Cobra Jet Racing History: Homemade Timing Retarding

Ignition timing is so critical in today’s high-performance engines, with limited access to high-octane fuel and compression ratios creeping higher. That has led to the development of sophisticated digital controls where the tuner can dial in a timing curve to meet the exact needs of the engine and run right on the edge of of the fuel’s limits.

Such an option wasn’t available to Super Stock racers in late ’60s who had just a dual-point distributor to control timing. But after stopping by the Scott Drake booth at the SEMA show to admire the restoration of the late Hubert Platt’s record-holding 428 Cobra Jet Mustang, we heard a fun story from the car’s current owner, Gary Schwartz, about how racers in those days addressed the issue with some homemade ingenuity.

Hubert Platt set the NHRA SS/IA record with this Cobra Jet Mustang.

“The Ford big-block liked a lot of timing at the start and on the low end but didn’t like a lot of timing on the top end,” says Schwartz. “Hubert told me they always worried about detonation on the top end.”

As the legend goes, the stock points on the Ford distributor had about a 6,000-rpm limit before they would start floating. Ford did offer a high-performance version of those points that were good for around 7,000 rpm.

“Hubert told me he put one stock and one performance set of the points on the distributor,” says Schwartz. “At about 6,000 rpm the stock set would float away, reducing the overall dwell and then the timing would fall back.”

According to Schwartz, Platt set up the popular FE motor with around 40 to 42 degrees total advance but when the stock set of points became ineffective then the timing dropped back to around 38 degrees.

Note the cool can and insulated line leading to the Holley carburetor on the 428 Cobra Jet.

A look in the engine bay also reveals another trick of that era: a cool can. The objective was to get the fuel as cold and dense as possible to pack more into the cylinders. Some racers still swear by that theory today.

Schwartz has owned the car since 1982. Ford sold the Mustang to Platt for $1 as part of its racing effort, and in return Platt set up the East Coast Ford Drag Team dealer seminar series. He eventually set the SS/IA record with the car before selling it to a Ford dealer. It was passed to another Ford dealer before Schwartz purchased the car. Three years ago it was restored by Jacky Jones, a North Carolina Ford dealer.

One interesting story from the restoration: The car raced with Doug Thorley headers in the day, and the design included a cross-over of two pipes into the respective opposite collector — similar to a 180-degree header (that would require crossing over four pipes). As the restoration moved forward, the shop discovered that header wasn’t available anymore. However, the fabricators at Thorley found the original jig in the warehouse and were able to bend and weld a perfect replacement set.

Gary Schwartz poses with fan next to the restored Cobra Jet Mustang in the Scott Drake booth at SEMA.

About the author

Mike Magda

Mike Magda is a veteran automotive writer with credits in publications such as Racecar Engineering, Hot Rod, Engine Technology International, Motor Trend, Automobile, Automotive Testing Technology and Professional Motorsport World.
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