Old Cars Weekly archive – April 3, 2008 issue
Story and photos by Geoff Stunkard
A Torino to take the song out of the birds, the bees and the judges
Cobra. The name itself was for the Asiatic serpent noted for its fast speed and quick-acting venom. When performance Fords come to mind, the connotation is instantly toward Carroll Shelby’s AC sports car, equipped with horsepower that was just as fast-acting as its counterparts. In the final two years of the swinging 1960s, Ford would appropriate the snake name for both an engine design and the most potent member of its midsize line-up, the Torino Cobra.
This type of Cobra actually began its life as a venomous response to the mocking of the Road Runner, the stinging of the Super Bee and the gavel-hammering of the GTO Judge. It was the era of budget muscle, and you could get the Ford with either notchback or SportsRoof fastback styling cues. The trim found on the more posh Torino GT was kept on a shelf back in Dearborn, with horsepower being of more import. In fact, unlike the standard 400 or less cubes from the competition, each Cobra began life pre-disposed for street-light killing with a 428 Cobra Jet under the hood, worked over with better-breathing head ports for the ’69 model year. The Ford Top Loader four-speed came in the car standard, unless you opted for the C6 automatic, and Cobras also gained staggered rear shocking to prevent wheel-hop, F70x14 rubber and hood pins. Not bad for a car with a base sticker of about $3,500.
For guys looking for the king of Cobras, another $133 led to the CJ-R package. This would include the Ram-Air hood scoop and its vacuum-operated flap on the air cleaner (the non-shaker scoop was the same low-profile version used on the new-for-1969 Mach 1). According to one source, opting for the CJ-R required the buyer to add a tach, wide-oval tires and bucket seats (the car seen here has two of these three options, with a standard bench seat). Jerry Becker of Alexandria, Va., and his charmed Cobra were invited to one of the Forge Invitational Musclecar shows as a representative of this particularly poisonous species.
Becker’s 1969-era striker originally came from the plant as a CJ-R with the fresh-air package, but that’s gone now. This is because a former owner had opted for a scarce OEM twin-four-barrel package on the engine. This layout could have been dealer-installed or added later; it consists of a pair of Holley 650-cfm carburetors on the Ford intake, and was available as an over-the-counter dealership upgrade at the time. Since the dual-quads would not work with the Ram-Air air cleaner, the car now has a non-functional scoop, and the fiberglass batting under the hood covers the opening to keep dirt out of the engine bay. When Jerry bought the 37,000-mile car back in the late 1990s from a man named Bill Headwell, most of the changes seen here had already been done to it.
Headwell had completed the car’s restoration in the years he owned it (between 1991 and 1998). In addition to the intake, the car also hosts aftermarket Hooker headers (which required a remote dual oil filters mounted on the inner fender to keep the oil from boiling) and an Isky camshaft. The ownership trail has been vague on this T7 Candy Apple Red reptile, though; Jerry has only been able to trace this car as far as the used car department of an Ohio Chevrolet dealership.
One factory option the car did get was the Drag Pack. This included a remote oil cooler mounted in front of the radiator and the nodular nine-inch rear (with either 3.91 gears like this car has, or a super-stiff optional 4.30 ring). Also, instead of the chrome emblems found on most Cobras, this car has Cobra cartoons, which were shown in the early advertising for the package. With a build date of July 2, 1969, (late in the model year), it’s possible that the decals may have been leftovers from the early part of the year that were being used up before the 1970 models debuted.
Why didn’t the 1969 Cobra continue with the decals in the era of “cartoon” muscle promotion? There could have been issues with getting placement of the large graphic done properly, and it was therefore a lot simpler to bolt on an emblem into pre-stamped holes. We don’t know, but the fanged rollers are nonetheless on Jerry’s front quarter panels.
The aforementioned black vinyl and cloth bench seating (similar to what came in the rare Talladega aero-styled package), the pod-type dash cluster and a Hurst T-handle shifter to row through the gears are all inside the drivers compartment. Headwell was told when he rebuilt it that the car could run as quick as 11.80s, but neither he nor Jerry have taken it down the drag strip to find out if that performance was realistic. Regardless, it turns heads when that big lung rumbles to life, and like the hood and hiss of a real cobra, that big-inch sound alone was usually enough to send the birds, the bees and the judges fleeing into the darkness.