Jim Smart
August 1, 2001
Photos By: Randy Lorentzen

When I heard Editor Ford's voice on the phone from 3,000 miles away in Central Florida, I knew I was in trouble. Call Jeff our own little devil's advocate: an idea guy who keeps us all on our toes. He asked me what I thought of a shootout between a classic Cobra Jet and a late-model SVT Cobra-a shootout between two entirely different badass Mustangs. One is a big-block Cobra Jet and the other is a low-displacement, 32-valve, overhead-cam, high-tech screamer: nose to nose, neck and neck on the dragstrip, road course, and public highway. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

In many respects, comparing Mustangs designed and assembled 30 years apart just isn't fair because they are so different. A vintage Cobra Jet is raw, crude muscle at its best from back in the day. It did its best work on the dragstrip and on the open highway. It laid down a ton of rubber and it got you there quickly. We're talking fast-quick, straight-line performance. Forget the canyon road or the auto-cross event. Ford's FE-series big-block 428ci Cobra Jet produces mind-bending torque, giving us brute acceleration when in proper tune with the right rear-end gearing. We desire these faithful steeds because they remind us of our youth some 30 years ago in the rearview mirror. With the pedal to the metal, they were darned fast for their time. And if you could afford one back then, they were an awesome ego trip.

The '99 Ford SVT Cobra was born in an entirely different performance era. It's a vastly different platform with huge four-wheel disc brakes, independent rear suspension, wide tires with a great contact patch with the pavement, dual overhead-cam technology with 32 valves and a 6,800-rpm redline, and masterful handling a classic Mustang will likely never equal.

So why a shootout bewtween these two Mustangs? Primarily to show you just how far the Mustang has come since its conception during the '60s and to show you what these generations have in common. The '6811/42 Shelby GT500KR is yesterday's ultimate Mustang fun car. Ford SVT's '99 Cobra is today's ultimate Mustang play toy. So how do these Mustangs stack up side by side?

The Participants
Meet Pat O'Neal and John Reitman. Pat is a computer programmer. John is an attorney who specializes in specific types of international governmental law. Pat drove his '99 Cobra up from Southern California's Inland Empire-some 70 miles east of Los Angeles. John trailered his '68 GT500KR fastback up from West Los Angeles. Why the trailer in an age when more and more of us are driving our Mustangs? It's called value and the risk of a breakdown that might leave the slippery fastback crippled alongside the freeway; no one with any sense does that in Los Angeles.

Both gentlemen were eager to participate in our comparo. We're not completely certain Pat and John were out to see who would come out on top as much they were to see how each vehicle would perform in its own right. Despite Pat's fondness for late-model, high-performance Mustangs, he was taken with the Shelby's slippery fastback styling and the great displacement Dearborn used to stuff under the bonnet. John, who road-races BMWs on the weekends, has a fine appreciation for the sophisticated nature of the Cobra. What we have here between these gentlemen is respect and appreciation for fine automobiles.