Car of the Week: 1969 Ford Cobra

Discovery and resurrection of a 1969 Ford Cobra sleeper
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Car of the Week 2020
1969 Ford Cobra A031

While taking in the weekly Bakers of Milford Sunday car show in Milford, Mich., I made eye contact with the front grille and four headlamps on what appeared to be an uncommon 1969 Ford Fairlane formal roof two-door hardtop. The glossy black paint on the sleek hood and the black vinyl top made the car stand out as it slithered toward me.

The owner eased the Fairlane up the paved access road while looking for a spot on the show field. The car kept my stare and as it rolled by, my eyes locked on the rectangular “428” fender badge and snake emblem on the driver’s side fender. While stopped in my tracks, I thought to myself, “Could it be real?” Then I spotted the snake emblem with scripted “COBRA” letters on the deck lid and went into “seek, find and discovery” mode. It was worth risking a bite to learn if this was an honest-to-goodness 1969 Cobra or someone’s gussied-up Fairlane Torino.

With minimal ornamentation and a Raven Black exterior and black vinyl top, this 1969 Cobra looks ready for the business of burning rubber.

With minimal ornamentation and a Raven Black exterior and black vinyl top, this 1969 Cobra looks ready for the business of burning rubber.

The car was eventually parked in an elevated area overlooking the main show field. As I made my way up the grassy incline, the car’s mint undercarriage, suspension, oil pan and high-performance exhaust added to my curiosity. Within an arm’s length from the muscle car, I stepped back and looked at the total package, then reality started sinking in: this Cobra was looking legitimate.

Traditionally, car owners at this show raise their car’s hood to showcase the engine. Such was the case with the owner of this muscle car. One look at the pristine engine bay and chrome air cleaner with the glaring red “428” engine sticker and aluminum valve covers was all it took for me to reach out to the owner for the facts. After a brief introduction, owner Larry Slevin started filling me in on his rare muscle car. It was indeed a real 1969 Ford Cobra formal roof two-door hardtop. He and his wife, Lynn, purchased it earlier in the year from a seller in Wisconsin.

Charmed by a snake

During the 2007 Woodward Dream Cruise, Larry and Lynn Slevin spotted a blue 1969 Torino Talladega parked across the street from their usual parking spot at the Royal Oak Ford body shop. Curiosity had gotten the best of them and they made their way across busy Woodward Avenue. Larry struck up a conversation with the owner of the Talladega who introduced himself as Jim Plimpton. During the conversation, Larry mentioned he and Lynn were on a mission to restore a formal roof 1969 Ford Cobra, a very rare beast as most Fairlane Torinos given the Cobra treatment were SportsRoof fastback models. Larry and Lynne explained that they had recently purchased an R-Code Cobra, but after getting it home and taking a deep dive into the entire structure, they discovered it was more than they could take on. The car had spent its entire life in the Midwest and rust had literally destroyed the car’s critical structural parts. Restoring it was out of the question.

After hearing the story, Jim told them, “I have just the thing for you — an original 20,000-mile triple-black 1969 formal roof Cobra that has been sitting in my shop for nearly a decade.” When asked if it was for sale, Jim simply relied, “I currently have no plans to sell it and hopefully one day will restore the car.”

With its rather expensive vinyl top, someone appeared to want a Cobra muscle car that could be taken to church on Sunday morning and to the races on Sunday afternoon.

With its rather expensive vinyl top, someone appeared to want a Cobra muscle car that could be taken to church on Sunday morning and to the races on Sunday afternoon.

In February 2008, several months from his initial conversation with Jim Plimpton, Larry received the phone call he had been hoping for, but never expected to get. Jim offered to sell Larry the original triple-black 1969 Cobra. Not long after, Larry and Lynn went to Cudahy, Wis., met with Jim, looked over the Cobra and agreed to buy it. Before finalizing the deal, Jim had one stipulation: “I want to be the one to paint it.” Larry and Lynn agreed.

During the initial walk-around, Larry could not believe how original the Cobra looked. The body was in phenomenal condition and the car still wore its original Raven Black paint finish, but needed a new paint job. It was hard to believe the car had spent its entire life in Wisconsin.

After the Cobra was painted, Jim personally transported the rolling shell to Larry and Lynn’s shop in Novi, Mich., and the rest of the restoration process commenced. Most of the work was done in-house by Larry and his close friend Kevin Sharp, who had the knowledge, expertise and patience to help see the project to completion. They took on the rebuild of the four-speed transmission and Bob Fall, an engine builder from Toledo, Ohio, handled the task of bringing the 428-4V SCJ engine back to life.

Were it not for the snake on the decklid, this formal-roofed, midsize Ford could be mistaken for a detective’s cruiser.

Were it not for the snake on the decklid, this formal-roofed, midsize Ford could be mistaken for a detective’s cruiser.

The restoration was completed in August 2008, just in time for the Mustang Memories All Ford-Powered Car Show & Swap Meet at Greenmead Historical Park in Livonia, Mich., its first show. There, it received a best-in-class award, the first of many awards for the 1969 Cobra.

