Don Roy
March 1, 2007
Photos By: Tracy Stocker

Mike O’brien’s 1996 Mustang Cobra
We've run a number of stories before that start out with how the current Mustang owner was influenced by another family member owning a Mustang before and that is also true about Mike O'Brien. What is a little different this time is the fact that Mike's first Mustang was an AMF pedal car that his grandfather bought from a Ford dealership. That purchase followed shortly after the grandfather having taken delivery of a 1964-1/2 Mustang. Both of Granddad's purchases would be classics today.

Along the way, Mike was also exposed to the wondrous experiences from his aunt having a 1966 fastback and then his father jumping in with a 1967 convertible. How could Mike not end up in the middle of his own Mustang affair? "I've always loved Mustangs since then," the 40-something webmaster and marketing driver for Brooks Performance told us. It is only fitting that Mike ended up with a modern classic Mustang of his own. The 1996 Mystic Cobra you see on these pages reflects his conviction that "the Cobra was the ultimate Mustang model."

Indeed Mike, and the Mystic Cobras are probably the ultimate examples within the SVT stable. For those of you new to the term, Mystic refers to the color-shifting paint that was a ground-breaking innovation when this snake was first hatched. Depending on the light, this paint may appear to be purple, brown, teal or burgundy. As you walk around the car, or as the light changes with the sun, the colors shift from one hue to another. In 1996, SVT led the industry by making the special paint available as an $815 option. It was available only for that model year, which also debuted the 4.6-liter modular motor in the Mustang product. Only 2,000 1996 Cobras were finished with this option. In 2004, SVT brought back the concept with a limited-edition (1,010 units) Mystichrome Appearance Package. Mystichrome Cobras featured the color-shifting paint along with the industry's first application of color-changing leather seat inserts.

How It Works
Ford sourced the original Mystic paint from BASF, who first made reference to the concept in 2001, in their annual forecast of upcoming color trends. "Color at the Speed of Light refers to the use of all means in the physics of light to generate new color effects for automotive coatings," said Jon Hall, Manager of Color Development for BASF's Automotive OEM Coatings business group, at the time. The phenomenon responsible for this paint's color shifting effect was only one of a number that would be exploited by the company, however, it remains the most well known. At the time, BASF also introduced 'Constellation Color', which made the paint's color visible at night, but found limited response within the automotive community.

The pigment for the Mystic paint actually isn't a pigment at all. It is very small flakes (around 20 microns diameter - about the size of two red blood cells) of a crystalline material that reflects light. The material is produced by JDS Uniphase under the trade name, ChromaFlair. Based on ultra-precise methods, otherwise used for building fiber optic devices, the company creates alternating layers of three different materials. The three layers, interestingly, have no color themselves. One is clear, one is semi-transparent and the third is fully reflective, like a mirror. Precisely controlling the thickness of the layers, results in the color shifting effect from the flakes.