5 Fastest Muscle Cars Powered by Ford's Iconic 428 Cobra Jet

Though it was only produced for three years, the 428 Cobra Jet was one of Ford's most appreciated high-performance engines duting the original muscle car era. It powered nine Ford, Mercury, and Shelby models, most of which were capable of quarter-mile runs of under 14 seconds.
1968 Mercury Cougar XR7 GT-E 428 CJ 17 photos
Photo: Bring a Trailer
1969 Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet1969 Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet1969 Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet1969 Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet1968 Mercury 428 Cyclone GT1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E XR7 428 CJ1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E XR7 428 CJ1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E XR7 428 CJ
It all started in 1967 when Rhode Island-based Tasca Ford, a performance-oriented dealership, created a Mustang drag racer called KR-8. It used a modified engine that combined high-flow 427 cylinder heads with a 428 Police Interceptor short-block - a recipe that led to consistent 13-second quarter-mile runs.

The KR-8 earned nationwide fame when it was featured in Hot Rod magazine, and from that point on, Mustang enthusiasts from all corners of the country started flooding local dealerships, enquiring about the availability of a similar engine setup. Some even went as far as tearing up the article from the magazine and mailing it to Ford's headquarters, demainding the powerplant.

In April 1968, the Blue Oval obliged, introducing a factory-built 428 inspired by the Tasca Ford units and called it Cobra Jet.

The engine (in both Cobra Jet and  Super Cobra Jet configurations) was built on a regular production line and used different heads throughout its lifespan, but the output rating remained the same: 335 hp and 440 lb-ft (600 Nm).

It turned the Mustang and Cougar pony cars into veritable supercars but also powered intermediates such as the Torino, Fairlane, Comet, or Cyclone.

5. 1969 Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet

1969 Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet
Photo: Barrett-Jackson
In 1968, the performance-oriented version of the Comet, dubbed Cyclone, became its own model. Since both were redesigned entirely that year, 1969 was a carry-over year in terms of design, so to attract new buyers, Mercury added a new model to the Cyclone line: the Cobra Jet.

Apart from the high-powered engine that gave it its name, the Cyclone Cobra Jet was available with bespoke hood stripes, a blacked-out grille, dual exhausts, a competition handling package, a 3:50:1 rear axle ratio, and an optional Ram Air intake.

Though it had a slight weight disadvantage over its CJ-powered pony car sibling (the Cougar), the Mercury Cyclone CJ was slightly faster for that model year.

In a test conducted by Motor Trend, the intermediate fastback was able to run the quarter mile in 13.86 seconds at 101.7 mph (163.6 kph). In contrast, the 1969 CJ-powered Mercury Cougar Eliminator's fastest independently-tested run (courtesy of Supercar Annual) yielded a time of 13.90 seconds. Not a huge difference by any means, but still enough to make the 1969 Cyclone faster.

4. 1968 Mercury 428 Cyclone GT

1968 Mercury 428 Cyclone GT
Photo: Ford Motor Co
The 1969 Cobra Jet wasn't the first Mercury Cyclone to hide the mighty 428 CJ under its hood. That distinction goes to the previous year's model.

As I mentioned earlier, the Cyclone became its own model in 1968, receiving a thorough redesign that differentiated it from its Mercury Comet and Ford Fairlane siblings.

The high-performance trim was the GT which came with a 390-ci (6.4 liters) V8 as standard, but by mid-model year the newly-introduced Cobra Jet 428 became an option, replacing the old 427. Only some of the 1968 GTs got this option, and even fewer have survived.

The 3,740-pound (1,696 kg) 428 Cyclone GT was not the fastest muscle car around in 1968, but with a quarter mile run of 13.85 seconds at 101.69 mph (163.6 kph), it was the fourth fastest factory model ever powered by the Cobra Jet.

3. 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet
Photo: Mecum
Introduced in 1964, the Mustang was a marketing success of epic proportions that pioneered the pony car segment.

However, even when equipped with the most powerful V8 option, it was far from a performance car. That started to change from 1965 onwards when Ford (initially with the help of Shelby American) began adding more power to the engine lineup.

For the 1969 model year, the whole Mustang lineup received another set of both cosmetic and mechanical improvements. That year also marked the introduction of a series of high-performance models, including the popular Mach 1.

Instantly recognizable due to its partially black hood and complementing side strips, the Mach 1 was only available as a SportsRoof (fastback) and came standard with a multitude of performance features. Its options list also included the 428 CJ engine, which transformed it into one of the most badass pony cars that one could buy that year.

Equipped with this engine, the Mach 1 'Stang ran the quarter mile in 13.69 seconds at a speed of 103.4 mph (166.4 kph) during a run by Popular Hot Rodding magazine.

2. 1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet

1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet
Photo: Bring a Trailer
When the Cobra Jet engine was introduced in April 1968, a Holman-Moody-prepped 'Stang was chosen to showcase it.

Ford also built 50 CJ-powered 'Stangs (dubbed 135 Series) for NHRA stock class homologation and shipped them to select dealerships nationwide.

Compared to 1969, when anyone could get a CJ-powered Mach 1 in a bunch of available colors, only a chosen few could get one in 1968, and they had to settle for one color: Wimbledon White.

The folks at Hot Rod magazine got their hands on one and achieved a quarter-mile time of 13.56 seconds at 106.6 mph (171.5 kph).

1. 1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E 428 CJ

1968 Mercury Cougar GT\-E XR7 428 CJ
Photo: Bring a Trailer
The Cougar was introduced in the fall of 1966 as Lincoln-Mercury's challenger in the pony car segment. Basically a Mustang dressed in a finer suit, it followed in its sibling's footsteps and became a popular model for the Ford division.

For the 1968 model year, a new high-performance version called GT-E was introduced. Initially, it could be had with the mighty 427, but the Cobra Jet became its sole engine option from April onwards.

Those who wanted to have the ultimate version of the Cougar also added the XR-7 package (shown above), which brought a wood-trimmed dashboard, full instrumentation with black-face gauges, toggle switches, and an overhead console.

The Cougar GT-E 428 CJ was capable of running the quarter mile in 13.23 seconds at 103.4 mph (166.4 kph). Not only was it the fastest factory-built, Cobra-Jet powered model, but, according to Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine, it was the fastest muscle car of 1968.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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