Eric English
July 1, 2003

Horse Sense: Few efforts such as John Karwoski's occur unless the owner is a car builder by profession or has developed a close relationship with a top-notch shop. The latter is true for John, and he wants to be clear that credit for building this wild ride goes to Brad's Custom Auto in Seattle, Washington. Owner Brad Seibold and technicians Scott Hicks and Brian Holsten have spent untold hours and countless late nights slaving away on the Mystic beast. Rather than just showing up to pay the bills, John is usually present to lend encouragement, muscle work, and liquid refreshment to the endeavor-although doing computer work for a Seattle airplane manufacturer is his trade by day.

Lest you be jaded by the frequency with which Pro 5.0 drag racers are posting 200-mph trap speeds, such triple-digit numbers are some of the most noteworthy in all motorsports. Near as we can tell, the first fuel-burning dragster officially credited with the feat did so in 1964, the first NASCAR stocker in 1970 (one lap average), and the first Pro 5.0 drag racer in 2001.

But perhaps the mark is best summed up by the old T-shirts and posters of a vintage Ford GT with the caption "Life begins at 200," a reminder of the exotic 200-mph-capable Ford Le Mans effort. We think life can be plenty good at slower speeds too, but there's no denying 200 mph as a legendary automotive accomplishment.

Enter John Karwoski and his '96 Mystic Cobra. More than simply posting the kind of brief, 200-mph banzai that would please most enthusiasts, John is hoping to average such speed in an upcoming run at the Silver State Classic/ Nevada Open Road Challenge-a legal, 90-mile blast through the Nevada desert. As with most over-the-top automotive efforts, however, John's didn't start off to be this serious. A self-described Ford "freak," John has had several trick rides prior to this current missile, including a couple of vintage 'Stangs and a well-modified '91 GT.

The GT was eventually sold to free up house-buying funds, but John convinced his wife on the idea of a new '96 Cobra a couple years later. The clincher to spousal approval? The fact that Cobras came so well-equipped-you know, such good brakes, horsepower, and so on-that there'd be little need for modification. Yeah, right. Exhaust and gears came soon after driving off the dealer lot, and the rest just snowballed from there.

Mustang purists will freak when they see what's been done with 1 of just 1,999 Cobras to be sprayed with the chameleon-like Mystic hue, but we think it's cool. John admits he wouldn't have chosen such a low-production car if he'd known how far he'd stray from the factory build, but once the ball began rolling, it just didn't make sense to start over again.

The cockpit is all business. After all, traveling 200 mph for almost 30 minutes demands the utmost in monitoring and safety equipment. Frequent engine and driveline checks are conducted through an array of Auto Meter and VDO gauges, while navigator Matt Chambers also employs multiple stopwatches, an intercom, and a GPS. Both occupants are secured in their Sparco seats by Schroth six-point harnesses and surrounded by a gorgeous rally-style rollcage by Cascade Autosport in North Bend, Washington. A Halon fire system is present in case of disaster.

Aptly assisted by navigator Matt Chambers and the mechanical crew from Brad's Custom Auto, John's Cobra appears to have a legit shot at reaching its goal during one of the Nevada events scheduled for 2003. The team has gone through some typical teething during three prior visits and actually figured to accomplish the task at the spring '02 run, only to be denied by lousy weather. Every year has seen John and the Custom Auto team up the ante a bit. The '03 effort will be run in Silver State's Unlimited class, where nearly anything goes and speeds are-well-unlimited. Other classes are divided by mph categories, sort of a break-out affair where running too fast will get you DQ'd.

We could take up a ton of space describing the progression of the Mystic '96 to its current iteration, but let's focus on the current goods instead. Front and center is the Vortech T-Trim-boosted 4.6 Cobra mill, which has posted 622 rear wheel horsepower on the Mustang chassis dyno at Auburn, Washington's Blood Enterprises. That number came with a safe-read slightly rich-air/fuel ratio, deemed a necessity when running so long and hard. Internals consist of a stock forged crank, Manley rods, custom Ross forged pistons, and ModMax plasma-moly rings, while a set of Anderson Ford Motorsport Stage 3 ported heads ride along on top. The T-Trim builds upward of 20 psi at redline, and it is augmented by Vortech's Power Cooler and an AFM Power Pipe. The intake tract also consists of a Pro-M 87mm air meter, a Ford Racing Performance Parts throttle body, and a ported factory intake.