Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsFeatured Vehicles
1997 Ford Mustang Cobra - Purpose-Built Grudge Runner
Bringing the heat on and off the street
Those of us who have tinkered with street-driven Mustangs for the past decade can recall the days when we used to consider an 11-second street car very fast and just plain rare. The thought of a 10- or 9-second street car was something almost incomprehensibleùso imagine cruising around the streets of Chicago and pulling alongside Vito Lahey's hot 8-second Pacific Green '97 Cobra. Can you say jaw-dropping street machine? Vito has a history of modifying cars and isn't new to the game, having owned a cammed 306ci Fox-body Mustang and having ventured to the "dark side" with a 10-second LS1 Camaro before he was even 18 years old.
Since most of his fellow racer friends drove F-bodies, he wanted to be different and knew there was a lot of power to be had with Ford's modular platform. Motivated by the prodigies of modular Mustang racing like John Mihovetz, he set his sights on the Four-Valve Cobra. After finding the car he was looking for, he knew it had to be extreme if he was going to rule the street scene in Chicago and the surrounding areas.
With the intent of building a grudge car for both the street and the strip, Vito went full force into turning a perfectly nice and unmolested Cobra into an undercover, boost-breathing, cash-hustling, pavement-scorching 8-second ride. "Hustling a grudge race is more exciting than the racing itself," Vito says. It was only recently that he felt open enough to fill out the entire tech sheet for this write-up. Purpose-built grudge cars tend to maintain a low profile in order to keep the competition guessing.
So what's under the hood of this beast? More like, what isn't under the hood.
Vito craved serious horsepower. He knew that ultimately he would have to build a quality setup in order to meet his goals and also have longevity, since this was a street-driven car. Dean's Performance was instrumental in getting this combo up and running, between building the engine and all of the custom fabrication work that was involved.
A Teksid block is the base for this 284-inch powerplant; a stock Cobra crank, JE Pistons, and Manley rods help keep everything in one piece. The guts of the engine setup include MMR '03 Cobra race-ported heads, custom Sean Hyland cams, all of which is fueled by 160-lb/hr injectors cramming VP C-16 into all eight cylinders. A Sullivan intake met with a 90mm Accufab throttle body to finish off the intake side of this monster.
High horsepower combinations are always confronted with the same looming dilemma of getting the power to the tires, and after changing the suspension more than once, Vito settled on a double-adjustable front and rear setup from Strange. Tucked under the rear end of this beast is an 8.8 with a 3.55 gear ratio, which enables this car to run well over 170 mph through the traps.
If Vito was going to hurt some feelings and take some money, then forced induction was the only clear choice. He bolted on an 88mm Precision Turbo with a radical air-to-air intercooler setup because, let's face it, turbo cars run fast. As a matter of fact, Vito claims his Cobra is the fastest modular air-to-air intercooled car in the country. Force-feeding the somewhat mild engine combination is 26 psi of boost; a Brand X Turbo 400 transmission propels this car down the quarter-mile with ease. Fully aware of the challenges turbo cars face when spooling off the line, a small nitrous shot was just the remedy needed to cure any turbo-lag.
Big Stuff 3 offers everything needed when tuning up a high-horsepower standalone EFI setup like Vito's, but finding just the right calibrator to combine driveability and power safely to keep the car living for a long time isn't as simple. Vito decided on Bob Kurgan to tune this setup to ensure reliable performance when it came to hustling up a grudge race. This is especially important since Vito puts about 300-400 miles a year on his ride. And with that, street manners are a must.
Today, 600hp modular cars are a dime a dozen and there are plenty of proven combinations, but when it comes to building 1,200 hp, it's a game changer. Vito faced plenty of challenges during this build, and finding a good source of modular engine knowledge proved nearly impossible. Only a couple of shops had cars running anything near the goals he had set, and those were far from street cars. Still, despite the trials and tribulations that came with having no guidance, Vito and the Dean's Performance crew have achieved big power goals with this immaculately clean and efficient mod-powered animal.
Within the next year, Vito wants to make some big changes to the entire setup, including twin 88s, all while running a stock-style suspension setup. He hopes to run in the X275 class and Outlaw 275 going bottom 7s. Until then, you can catch Vito at street-style grudge racing events around Chicago, and at tracks such as Milan Dragway in Michigan, and Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove, Wisconsin, and of course, on the street.
With this mean Cobra, hustling is the name of the game, so you might want to have a wad of cash handy if you plan to call it out!