Electric versus V8 Cobra Jet Mustang match race

Ford’s electric car PR blitz continues at the NRHA Nationals


LAST month, Ford Performance dropped an elaborate video starring a one-off Mustang Mach-E 1400 electric SUV, piloted by drifter Vaughn Gittin Jr. The aim? To create a halo around the garden-variety Mach-E, which is set to launch in the US later this year.

The PR job is twofold: to persuade punters to accept a Mustang-badged SUV, and get them excited about electric Fords in general. Ford’s EV investment is worth around $20 billion over the next 10 years, so it’s no surprise the company is spending big on the marketing.

Ford’s next big imove came to life over the weekend at the NHRA US Nationals in Indianapolis. Detroit has a long history of using drag racing to sell its wares, and Ford reached deep into the Mustang’s storied heritage to make its latest pitch for a future electric.

The occasion was the first public appearance of the prototype electric Mustang Cobra Jet 1400. Ford collaborated with Cascadia Motion to create the 1400’s drivetrain: four motors making 350kW each. The motors drive a 1:1 transmission that feeds a TH400 three-speed auto transmission, torque converter and 9-inch diff. Ford claims 1502rwhp from the car and a best ET of 8.27 seconds at 168mph. The car is thought to weigh over 5000lb.

The rest of the 1400 is based on Ford’s factory-built Cobra Jet drag cars, with the program managed by MLe Race Cars. “This is the world’s first four-motor, AC-powered drag car, and it is quite a beast,” says MLe’s Patrick McCue – who also had a hand in developing Chevrolet’s eCOPO Camaro.

“It makes close to 1700hp and in the neighbourhood of 1600ft-lb of torque,” McCue continues. “We didn’t need to design a drag race car. The chassis itself was built by Ford Cobra Jet Division and that is what we started with. If we could give it a bit of a diet, it could be a high seven-second car.”

Ford built 68 Cobra Jets in 2018, available for public consumption at US$130,000 each. These cars feature 5.2-litre Coyote V8s topped by 3.0-litre Whipple blowers, and are ready to race complete with tech to run down to 7.50 seconds. The V8 car is a fair whack lighter, in the vicinity of 3400lb.

All of that made the V8 Cobra Jet the natural choice as the 1400’s match-race opponent at the Nationals.

Adding to the glamour of the occasion was the choice of drivers: NHRA Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III behind the wheel of the 1400 and two-time Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon in the blown V8 version.

Tasca is the grandson of famed Ford dealer Bob Tasca Sr – the very man responsible for the creation of the original Cobra Jet. Tasca Sr was underwhelmed with the performance offered by the 390-cube Mustangs in ’67, so he offered customers a 428-powered conversion dubbed the KR-8 – short for King of the Road.

Ford’s brass declined to follow suit with the idea until Hot Rod ran a campaign for its readers to lobby Henry Ford II personally. Ford gave in, and so the 1968 428 Cobra Jet was born, reviving Ford’s flagging reputation in the muscle car wars.

“My grandfather invented the Cobra Jet back in 1968,” wrote Tasca III on Twitter. “I can only imagine how proud he is to know that his grandson debuted the latest in Ford Performance technology with the electric Cobra Jet. It’s like a slingshot. It pulls so hard I didn’t want to pull the ’chutes. I wanted to keep going.”

At the Nationals, the two Mustangs proved to be a well-matched PR dream, though the 1400 was unable to get near Ford’s claimed 8.27-second time. In the first race, Tasca pulled a spectacular wheelstand and managed an 8.68-second pass, while Pedregon’s car squatted down and ran an 8.86. Both cars went slower in the second race, with the V8 running an 8.79 and the 1400 going through for another wheelie and an 8.82-second pass. Tasca’s fastest run was an 8.59-second solo pass.

“It is quiet, but the sound is really cool,” says Tasca. “You can hear it spool up, like a jet engine. There is no torque twist or weight transfer. It’s really fun to drive.”

There is an excellent segment on the testing of the 1400 on MotorTrend’s Hard Cell program. It shows the MLe team struggling to get the car’s prodigious torque down to the ground cleanly, and demonstrates there is still plenty of room for old-school drag racing smarts in EV drag racing – even a well-funded, factory-backed project like this.