR-8 Mustang? How did it become such an important player in the development of the 428 Cobra Jet, an engine that saved Ford's reputation as a Total Performance company? And what happened to the actual car?
"I lived that story, I can tell you that much," Bob Tasca Jr. told us. Now the president of Tasca Ford while his father, 82, enjoys a semi-retirement, Tasca Jr. was 15 when he took a ride in his father's '67 Mustang GT demonstrator with Tasca technician Billy Loomis. It was a ride that would change the course of Ford performance history.
"The Lime Gold notchback was my father's everyday driver," Tasca Jr. said. "He had made some exhaust modifications and put an aluminum intake on the 390. Billy was working on it one day, but I don't remember what he was doing. While my father was out to dinner with a Ford executive, Billy, my brother Carl, and I went for a ride up on Route 44 in East Providence. I'll never forget, Billy turned the car around and floored it. He thought the shifter was in 'D' but it was in '1.' I was thinking to myself, 'When is he going to shift?' But he didn't shift it. So it floated the valves and we blew the engine. We got it back to the dealership and my father was very upset when he found out we'd blown up his favorite car."
At that point, instead of repairing the original engine, Tasca Sr. asked assistant parts manager Glenn Tiberiis to order a 428 Police Interceptor short-block. "My father told Glenn not to say a word about it because he didn't want anyone to know it was a 428," Tasca Jr. says.
Hot Rod's Eric Dahlquist arrived...
Hot Rod's Eric Dahlquist arrived at Tasca Ford after the KR-8's test session at Ford, so his engine shots show the 427 Tunnel-Port that Bob Tasca Sr. obtained from the Ford Experimental Garage.
Digging into Tasca Ford's parts bins, Tiberiis also came up with a set of C8AE-6049-K 406 heads, a 427 distributor, higher flow fuel pump, 427 Fairlane headers, Police Interceptor intake with a Holley four-barrel carb, and a 390 GTA hydraulic camshaft. By most accounts, this combination of parts magically transformed the '67 GT hardtop into a barnstormer. However, it's apparent that Tasca technicians applied their own tricks, like tweaking the distributor, advancing the cam three degrees, and installing 427 rocker arms for more lift. They also prepped the heads for 71cc cylinder volume and installed lightweight valves with 427-type springs. Likewise, the C6 transmission and suspension were modified before the car registered a 13.46-second ET at over 104 mph on its first timed run. The KR-8 Mustang eventually ran a best of 13.39 at 105.
Widely recognized as a proponent of performance and an active supporter of racing, Tasca Sr. was also vocal about Ford's lack of performance offerings. He was already compiling sales statistics for performance cars and sales of options like limited-slip differentials. According to his breakdown, Fords accounted for only 7.5 percent of all '66 high-performance vehicle sales. From his business perspective, the competition's advantage was costing him money. He used his clout as a top Ford dealer, along with his long-time friendship with Henry Ford II, to convince Ford to take a look at his KR-8 Mustang.
During his visit to Tasca...
During his visit to Tasca Ford to check out the KR-8, Dahlquist snapped this photo of Bob Tasca Sr. in his office
Tasca Ford's Performance Sales...
Tasca Ford's Performance Sales Manager Dean Gregson (left) and Assistant Parts Manager Glenn Tiberiis look over some of the KR-8 components. This photo originally ran in the November 1967 issue of Hot Rod.
This Dahlquist shot of the...
This Dahlquist shot of the dual-quad, ram-air induction housing shows the "Ford KR-8" lettering on top.
"In those days, we were king of Ford racing," Tasca Jr. says. "Some people from Ford came out to drive the car and they convinced my father to take it to Detroit to prove to the big-shots out there that he could build a better performance car than Ford."
You would think that Tasca Sr. would have shipped the car to Detroit. Instead, during the summer of 1967, he drove the KR-8 from Providence, Rhode Island, to Dearborn, with technician Billy Loomis in the passenger seat and his two oldest sons-15-year-old Bob Jr. and 13-year-old Carl, both on summer break from school-in the back seat. "Carl and I were a lot younger then so we fit," Tasca Jr. says with a laugh. "I remember we raced Ford's 427 Mustang and other cars on the dragstrip at the Dearborn Proving Grounds. We beat everything they had."
