The Ford 428 Big Block V8 Birthed The Cobra Jet And Changed Mustang Muscle Cars Forever
Ford's original big block V8s dated all the way back to 1958 when the FE family of engines debuted with the original 332 cubic inch design (accompanied by a 352 cubic inch option as well). Based in part on the Y-block motors that came before, the FE spent nearly 20 years in production and served the Blue Oval well through much of the 1960s in a wide range of cars before ending its life as a workhorse in the truck division.
After the initial fury of the 352, efforts at building a performance version of the FE centered around the 390 and the 427, with the latter enjoying more than its fair share of racing glory in both NASCAR and at Le Mans. It would be the 428 big block, however, that capped the FE's high horsepower era on the street, living alongside the 385-series engines that eventually replaced it and winning significant respect among muscle car fans.
Torque Is King
With the high RPM screamer that was the 427 taking podiums for Ford on the race track, the company took a different approach to building the 428 that first appeared in 1966. The unit, which was originally available in the Thunderbird and the Galaxy 500 (and their Mercury equivalents), was tuned to produce big waves of torque, with 462 lb-ft available (alongside 345hp).
Although it had nearly the same displacement as the 427, the 428 was much easier to build, and it featured a 4.13 inch bore and a 3.98 stroke (compared to the 3.784 inch stroke found in the 427 and the 390). High costs kept the 427 largely in pit lane, with very few production cars benefiting from its hard-won performance capabilities.
At the time, the 390 was the top dog on the Mustang order sheet, but after realizing that the car was no longer competitive against the hottest versions of rivals like the Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Charger, and the Plymouth Barracuda, Ford went on the offensive. Rhode Island's Tasca Ford dealership had been experimenting with 428 engines in the Mustang, modifying the motor with better-breathing heads and an aluminum intake (a version of this engine was even used in early Shelby GT500 Mustangs).
Owner Bob Tasca made the case to Dearborn executives that this could be a winning street formula, and within a year (thanks to pressure from both the public and the media) the Cobra Jet engine was born.
Enter The Cobra Jet
Like Tasca's original creation, the Cobra Jet mixed police interceptor parts with bespoke Ford performance gear to build on the 428's already-impressive performance. Featuring a compression ratio of 10.6:1, the 428 CJ made use of 427 cylinder heads, upgraded connecting rods, and an iron intake manifold matched with a Holley carburetor.
At first the reaction from street racers was modest. Ford advertised the 428 Cobra Jet's horsepower at 335 (10 less than the Thunderbird) with 440 lb-ft of torque, and whether those numbers were accurate or not they didn't push past the 390 far enough to generate more than passing interest from the Mustang crowd for its inaugural 1968 year.
The engine was also available in the Fairlane, the Torino, and the Mercury Comet, Cougar, and Cyclone.
In 1968 Ford kept the 428 in the picture but added the Super Cobra Jet option, which upgraded the crankshaft and connecting rods to better handle the stress of regular drag racing punishment. So-equipped, the Mustang was able to scorch the strip in an impressive 13.4 seconds at 108 mph, and by 1969 the Mach 1 Mustang's 428 was a respected entry into any stop-light battle down the boulevard.
Ford was serious about the SCJ's quarter mile connection, as it was only possible to order this version of the motor if 3.90 or 4.30 rear gears were selected first. Although power matched that of the standard Cobra Jet, the Super Cobra Jet was considerably more durable, and none of the rotating assembly components are shared between the two cars.
Renaissance After A Short Street Life
The 428 Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet continued to be offered through the 1970 model year, including under the hood of the Shelby GT500. Confusingly, Ford also offered a 429 cubic inch big block during this same period, and this engine was found in the Boss 429 race-oriented Mustang and later in Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet trims of its own. Heralding the start of a new era in Ford engine design (the 385 series), the 429 continued until 1973.
With the emergence of the 385, and the performance-sucking nature of the 1970s, the FE engines largely went dormant. Owners of 390 and 428-equipped Fords found themselves in a bit of a wasteland in terms of aftermarket support as aftermarket suppliers moved on to the latest and greatest while supporting more popular engines in the company's stable.
Eventually, however, the performance community came around to the fact that the 427 and the 428 were still winning drag races, and that the FE family played a large role in Ford's 1960s history. Support began to grow, and it's no longer unusual to see hot rods and custom builds featuring engines like the 428 big block V8, especially considering that modern dyno tests have placed stock 428 CJ output at over 365 horsepower and 450 b-ft of twist—finally proving that its factory rating was more nudge-nudge, wink-wink than the public was led to believe back in the day.