Michael Johnson Associate Editor
October 1, 2007
Photos By: Steve Turner

All Ben Ripstein originally wanted was to get his Cobra's transmission fixed. "I bought the car with 9,500 miles on it," he says, "and I took it to my local Ford dealer to have the transmission replaced." Ben must have been happy with the service, because the Wauconda, Illinois, resident talked to the service manager about making the Cobra a 10-second ride. Outside of the dealership's capabilities, the service manager pointed Ben in the direction of one of the technicians: NMRA racer Mark Magnuson. As a drag racing veteran, Mark knew what it would take to accomplish Ben's goals, and then some.

While having a few drinks, Ben, Mark, and Mark's friend, John Galway, laid out the plan, beginning with the installation of a Hellion Power Systems single-turbo kit. "We just kept going further until the car was as extreme as they could make it," Ben says. In went a return-style fuel system using a Behind Bars Race Cars fuel tank and rollcage, a Magnaflow fuel pump, a Dr. Evil Performance Transmissions-built 4R70W automatic transmission with an Ultimate Converter Concepts stall converter, a solid-axle 8.8 with 9-inch ends to replace the original IRS, Wilwood brakes, and an Innovative boost controller. Still, with the stock Four-Valve 4.6 engine and Mark at the wheel, the car ran a 10.50 at 127 mph on BFGoodrich drag radials and a 10.18 at 129 mph on 28x1011/42-inch Mickey Thompson E/T Drags.

Then it was off to the '06 World Ford Challenge at Gateway International Raceway. "I had never been to an all-Ford event," Ben says. Every Ford racer Ben read about was there, and Mark introduced him. Ben enjoyed that part of the weekend, but when a tuning mistake took out two pistons, the team was back to square one. "I was having so much fun, I didn't care about hurting the engine," Ben says. He was so excited about the drag racing arena, he and Mark went to see MV Performance's Tim Matherly about a short-block. Ben bought one to take back home.

Once at home, the teardown commenced. The blown-up stock engine came out, and in went the MV Performance short-block, but not before topping it off with a pair of Rich Groh-massaged FR500 heads and a Sullivan Racing Products intake, also ported by Rich Groh. A Fox-body-style 70mm throttle body was attached to a Behind Bars Race Cars elbow. Once Mark and John assembled the engine and dropped it in, the car received a new Behind Bars Race Cars intercooler and tubing.

For a new way of tuning the beast, a Big Stuff 3 engine-management system was added with Larry Stauner of ASSC at the laptop to get the tune spot-on. Larry spent four hours in tuning time on the Cobra to make a lot of power with the driveability of a stocker. This is around the time we picked Ben's Cobra to compete in the '06 King of the Street competition ("Royal Rumble," May '07, p. 40), and the story of Ben's Cobra gets interesting.

Ben and Mark needed to prepare the Cobra for KOTS, so they got everything together for some testing. Each KOTS competitor received a pair of Nitto 555R Extreme Drag radials. On the first test pass with the Nittos, something went terribly wrong. Mark says a ball joint came apart at the top end at 128 mph, making him a mere passenger in an out-of-control car. The damage was extensive. The whole right side of the car was flattened. The front and rear bumper covers were done, all four tires flat-spotted, both right-side wheels were trashed, and the front and rear suspensions were out of whack.

Mark was fine, but obviously the car was far from it-much less ready for the King of the Street competition, which at the time of the accident was less than two weeks away. Ben, Mark, and John agreed the car had to be at the KOTS competition, but they knew it would be quite the undertaking. They called in every favor-and then some-to get the repairs underway.

On Saturday, September 23, the car was at Behind Bars Race Cars so Noodles could redo the intercooler piping, but that didn't take long. The car was back at the body shop for wet-sanding and the interior's reinstallation. Monday, September 25, Mark took the car to work with him so he could get it aligned and set the solid axle's pinion angle for the new UPR Products rear suspension. The car went on the dyno that night to double-check the tune-up. The next day, the car was cleaned and loaded into the trailer for the haul to Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky-the site of the King of the Street competition.

Not only did the Cobra look better than new for the competition, it displayed road manners befitting a stock Mustang-probably better. Since we were able to drive it, we became intimately familiar with the car's personality. Even though it finished close to the bottom in the Dyno Numbers category thanks to its automatic overdrive combination and possible tire spin, this is a fast car. We proved it with Mark in the passenger seat during the Ride and Drive segment, and Mark further drove home that point by winning the Drag Race segment with a 10.31 at 132 mph.

KOTS was the Cobra's second time down the dragstrip since kissing the wall during testing. It has since run a 9.81 at 138 mph.