Eric English
November 1, 2002

How many of us can think back to our first Mustang and really believe it was done right? Whether it was due to a lack of finances, knowledge, or good taste-or a combination thereof-when we eventually realized our shortcomings, we cut our losses and moved on. Although it's difficult to remedy cash-flow problems, most other issues can be addressed by immersing oneself in the Mustang culture. The plethora of available printed and online material can help any novice quickly get up to speed, while direct interaction with other enthusiasts at race and show venues will provide worthy examples of what-and what not-to do.

Ivan Albright of Lake Forest Park, Washington, breaks the pattern of most first-timers, as he's pulled off a sweet ride right out of the box. Tinkering with a variety of Datsuns and Nissans in his younger years gave Ivan some automotive savvy, and starting with a brand-new '99 Cobra provided a terrific base from which to work. Still, we're impressed by the result of his efforts, and would've been ecstatic to have had this ride as our first 'Stang. Actually, we'd be happy to call it our own even now.

While you may assume starting with a '99 Cobra is a foolproof road to success-believe us-we've seen people screw 'em up. Such is not the case with Ivan, who stacked the deck in his favor by ordering his Cobra in a factory red topcoat. Soon to follow was the Saleen body kit, although striving for a super-clean look meant filling in the Saleen lettering across the back. The stock spoiler was then moved rearward a couple inches, and looks so good we wonder why Ford didn't install it this way to begin with. In addition, Ivan bent up the trick-looking front aluminum grilles-raw material from an F-250 truck piece.

As great as these visual modifications are, the clincher on this '99 is its color-flipping flame job. No matter how you feel about the effect when applied to an entire car, you've gotta love it when paired with the fiery vintage hot-rod scheme. Painter Chad Feigenbaum might better be described as an artist. He laid out every flaming finger, expertly applied Diamond Copper and Brass Pearl hues, then edged the whole affair in White Pearl. While this application is quite different from true multihued paints such as the '96 Mystic, the result shares some color-flip characteristics.

You might have thought Ivan would be satisfied with the power emanating from the factory's whiz-bang 4.6 V-8-at least in light of a four-cylinder background. But such was not the case. He quickly caught the "if some is good, more is better" attitude, opting for forced induction for his high-revving Four-Valve. Some 12 pounds of boost are whipped up by a Vortech T-Trim blower, then chilled by the company's water-to-air aftercooler. Extra fuel is supplied by a 255-lph pump and 42-lb/hr injectors, while electronic controls have been upgraded by a Superchip and Lightning mass air meter. The healthy exhaust note is courtesy of a Bassani X-pipe and Flowmaster mufflers.

While '99-and-up Cobras sport the road-friendly IRS out back, the front suspension suffers the same factory maladies as any other Mustang. Ivan chose to firm things up with Eibach springs, Tokico Illumina struts, and urethene bushings, while more aggressive alignment is made possible via Steeda caster/camber plates. With the aftermarket still in IRS infancy, the rear has been left alone for now. As for rolling stock, chrome Saleen wheels were a natural with the body kit, while BFGoodrich rubber sticks it all on the road.

And the road is exactly where Ivan is having plenty of fun these days, though predictably he plans to run the car down the 1,320 a few times to satisfy his curiosity. But despite the occasional drag race, this Cobra isn't destined to lead a life of endless side-by-side speed demonstrations. Instead, cruising the open road and enjoying the snake's sporting personality is the draw, not to mention the frequent compliments for a job well done.

This current combination spun up some 414 horses on the local chassis dyno, undoubtedly leaving some numbers on the table that could be snatched up through a sharper tune. Just the same, more than 400 hp makes for a good time no matter the venue, so we'll cut Ivan some slack for not having everything completely sorted out yet.

If you're wondering what first-timers do for an encore, remember that when they get it right from the start, they may never experience the urge to move on.

Our photo shoot saw a variety of weather conditions, so we saw firsthand how the flames can vary depending on the light-sometimes virtually transparent and sometimes nearly setting the car ablaze. Very cool!

Block Stock
Power Adder Vortech T-Trim with
Throttle Body Stock
Fuel System 255-lph in-tank,
42-lb/hr injectors
Exhaust Bassani aftercat X-pipe,
Flowmaster mufflers
Transmission Stock T45,
Steeda Tri-Ax shifter
Rearend Stock

Engine Management EEC V with
Superchip, Lightning mass air meter
Ignition Stock
Gauges Auto Meter

Front Suspension Tokico struts, Steeda caster/camber plates, Eibach springs, Steeda bushings
Rear Suspension Stock
Brakes Stock, with upgraded rotors
Wheels 18-in Saleen
Tires BFGoodrich G-Force T/As,
265/35R18 and 295/35R18