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Modular Powered 1980 Mustang Cobra - Snake Bit
When the purple haze cleared, it was obvious George Lambert had been bitten by a Cobra.
To Mustang enthusiasts, there are some cars that shine above the rest. There are the 428CJ models, the '67 Shelby GT500, the Mach 1, and the venerable Boss "9" to name a few. The late-model crowd has its favorites, too, such as the '93 Cobra, any "R" model, the specialty Bullitt, the Mach 1, and anything else that came out of the coveted SVT garage.
For George Lambert, the sharp '80 Cobra was the pinnacle of Mustang performance. It didn't take long before he became snake bitten and had the venom course through his veins. "I grew up mostly around Corvettes," says the Springfield, Illinois, native, "but in 1982 my love for the Mustang grew when I purchased my '80 Cobra." Since that time, the car has been everything from a drag car to a "half-assed street car." It was originally equipped with the turbocharged four-cylinder, but George yanked it out and replaced it with a carbureted 5.0 small-block. After just about everything broke, his wife, Tara, thought the car was possessed and nicknamed it "Christine."
In an effort to appease the horsepower gods, George pulled out the 5.0 and dropped in a Hi-Po 289. Featuring dual quads, 14:1 compression, and a C4 automatic linked to a 9-inch rear, the car ran well into the 10-second zone. That was all fine and dandy, except his wife still hated the car. "She would refuse to ride in it because it was too loud," George says. This time, in an effort to appease Tara, he took out the offensive, but cool, 289 and dropped in a drivetrain from a wrecked '89 GT.
After buying a '99 Cobra drop-top for her, George fell in love with how the car drove. He was forced to sell the '99 when Tara got pregnant with their daughter, but he never forgot the feeling of the SN-series snake. Then it hit him--why get something new when you can adapt the car in which you took your significant other to your prom? The original version of his Cobra was good, but George wanted the best of both worlds: a Fox-body Stang with the power and intrigue of the newer mod-motor Cobra power plant. What a plan.
The journey began in November 2005 when George and friend Clint Faugust started the quest to find a beat-up Cobra. Mainly interested in a car for its powertrain and creature comforts, George expected the search to be lengthy. Two weeks later, Clint called to say he found a wrecked '04 Cobra convertible. "I decided to sell my brand-new Hayabusa to pay for the car," George says. "It was a hard thing to swallow, but it was well worth it!"
The Cobra was the unfortunate victim of a chance highway encounter with a semi. It had been on its way back from Bob Stiegemeier's shop where it had just received a Stage VI port job, a 2.8-inch upper blower pulley, and a killer dyno tune, when it was punted across the road by the big rig. For George, the previous owner's heart-ache was his joy. After purchasing the car, he pulled it in his garage next to the waiting recipient.
From the outset, George knew what he wanted from the project. "A car I could drive comfortably, anywhere, anytime, with my wife and four-year-old daughter." And so began the transformation of the '80 Cobra. Trying to fit the 4.6 blown modular mill under the hood of the Fox-body required serious modifications to the engine compartment. George and Clint started by fitting and welding portions of the '04 firewall to the '80's Fox. This made mounting the 04's pedal support and HVAC box easier, as it bolted directly to the factory '04 holes on the grafted firewall. After installing the rear seat, package tray, and seatbelts from the '04, George went back under the car to install the K-member and independent rear suspension.
Next came the effort to relocate the '04 powertrain into the '80 chassis. With help from Bill Collins of Bill's Mustang Restoration in Rochester, Illinois, the factory engine, trans-mission, brake and fuel lines, radiator, and fuel tank that George had ripped out of the '04 was bolted in. Everything was kept mostly stock, as the Cobra motor was backed up with a stock T56 and clutch setup. When everything was bolted in and secured, George added a set of Kook's long-tube headers that dump into a 2 1/2-inch exhaust system featuring high-flow cats and MagnaFlow mufflers.
Following the powerplant install, George took the Cobra to Paul Knoles, who spent the next weekend fabricating new rear bars for the rollcage. When that was done, it was back to George's garage, where it came time to put the finishing touches on the restomod Cobra. The '04 Cobra had its factory heat exchanger and supercharger coolant pump smashed in the accident, so it was up to George to create his own. Using an AFCO double-pass heat exchanger and a Meziere electric water pump, he devised a system that worked. FC Customs came up with a Vortech reservoir, and when all was said and done, the new system not only worked, but its capacity was more than doubled from the stock setup.
Back under the car, George bolted in a set of Hypercoil springs on all four corners, along with full-length custom frame connectors and a custom driveshaft loop. With the mechanical portion of the car completed, it came time to wire up everything. Knowing he was going to need help in getting all of the connections hooked up correctly, George enlisted the help of Jim Saathoff of Hometown Garage in Pleasant Plains, Illinois. "I wanted most of the electronics in the rear," George says, "so I had to add 17 feet of wire to all 108 wires from the PCM." A daunting task indeed, but it paid off as he was able to get all of the accessories working, from the fully functional key fob all the way down to the power seats. To retain the factory look, George even had the line-lock wired to the traction control switch.
Mike Rodden of Alpha Omega Auto Sound in Taylorville, Illinois, took care of the interior of the car. He went so far as to fabricate one-piece fiberglass rear quarter-panels finished in the same vinyl as the rest of interior pieces. The most challenging portion of the interior install, however, was done by George and Clint. George fabricated his own armrests, and it took three weeks for the pair to use floral-arrangement foam, bathroom paneling, and door handles from a Ford Ranger to create the custom pieces.
Bob Matthews at Bill Matthews Auto Body was called upon to shoot the body panels with the BASF tri-coat Extreme Series paint. Painted before the transformation was undertaken, the Purple Haze hue fits the car quite well. Adding to the outward appearance of the Cobra, George had Matthews bolt on a factory '80 Cobra cowl hood, a Saleen rear wing, and quarter-windows from an '89-'93 model.
Unlike the original turbocharged four-banger, the '80 Cobra now required a computer tune to get it started and down the road. Chad Miller of FC Customs came to George's rescue, using a Predator tuner to come up with a custom tune-up that results in 450 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque at the rear tires. The finishing touches to the Cobra came when George bolted on 17x8 front and 18x8.5 rear OE Cobra wheels from Wheels Direct. The fronts are shrouded in Goodyear Eagle F1 245/40ZR17 tires, while BFG 255/40ZR18 G-Force TAs are mounted out back.
It took five months of hard work to finish it, but the Cobra is now exactly what George had envisioned. It's docile yet potent, and packs a punch both sitting still and moving down the track or road. Case in point was the Lambert family trip to the St. Louis World Ford Challenge event. Commuting the 180-mile round trip to and from the three-day event, the Cobra knocked down 19 mpg, while traveling above the speed limit with the air conditioning turned on full blast. George even got to test the four-wheel disc-brake system at 140 mph without being detected by a cop.
Surely, George would have gotten out of the ticket. The cop would not have wanted to be bitten by Lambert's snake. He might have wanted one of his own.