Brad Bowling
July 1, 2007

In 1993, Ford celebrated the final year of the Mustang's aged Fox platform by having its Special Vehicle Team (SVT) release 4,993 tuned-and-tweaked hatchbacks wearing the legendary Cobra badge.

Reviving the coiled-snake emblem raised many eyebrows in the enthu-siast community, where memories of Carroll Shelby's '62-'67 roadsters were still considered sacred. Sure, Ford's own marketing department diluted the viper's venom, first by adding the Cobra name to '68-'70 Shelby Mustangs and various top-performing V-8s. The fangs were entirely pulled in the '70s with the garish and slow Mustang II-based Cobra II and King Cobra. Ford tried one more time to recall the excitement of Shelby's Ferrari-beating roadsters when the redesigned '79 Mustang line offered a turbocharged four-cylinder or V-8 with Cobra-specific cosmetics, wheels, and suspension. When the GT returned for '82, the snake slithered under a rock for a long nap-except in Canada. To retain legal ownership of the name and image, Ford sold Cobras and Mustangs there from '94-'92.

SVT realized its hopped-up version of the final-year Fox would become the laughing stock of the automotive community if its performance didn't live up to the famous name. Using a variety of hot-rod techniques and go-fast parts already being sold through its dealer network, SVT turned the GT's 205hp 5.0L into a 235hp V-8 with a 6,000-rpm redline. Completing the new Cobra formula included a stronger Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed, subtle body mods, four-wheel disc brakes, lower and softer springs, and 17-inch unidirectional Goodyear Eagles. The '93 Cobra was available only as an $18,505 hatchback in Performance Red, Teal, or Black. SVT produced an additional 107 Vibrant Red cars as racetrack-ready R-models for $25,692 each.

A succession of faster Cobras followed. The '94-'95 models had a 240hp version of the 5.0L. An upgrade to the dual overhead camshaft (DOHC) 4.6L modular engine brought 305 horses to the '96-'98 Cobra. After production-line glitches initially forced a recall, the '99 and '01 Cobras-there were no '00 or '02 models-produced 320 hp and became the first Mustangs to carry an independent rear suspension (IRS).

A decade after introducing the first of its new Cobras, Ford's commitment to high performance led the company to develop the most powerful production Pony in history. The '03 Cobra was a throwback to the musclecars of the '60s. In head-to-head contests on the strip, it showed no respect for its Boss and Super Cobra Jet elders.

With a supercharged 4.6L DOHC engine, the '03 SVT Cobra was in a category all its own, with output rated at 390 hp at 6,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. The blower was an Eaton Roots-style unit tuned to produce 8 pounds of boost, with a water-to-air intercooler that reduced the temperature of the charge for maximum volatility in the combustion chamber.

To keep such violent explosions in check, the handbuilt Cobra engines received cast-iron blocks, which was a departure from the aluminum blocks the '96-'01 cars received. The '99-'01 forged-steel crankshaft was retained, mandating additional machining to the iron block's interior-side bulkhead to make room for Cobra-unique counterweights. SVT engineers attached forged Manley H-beam connecting rods to the low-compression (8.5:1), dish-top pistons.