January 2014 Ride of the Month: Gary's (93RGTE) 68 428 GT-E

The January 2014 Ride of the Month is Gary’s (93RGTE) 68 428 GT-E!

Let’s start at the beginning…

In 1957 the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) banned its members, including Ford and Mercury from using race wins in their advertising, and giving direct support to race teams. The ban followed a very bloody period in racing as speeds increased dramatically, and track safety got left behind. The ban was much more than just a promise to not promote racing, it was a promise not to promote anything that even mentioned speed, power, or performance. It was as if the lessons of Prohibition had been forgotten only long enough to apply them to the automotive market.

Following World War II, Henry Ford II hired a new professional management team called the Whiz Kids, and at the head of the pack was Robert McNamara. McNamara had risen through the Finance and Planning area to become the President of Ford Motor Company. It was first for a non-engineer, non product oriented person, to take the helm. McNamara had no qualms with the ban, and under his direction, Ford would sell safety first. The seat belt, padded dash, dished steering wheel, and standard safety glass would be a part of the strategy. He also felt that cars were too big, heavy, complex and expensive. McNamara’s solution was the Falcon. Under his guidance, the Falcon was launched in 1959 to address these issues, and following the embarrassment that had been Edsel, it was very good seller for Ford.

In November of 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected President, and nominated Robert McNamara to become the Secretary of Defense. McNamara’s next project, the Viet Nam war, was much less popular than the Falcon. The good news is that his departure from Ford cleared the way for new management to take over. In particular, Lee Iacocca, who had stared with Ford in the Engineering department but had risen through the ranks in Sales and Marketing. Iacocca, realized that the market was at the cusp of the baby boomer generation and that baby boomers were not looking for safety, they were looking for excitement. The Ford product line up was anything but exciting. The GM divisions were working around the racing ban like skilled bootleggers delivering moonshine. Ford had a lot of catching up to do. Iacocca convinced a very receptive Henry Ford II that if Ford was in business to sell cars they needed to put some excitement back into the brand. In June of 1962 Ford officially withdrew from the ban and Total Performance was born.

If Ford was to win races, then the first place they had to start was under the hood. The 390 was being eaten alive by the 409 powered Chevrolets and Super Duty 421 Pontiacs. Displacement would rise first to 406 cubic inches when the 390 was bored out to 4.13". The 406 was making more power, but it now exceed the capabilities of the bottom end of the engine. The solution was to add cross bolts passing through special individually fitted spacers between the main bearings and the side of the block. The new much stronger bottom end, and very careful thin wall casting allowed for a larger 4.235" bore and 427 cubic inches of displacement (actually 425ci).

The victories followed in abundance. In 1963 Ford dominated NASCAR, kicking off the season with 427’s finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th at Daytona! Things were even better in '64 when the 427 racked up 30 wins for Ford and another 5 for Mercury, in spite of the fact that Dodge and Plymouth were running the new 426 Hemi even though it had never been installed in any production vehicle and was therefore not technically legal. The 427 was so dominant that for '65 NASCAR banned the 427 high riser from competition, and finally Dodge started actually selling some 426 Hemis in production cars. Ford responded with their own Hemi, this one with overhead cams, called the SOHC 427 “Cammer” and after one look, NASCAR banned that too.

NASCAR wasn’t the only race to be won. In 1965, Ford had started providing Carroll Shelby with the 427 to be used in special version of the Cobra to called the 427 S/C for Semi Competition. This new version of the 427 would feature a new more advanced oiling system that would be known as the Side Oiler. The new 427 side oiler was so durable that it could run continuously for over 24 hours at better than 7000 RPM. Installed in the GT 40 Mark II the 427 captured such a commanding lead at Le Mans that they were able to co-ordinate a 1, 2, 3, finish. The 427 dominated Le Mans again in 1967, and in 1968 it was effectively banned when FIA changed the rules to a maximum of 302 cubic inches (Ford still won!). But the rule changes were signaling the end of the road for the mighty 427. Both NASCAR and FIA required a minimum of 500 vehicles per year be produced to qualify an engine for racing. With both sanctioning bodies now determined to blunt the success of the 427, it would no longer make sense to build these high cost vehicles. The '68 Cougar GT-E was the only vehicle to feature the 427 in 1968 and it became very last vehicle built by Ford with the 427 engine installed at the factory.

