Feature originally published in Popular Cars August 1983
One of the most persistent and surely universal automotive fantasies is the finding of some rare and highly desirable automobile tucked away in a barn or little old lady’s garage and requiring only the most minimal financial lubrication to free it from the owner’s grasp. Sometimes, however, the lightning strikes a little closer to home. Consider, for example, the case of Illona Lucas and her 1970 Super Cobra Jet 429 Fairlane.
Illona grew up around cars. Her father was a drag racer and, raised at the track, she inherited his affection for the automobile. In due time, she acquired a 351 Cleveland equipped ‘72 Mercury Montego GT. It was her car. It fit her feelings of what a car should be. And it was red.
Meanwhile in March 1975, Illona’s husband Bud had bought a rough and not very ready 1970 Ford Fairlane. The purchase price of $625 indicated the car condition. The main thing the engine needed, though, was a tuneup; that in a few minor repairs got the car through state inspection and back on the road.
It was no ordinary Fairlane. The car had been delivered with Ford’s “Drag Pak,” a bundle headlined by the e.t. crunching 429 Super Cobra Jet engine but also including a 4.30 Traction-lok differential, rev limiter, engine oil cooler with braided line, power disc brakes, a bizarre horizontal band factory tach, 4-speed top loader, Hurst shifter, dual point distributor, solid lifter cam, Magnum 500 wheels, shaker scoop, and laser side stripes.
The Fairlane quickly accumulated a 360° Offy intake manifold, and Accel dual point distributor (in place of the stock dual point), a 4.56 Traction-lok (in place of the 4.30 Traction-lok on the car), 14×6 and 7 Rocket Wheels (in place of the stock but bent Magnum 500’s), and ET traction bars.
Bud, however, had accumulated speeding tickets. Surprisingly enough, they weren’t earned in the Fairlane, but the insurance company looked at the combination of a high-performance vehicle and a collection of citations as a good excuse to raise premiums. Bud took the economical expedient and parked the car for the duration.
It sat. It sat, not for months, but for years. Five…long…years.
Then in February of 1981, Illona sold her Montego. It was, she was told, not the kind of car the mother of teenagers should be driving. And she yielded to persuasion.
It didn’t take long, however, for Illona to realize she had made a mistake, and that the remedy was readily at hand in the form of the Fairlane. She caught Bud in a weak moment, persuading him to restore it as her car.
By this time the Fairlane needed restoration. Rust was popping through, one fender was a primer black replacement for the crinkled original, and the interior had been well abused by the original owner. To make matters worse, no sooner had Illona and Bud put plates back on the car than a tree attacked it, dropping a branch on the roof and creasing it.
Bunky’s Trimline was called on to put the body right, however, and Illona conned her brother Carl “Hawkeye” Alley, into painting it in stock red enamel. Bud oversaw the mechanical restoration, with Ford Blue on the block and new used Magnum 500’s as the finishing touches.
Now back to that automotive fantasy. Illona and Bud knew the car was unusual. The Super Cobra Jet engine, not exactly a common mill, was far more likely be found in a Torino, Ford’s sportier incarnation of the intermediate chassis. But to learn exactly how rare, they got together with Al Ritter, director of the National Street Machine Association, and contacted Dave Crippen of Ford Archives.
Crippen indicated at first that the 429 SCJ was not available in the Fairlane, but that the serial number proved that the car and its engine were authentic. Bud and Illona were later told by Crippen that the engine was indeed available in the Fairlane, but only as a special order. Unfortunately, he did not have production numbers.
This much is certain: Illona’s 429 Super Cobra Jet Fairlane 500 is one of a very small handful and may, in fact, be the only one ever made.
How’s that for fantasy fulfillment?