Rob Kinnan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
September 1, 2000
Photos By: Tom Rounds

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What better place than the Mustang's 35th birthday party at the Charlotte Motor-sorry, make that the Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, to unveil the long-awaited, latest edition of the lust machine known as the Cobra R. In a crowded ceremony held on the grass across from the start/finish line, Special Vehicle Marketing Manager Tom Scarpello took the covers off the winged, Grabber Orange beast, and proceeded to declare that "The 2000 Cobra R will be the fastest production Mustang in its 35-year history." After getting the inside scoop on the details, we believe it.

Here's the deal according to the official Ford press release: "Built with the racetrack in mind, the Cobra R will feature a modular V-8 engine, solidifying this family of engines as the high-performance benchmark in Ford's lineup. The new Cobra R features exterior enhancements that will boost performance on the racetrack, including a front air-splitter and tall rear deck spoiler, which will create downforce for increased stability at track speeds."

Other differences unique to the Cobra R include the 'power dome' hood with a rear air extractor for improved engine cooling, 18-inch wheels shod with BFGoodrich g-Force KD tires, and a lowered suspension for enhanced handling. Cobra R's interior changes include the addition of Recaro sport seats, and the removal of the radio, air conditioner and back seat to save weight. A number of other well-respected performance parts suppliers are working with SVT in the development of the Cobra R, including Brembo for brake rotors and calipers, Tremec for the transmission, Eibach and Bilstein for the suspension, and Borla for the exhaust.

Now, here's the scoop from what we've been able to dig up. Thanks to a conversation with a couple of top-secret engineers (I could tell you who, but then I'd have to kill you, because they'd kill me), 5.0 got details on the car beyond what Ford is willing to admit. The engine is indeed a mod motor, but not a 4.6. It will be a Cobra R-specific 5.4L, four-valve mill. The R-model 5.4 uses special cylinder heads unlike anything else in Ford's lineup. They are a conventional mod-motor layout, and will reportedly bolt to the other modular V-8s, but are unique castings with modified ports and valvetrain hardware.

The other interesting thing to note is the intake manifold. I got the rare chance to see a prototype of the car and was told that what I was looking at had a 99-percent chance of being on the production R-model. On that car, the intake was a beautiful, hand-crafted, big-plenum, aluminum wonder unlike anything you've seen on a mod motor. Designed for upper-rpm power, it dominated the engine compartment. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to shoot photos, and at the car's introduction in Charlotte, they wouldn't open the hood. As you can see in the photos here, the Borla-built exhaust system exits in two pipes on each side of the car, ahead of the rear wheels. There will not be a cover for the pipes. Power output is right at 400 hp at the flywheel.

Ford admits to sourcing Tremec for the transmission, but they stop short of telling us what that trans is. We found out that the box is a T56 six-speed. You gotta love the fact that Ford is finally coughing up a six-speed for the Mustang, but we wonder about its effectiveness in a true racecar. After all, the T56 has two overdrives, with Sixth either a .50:1 or a .62:1 ratio, depending on which gearset they use. That makes Sixth gear pretty much useless on a racetrack-400 hp will not pull that much gear to redline. For a street application, however, this is a perfect trans, and would work beautifully with a set of 4.30 gears.

The good news is that the trans choice for the R-model has us believing that the base Cobra will get a six-speed in the next year or so. After all, all 300 Rs are supposed to go to racers for the sole purpose of competition. What better way to conduct durability testing, and set the corporate precedent of putting a six-gear in a Mustang? Cross your fingers!

The suspension will retain the stock layout, including the independent rear with aluminum center section, but the springs and shocks are revised for hard-core road racing use. The spring rates are still being finalized, but I heard numbers between 800 and 1,000 pound-inch in the front. That'll knock your teeth out over the potholes we find on the street, but it's just about perfect for a smooth, high-speed road course. We've heard rumors that the IRS has suffered from durability problems, and the engineers have been hard at work fixing what has been breaking. No official word out of Ford on that one, but in the case of the Cobra R the IRS appears to work great for road racing. The suspension engineers have spent a lot of time tweaking the R-model's IRS with geometry and bushing material changes, as well as spring and shock tuning.

The R-model will never be mistaken for a lesser Mustang, due to the aggressive bodywork. What Ford calls a "tall rear deck spoiler" is actually a big wing to provide downforce for more rear tire traction. The wing is definitely functional-we were told it's worth two full seconds on the Detroit proving grounds test track. And that's not a long track! Likewise, the nose has a deep chin spoiler that keeps the front tires planted at high speed. The hood is also unique, and really cool looking as far as we're concerned. I was told that the "power dome" was necessary to clear the intake, so apparently that bit about the intake making it to production is true.

Price? If you have to ask! Actually, unless you're one of the lucky few who have already been put on the list, you're out of luck. Supposedly, all 300 have already been spoken for. The cars are set to roll out sometime this fall, probably around October, and we're sure there's no way that all 300 will see racetrack duty-you know how collectors and speculators are. As for performance numbers, that'll be up to the racers themselves, but if we get in one we'll be sure to wring it out and let you know what it does. At the intro in Charlotte, the car was driven around the oval, but not very fast. Ford gave us a parade, not a competition demonstration. In fact, the rumor was that it wasn't really a Cobra R, but a standard Cobra with the R bodywork. Stay tuned, as there is sure to be more information trickling out about the R-model for some time.