Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
'96 Cobra - Backdraft
Al Papitto set the world on fire with his '96 Cobra.
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.
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."
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.
Al knows that to make a fire, the proper amount of air must be mixed with the correct amount of fuel, along with a spark strong enough to get things going. To that end, a set of 43-pound injectors and a UPR 340 fuel pump supply the petrol, while lighting things off is an MSD DIS4 ignition box sending the jolt through stock coil packs and NGK plugs. The signal to start the combustion process comes from the stock ECM that has been loaded with a custom Boss 330 Racing tune courtesy of a DiabloSport programmer. Venting the residue from the cylinders are the stock Cobra manifolds, a UPR x pipe system, and a 2-1/2-inch exhaust system muffled by a pair of Flowmasters.
Next to be transplanted into the Cobra was the driveline equipment, starting with the transmission assembly. The stock '04 Cobra clutch, flywheel, and pressure plate are squeezed between the engine and the T-56 six-speed stick shift tranny. Al makes each gear change with a UPR shifter, while linking the trans to the third member is a custom aluminum driveshaft. While we're on the topic of the 8.8-inch rear under the hind end of the Cobra, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that the housing is stuffed with 4.10 gears and a pair of Moser 31-spline axles.
With the driveline squared away, it came time to upgrade the handling of the Cobra. Knowing that the nose would be a bit heavier thanks to the 5.4, Al set about overhauling both ends of the Stang in an effort to harness and apply all of that torque and horsepower. A set of UPR upper and lower control arms replace the front stockers, while handling the shock of each road blemish are a pair of Koni shocks and UPR springs. The rear features the same Koni shocks and UPR springs as the bow. As for the braking system, the factory brakes remain, minus the addition of a set of Brembo rotors front and rear. Chrome '03 Cobra rims are located forward, while a set of '04 Cobra rims that were widened to 11 inches are bolted up aft. All four corners of the car ride on BFGoodrich TA tires.
With Al planning on the car being not only his toy, but also a daily driver for his wife, he enlisted the help of J&J Autoworks in Vero Beach, Florida, to give new life to the Mustang's flanks. After installing the Kaenen Cobra R hood, the crew at J&J shot the sheetmetal with DuPont Chroma base black, followed by Chroma clear. As for the interior, the '96 appointments were chucked in favor of those from the '04. The only add-ons come in the form of a pair of Auto Meter A-pillar gauges.
Overall, with a dyno figure of 462 rwhp and 440 lb-ft of torque, this Cobra gets up and goes. "It doesn't handle quite as well as my wife's Corvette," Al says, "but the car is pretty unique and has torque a 4.6 guy could only dream about."
Those who line up next to Al's Cobra might want to think twice before they do it. Backdraft can be a nasty thing.