Steve Statham
May 1, 2001

Step By Step

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P67410_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Front_Passenger_SideP67411_image_largeP67412_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra EngineP67413_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Ignition_System
The ribbed mounting plate for the MSD box aids cooling—always helpful in crowded Ford engine compartments.
P67414_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra InteriorP67415_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Rear_Driver_SideP67416_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Passenger_SideP67417_large 1997_Ford_Mustang_Cobra Spoiler

OK, so the tires haven't been polished on William Rios' '97 Cobra, and we're fairly sure the headliner hasn't been chromed. But even the sharpest eyes would be hard-pressed to find a dull surface on this Houston show car/cruiser. And sharp eyes have indeed been scrutinizing this Mustang. During the past year and a half it has won such show victories as Best Contemporary at the '99 Houston Autorama, several categories at the Mustang Owners Club of Austin's annual show last summer, and Best of Show at the fall 2000 Fun Ford Weekend in Dallas.

There's a lot more here than just mail-order chrome, however. Much of the shiny stainless steel hardware was custom-fabricated by William's brother Mike. Mike, and fellow machinist Paul Pena, made the intake and discharge tubes for the Vortech supercharger, fabricated the wire looms, and made the radiator cap, the brake fluid cap, and assorted underhood covers. Especially intriguing is the ribbed mounting plate Mike created for the MSD Digital DIS-4 box, which allows cool air to flow beneath it.

The traditional chroming on the strut tower brace and hood hinges was handled by Airline Plating in Houston, while Specialty Metal Platings in Florida chromed the plastic pieces. With all that chroming we wondered if the Cobra suffered from any underhood heat penalty, but William says temps have been unaffected.

The Cobra's bodywork, however, reflects a combination of custom and aftermarket features. Easy to miss at first glance are the shaved door handles crafted by Milburn's Paint and Body in Pasadena. William had a stereo shop concoct a remote actuator to allow entry. More traditional are the Saleen side skirts, the Saleen rear wing, and the Classic sidescoops. Juan Gill at Milburn's sprayed the custom Cranberry Pearl and White Pearl colors with checkerboard detailing. The black-and-white pattern is a nice effect that William intentionally kept from overwhelming the rest of the car. "I wanted them to go easy on it," he says.

Beneath all that chrome the hard-ware is solid. The Vortech S-Trim blower is the big power booster, obviously. William teamed it with a Pro-M 80mm mass air meter, a BBK 62mm throttle body, 36 lb/hr injectors, a 255-lph fuel pump, and a custom, dyno-tuned chip. He handled most of the mechanical work himself. William said the BBK long-tube headers also made a big difference. They feed into high-flow cats and a Bassani cat-back exhaust. He ordered the Mustang's 4.10 gears and the aluminum driveshaft from the Ford Racing Performance Parts catalog.

With everything in place, William says the Mustang produced 411 hp at the rear wheels on the dyno. He hasn't taken the car through the quarter-mile since all the cosmetics were finished, but he did knock down a high 12 when the high-performance fundamentals were first installed.

He experimented a bit with the chassis components before settling on a workable combination using Eibach lowering springs teamed with Tokico five-way adjustable shocks, BBK caster/camber plates, and Maximum Motorsport lower control arms. William says he gave up only a little ride quality in the process. He was one of the first buyers in Texas to purchase a set of Roush's 18x9-inch five-spoke rims. On them he mounted 275/35-18 BFGoodrich Comp T/As up front and 295/35-18s in the rear. For the future he daydreams about an independent rear suspension swap from a later-model Cobra, but there is clearly no rush.

The interior has been kept near-stock, with the main additions being Saleen aluminum pedals, a Kirban short-throw shifter, Auto Meter Phantom gauges, and an FR500 steering wheel.

For car nuts in Houston, the place to cruise is on Westheimer. William can be found there most weekends with his Houston Mustang Club compadres, probably circling the Miami Subs fast-food joint. William is a Houston police officer by trade, but that doesn't stop him from being pulled over for snap inspections on cruise night, as might any other owner of a hot Mustang. William's fellow officers down at the station like the car, although "They kind of look at me, wondering where I get the money," he says. William has learned what many a hot rodder has learned. Having a car-enthusiast wife with a great job sure makes it easier to put those dreams of a chrome street machine in motion. Besides, you need someone to help polish.

Horse Sense: William carried the checkerboard paint theme underhood to the intake manifold and the void left by the relocated battery, which helps break up the sea of chrome somewhat.