Ford unbridles 50th-anniversary Mustang Cobra Jet dragster

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
Ford Performance unveils their 50th Anniversary edition of the legendary Mustang Cobra Jet outside their Woodward Dream Cruise Clubhouse.

Royal Oak – Woodward Dream Cruisers like to flex American muscle, and Ford on Thursday showed off its latest hard-body — the $130,000 limited-production Cobra Jet, the most powerful NHRA Mustang drag racer ever.

Ford Performance unveils their 50th Anniversary edition of the legendary Mustang Cobra Jet outside their Woodward Dream Cruise Clubhouse at the Kruse and Muer restaurant on Woodward Avenue Thursday morning, August 16, 2018.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Cobra Jet at the 1968 National Hot Rod Association Winternationals, Ford says its latest earth-pawing steed will break the tape in the quarter-mile in the mid-eight-second range at about 150 mph.

While the 565-horsepower Cobra Jet shares a chassis with the current sixth-generation Mustang, it comes equipped with significant modifications including a solid rear axle, three-speed racing transmission, huge hood bulge housing a supercharged V-8, skinny front tires and 9-inch rear slicks to put down the power.

A stripped-down interior helps shed pounds. Out back, a wheelie bar and drag chute immediately identify the Mustang as a dragster.

Missing are the Mustang's signature quad-tailpipes. The Jet's exhaust simply stops at the headers underneath the cockpit, creating a deafening roar.

The Cobra Jet will do battle against the similarly equipped Chevy Camaro COPO and Dodge Challenger Drag Pack at quarter-mile Midwest drag strips like Norwalk in Ohio as well as the legendary Pomona, California strip. The Detroit Three brands dominate NHRA drag racing.

The limited-production Cobra Jet is the most powerful NHRA Mustang drag racer ever.

Unlike the street-legal dragsters that burned up Woodward Avenue in Pontiac last Saturday to open Cruise week, Stock class dragsters like the Cobra Jet do not come with VIN numbers and are not street legal.

Like the Camaro COPO, which limits production to 69 dragsters every year in honor of its 1969 debut, Ford will only build 68 Cobra Jets.

With the resurgence of Detroit muscle cars in the early 21st century, the Detroit Three have resuscitated dragster variants that were staples of the late '60s and early '70s.

"This is the fastest Cobra Jet ever. There's a lot that's new on this car," said Cobra Jet engineering manager Dave Born at Ford's Royal Oak Dream Cruise stand on Woodward next to the Oxford White beast with a Cobra graphic snaking up around the rear wheels.

Rules require that NHRA dragsters use a production-based motor. So Ford stuffs a 5.2-liter variation of its Coyote V-8 that is significantly downsized from the original, 1968 car’s 7-liter ground-pounder. A 3.0-liter Whipple Supercharger helps the new car pump out 565 ponies compared to the '68’s 335.

Buyers will take Ford's turn-key dragster and race it in NHRA's Stock class.

Pro teams like Watson Racing will heavily modify the Jet for NHRA's wild Factory Stock Showdown class and generate upwards of 1,000 horsepower. This May, Chuck Watson, Sr. crossed the tape in just 8.07 seconds at over 174 mph. 

Interior view of the new, $130,000 Cobra Jet

Mustang Cobra Jets and Camaro COPOs have dominated NHRA racing, but Dodge have come on strong recently with Illinois racer Geoff Turk becoming the first Factory Stocker to break the mythical 8-second barrier this spring with a 7.99-second shot in his Drag Pak.

Under the hood of the Cobra Jet is a 5.2-liter variation of its Coyote V-8. It puts out 565 horsepower.

While no Stock dragsters ran down the Woodward Avenue drag strip last weekend, one of the sport’s biggest names — Leah Pritchett, who races a Drag Pak in Factory Stock — was there driving her other NHRA dragster, a 11,000-horse Top Fuel slingshot.

The new Mustang Cobra Jet can be ordered from Ford dealerships in either Race Red or Oxford White. Teams can outfit the new car with exclusive 50th-anniversary graphics and badging. Customers can order now at an MSRP of $130,000.

“From the very first Mustang Cobra Jets dominating the 1968 NHRA Winternationals to our modern-day racers, the Ford Performance Parts team continues to build on Cobra Jet’s success at the track over five decades,” said Ford Performance Parts chief Eric Cin. “This has inspired generations of Mustang fans to create their own performance machines for the street.”

After its debut at Mustang Alley here, the 50th-anniversary Mustang Cobra Jet will travel to Norwalk for a sort of Ford drag-racers' Dream Cruise – the 50th Anniversary Ford Performance Cobra Jet Reunion at Summit Motorsports Park. A record 150-plus vehicles dating back to '68 are expected to attend.

The newest rendition of the Cobra Jet is designed to run a quarter-mile track in the mid 8-second range at about 150 mph.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.