One-of-three Torino King Cobra once sold for $600 and languished in a Southern junkyard

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Photos by David Newhardt, courtesy Mecum Auctions.

For most of us, a good day in the junkyard means the yellowjackets didn’t sting and the Sawzall blade didn’t pretzel up. For a pair of Ford enthusiasts, it meant discovering a rare piece of Ford history that passed through the hands of some NASCAR legends – a piece of history that will now cross the auction block early next year.

Granted, Steve Danielle and Dennis Roy had the benefit of a number of clues to tell them the Torino they found in a South Carolina junkyard wasn’t quite normal. If the stickers all over it shouting “prototype” – or the shock towers modified to fit a Boss 429 V-8, or the convex backlite, or… – didn’t tip them off, then perhaps the unusual serial number on the data plate (X0-429-0058-3) did.

According to RK Motors, which has listed the car for sale for the last five years, the pair then set out to not only identify the car but also restore it to whatever configuration it once wore.

As it turned out, Ford had originally configured the Torino as a King Cobra, one of three that Ford built with input from Kar Kraft and Holman Moody to challenge the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird in NASCAR.

The design brief as handed down to a team led by Larry Shinoda was simple enough: Go 200 mph; beat Mopar. Shinoda responded by hiring Harvey Winn, who designed the sheetmetal for the 1968 to 1970 Chargers; and by rounding up Jacques Passino, Kar Kraft’s Ed Hall, and designers Bill Shannon and Dick Petit. To homologate the car, they had to base it off the Torino/Cyclone twins and their new-for-1970 sheetmetal; the team spent three months alone figuring out the aerodynamics of the Torino, according to Winn’s account in Hemmings Muscle Machines.

While a parallel program hammered out the details of the Cyclone-based Super Spoiler II, Shinoda’s team began turning out King Cobras and handing them over to the good ol’ boys at Holman Moody just as the ax fell on the project. One version of the story has it that Bill France upped the homologation requirement from 500 to 3,000 units shortly after watching a King Cobra reach 200 mph in testing at Daytona. Another version, one Winn backs, pins the demise of the King Cobra on Lee Iacocca’s rise to the presidency of Ford and the dismissal of Shinoda and his corporate benefactor, Bunkie Knudsen, in September 1969.

Either way, only three King Cobras – two powered by the Super Cobra Jet 429 and one Boss ‘9 example – and one Boss-powered Super Spoiler II made it out the door. Holman Moody sold one of the SCJ King Cobras while the other two, still hanging out in Dearborn a year later, went to Bud Moore for $600 apiece. Moore held on to his SCJ King Cobra, but the other one – at the time painted blue and sporting a tweaked schnozz – he fixed up and sold to a guy in Spartanburg, South Carolina. That same car later ended up in the junkyard where Danielle and Roy found it.

Though the front end and original Boss engine were missing when they came across it, Danielle and Roy were able to track down the original nose and a suitable replacement engine and correct Toploader four-speed transmission. The pair also reportedly secured the car’s original invoice from Ford. Fortunately, the experimental convex backlite – developed to counter the stock concave backlite’s poor aerodynamics – remained with the car.

The Boss-powered King Cobra first appeared at auction in May 2013 and bid up to $350,000 but didn’t sell. Since then, RK Motors has advertised it for sale, initially at $599,900 and more recently at $429,900. At Mecum’s Kissimmee auction last January, the other Bud Moore-owned King Cobra ultimately sold for $525,000. Mecum’s pre-auction estimate for the Boss-powered King Cobra, which will cross the block at the auction house’s Kissimmee 2019 sale, ranges from $350,000 to $400,000.

Mecum’s Kissimmee sale will take place January 3 to 13. For more information, visit Mecum.com.

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