Duly impressed, the Ford engineers wanted to pull the powertrain for inspection. Tasca Jr. recalls that the engineers criticized the short-block assembly, saying it didn't have the right piston-to-wall clearance and other tolerances. Tasca Jr. remembers his father telling them, "I bought it from you. It's a stock 428 Police Interceptor short-block from over the counter."
Tasca technicians not only...
Tasca technicians not only installed the modified Police Interceptor into Tasca's '67 Mustang hardtop, they also modified the suspension. According to Dahlquist's caption for this photo in Hot Rod, Tasca's techs "wedged" the suspension for more bite and reversed the leaf springs, except for the main spring.
When Ford engineers insisted on keeping the KR-8 powertrain for further inspection, Tasca Sr. told them he needed something to replace it for the drive home. Tasca Jr. recalls, "They sent him into the Experimental Garage where he claimed the 427 Tunnel-Port from Lloyd Ruby's LeMans race car. He also grabbed an experimental transmission and a special rear axle. While the Ford engineers were taking the KR-8 engine apart, we were putting the 427 in the Mustang."
Tasca Jr. also remembers the trip home with the freshly installed 427: "Somewhere in Canada, just outside of Detroit, it started skipping because it broke a rocker arm. So we took the pushrod out and drove all the way home on seven cylinders."
Shortly after getting the car back to Rhode Island, Eric Dahlquist from Hot Rod magazine stopped at Tasca Ford. It wasn't just a chance visit. "The fact that I wound up at Tasca didn't happen by accident," Dahlquist told us. "I was indirectly tipped off by a couple of engineers at Ford that if I was going East for my summer vacation, a stop at Tasca might prove interesting." Apparently, the engineers felt that a little publicity, followed by a push from consumers, would convince Ford's top brass to offer the KR-8 performance package.
Adding more air and fuel was...
Adding more air and fuel was obviously part of the KR-8 combination. According to Dahlquist's notes from his visit in 1967, Tasca Ford offered customers a fuel upgrade consisting of a C0AZ-9350-C fuel pump, fuel filter, 25 feet of 3/8-inch neoprene fuel line, and a "non-restriction" C0AE-9601-C air cleaner.
Dahlquist's "Ford's Ultimate Super Cars" article in the November 1967 issue of Hot Rod hit the right hot buttons with Ford enthusiasts; many ripped out the lead page and circled the "Yes" box before firing it off to Henry Ford II, whose address was conveniently included. "All those 'ballots' went to Henry Ford II," says Dahlquist. "It became one of the most controversial stories I ever did."
The rest is history. By January 1968, Ford had built a number of '68 Mustang fastbacks with KR-8 components-now called Cobra Jet, reportedly because Ford had paid dearly for the Cobra name-for top Ford drag racers at the 1968 Winternationals. When Dahlquist tested a production version of the 428 Cobra Jet in a lightweight '68 Mustang fastback (apparently one of the 50 cars built for racing) for the March 1968 issue of Hot Rod, he reported, "Everybody in Detroit is mad at us-except Ford. With the help of about 2,000 of you out there in readerland who dutifully filled out the ballot in the November issue and mailed it to Dearborn, several key executives who doubted that Ford cars lacked competitive street performance have reversed their opinions." Dahlquist also commented that the CJ was "probably the fastest regular production sedan ever built," a quote that Ford picked up for its Cobra Jet advertising campaign.
Tasca Ford at night, as photographed...
Tasca Ford at night, as photographed by Eric Dahlquist during his visit to Rhode Island in the summer of 1967. At right is the used car department (with a Mercury Cyclone and Pontiac GTO). A '67 Shelby is parked right in front of the showroom.
Ford's version of the KR-8...
Ford's version of the KR-8 looked like this when it debuted as the 428 Cobra Jet at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals.
Ford supplied its top drag...
Ford supplied its top drag racers with CJ-powered Mustang fastbacks for the 1968 Winternationals. Here, a Car Craft magazine staffer (left) and "Dyno" Don Nicholson check out the 428 Cobra Jet engine. Al Joniec defeated Hubert Platt in an all-Mustang SS/E final, then went on to claim the overall Super Stock championship.
On April 1, 1968, Ford added...
