Michael Johnson
Technical Editor
February 11, 2014

Horse Sense: Mike McHenry thanks his wife, Kim, for putting up with the tens of thousands of dollars he has spent trying to make this Cobra the car of his dreams. "I have done it," he says. "This is my dream Mustang."

Mike McHenry had a Fox Mustang that had spiraled out of control, leaving its street-car status behind. The Fairview, Tennessee, resident didn't want a racecar, so he sold the Fox and started from scratch. "I decided I wanted to try out a modular Four-Valve," Mike said. As is the case with most of us, once the Fox was gone, Mike was antsy to get into another Mustang. "The money was burning a hole in my pocket," he added.

"I found my Cobra at a Ford dealership in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and promptly went to see it," Mike explained. He wasn't crazy about the exterior color, but he loved the car's black leather interior, and the fact the car had just 5,300 miles on the clock. The dealer had just taken the car in on trade, and hadn't detailed it yet, but Mike had to have it that night. "The deal was made and I drove it home," he says. With the car back home, the next day Mike replaced the factory air filter with a K&N unit, discarding the factory air silencer in the process.

As is the case with most of us, once the Fox was gone, Mike was antsy to get into another Mustang.

After the air filter swap, Mike cleaned the Cobra from top to bottom, and that's when the shock and disappointment hit him. "When I dried it off, I noticed the car was covered in hail damage," Mike says. Many of us might've thrown in the towel after that, but Mike, after getting over the initial emotional damage, looked around for someone to do the repairs. He found a guy who would do it for $500. "I told him I would give him an extra $100 if it was perfect," he says. The guy did as promised, no doubt making Mike happy, and he drove the Cobra in this form roughly six months.

The Cobra's first round of mods came in early 2000. Mike added a Bassani X-shape crossover pipe, Dynomax mufflers, a Steeda Autosports Tri-Ax shifter and timing adjuster, BBK Performance caster/camber plates, and 4.10 gears. The 266 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque stayed that way for two years.

Quite the audiophile, Mike's next round of mods centered around the car's first stereo system. However, that led to more performance parts as the stereo's trunk-mounted subwoofer box made the car sit lower in the rear. To remedy that he called Maximum Motorsports for the company's lower control arms with adjustable spring perches. These control arms enabled Mike to bring the car's ride height back to level, but he also added Steeda Autosports adjustable upper control arms to dial in the correct pinion angle, subframe connectors to tighten up the chassis, and Saleen wheels to add some exterior pop.

The Saleen wheels, however, exposed dull brakes, and other suspension pieces. Mike couldn't have that, so he powdercoated the calipers and brackets, along with the sway bars, crossmember, and strut-tower brace. He further dressed up the Cobra by adding a Cobra R hood and a Saleen S351 rear wing. At that point, Mike declared the exterior all good.

Now it was time to add power. That sentence makes it sound so easy, but with a '96-'98 Cobra Four-Valve, it's not always as easy as 1-2-3, as Mike encountered. He started off by installing a ProCharger P-1SC supercharger and a full exhaust. The Cobra responded by making 423 rwhp and 378 lb-ft of torque.

"I was happy with the additional power, but it didn't last long," Mike says. It only took 300 miles for the factory short-block to start smoking and going through a quart of oil every 200 miles.

Therefore, the engine had to come out, and thanks to Mike's friends Joey Wilson and Robert Whiteman, the oil-burning Four-Valve was extracted. Another friend, Brian Davis helped Mike take apart the Four-Valve, and Joey was called upon to help put it back together after the factory Teksid block received a 0.20-inch overbore.

During the new engine's breaking-in period, the ProCharger started making increased noise, so Mike sent the P-1SC back for a D-1SC upgrade. "I put it back on the car and it was a world of difference," Mike says. Boost went from 10 pounds to 17 pounds using the same pulley.

To get the tune spot-on, Mike contacted Dynospeed Racing in Memphis, Tennessee. "I trailered my car to Joe and he had it running like a bone-stock car until you mashed the gas pedal. The driveability was perfect," he said. The combo was good for 594 horsepower and 505 lb-ft of torque at the wheels, but Joe warned Mike he was out of mass air meter at 6,300 rpm.

After enjoying the Cobra for a little bit, Mike got greedy. One night he took the Cobra to 7,100 rpm. "It made this terrible clattering noise and started smoking real bad," he said. Mike thought he had broke another piston and started saving money for the repair. He did his research and found the best deal for him was to get a MMR 900S 5.0 stroker short-block and add his existing top end to that.

With the necessary funds collected, Mike sent the car and short-block to Dynospeed for repairs/upgrades. The diagnosis was blown head gaskets, and pitted heads. It was agreed to go ahead with the stroker short-block, repair the heads, and put it back together. To go along with this round of mods, Mike once again addressed the fuel system and induction to work with the new combo.

Since the Cobra's been back together, Mike has retired it from any track duty. The car now makes a reliable 580 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, and Mike's not afraid to put wife, Kim, and daughters, Katelyn and Kourtney, in the car for a cruise with the A/C at full blast. "I also love the fact that it is 100-percent emissions legal in my state," Mike says.

It's now a fun, weekend street car Mike can clean up and take to shows. Except now, Mike doesn't have to worry about uncovering any hail damage.

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Tech Specs: 1997 Cobra

Engine and Drivetrain
Block: Iron, MMR 900S
Crankshaft: MMR Forged
Rods: MMR H-beam
Pistons: Manley Performance forged 2618
Camshafts: Stock
Cylinder heads: Stock B-heads
Intake manifold: Stock w/ an Accufab throttle body, and an SCT BA3000 meter
Power Adder: ProCharger D-1SC supercharger w/ 3.4-in pulley, and 20 pounds of boost
Fuel system: '03 Cobra tank w/ Fore Innovations hat, two Walbro 255-lph pumps, Aeromotive lines, Aeromotive rails, 60-lb/hr injectors, and an Aeromotive regulator
Exhaust: BBK Performance long-tube headers w/ BBK X-shape crossover pipe, and Borla XR1 Cat-Back exhaust
Transmission: Stock T-45 w/ McLeod Racing RST twin-disc clutch, Steeda Autosports Tri-Ax shifter, and an aluminum driveshaft
Rearend: 8.8-in w/ Eaton differential, Moser Engineering 31-spline axles, and 3.55 gears

Engine management: Stock w/ Dynospeed Racing SCT tune
Ignition: Stock w/ MSD wires, and NGK TR6 plugs
Gauges: Stock w/ Auto Meter boost, Auto Meter fuel pressure, and Uego 1000 wideband

Suspension and Chassis
Front suspension
K-member: Stock
A-arms: '03 Cobra
Struts: Stock w/ BBK Performance caster/camber plates
Springs: Eibach Sportline
Brakes: Stock Cobra w/ Bendix pads
Wheels: Saleen 18x9-in
Tires: Nitto NT555, 265/35-18

Rear suspension
Shocks: Stock
Springs: Eibach Sportline
Control Arms: Steeda Autosports adjustable uppers and Maximum Motorsports adjustable lowers
Brakes: Stock Cobra w/ Bendix brake pads
Wheels: Saleen 18x10-in
Tires: Nitto NT555R, 305/35-18