While Ford was successful at the track with factory backed efforts, things were not going as well for the cars that were actually hitting the show room floor. The 427 was a proven winner, but it was also a purpose built racing engine, and very expensive to produce. Consequently Ford built very few and charged a lot for the ones they did build. Chevrolet had focused more on affordable performance and in 1967 they offered no less than 6 different versions of their 427 engine and by 1969 they were putting them in just about everything except Corvairs. Ford had to respond with an affordable challenger that they could put on the show room floor in numbers big enough to be noticed on the street. The answer was the Cobra Jet 428.

The big cost drivers for the 427 were the larger bore, that demanded very close tolerance in the casting process, and the hand fitted spacers for the cross bolted main bearings. The main benefits of these features was high rpm endurance of the sort never required in a street engine. The 428 Cobra Jet would have the same bore as the 406 and a longer stroke to create almost the same displacement as the 427, but at much less cost. To strengthen the bottom end, additional webbing would reinforce the main bearing saddles and the the crank would be made of nodular iron. The CJ would have heads with larger valves and ports, stronger connecting rods with larger bolts, and be topped off with 735 CFM Holley Carb. It would also be significantly underrated at just 335 horse power, (actual output was closer to 410). The exact reason whey they rated it so low will probably never be known, but since the NHRA was using a qualification formula that was based on advertised horsepower per pound, it would give Ford the unfair advantage to underrate the engine. While at the same time, insurance companies were adding very large surcharges to their rates for vehicles with high powered engines. And one last thing the Ford engineers had discovered: ram air was nearly free horsepower, and all 1968 Cobra Jets would come equipped to take advantage of it.

The Cobra Jet was an instant hit, or you could say that the competition had no idea what hit them. The new Cobra Jet 428 would make its debut at the NHRA Winter Nationals in Pomona California in February of 1968. The results were indisputable: Ford Motor Company sponsored five drivers (Gas Ronda, Jerry Harvey, Hubert Platt, Don Nicholson, and Al Joniec) to race six 428 CJ-equipped Mustangs. The Mustangs raced in the C Stock Automatic (C/SA, 9.00 - 9.49 lbs. per advertised horsepower), Super Stock E, and Super Stock E Automatic (SS/E manual transmission, SS/EA automatic transmission, 8.70 - 9.47 lbs per advertised horsepower) classes. The engine lived up to expectations as four of the cars made it to their respective class finals. Al Joniec won both his class (defeating Hubert Platt in an all-CJ final) and the overall Super Stock Eliminator The Cobra Jet would enter production availability shortly after on April 1st 1968. The competition could only wish that this was some kind of April Fools joke. In the March 1968 issue Hot Rod magazine confirmed it was not; they said "“The CJ will be the utter delight of every Ford lover and the bane of all the rest because, quite frankly, it is probably the the fastest regular production sedan ever built.”

The GT-E was originally advertised as coming equipped with a slightly de-fanged version of the the 427 side oiler, constrained by a 600 CFM carb, restrictive exhaust and a hydraulic lifter cam. With the end in sight for the 427, the transition to the Cobra Jet made sense. It would deliver the kind of performance the market demanded, and make Ford money at the same time. But the price would not reflect the savings and buyers correctly understood that the Mustang, which was never offered with the 427, was suddenly a great value with the new Cobra Jet, in particular compared with the GT-E equipped with the same engine. And not only was the Mustang finally available with the big motor, so was every other Cougar in the line. The math is not complicated: the GT-E package was $1311, (more than a third the price of the car), and the Cobra Jet was only $420.95. The GT-E no longer made sense from a purely economic point of view and only 37 would be built with the 428 Cobra Jet under the hood (14 standards and 23 XR-7s).

