Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
November 1, 2000

Step By Step

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P55810_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Driver_SideP55811_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra EngineP55812_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra InteriorP55813_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Front_Passenger_Side

Ford Racing's FR500 is one of the most exciting forms of the timeless Mustang that has ever slipped out the door from Ford. Fans of the FR500 can't stop talking about all the advances and one-off upgrades that went into this Mustang. Simply put, Ford Racing had turned it into a world-class sports car. With 415 horses at a realistic 6,800 rpm and the suspension to use it all, the FR500 is the kind of car you dreamed about as a high school senior and, if you're like us, still dream about today. Thankfully, Andy Schwartz and his crew at Ford Racing Performance Parts [(810) 468-1356; www.fordracing.com/performanceparts] haven't lost the love for a pulse-quickening performance car either.

But our evil little minds started to wonder what would happen if you took all the good top-end pieces--namely the redesigned heads, cams, and magnesium intake--and added them to a car that was more dragstrip oriented.

Lucky for us, FRPP was wondering the same thing. The company asked longtime Ford racer Barry Shepard to test its parts on a production Cobra decked out in drag-racing trim. This was both good news and bad news for Barry. The bad news was he had to get rid of his '96 GT that was the prototype machine for all the Two-Valve modular 4.6 hardware that FRPP currently offers. The good news was that Barry was going to be able to test a whole list of top-secret FRPP hardware before any other civilian would be able to buy it. What FRPP would get out of the deal was a racer with a solid history of being able to field a professional and consistent race team.

The first item on Barry's shopping list was a stock '96-'98 Cobra Mustang. Next would be the installation of a yet-to-be-determined Four-Valve Cobra package. Of course, Barry had lots of help from FRPP and his main sponsors, Carron Industries and Carron Classics (Dearborn, Michigan), who are actually the folks responsible for the assembly of this car as you see it. Oh, and did we mention that Barry had to have this car, which he didn't even own, completed during the two weeks that followed the NMRA season-opener at Columbus so it could debut at the Mobil 1 World Ford Challenge at St. Louis?

Once he found a suitable '97 Cobra, Barry barely had time to baseline the car (13.97/101--completely stock) before it underwent some serious bolt-ons. The main ingredients of what FRPP wants to sell in the near future include the heads, intake, and cams that souped the FR500 motor up some 100 horses. The bottom end remains the same, but the heavy-breathing Cobra mill gets some major bolt-ons from there on out.

Andy Schwartz, FRPP's supervisor of performance equipment for the modular program, is the man who is spear-heading FRPP's exciting new Cobra package. Specifically, FRPP will package different Four-Valve heads featuring different port configurations that are contoured for better flow throughout the rpm range. The cams are still being finalized, but in Barry's car FRPP is testing duration levels that are a couple of degrees higher than a stock Cobra cam set at both the intake and exhaust sides, as well as lift measurements of 12 mm versus 10 mm for the stock sticks. The valves are the same size but they, along with the valvesprings, have been reconfigured to work with the new heads and cams.

The heads look stock, so the magnesium intake is the most obvious sign that this 4.6 is a little bit different from yours. Its exotic material makes it lighter, while its variable-geometry design allows the intake path to short at 4,800 rpm, therefore extending the horsepower above that point in the curve. Of course, the EEC V has been updated to work with the new FRPP Cobra Package. Injector size is also increased from 24 lb/hr to 32 lb/hr to add the fuel the extra air demands. Both spark and fuel curves have been changed, but Barry and Andy are quick to point out that it is quite some way from being optimal or production-ready.

Another possible addition to the Cobra Package includes a larger mass air meter--from the upcoming 2001 Lightning--which measures in the 90mm range. Andy says the finished product should add at least 80 rear-wheel horsepower on a car that is correctly tuned, with the heads and manifold accounting for the bulk of that increase. He also tells us the exhaust system will be critical on this car. At the least, the installation of FRPP short-tube headers with the highest-flowing, catalytic-equipped H-pipe and performance mufflers is an absolute must. As for the retail price of this baby, look for a minimum of $3,000 with final cost not determined at press time.

"It will be expensive but worth every penny," Andy says. "We will offer a bolt-on kit that will produce an honest mid-12-second car. That's a fast car! A mid-12-second car will scare you. And I'm talking about a street car with no excuses."

So far, by banging a Tremec five-speed and hooking on 26x10 slicks, Barry has improved the e.t. potential of his Cobra to a 12.49/109 pass (1.62-second 60-foot time). Remember, it's early in the game here and with tuning comes much improved power and numbers down the track. The crew at FRPP has their work cut out for them and they know it. Why spend major money and time with an entire engine package when Cobra owners already know they can get incredible results from a power adder?

FRPP has experimented with offering a blower package, but insiders there think an engine with 10:1 compression deserves a killer top-end first. A dedicated and tested performance package worked once with the 5.0 Mustang with incredible results, so we bet it works again with the '96-'98 Cobras that have so much more to begin with. Besides, we can't wait to see what happens when you add the FRPP Cobra Package and a blower.

Wouldn't that be interesting?

Horse Sense: If you remember, the FR500 featured a magnesium intake with twin throttle bodies. FRPP may offer this intake too, but the single-throttle-body version is obviously easier to adapt to existing '96-'98 Cobras. Running twin mass air meters in front of the two throttle bodies requires a special electronics package that would likely add too much cost to the package. The second throttle body is worth more power.