Frank Cicerale
June 1, 2008
Photos By: Steve Baur

Backdraft: A situation that can occur when a fire is starved of oxygen. Consequently combustion ceases, but the fuel, gasses, and smoke remain at high temperature. If oxygen is reintroduced to the fire, combustion can restart, often resulting in an explosive effect as the gasses and heat expand.
Source: Wikipedia

Al Papitto traded in one backdraft for another. A retired firefighter from Vero Beach, Florida, Al now heads up Boss 330 Racing and deals with a different kind of backdraft--one inside the combustion chambers of the engines he builds. For someone who spent the early part of his life running into burning buildings while others ran out, a less-than-exciting personal ride could never be parked in his driveway. While he may have given up a ride on the fire truck each time the bell goes off, when his shop closes for the day, Al straps into a ride that quells a different kind of fire.

To say he went down a different path with his '96 Cobra would be like saying Johnny Knoxville isn't a crazy SOB for doing stupid stunts on Jackass. Suffice it to say, this Cobra sports a powerplant known for being between the shock towers of a much rarer car.

"I bought this car completely stripped, from a good friend who had it as a project and didn't have time to finish it," Al says. "I bought the body as a spare, intending to build a race car out of it. Once I looked the car over, I saw the chassis was very clean."

Al set about creating arguably one of the more unique transplant cars to come across our camera lenses. With the SN-95's status as basically a rolling shell, Al threw some intriguing twists at it. "I started calling friends and looking for parts," he says. "A few weeks later, the parts started accumulating. By then I had an '04 Cobra interior, clutch, flywheel, and transmission. I also had the complete engine that I used previously in my red '04 Cobra. Eventually, I had enough parts to put together a car."

Long gone is the 4.6 Four-Valve powerplant the Cobra was originally equipped with by Ford. Replacing it is another Four-Valve, though this one traces its heritage back to an '00 Cobra R. The 5.4 powerplant thumps out 462 ponies at the rear tires.

The result is the black Cobra you see here. To tell the story of this car, however, you have to hear about what went in, under, and on it. It just so happened that the motor Al had lying around was one out of an '00 Cobra R. The 5.4L specialty motor was slung between the shock towers, but not before it saw a complete overhaul and rework. The block was cleaned and readied for the installation of the rotating assembly, which consisted of the stock steel crankshaft, Manley rods, and CP Pistons. Next up, an oil pump from a Three-Valve engine was installed, followed by a Canton oil pan modified with a custom windage tray.

With the short-block ready to rock and roll, Al settled down to finish the powerplant. Before the Cobra R heads were laid down on top of the engine, they were run through a litany of performance upgrades. The Four-Valve heads were treated to a race porting job, then filled with oversize valve seats, bronze valveguides, and Ferrea stainless steel valves. The heads were installed, followed by a set of Comp Cams roller bumpsticks and Ford 1.81-ratio cam followers.

After the long-block was set into its new home in the Cobra, the finishing touches were put on the 332ci motor. With a compression ratio of 11.6:1, there was no way this puppy would live under any kind of forced-induction setup, so Al decided to keep the motor running naturally aspirated. Sitting atop the mod motor is a stock Cobra R intake manifold. Funneling the air into the manifold is an Accufab oval throttle body and a Lightning 90mm mass air meter.