For a time, GT-E’s were coming down the assembly line, some getting the W code 427, and others getting the new R code 428 Cobra Jet. The very last Ford vehicle to be built with the 427 was a GT-E scheduled for build on June 27th 1968, the day before Gary’s GT-E on June 28th.

It took McNamra’s Falcon to create the Mustang, and the Mustang to create the Cougar, and Iacocca’s Total Performance strategy to create the 427, and it took the 427 to create the GT-E. In many ways it was the pressure of the success of the 427 that created its own demise and set the stage for the Cobra Jet 428. Eventually Iaccoa would move on to create the Pinto, and ultimately be fired by Henry Ford II. The new emissions laws, the Arab oil embargo, and wholesale changes in society would spell the end for the muscle car era.

We are lucky that fate created these incredible cars and we are even luckier that a few survive. The story of Gary’s 428 Cobra Jet powered GT-E is one of my favorites and no one can tell it as well as Gary. So in his words, this is the story of our January 2014 Ride of the Month: Gary’s (93RGTE) 1968 428 Cobra Jet GT-E.

At first I was skeptical that summer day in 1967 when Dad pulled into the driveway with Mom’s brand new XR-7. The year before he had traded in our beloved ‘62 Colony Park that had those great “George Jetson” taillights for a boxy ’66. Now the ’54 Victoria was nowhere in sight – the car I desperately wanted to drive, since I was a ’54 model, too. All of that melted away when we went for our first ride. That beautiful wood grained dash! A built-in tach and those oh-so-cool toggle switches! That long hood! The hide-away headlights and the magic taillights! The glorious air conditioning for those hundred-degree Sacramento summer afternoons! OK, it was a 289, but it was a FOUR BARREL! Once around the block and we were hooked. Dad had scored! Lucky Mom! Lucky us.

So started our love affair with Mercury Cougars. I learned to drive on the ’67, went on my first date in it. Hmmm…wonder what ever happened to Janine….

1968 saw the advent of what we called the Monster-motor Cougars. 427s and 428s, oh my! With Dan Gurney driving a Cougar in the Trans Am serious rust lust had set in. It was mostly my middle brother, Bruce, and I who were smitten. We loved the Cougs and later the Boss 302 Mustangs, as well. By 1973 prices on these cars had begun to fall and Bruce was the first to land a monster. His first was a Cobra Jet XR-7 G. I am here to tell you that car was (is) a beast. We thought the ’67 was pretty fast. Ha. The first ride in that G was breathtaking.

We kept looking in the paper for monster-motor Cougars and Bosses, but it wasn’t until 1977 and I was going to college in Southern California that I spotted a GT-E in the LA Times. What was a starving college student to do? Call Dad, of course!

“Dad! There’s a GT-E in the paper. You have to buy it!!!”
“I have to buy it?”
“You have to buy it!!!”
“Well go take a look and tell me what you find.”

I looked. He bought. One owner, nice shape, original paint, never hit, fast as –well – maybe not quite as fast as Bruce’s, but plenty fast. Dad was smitten. He loved that car. What really got him was how docile the car would be until you applied your right foot sufficiently to wake the beast. It still cracks me up thinking of him, this very conservative Federal judge, driving his hot rod Cougar to work and parking it next to his colleague’s German “Merc.”

A couple of years later I picked up my first Boss 302. Bruce had one, too, and our favorite pastime became chasing each other through the hills of Northern California. Often it would be Dad in the GT-E, Bruce in his G or Boss, our friend, Richard, in his ’68 XR-7 4-speed, and me in my Boss. One of our favorite trips was to fly over the hills to the sprint car races in Calistoga. How we ever survived those crazy days is a testament to the reality of guardian angels. So many stories. So many good times. There’s the one about “Oh $hit Bridge”…. The one about Richard dumping his Cougar on its side……And the one about……

Well years, families and careers would temper the craziness, but the cars were always the thread that kept the family close. Dad continued to drive the GT-E occasionally, but its lot was to be that of an outdoor kitty. His first new car, a ’41 Ford, occupied the garage while the Cougar lived on the driveway and slowly began to weather. Bruce wisely shot a thick coat of paint on it one time to keep the rust demons away.