Hatching a Cobra

According to documents, this Cobra was ordered from Swendson Ford in Milwaukee on Oct. 11, 1968, and then built at the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Kansas City, Mo. It was ordered for the sole purpose of racing. The first owner took delivery on Dec. 4, 1968, and immediately started prepping it for the 1969 drag racing season. After engine failure in 1973, the Cobra was retired to a garage for 24 years with the engine and transmission sitting beside it.

In 1997, Jim Plimpton heard about the Cobra and worked out a deal to purchase it. He owned it for nine years before agreeing to sell it to Larry and Lynn Slevin in 2008.

The drag racing story is validated after looking at the 20,056 miles on the odometer. The mileage was kept low by the car’s short quarter-mile passes at the local drag strip, and the body remained solid from the Cobra’s limited time on Milwaukee streets.

The engine is Ford’s 428-4V Super Cobra Jet (SCJ) and since it’s the version without the ram air hood, it’s identified as a Q-code.

The engine is Ford’s 428-4V Super Cobra Jet (SCJ) and since it’s the version without the ram air hood, it’s identified as a Q-code.

Larry and Lynn keep a three-ring binder full of the Cobra’s important documents: copies of the window sticker, the build sheet and the Marti Report. These three documents all indicate this Cobra was unique and was clearly ordered by an original owner who intended to keep the car under the radar. He had created the perfect sleeper by ordering a car with a simple and unassuming exterior, yet with the best performance enhancements offered by Ford Motor Co.

Standard Cobra performance items included the 428-4V CJ V8 engine, four-speed fully synchronized manual transmission, competition suspension, staggered rear shock absorbers, F-70x14 wide-oval belted tires and 6-inch-wide steel wheels shod with “dog dish” hubcaps. Coiled Cobra emblems were placed on the front fenders, just behind the wheel openings, and on the deck lid, just above the rear bumper. By ordering the Q-code 428, the original owner avoided the noticeable hood scoop of the R-code 428 with ram air — thus making the black vinyl-topped car even more of a sleeper.

Trimmed in black, the Cobra’s interior features a broadcloth-and-vinyl bench seat, brushed-aluminum instrument dials, recessed door handles and black color-keyed carpeting.

Inside, there’s a black broadcloth vinyl bench seat. The shift handle to the close-ratio four-speed transmission bears a snake.

Inside, there’s a black broadcloth vinyl bench seat. The shift handle to the close-ratio four-speed transmission bears a snake.

Ford Motor Co. raised the bar when it equipped the mid-size Cobra with the 428-4V engine. The addition of high-performance cylinder heads, “header style” exhaust manifolds, a single Holley 735-cfm four-venturi carburetor and large intake and exhaust ports were the major performance features in the standard Ford 428 Cobra Jet engine. However, the original owner went all out by adding 4.30 gears to the optional Traction-Lok axle which turned the car into a Super Cobra Jet. In ordering the 4.30 gears, the standard 428 Cobra Jet gained upgraded engine components including stronger pistons, wrist pins, crankshaft, connecting rods, flywheel, flexplate and harmonic balancer. An external oil cooler was also part of the package. In February 1969, Ford called this package the Drag Pack and Cobra Jet engines paired with the Drag Pack became Super Cobra Jets. On Cobra Jets built before the Drag Pack and Super Cobra Jet names were applied — such as Larry and Lynn’s Cobra — the Super Cobra Jet name is retroactively used.

The recessed grille and headlamps weren’t advantageous in extended-length races, but were just fine for quarter-mile stints.

The recessed grille and headlamps weren’t advantageous in extended-length races, but were just fine for quarter-mile stints.

In addition to the all-important Traction-Lok differential (a $63.51 option) with optional 4.30 gears ($6.53), the original owner of this Cobra only ordered the vinyl top ($90.15) and tinted glass ($36.86). That’s it! The options added $197.05 to the formal roof Cobra’s $3206 base price, and with the $47.20 transportation charge, the total price paid was $3450.25.

To this day, no one really knows why the original owner ordered the Cobra as a formal roof Q-Code (non-Ram Air) 428 Super Cobra Jet. While the tinted glass makes sense on a Raven Black car with black upholstery, the checked box on the dealer order form for the black vinyl roof — the car’s most expensive option — will probably always remain a mystery.

Since its restoration, the 1969 Cobra has taken part in numerous world-class car shows and events such as the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals (MCACN), Eyes on Design, Concours d’Elegance of America and other concours events. It was also featured in a display at Ford Carlisle in 2012. No matter where it’s shown, spectators rave about the sleeper’s laser-straight body, flawless paint finish, attention to detail and black vinyl top. 

This triple-black 1969 Cobra was built without a radio and heater for a Wisconsinite, who probably intended to use it only as a race car.

This triple-black 1969 Cobra was built without a radio and heater for a Wisconsinite, who probably intended to use it only as a race car.

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The Brougham was the classy,  refined member of the Torino  family. Mike Brittnacher’s 1971 has been freshened and  repainted, but remains a  mostly original specimen  that is easy to admire.
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