On April 1, 1968, Ford added the 428 Cobra Jet to the Mustang GT's option list. A hood scoop and black hood stripe were the only external differences between the 428 Cobra Jet-powered Mustang GTs and a regular GT.
On April 1, the 428 Cobra Jet was introduced to the world as a new 335hp performance option for the Mustang and Fairlane. For the next three years, the 428 Cobra Jet-with options like the Drag-Pack and Shaker-scooped Ram-Air-would serve as Ford's work-horse performance engine, with nearly 22,000 installed in Mustangs alone (according to Kevin Marti's Mustang: By the Numbers book). Shelby would cash in with the upgraded '681/2 GT500KR, which took its name from Tasca's original King of the Road KR-8.
But what happened to the original '67 KR-8 hardtop? Bob Tasca Jr. knows all too well. "I hit a telephone pole with it in October 1967," he admits. "I had just gotten my driver's license six weeks before. That was the end of that car." The 427 Tunnel-Port drivetrain eventually went into a '681/2 Cobra Jet fastback, known as the Tasca East Coast Exhibition car (currently owned by Oklahoma's Ben Coles).
This is how most would remember...
This is how most would remember the 428 Cobra Jet-with a Shaker hoodscoop in '69-'70 Mach 1s, although the CJ was available in all Mustang models and body styles.
Note: Tasca Ford remains in business today, although the location has moved from East Providence to Cranston, Rhode Island. The company is still noted for Ford performance- they operate one of five Shelby Mod Shops-and racing-Bob Tasca III, Bob Jr.'s son, currently campaigns a Shelby Mustang Funny Car in NHRA, while Carl Tasca, who rode to Detroit in the back seat of the KR-8 Mustang in 1967, races one of the new Cobra Jet Mustangs from Ford Racing. Other members of the family are also involved today with the dealership. Bob Tasca Sr. is still known to show up for work.
Our thanks to Ben Coles for alerting us to the story of the KR-8 and to Drew Hardin for tracking down Eric Dahlquist's Hot Rod photos and notes in the Petersen Publishing archives.
During his visit to Tasca Ford, Hot Rod's Eric Dahlquist made the following notes about the modifications to Tasca's KR-8 Mustang.
- 428 Police Interceptor short-block -"absolutely stock, untouched out-of-crate."
- Cylinder heads: '63 1/2 406 ("'63 1/2 427 preferred").
- Valves: 2.06 intake and 1.66 exhaust valves, light hollow-type with stock 427-type valve springs, 1.82-inch installed height.
- Rocker arms: adjustable 1.76.
- Cam: Stock '67 390 GTA, advanced 3 degrees.
- Intake manifold: Police Interceptor aluminum with Bakalite spacer/divider.
- Carburetor: Holley LeMans, with four-way shooter nozzle and LeMans manual linkage curve.
- Fuel line: 3/8-inch from gas tank to 427-type fuel pump ("relieved with #13 drill bit to eliminate percolation when hot; electric fuel pump optional").
- Air induction: 6-inch opening in grille, connecting to carburetor.
- Distributor: 427 dual-point with full centrifugal 10-degree plate and 427 HP wires.
- Exhaust: 427 Fairlane headers modified to fit; 2 1/4-inch H-pipe and tailpipes from '66 Fairlane, glasspack mufflers.
- Other: BF32 spark plugs, GT350 power steering pulley, deep sump oil pan (6-quart capacity with filter), 427 oil pump, eliminated exhaust control valve.
- Transmission: Stock Police Interceptor C6 with heavy-duty converter ("1-2 shift at 6,400 rpm; 2-3 shift at 6,200 rpm").
- Rearend: 3.50 Limited-Slip with 28-tooth axles.
- Front: 5/16-inch spacer under left-front lower spring pad, increase left-front stabilizer 3/4-inch link spacer, increase right-front 3/8-inch link spacer.
- Rear: Increase right-rear spring hangers 2-inches, increase left-rear spring hangers 1-inch, turn two leafs 180 degrees but leave main and first leafs in standard position, Shelby-type snubbers in same location as GT500. Clamp rear springs similar to original equipment.
- Autolite SuperFlex shock absorbers.
- Relocate battery to right-rear; use heavy-duty type cable.