About seven years ago, the time had come. Dad was in his nineties and was getting his affairs in order. I just now had the funny thought how much he and that car were alike: older and weathered, but still on the road with a heart of gold. Dad handed the GT-E over to lucky me. What a cool day.

Of course it just had to be one of those hundred-degree-plus days that I chose to drive the car from Sacramento to LA for its makeover. I ran it over the Grapevine with the heater on full blast. News flash: Big blocks get hot. Me too. Good times.

I assembled a good team to do the restoration. Jim Pinkerton was instrumental in helping me to decide how far to go with it. I decided to take it to a good driver condition since that’s what it has always been: a running, registered, driving car.

The very best day in the life of the GT-E, though, was after the restoration when I drove it back up to Sacramento, pulled in the driveway, and Dad came out to see it. Words fail. You can imagine. It was just so great that he got to see it finished and to drive it one last time.

Bill, as always, a history lesson that reads like a good novel. Gary, what a great story! Congratulations on Ride of the Month.

Hey Gery, great story, I can picture your dads face when he saw that it was finished, especially being able to drive it once again. Great memories!

Congratulations Gary. I’m glad to see your car as ROTM. :thumbup:

There are a bunch of images that go with the write up that were lost when the server went down. I will try to locate them and put them back in. Check back if you care about that stuff…

Yes Bill - Please do get those images back up - they were really cool - especially the ad for the CJ Cougar. Where on Earth did you find it? I never saw that one!

Also lost in the server’s crash was my thanks for all of the nice comments. Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone! Special thanks to Bill for your typically eloquent and informative writeup, and for your continued efforts on our behalf here on the site.

Beautiful car!
Great story!
Congrats on winning ROTM.

Congrats to you. Beautiful Cougar.

Tremendous write up. I really do enjoy reading the ROTM write ups.

congratulations again :slight_smile: this is one of my favorite gt-e iv´e ever seen !

what wheel and tire size are on this gt-e ? seems to be the best combination for me :slight_smile:

Great story! I have a few photos of the car from a Mercury Stray Cats show in Sacramento prior to its restoration. I believe Some of our club members may have more. It is great to hear about the cat still being driven…as that is what they were built for.

I love the article and the fact that the cat will always tie Gary to his family.

Great write-up, great story, great car. Well deserved ROTM, congrats!

Another photo showing the Mercury Stray Cats banner in the top right.

The picture above is of my (Dad’s) car. That is so cool you found and posted it! Behind it is Mom’s yellow '67 XR-7 and ahead may be my other brother Bob’s XR7-G. I just spoke to brother Bruce. He said they had heard about this Cougar Club meet, and they drove over to check it out. I’m pretty sure that is Southgate Lincoln/Mercury, or whatever it had turned into, on Florin Road in Sacramento. (Can’t tell you how many parts came from there through the years!) Do you know the year that photo was taken?

Bill – Would it be possible for you to download me a file on the article on Gary’s car, that I could print out on my end for the master record on the car? Thanks. Jim.

Jim, I can send you the part I wrote, and Gary if you can provide your permission for the part you wrote, I will send that as well.

Permission happily granted.

May 22, 2004 at Winter Lincoln-Mercury on Florin Road.
I have another photo from the show of all three cars.
All the photos from this show should be on our Facebook page in a separate event folder.

http://www.classiccougar.com is our website, and in a few weeks it will be totally relaunched.

Gary, PM me if you want the photos sent to your email address.

May 22, 2004 at Winter Lincoln-Mercury on Florin Road.

All the photos from this show should be on our Facebook page in a separate event folder.

Thanks, Gavin - will send you my email address.
BTW, that is not brother Bob’s G ahead of the GT-E in the photo.

Great thread, great story, Bill, great Car, Gary!

And great pics from some responders! Whew, I’m spent :laughing: