Accidental Performance

November 11, 2015

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Last week at the 2015 SEMA show, Ford Motor Company unveiled the 2015 Cobra Jet Mustang. The first Cobra Jet’s appeared in 1968 as “Super Stock” drag racing Mustangs that reestablished Ford as a leader on the dragstrip. However, were it not for the ingenuity of one man and his staff following a mechanical mishap, the Cobra Jet name may have never existed.

Bob Tasca (right) was the owner and founder of Tasca Ford; a Rhode Island dealer known for hot-rodding and drag racing Fords. Despite Ford’s redesign of the Mustang in 1967 to accommodate the larger, more powerful 390 cubic inch V8, the Mustang still couldn’t keep up with the Firebirds and GTO’s prowling Main Street. Recognizing that Ford’s lack of factory performance was costing him sales, Tasca wanted to find a way to add more muscle to the Mustang. As it happened, the solution to Ford’s performance problem came to him by accident.

One fateful night, a Tasca Ford mechanic accidently over-revved the engine in Tasca’s personal 1967 Mustang GT390 and catastrophically damaged it. Tasca was very upset, but rather than firing the guilty mechanic or selling the car, he hatched a unique plan. Tasca asked his assistant parts manager to order a 428 “Police Interceptor” short-block to repower his Mustang and had his mechanics assemble it using a unique combination of factory Ford parts. Once completed, Tasca’s Mustang posted a 13.39-second time at the local dragstrip, over a second quicker than a stock 390 Mustang and, more importantly, faster than any factory offering from the competition.

Tasca dubbed his creation the “KR-8” – or “King of the Road in 1968”, and used his status as a top dealer and a longstanding relationship with Hall of Fame Inductee Henry Ford II to lobby for the KR-8’s production. Tasca brought the KR-8 Ford’s Dearborn test track in 1967 and beat everything they had. Tasca’s creation also caught the eye of Hot Rod magazine technical editor Eric Dahlquist, who wrote a feature on the KR-8 and included a ballot for Ford to build the car. After thousands of ballots marked “Yes” began piling up on Ford II’s desk, Ford’s PR department contacted Dahlquist to say “Enough already, we are going to build it.”

Because Ford had paid for the rights to the “Cobra” name, the decision was made to call their version the “Cobra Jet”. The first Cobra Jets arrived at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California where they dominated the competition. On April 1st, 1968, the 428 Cobra Jet engine was introduced as an option for the Mustang and Fairlane. The 1968 GT-500 Mustangs were also offered with the 428 engine and dubbed the “GT500KR” as a nod to Tasca’s Mustang. A Cobra Jet engine was available in numerous other Ford Models until it disappeared after 1974. Ford revived the name in 2008 with a new Cobra Jet Mustang and has continued to update the model.

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