Michael Galimi
June 1, 2013

In 1999, Ford Motor Company rolled out its special edition SVT Cobra to the usual fanfare and excitement of a new-car launch. The company had just updated the sheetmetal of the SN-95 platform and the New Edge appearance garnered rave reviews as the Mustang began to separate itself—in terms of sales—from the competition. Lots of attention was focused on the New Edge GT and Cobra bodywork, but not to be overlooked was the Four-Valve 4.6L engine underhood. Ford jumped the power rating to 320 hp, up from the 305 hp of the '96-'98 SVT Cobra models.

More power and better looks are always a good thing—but there was more. For the first time in Mustang history, the engineers added an independent rear suspension (IRS) system to the '99 Cobra and stuck with it until the Special Edition's demise in 2004. There are several attributes to an IRS, with the highlights being better handling and ride quality than a live-axle arrangement. The better ride and handling are due to each axle/side absorbing the bumps/depressions independently of the other side. An IRS features axles that move through their respective range of travel independently of the other side. In a live-axle combination, the axles are housed in a solid rearend, so when one axle goes up, the other dips down, thus leaving less tire contacting the road. Additionally, with an IRS you can adjust camber, while it is fixed with a solid axle. Many feel an IRS is the superior combination for road racing, but not so much in drag racing applications.

"Number one for me is ride quality," said Dan Carlson of Realspeed Automotive. "I can get pretty aggressive with spring rates and still have a nice ride [with an IRS]. On a smooth track, there isn't that much advantage, but on a bumpy track or road, the IRS will shine," he added.

The strength of the Mustang IRS for drag racing is questionable, due to the addition of half-shafts that are prone to failure (especially in stock trim), and so the application of power is often limited. But the world isn't just about drag racing. Kevin Hamel is living proof of it.

"I used to be a drag race guy, but the local dragstrip was shut down, so I ended up getting an SVO and auto-crossing," comments the New York resident. The SVO was his gateway drug into the turning and twisting courses, but it was eventually sold when he picked up this '91 Mustang LX convertible-turned-Saleen clone.

The engine is warmed over with a heads, cam, and intake package to go with the usual exhaust and header upgrades. But it is the suspension system that garners a majority of attention from his local Mustang speed shop—Realspeed Automotive. The shop added the usual repertoire of modifications to the rear axle, like upper and lower control arms, a Panhard bar, and even a torque arm—all sourced from Maximum Motorsports. The front end was also upgraded with a tubular K-member, tubular A-arms, and coilover front struts.

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