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1997 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra - A Quest For 20
He Did The Go Thing. Now, He Does The Show Thing. Notably, He's On ...
By his own account, Bruce Kolb has been interested in cars "since I was about three." Around that time, this son of a Marine MP began building model cars, in spite of his father's preference for scale trains and aircraft. Each tried to get the other to switch and, in the end, the son won out. Building improved and unique features into his model cars led the young Bruce to shows for model car builders. That exposure, needless to say, created a drive to excel that hasn't taken a back seat for more than 42 years.
Being around at the time the Mustang was introduced in 1964, the original pony car has left a lasting impression on this owner. Though not bought new, Bruce keeps a 1965 K-Code Mustang fastback in the stable and shows it regularly. In fact, when we spoke with him for this feature, he had just returned from a SAAC show and brought home a Class award in spite of being up against more than 30 other 1965 Mustangs. We asked him what it was about the Mustang that was so attractive when it was first announced back in the day. He told us, "It was economical, sporty-looking and affordable."
Another notable Ford vehicle that passed through Bruce's life was a 1970 Maverick. In his 20s, just out of the service and looking to get married soon, Bruce knew that crazy choices were likely not the best ones to make at that time. He'd got a competition bug and done his research, finally settling on three potential rides. One was a brand new 1970 Chevy Nova that, when fitted with a 307-cid V8, qualified at the top of the J/Stock drag racing class. The next candidate, whether wishful thinking or not, was a 428 Torino that would run credibly in the Super Stock class. The third and final choice was the Maverick. In order to have it competitive and not mired in the gaggle of also-rans, this particular competitor came equipped with the 200-cid straight six-cylinder engine. That placed it at the top of the T/Stock class.
Living in Louisville at the time, he raced on four local tracks - all of which were eighth-mile versions and suited the output curve of the tractor engine. After carefully going through the class rules to see what was allowed and what could be more liberally interpreted, the Maverick mods began. The straight swap of an axle assembly from a Ford Econoline provided a set of 4.11:1 rear gears. Porting the cylinder head and a few other tricks turned the grocery getter into a class winner and undefeated in a full year of competition at the Ohio Valley Drag Strip. That car was later bored out to 306-cid, fitted with a header and three dual carbs, then moved into H/Modified Production duty. The car was making an estimated 400 horsepower, when it was returned to street duty. Bruce tells an amusing story about the owner of a new Pontiac Trans Am not being able to understand why he had the doors shut on him by a 6-cylinder car. The Maverick was subsequently converted into a show car.
As we fast forward the timeline, late 1996 saw Bruce doing a killer deal on a new Mustang GT. With this particular car, his streak of luck got a bit tarnished though. Overheating issues plagued their relationship and on a visit to the dealer's service bay a year later, the 1997 Rio Red SVT Cobra you see in these pages was spotted. "I have always wanted a Cobra or Shelby since I was a kid. When the opportunity came up, I bought this car with the intention of showing it." A similar, year-end deal was made to switch the '96 GT out and replace it with the 1997 Cobra. Within a couple of weeks, with nothing more than a good clean and detail session under its belt, the Cobra rewarded its new owner with a class win at its first show.
The two became constant show companions, racking up the hardware most places they went. The return from one show, however, was less triumphant than most. Heading back to his home town of Indianapolis from Michigan, the engine began losing oil and pressure. The toasted rear main seal was eventually blamed on a bent crankshaft - itself a mystery, since the car had less than 21K miles and had never been stood on hard. Past experience led Bruce to Mueller's Automotive and Performance in Indianapolis. Like so many of us, they saw an equipment failure as a new opportunity to upgrade the Snake. All forged internals were used, including a stroker crankshaft, to push the engine's displacement out to 5.0-liters. To keep the motor rev-happy, a lightened flywheel was installed and the heads were ported for improved flow. Engine compression was dropped by a point and a half to 8.5, in anticipation of the polished Vortech blower that would be added.
While the engine was apart, Kolb took the opportunity to get the cam covers and the plug covers polished. The cam covers on a four-valve engine are massive, so laying some bling down on them affects an impressive portion of the underhood real estate. As the engine build continued, all the important goodies were added to the mix, including a RAM clutch, 42-lb injectors and MSD ignition controller. These all contributed to a stout result that hasn't emitted a hiccup since. Careful preparation or replacement of other pieces under the hood, including a Kenny Brown chromed strut tower brace and custom-chromed alternator, leave the impression of a burning star under the hood on a sunny day. That approach has seen Bruce take home numerous Best Engine awards, not just for show quality presentation, but for the estimated 500 horsepower tucked underneath all that glitter.
The hardtop's structure has also been substantially beefed up from the installation of Kenny Brown's subframe connectors and a six-point roll bar. A Pro 5.0 short throw shifter and Auto Meter gauges for fuel and boost pressure complete the interior upgrades. A similarly restrained approach on the outside of the Cobra delivers an understated but notable look. The addition of a Steeda rear wing sets the car apart from any siblings that might appear, while the Rio Red paint has had orange pin stripe flames added along the car's flanks. The effect is subtle in some light conditions and startling in others. Rolling stock for this snake has been upgraded to argent painted, 17 x 9-inch Cobra R rims all around, with BF Goodrich Comp T/A radials installed - 245/40-17 in front and 275/40-17 out back.
All of these modifications add up to a car that isn't destined to do well at NOPI shows, but make it entirely suitable for Mustang Club of America 'Modified' class competition. Bruce was truly pleased when the car was awarded 1st Place at the Youngstown MCA Grand National Show, a while back. Other Best in Show awards and a Top Five award from the Nashville 40th Anniversary shindig have added to the car's show pedigree. To date, the Cobra has accumulated 14 MCA 'points' from judging at National and Grand National shows. Bruce has an objective of hitting 20 points, so that the car will receive an MCA grille badge. "The next two shows should do it," he told us.
Sometime after hitting that particular milestone, this Cobra is likely to shed its skin for a new look. A new round of custom paint is in the cards, after molding in and smoothing out a number of exterior details, such as the side scoops and hood vents. Before that can happen, Bruce Kolb must finish his quest - a quest for 20 MCA show points that is.
Bruce and Jeanie Kolb's 1997 SVT Mustang Cobra
Ford Aluminum 4.6-liter DOHC V8
Forged steel stroker crank, ported cylinder heads, Joe Hooker lightened flywheel, forged pistons (displacement now 5.0 liters, with 8.5:1 compression ratio), polished cam and coil covers, Vortech supercharger, downpipe, Flowmaster mufflers, MSD ignition controller
Pro 5.0 short throw shifter. RAM clutch
500 RWHP, 500 RWTQ (est.)
Optima battery, relocated to trunk, Kenny Brown subframe connectors, chromed strut tower brace
Steeda fiberglass rear wing with end plates, Original Rio Red paint cut, buffed and pin stripe flames added by Li'l Bill, Indianapolis, IN
Kenny Brown 6-point roll bar, Auto Meter fuel pressure, boost pressure gauges
Wheels And Tires
Cobra R wheels, 17 x 9" all around, fitted with BF Goodrich tires, 225/40-17 front and 275/40-17 rear
I would like to personally thank Kirt Mueller of Mueller's Automotive & Performance, since basically he and I are the only ones who have touched this car since it was new. I would also like to thank my wife for being there and helping clean the car. She is super! Thanks to the MCA for getting me excited about showing the car. Also, as a member of South Side Mustangs of Indy, I would like to thank them. About four years ago, I had a stroke right before the local ISCA Show and the whole club came over to detail and get the car ready to show, while I was recovering. What a super bunch of guys!