Eric English
June 1, 2003

Horse Sense:
A strict diet brought Tim's Cobra R from a portly 3,610 pounds to a more svelte 2,980 pounds. Weight distribution was improved from a 56.5-percent front-weight bias to just 53.5 percent. Part of the improvement comes from the carbon-fiber hood (9 pounds versus 48 pounds) and fiberglass doors (10 pounds each versus 85 pounds each) from fellow Canuck Larry Lefler.

It's funny how times have changed. Back in the '60s, when a manufacturer assembled a run of special competition models, the majority of the cars were actually put to work on a race track. In the Ford world, legen-dary machines such as lightweight 427 Galaxies, Thunderbolt Fairlanes, and Shelby GT350 R-models stand out in such regard.

Perhaps because such cars became sought-after collector pieces, 1993's resurrection of factory-built competition Mustangs saw the new racers immediately in the crosshairs of modern collectors. We're talking Cobra Rs here, and while some have been raced with varying success, the ultimate Mustangs of 1993, 1995, and 2000 have made their biggest mark simply by virtue of their ultralimited production and high-performance stature. To own one is to have a legitimate piece of history and the opportunity to enjoy a high-water mark in Mustang performance-though such enjoyment takes all forms. While plenty of owners have chosen to cherish their R-models on static display, we see others running hard at club-oriented open tracks, and a few-such as Vancouver, British Columbia's Tim Brown-have actually gone for the competition.

We should be up front and mention that Tim is in a unique position most Cobra R owners don't enjoy. You see, he owns two '00 Rs-one is completely stock and the other is the racer you see here. Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Of course, it helps that Tim is a successful Ford dealer, operating the family business started by his grandfather more than 50 years ago-Brown Brothers Ford in Vancouver. We suppose there's a certain liberty one may feel in substantially modifying an ultrarare piece, knowing you have a pristine stock example at your beck and call as well. Regardless, we applaud Tim for entering the fracas of racing with such a rare beast.

After taking delivery of the car in June 2000, Tim racked up 3,000 miles of street driving before diving into serious modifications. As nicely equipped as the Cobra R came from the factory, an intent to race in GT1 and SPO road-race classes meant big revisions would be necessary. However, it's interesting to note which original parts still remain after race prep was completed. This includes a stock 5.4 mod motor and its Carrillo rods, Canton oil pan, and March underdrive pulleys. Likewise, the McLeod aluminum flywheel and Tremec six-speed still see duty, as does the Fuel Safe cell out back.

Race prep for the '00 occurred in two main phases. The first saw a gutted interior, Lexan quarter and rear windows, fiberglass doors, a full cage, a NASCAR style fueling coupler, a differential cooler, revised rear suspension geometry, a larger engine oil cooler, a race exhaust, and a myriad of other tricks and tweaks. Much of the work was performed by Specialty Engineering in New Westminster, British Columbia, while spraying the cage and doors in a matching hue was done by J&F Collision's Russ Bradley.

The first competition test occurred shortly thereafter at Thunderhill Raceway in central California. Tim, an accomplished racer who honed his skills in a tube-frame GT3 Ford Probe, qualified well in the 50-some-car field-seventh overall and fourth in class. Unfortunately, just over an hour into the 12-hour enduro, a front rotor cracked at the hub, sending Tim to an off-track excursion and early retirement. Since this was essentially the team's first test, they chalked up the experience to lessons learned and returned home to regroup.

The 5.4 '00 R engine is always a sight to behold. Rated at 385 hp from Ford, Tim believes it now pushes about 50 more thanks to a custom computer processor from SVT and an '01 Lightning mass air. At our shoot in late 2002, the SVT-spec engine had proven up to the task so far, though Tim expressed concern should he damage the unavailable and unique R-model cylinder heads. He was eagerly looking forward to the new Ford GT engine program, which should fill the pipeline with good parts for the 330-cuber. Just before going to press, however, Tim told us that Ford Australia is introducing a new Falcon known as the FPV GT. This hot new four-door sports a modular 5.4 DOHC engine replete with "improved" Cobra R cylinder heads-and we thought Mercury's new Marauder was a neat piece! If Tim has need for replacement heads anytime soon, it appears his source could be Down Under. Check out the FPV GT at www.fordperformancevehicles.com.au/.

Phase two of the race prep began with a startling brake upgrade. Those are Porsche Turbo binders you see when the giant three-piece wheels are removed up front, sporting radial-mount, four-piston aluminum calipers and 13x1.3-inch rotors. Of course, these components are far from bolt-on, and Andy Pearson at Specialty Engineering modified the spindles and fabbed full-floating aluminum hats to make it all come together. But why use Porsche brakes when other upgrades might have been easier to install? It seems the Porsche components are surprisingly affordable-at least in Canada-and if you have Andy's expertise, why not?

Once the front brake modifications were made, attention was turned to the rear, where the formerly front Brembo calipers and 13-inch rotors resided during our shoot. That changed in the intervening months, as Tim explained he has achieved better balance by running two-piston PBRs. Specialty Engineering finished the whole thing off by installing a Tilton pedal assembly, a Tilton brake-bias adjuster, and dual master cylinders.

Another addition in the name of longevity came in the form of a trans-mission oil cooler, which, as does the diff cooler, receives cooling air from a quarter-window scoop and circulation via a Tilton pump. More attention was paid to the suspension as well, with major changes coming from a combination of predominately Kenny Brown components. Up front, the company's tubular K-member and control arms are used with Koni double-adjustable struts and Eibach coilover springs. In the rear, Kenny Brown modified the stock IRS subframe with revised pickup points, while KB lower and custom upper control arms, Koni double-adjustable shocks, and Eibach coilovers complete the arrangement. True to form, Andy revised some of the control arms for full race use, with the same story for the front and rear sway bars.

With the second round of prep complete, Tim and his support team were ready for another go at competition. An eight-hour race at Portland International Raceway was encouraging, as the car made it through seven hours of pounding before a suspension component broke with the car running in the top 10. With more experience and more sorting, the best finish to date is an '02 International Conference of Sports Car Clubs (ICSCC) event in Portland, Oregon, when the R qualified on the front row for separate SPO and GT1 races. That flash of brilliance proved more than momentary, as the race results were a Second in SPO for Tim and a First in GT1 for co-driver Tony Morris Jr.-promising performance indeed!

Winter's off-season will have given Tim and company some time to review their efforts so far and ready the '00 for another go-none of which would happen without the dedicated crew of Don MacLean, Chris Shorman, and Geoff Holmes. Wish lists for upgrading a race car never seem to end, and in this case they include still bigger binders from Baer/Alcon, custom long-tube headers, and an engine freshening that will bump the compression ratio at a minimum-and possibly include some head and camshaft massaging.

Whether all the goals will be achieved before race season remains to be seen, but it would appear the guys are on the right track. A full race schedule probably isn't in the cards due to the more developed nature of Tim's Probe, but the plan is for Northwest sports car racing to be well aware of what Ford's factory special is all about. It seems only fitting it be that way, for it's not particularly remarkable when marque devotees slather the R-model with respect. What's far more meaningful is that the opposition has reason to know the Cobra R even exists!