John Brooks' 1997 SVT Mustang Cobra
There is some financial advice that starts off like this: "The easiest way to start making more money is to stop losing what you already have." It is a sound idea, and one that applies equally well in the field of automotive performance.
In his younger days, John Brooks raced Mercury Cougars on the stock car circuit. Times were simpler and so were suspensions, but one thing that hasn't changed - then or now - are the laws of physics. See, power is a great thing and cheap power is even better. But whether you're racing for six seconds or 60 minutes, you've got to get that power down to the ground for it to do any good.
All racing series have restrictions on what you can do, so any good owner or crew chief knows that they have to find new ways to go faster. John had done quite a bit of work on the Cougar's suspension and used the approach of 'balanced performance' to free up horsepower. When the engine, driveline, suspension and structure of the car were working in harmony, less engine output was being lost to the driver fighting the car. It was an idea that John enjoyed working with and had developed a good degree of expertise for. It should come as no surprise, then, that he eventually wanted to pursue it further.
To get started again, he picked up a used 1993 Mustang LX 5.0-liter and used it to see what some minor adjustments in the car's setup could accomplish. "After building the first Brooks Performance Mustang, the real potential of these cars became evident," John told us. That inspired him to push further. To do so, he'd need a new platform to work on, something more contemporary and with a better starting point. Eventually, his search led him to pick up a two-year old SVT Cobra, which is the car you see on these pages.
To John Brooks, the direction for the new car was clear from the start. "This Cobra was built with the goal of using all of its available horsepower by redesigning the suspension and braking systems, bringing them to a standard that performed well on the street and track." Even before suspension and braking modifications were lined up, the Cobra's unit body structure had to be reinforced. To help out with this, Kenny Brown's Extreme Matrix system was installed. This is an extreme version of subframe connectors that provide connection across a wide area of the underbody, rather than just across the width of the individual subframe rails themselves. Handily, they also provide jacking rails, so that the car can be lifted at virtually any point inside the wheelbase.
Two more structural additions were put in place. A G-load brace was added to the front end's K-member. This acts to brace the lower ends of the K-member and reduce deflection, or unwanted movement, of the front suspension's mounting points. Under the hood, a strut tower brace was installed. By triangulating the body metal, where the upper end of the front struts mount, to the metal of the firewall, this modification helps maintain the intended geometry of the front suspension under hard cornering. One of the more challenging upgrades was the Autopower 6-point roll cage, as John told us. "We wanted to keep the interior of the car looking stock, so we spent a lot of time installing the cage." While the cage is a safety feature for John's open track days, it also adds significantly to the torsional rigidity of the Cobra.
Also at the sharp end, a set of Maximum Motorsports 4-bolt caster/camber plates were added, so that an increased range of suspension adjustment would become available. Most suspension bushings, including sway bar and control arms all around, have been replaced with high performance urethane versions. Out back, the original upper and lower control arms have been replaced with adjustable ones and a panhard bar with chassis brace has been added. Improved stability of the rear axle is the goal here, in particular eliminating sudden bouts of independent rear axle steering. Kenny Brown progressive rate springs were installed on all four corners of the car. This kind of spring provides a reasonable balance between lowering the car to improve handling, and maintaining a streetable ride. When the suspension is at its (new) normal ride height, the spring is reasonably soft. However, as it compresses more the spring becomes stiffer so that the car doesn't bottom out.
Working in conjunction with Stainless Steel Brake Corp., Brooks replaced the front binders with 13-inch rotors and 3-piston calipers. The original rear brakes were left exactly as shipped out of Dearborn Assembly Plant. Rolling stock for the car consists of chromed 17 x 9-inch Cobra R's, fitted with Bridgestone Potenza S03 skins - 245/45-17 in front and 265/40-17 versions out back. Those are for street attire. When heading for the track, John changes over to 2003 OEM Cobra 17 x 9-inch rims, fitted with 275/40-17 Nitto NT01 DOT track tires on all four corners. More recently, the Cobra R's have been replaced with SSR 18 x 9.5-inch rollers and Michelin 285/35-18 tires all around.
Additional responsiveness was found by replacing the original rear axle gears with a set of Ford Motorsport 3.73 cogs, and a Steeda Tri-Ax short shifter was mounted on top of the Tremec T-45 gearbox. The only concessions to helping out the engine involve the exhaust system, where a Bassani 2.5-inch crossover pipe and MagnaFlow 2.5-inch mufflers help the free-revving 32-valve engine reach its peak more easily. On the outside, the Pacific Green convertible remains remarkably unmolested, with only a Saleen S281 rear wing replacing the original. In the cockpit, a pair of Recaro SRD seats replace the original furniture. After all, the extensive efforts to keep the car stable are going to be wasted if the driver is flopping around like a newly caught fish in the bottom of a boat. We're sure you'll agree that, aside from providing an important performance function, these seats are hugely cool as well.
With much of this work done, John began taking the car to open track sessions. Those that saw the car and its performance capacity were suitably impressed. An important balance between high performance and street-friendly objectives had been struck. Based on the response to this Cobra, John started Brooks Performance a year later in September of 2000. Since then, his philosophy of clawing back power losses, rather than tearing into the engine, has resonated with customers. In fact, Mike O'Brien's 1996 Mystic Cobra that we covered recently ("Outer Limits", March 2007, p.74) is one of John's customers.
Today, Brooks Performance offers three levels of suspension performance: Enhanced, Aggressive and Competition. Each has an appropriate customer and John's people work with each to ensure a positive fit with budget, talent level and the vehicle.
Based on previous work that John has done with suspension engineers from several companies, he estimates that up to 19 percent of a Mustang's available power can be recovered using the methods we've covered here. Whether you're talking about retirement funds, or retiring the competition, that's one heck of a return on investment.
John Brooks' 1997 SVT Mustang Cobra
Ford 4.6-liter DOHC Alumium V8
Bassani 2.5" exhaust crossover pipe; Magnaflow 2.5" mufflers
Ford Racing 3.73 ratio axle gears
SSBC 13" front brake rotors with 3-piston calipers
Saleen S281 rear spoiler
Autopower 6-point roll cage; Recaro SRD seats
Kenny Brown panhard bar with chassis brace, extreme matrix chassis brace system, adjustable upper and lower control arms, g-load brace; Maximum Motorsports 4-bolt caster/camber plates; High temperature tie rod ends; Polyurethane a-arm bushings, sway bar bushings
Wheels And Tires
SSR 18 x 9" wheels with Michelin
285/35-18 tires all around
Special thanks to Jason Huber and Jeremy Brooks