Michael Johnson
Technical Editor
September 28, 2016
Photos By: Brian Taveras

For most of us, our love of cars probably started with $1.06 (can’t forget about the tax). Our first love were those little Matchbox cars we held in our tiny hands as a toddler. We had a sippy cup in one hand and our favorite Matchbox car in the other. For others (late bloomers we’ll call them), it took a little while before the bug bit them.

Totowa, New Jersey’s Carlos Hickey, falls into the latter category. His love for Mustangs didn’t really start in until he was 15 years old. “My dad used to tell me about the few he owned growing up, and it sounded so cool,” Hickey says. That statement in and of itself sounds a little foreign because who really listened to their parents at that age?! Thankfully, Hickey caught enough of his dad’s words to start down a path that led him to this 2003 Cobra.

At first, Hickey began looking at classic Mustangs like his dad owned. However, his dad steered him in the late-model Mustang direction for more reliable daily transportation. Hickey saw his share of Fox Mustangs while in high school, but at that time a Mustang was a little out of his economic range. “The old school Flowmaster sound and looks of the Fox Mustang spoke to me,” says Hickey. Owning a V-8 muscle car at that age probably wasn’t a great idea anyway, so he let that Mustang dream sleep for a minute.

Fast-forward to Hickey’s final year of college, and he spotted a then-new 2001 Cobra in Mineral Grey. “I fell in love instantly and wanted it bad,” he tells us. “The color, body style, and essence bit me hard.”

This time the parents were on board, but only if he graduated and had a professional full-time job. “Fortunately, I did just that, making them and myself proud,” Hickey says. Unfortunately, the Mineral Grey Cobra was long gone by that time, so he had to “settle” on a 2001 Mineral Grey GT five-speed convertible. “When we signed the papers I cried tears of joy.”

Due to inexperience, bad decisions, and less-than-stellar shops, those tears of joy soon turned to tears of frustration. “The car was off the streets more than on,” Hickey says. His experience left a bad taste in his mouth, but if that wasn’t bad enough, he was in an accident, which totaled the Mustang. The accident wasn’t his fault, but he took it as a sign to cut his losses and stay away from the Mustang scene for a while.

The exterior of Carlos Hickey’s Cobra is largely stock and sports the original paint. Tokico D-spec struts and shocks and H&R springs bring ride height down to a respectable level, while chassis improvements include Steeda Autosports full-length subframe connectors and a Full Tilt Boogie IRS bushing kit. To compensate for the lowered suspension, the Cobra also features Steeda X2 ball joints and bumpsteer kit. The wheels are CCW 505A 18-inch examples with Bridgestone Potenza S04s up front and Toyo R888S out back. Inside the front wheels are 2000 Cobra R Brembos with Powerslot rotors and Hawk brake pads. The rear brakes also feature Powerslot rotors and Hawk pads.

After his experience with the GT, both his mother and girlfriend advised him to stay away from Mustangs. Although he briefly agreed, and started looking at other cars, he quickly came to his senses because his love for Mustangs never died—it just lay dormant for a short time.

His then girlfriend, now wife Kimberly also knew Hickey wouldn’t be happy in anything other than a Mustang. “This she knew so well,” he says. His better half also remembered the time he drove a 2003 Cobra and how much he loved that car. “I loved the way it felt and sounded, and that blower whine brought such a smile to my face,” Hickey explained. At the time he drove the Cobra, he still owned the GT convertible, and the Cobra’s price tag prevented him from making the move at that time.

Proving his move to marry Kimberly was a smart decision is the fact that she took the initiative to perform a successful undercover search for the 2003 Cobra shown here. The Cobra was a one-owner example with 18,000 miles, a clean Carfax, and perfect paint—obviously the perfect canvas to create his own dream build.

Yes, Terminators are great cars out of the box, but they simply present a great baseline. Hickey says, “You can only enjoy a stock Terminator for so long.” Therefore, the mods began, but learning from his previous experience, this time the mods came at a slower, more responsible pace. He also had a better network of people to help this time around. That network pointed him in the direction of Kevin Hand at Wicked Motorsports and Vahan and Gary Manjikian at Captan Auto Repairs. “Both have taken such awesome care of me and my baby.”

The factory long-block plays host to a VMP Performance TVS supercharger, a JLT Performance cold air, an SCT BA2800 mass air meter, and ID1000 fuel injectors. Kevin Hand at Wicked Motorsports did the supercharger swap and tuning on the car. The Cobra’s twin pumps remain, but they are given a little extra jolt thanks to a Kenne Bell Boost-a-Pump. The stock T56 also lives in the tunnel but has been bolstered with a McLeod RXT clutch, an MGW shifter, and an Axle Exchange aluminum driveshaft. All said and done, Hickey’s Terminator throws down 590 hp and 535 lb-ft to the rear wheels and has already run 11.4 at 124 mph on his initial outing.; Hickey expects to go quicker—it’s just a matter of time before he dips into the 10s.

Like many Terminator owners, Hickey started off with the tried and true exhaust, cold air intake, and pulley swap mods. With that performance response, he took the Cobra a step further by sending the factory Eaton supercharger to Stiegemeier Porting Service for the most aggressive porting stage they offered. He also added Stiegemeier’s Venom Cooler.

Like all of us, though, he wanted to keep going. That’s when Wicked’s Kevin Hand told Hickey about VMP Performance’s new TVS supercharger. “I did my research, scoured the forums, and took the plunge,” Hickey explained. The TVS (Twin Vortices Series) is a four-lobe rotor design with a wide operating range from 10 to over 22 pounds of boost. As you know, the TVS technology was applied to the 2013-2014 Shelby GT500.

The Cobra’s interior is mostly factory, but the driver’s seat was a little worn, so Hickey replaced the factory seat material with TMI Products’ upholstery. To help diagnose, and also to keep track of mechanical goings-on, Hickey added an Aeroforce dual gauge setup.

Since the VMP TVS was Hand’s idea, Hickey sent the Cobra to Wicked Motorsports for the install. “He built it all up to the beast it is today,” Hickey says about Hand.

“I’ve been having such an awesome time driving it on the street, strip, autocross, and now just last week, the road course,” Hickey adds.

He has made so many friends and acquaintances throughout the years that he says the Mustang community “is like no other.” Of course, like everyone with a 2003-2004 Cobra, he never wants the experience to end.

“For a 13-year-old car, it drives fine and smooth and the handling is definitely a treat with the IRS,” says Hickey. When asked about what he likes most about his Cobra, he went on to say, “The primal aura it exudes, and its animalistic, violent characteristics.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

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