Our story begins with two car-crazed research lab co-workers poring over glowing magazine reports of a new engine that had recently powered certain white Mustang fastbacks to Super Stock stardom at the NHRA's 1968 Winternationals in Pomona, California. That engine was of course Ford's 428 Cobra Jet, which would be released for production purposes in early April of 1968. One of those gearhead lab rats-a Ford man at heart, who was doing post-doctoral research at the time-was so impressed by what he'd read that, on May 13, 1968, he signed an order form at Rankin Ford Sales in London, Ontario, Canada, for one of those newly available '681/2 Mustang CJs. On that day, 35-year-old Dr. Ross Gillman wrote out a $100 check as a deposit on the Candyapple Red convertible that he has owned ever since.
This shot of Dr. Gillman and...
This shot of Dr. Gillman and his prized red ragtop was taken on Lake Erie's north shoreline around 1970. Notice its then-black C-stripes and lack of typical CJ-standard hood stripe. Also note that, though the original front Polyglas tires were still in place, a pair of whitewalls had already replaced worn-out rear skins.
Ross had gone to the dealership with the intention of ordering a four-speed car but, for some reason, Rankin Ford's performance-vehicle salesman of the era, Scott Wilson (who was actively campaigning a 427 SOHC-powered fuel dragster called "Time Machine" at the time) advised him that a C6 automatic was the only way to go. Ross did not order the 8,000-rpm tachometer that was optional on automatic CJs. Scott Wilson also suggested getting a 3.91:1 Traction-Lok rear axle in place of the CJ-standard 3.50:1 gear ratio. Ross agreed with that recommendation, but only after asking why. The salesman's reported reply was: "Are you really planning on doing 160 mph?" And Ross saw his point. Oh, and because the drag-oriented magazine articles of the day were suggesting that power steering ate up too much horsepower, he did not order it.
Ross did specifically order a Parchment interior and matching white C-stripes to go with a Parchment manual convertible top (with optional glass rear window). And, because of this anticipated white trim, he also specified that the CJ's distinctive matte-black hood stripe be deleted. But when his all-powerful GT arrived two months later in mid-July, although the hood stripe was left off as requested, both its code-2A standard interior and its C-stripes were black as coal (as can be seen in Ross's circa-1970 photo). This was about the only aspect of the 335hp monster that disappointed the good doctor, who then drove his muscular ragtop daily-yup, summer and winter-for about five years. Talk about speedy house calls . . .
Around 1973, or roughly the time of the first oil crisis, another of Rankin's salesmen tried to convince Ross of the need for a new, more fuel-frugal car. To help appraise its value as a trade-in, Ross let the sales dude drive the CJ. The doctor laughs as he recalls the guy's response to brief exposure to one of the most powerful pony cars ever assembled: "He must have punched it or something, because he came back and he was pale as a sheet." Nonetheless, a trade-in quote of just $400 left Ross so thoroughly underwhelmed that he refused to part with what had come to be known as his "old horse"-a wise decision, especially considering that only 34 '681/2 Cobra Jet convertibles had been built, though Ross didn't know it at the time. (As a side note, Ross's Marti Auto Elite report indicates that Rankin Ford also ordered a second, absolutely identical, CJ convertible.)
Shortly before this, Ross had had a Sig Erson "3/4 race" cam installed in the 428 (by the original salesman/drag racer, Scott Wilson), which, he admits with a chuckle, made the ragtop's personality "a little unmanageable," so after 1973 its role went from that of daily driver to occasional toy, and by 1980 it became something of a statue on wheels, sitting outside, unused, in the Gillman driveway for about a decade before finally moving into garage storage in the early '90s.