Jim Smart
February 1, 2005

When Mustang Monthly first starting rolling off the presses in the late '70s, Mustang Mania was centered around the '65-'73 models. Classic Mustangs had a huge following because Ford wasn't building much excitement into new Mustangs at the time.

But when you go to Mustang shows today, it's easy to forget there was a time when late-model Mustangs were left completely out of the loop. Today, the vast majority of Mustangs at any Ford event are late-models, especially '87 and newer. It really is a beautiful irony because who had the last laugh?

Matthew Bohl has to chuckle. His '97 SVT Cobra is fast, eye-catching, and widely respected (and welcome) at just about any Mustang show across the continent. Matt's Rio Red Cobra is super-sharp and ready for action. Underhood is the 32-valve, 4.6L double-overhead-cam V-8 followed by a Tremec five-speed and 4.30:1 gears. What this means for Matt is power right out of the hole. With those 4.30:1 cogs in back, gears One through Four make for a rocket-ship ride from a standstill. And when Matt shifts into Fifth gear, the revs settle back to a nice cruising range he can live with. You really can have it all with a late-model Mustang.

Whenever you go fast in a Mustang, it's nice to know you can stop when the need arises. In front of Matt's Cobra are powerful Steeda disc brakes followed by factory binders in back. Bilstein struts and shocks complement the handling package nicely. Wheels are chrome 17x9 Cobra Rs, which look great with the red paint.

What may surprise the classic purist is Matt's decision never to drive his Cobra in bad weather. It sits in a dry garage whenever Pennsylvania weather closes in. We didn't do this with our vintage Mustangs when they were new, and perhaps enthusiasts like Matt learned something from that. He doesn't want to have to replace the floorpans in 20 years. And he'd really like to keep the factory finish intact for years to come, which didn't happen with many classics.

Taking the wheel of a newer Mustang Cobra helps us appreciate why Ford continued building Mustangs long after 1973. Truth is, they only got better. Great engineering refinements made the '74-'78 Mustang II a better Mustang. When the '79 rolled into showrooms around the world, it was only the beginning of a great, new era in hot Mustang performance. In the years that followed, they got faster and better. And Mustang performance returned with a vengeance in the '80s and '90s, with hot-performing ponycars we could only dream of in the '70s.