David Hakim
November 3, 2015
Photos By: Ford Performance

Less than a quarter-mile mile from the corner of Sibley and Dix roads in Charter Township, Michigan—the old entrance for the long defunct but iconic Detroit Dragway—the 2016 Ford Cobra Jet Mustangs are being constructed with care. Under the watchful eye of the Ford Performance team, long-time Ford supplier Watson Engineering performs final assembly before cars get shipped around the country for dragstrip duty. The Ford Cobra Jet Mustang has matured and evolved in many ways since the debut of the modern generation in 2008, but the 2016 supercharged serpent will be more venomous and its marching orders remain the same. It still has one mission (OK, maybe two): win races, while beating the Chevy and Mopar troops and rewrite NHRA Stock and Super Stock class records. If Detroit Dragway wasn’t shuttered in late 1996 by local politics, you could drive out the door of the Cobra Jet build facility and pull right onto the track to lay down some 8-second times in the 2016 Cobra Jet. And while the sights and sounds of Top Fuelers, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers blasting down the “Dirty D” are a long-distant memory for the aging local residents, they still remember their heroes and, just as important, the brands they cheered on from the rickety wooden bleachers. It made sense back then for all of Detroit’s Big Four to build drag-race-specific “package cars,” and that still holds true today, even though we’re down to the Big Three.

To capture the attention of loyal enthusiasts, while gaining some converts, the automakers go all-out at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas every year. Many of them play up the racing heritage of certain nameplates. While Ford’s twin-turbo GT supercar was on center stage during the 2015 Ford Performance SEMA Press Conference, we were more hypnotized and totally into the all-new 2016 Cobra Jet. Besides, the supercharged 5.0L V8 sounds better and makes more power than Ford’s current Ferrari fighter. And like its sleek and sexy GT sibling, the Cobra Jet’s winning ways date back to the late-1960s, when it cleaned house in Super Stock at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals. But we wanted to get a jumpstart on the SEMA reveal and go behind-the-scenes to find out more on how the 2016 Cobra Jet is brought to life.

We contacted Ford Performance’s Jesse Kershaw, Drag Racing Parts and Competition Manager for the Blue Oval, who is in the trenches day in and day out. He makes sure the Cobra Jet’s performance exceeds the customer’s expectations, while giving Ford a voice when it comes to Stock and Super Stock rules and classification meetings with the NHRA Tech Department.

“We knew we wanted to reveal the car on the big stage at the 2015 SEMA Show, but it was also critical to have the car on track for 2016, so we started the build process before the reveal to get everything ready in time,” said Kershaw.

Like in past models, the new Cobra Jets start off as Body-In-White (BIW) cars, but actually, they’re bare shells when they plucked right from the Ford Mustang Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan (just down the road from the Cobra Jet build facility). Ford Performance uses all production sheetmetal on the Cobra Jet, utilizing a blend of a stamped steel roof, quarters and doors, and aluminum fenders and hood.

Once the BIWs arrive, technicians begin assembling the cars, and the first part that gets installed is an 8.50-second certified rollcage. Other body shell modifications are performed at this point, such as cutting the trunk floor and spare tire well for wheelie-bar clearance. The floor pans are also modified slightly to accept the Corbeau FIA seats and mounting points for five-point race harnesses. The chassis is also strengthened to prevent flex and accommodate the relentless punishment of sub-9-second wheelstanding passes. Once these alterations have been completed, the Cobra Jet shell heads back to the Flat Rock assembly plant and goes into the paint booth, in which Oxford White or Deep Impact Blue is applied. Ford Performance has limited 25 examples of each color for a 50 unit total build on the 2016 Cobra Jet.

After the painted body shells return to the Cobra Jet build facility, the assembly process begins through a series of workstations where technicians hand-assemble an array of factory and aftermarket components. Speaking of factory parts, the 2016 Cobra Jet uses 75 percent production components, coming directly off the Ford parts shelf. That’s a lot of “stock” for a Stocker or Super Stock.

The first major install is the complete disc-to-disc Strange Engineering 9-inch rear axle with their proven adjustable coilover shocks and springs. An Aeromotive 5-gallon fuel cell and other related hardware is plumbed so the supercharged snake has plenty of high-octane petrol to run more than 150 mph in the quarter. An RJS window net and harness keep the driver secure in case of any mishaps.

Under the hood, the 2016 Cobra Jet Mustang packs a blown Coyote 5.0L V8 with a beautiful black Whipple 2.9L supercharger mounted on top. Basically, the engine is the Ford Performance Aluminator Crate Engine with slight mods turning it into the Super Cobra Jet (SCJ). The Ford Performance engineers work directly with Performance Automotive Solutions, another Ford supplier that’s also a subsidiary of Roush. Performance Automotive Solutions builds all the Ford Performance Aluminator Crate engines and makes sure the engines perform right out of the box. Before the 2016 Cobra Jet engine got validated, Ford Performance engineer Ron Ewert and his team camped out in the dyno cell and subjected the 5.0L SCJ development engine to numerous simulated pulls that simulate dragstrip burnouts and quarter-mile runs to prove engine durability. The sounds coming out of the long-tube American Racing Headers must have been music throughout the dyno facility.

The engineers also implemented an electric water pump from the C-MAX Hybrid on the 5.0L SCJ. It will allow quick cool-downs without the engine running. This will come in handy when going rounds and hot lapping the 2016 Cobra Jet at the strip. Ewert also looked at ways to better mount the blower belt with the pulleys and idlers and provide more efficiency and durability. Whipple even took his advice and made changes to its supercharger based on his findings.

While Kershaw didn’t divulge any horsepower or torque numbers, we know this engine combo is close, if not north, of 1,000 hp based on the performance of the 2013 and 2014 Cobra Jets running in NHRA’s Factory Stock class. Here, they went head-to-head with the top dog COPO Camaros and Drag Pak Challengers this past season in the Factory Stock Showdown and were victorious on many occasions, including a Super Stock and Factory Stock victory at the NHRA U.S. Nationals this past September.

Making sure all the power is being used efficiently is a Ford Performance T4 race-prepped three-speed automatic (it’s a GM TH400-based transmission with a bellhousing that bolts to a Coyote V8) with an SFI case. The transmission gurus at Joel’s on Joy (313.581.6266), whose customer list includes some of the fastest Sportsman racers in the country, build these units to match the performance of the engine. A Hurst shifter with a unique Cobra Jet–branded ball handle gives the racer something to hold onto when the Mustang carries the front wheels past the 60-foot clocks. And, once again, the 2016 Cobra Jet will be rolling on Cobra Jet–branded Weld Alumastar wheels (15x3½ front, 15x10 rear) and Hoosier front runners and 9x30 slicks.

Throughout the Cobra Jet build process, there’s a comprehensive checklist for every system of the car, with engineering leads signing off for each section. Once all the boxes have been checked, there’s a final sign off and the car is ready for sale. Don’t expect to see a car hauler loaded with shiny white and blue Cobra Jet Mustangs rolling down the highway to dealers. Customers will need to pick them up at the build center, so bring a trailer.

If you’re ready to jump in and beat up on the competitor in the next lane, the 2016 Cobra Jet Mustang will set you back at just less than six figures—$99,990 to be exact. The optional Cobra Jet graphics will tack on another $1,995, and if you don’t want to stand it on the back bumper when you put your foot into it, the wheelie bars add another $1,995 to the bottom line. To take this latest snake home, just stroll into the parts department at your local Ford dealer and order part number M-FR500-CJ.

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