Ever since purchasing our 1994 Cobra around Thanksgiving of 2017, we've steadily been working on it to make it more street-friendly. Power by the Hour and MPR Racing Engines worked together to get the car up and running again with a rebuilt engine with new JE pistons. We turned down the boost, and added Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R radials up front with the company's ET Street S/S radials out back, but there was still more to do. Our Cobra didn't have a front sway bar, and it needed a new inner tie rod, subframe connectors, and a quieter exhaust. In a nutshell, we were trying to make the car a better daily car, so we visited Steeda Autosports' Valdosta, Georgia location to make that happen.
Prior to the install, we checked in with Steeda's Scott Boda, Director of Manufacturing and Plant Manager to go down a checklist of what would be added to the car. When we first purchased the car, it had more of a drag racing demeanor, but the majority of the parts on the car were well-sorted. However, some needed to be replaced, whereas other components needed to be added.
Starting up front, our Cobra didn't have a sway bar. The car's former life involved many trips to the drag strip where it ran 6.70s in the eighth. We have no doubt the lack of a sway bar helped, but with a daily car, having a front sway bar certainly helps in the handling department. With skinnies and the lack of a front sway bar, taking corners was an exercise in deliberate patience. Also, the car's passenger side inner tie rod end was bad, and Steeda was able to remedy that issue, as well. In total, up front we added Steeda's front sway bar (PN 555-1094; $189.95), light-weight sway bar brackets (PN 555-8109; $178.95), sway bar spacer kit (PN 555-8124; $49.95), and a new passenger side inner tie rod end.
In our Cobra's midsection, when we bought the car we were surprised it didn't have subframe connectors. In talking to a couple of the car's previous owners, both said subframe connectors were on their list of add-ons, but they never got around to installing them. "It ran 6.70s without them," former owner Jared Davis jokingly said. The car's original builder, David Smith, who is credited with performing the Terminator swap, was too busy with other aspects of the build to install subframe connectors. It was up to us, and Steeda Autosports (PN 555-5245; $169.95) to remedy that shortcoming.
Lastly, out back the car already had Steeda adjustable upper control arms and the factory sway bar, but Boda recommended the company's Weight Jacker adjustable rear lower control arms (PN 555-4410; $419.95) and Steeda's upgraded sway bar (PN 555-1085; $224.95) to go with them. Steeda's Weight Jacker rear lower control arms feature a one-piece billet construction designed to virtually eliminate deflection under hard acceleration and cornering. The Weight Jacker control arms are extremely sturdy, but without the added weight. The great thing about the Weight Jacker to us is that we can adjust our Cobra's ride height out back. With our desire to go between a drag tire setup and a street wheel combination, that feature will come in handy in case we need to adjust ride height between wheel combinations.
To further accentuate the car's drag race demeanor, it featured a dumped exhaust in front of the rear axle. For a weekend warrior, sure, dumps are fine. However, on a daily car, dumps can get on your nerves. Our Cobra is a daily driver. Therefore, the dumps had to go. We still wanted a muscular sound so we didn't wander too far off the grid with our choice of exhaust. Steeda carries Flowmaster Performance Exhaust systems so we decided on that company's Force II cat-back system (PN 17114; $449.95).
With all these improvements, the second we hit the key we could tell a huge difference with our Cobra. With the welded subframe connectors, which also allowed us to have the transmission crossmember welded in, we instantly felt a difference. Our Cobra felt tighter, more connected front to rear. This was even before the Flowmaster exhaust was added to the car. The car just had the headers and X-pipe on it at that moment, but we could already feel the improvement.
Once we added the Flowmaster exhaust and took the car for a ride, the improvements further made themselves known. Before adding the Steeda suspension improvements, our Cobra didn't like taking corners. In fact, prior to adding the Steeda components, we had a run-in with a sport bike, but shortly after getting into the gas, a turn was coming up so we had to get way out of the throttle, letting the bike get away. That's fine, though, we don't like to play around too much on the street, anyway. However, with the new Steeda suspension additions, and even with the Mickey Thompson S/R skinnies up front, we can go into the turns with way more confidence than before.
No, our Cobra isn't going to win any autocross championships, but compared to before, our confidence going into the turns is way higher. It's also more stable going down the road, as well. Unfortunately, the quieter exhaust did bring other problems to light. Most notably, our Cobra's gears need a redo. With the dumps, that noise wasn't as prevalent, but afterwards, that noise is way more intrusive than before.
With any Mustang, you guys know how it goes; you're never actually done working on it. Up next, gear swap. Until then, we'll continue to enjoy the Cobra's new Steeda Autosports suspension upgrades.
Inherently, there was nothing wrong with our Cobra. However, there were things we just wanted to improve. Mainly, it was the car's street manners we wanted to tweak. Our plan included the addition of Steeda front and rear sway bars, Weight Jacker rear lower control arms, and subframe connectors. While we were working on the front end, Steeda technician Jamie Bell added a new passenger side inner tie rod, as well as, new rod ends to go with the existing bumpsteer kit. You can also see Steeda's X2 ball joints in the picture, but our car already had them, and they were still in good shape. Therefore, we left them in place.
Also part of making our Cobra more street-friendly was the addition of a full exhaust. When we purchased the car the exhaust dumped in front of the rear axle. Of course, that meant it was pretty loud. To fix that we lined up a Flowmaster Force II cat-back exhaust. The Force II exhaust features Flowmaster's 50-series Delta Flow mufflers, which to our older audience harkens back to the 3-chamber design and sound quality. Yes folks, the moment you add quieter mufflers to your Mustang means you are getting old, but hey, that's what we wanted, and the Force II cat-back was the ideal solution. Don't worry, with an off-road X-pipe, the exhaust will never set any NVH records, but we'll also be able to drive through downtown without alerting the authorities.
To start the install, Steeda technician Jamie Bell removed our Cobra's exhaust, rear wheels and tires, rear sway bar, and using a pole jack, the existing rear lower control arms. Jamie checked over our car's existing Steeda adjustable upper control arms already on our car, and found them to be in good working order, and not in need of replacement. During our installation, we didn't need to change out our Cobra's rear springs or Strange Engineering 10-way adjustable rear shocks, either.
To prep the Steeda Weight Jacker lower control arms for installation, Jamie applies grease to the control arms' polyurethane bushings to make them easier to slide into the chassis and rear end pockets. You can see the ride height/pre-load adjuster in this photo, as well. More on that later, but you can see the sturdiness of Steeda's Weight Jacker control arms thanks to their one-piece billet construction. With factory control arms it's easy to see why they're prone to flexing under extreme racing conditions, but with Steeda's Weight Jacker arms we virtually eliminate flex, while also being able to modify ride height and pre-load the suspension.
We are reusing the car's existing rear springs, but Jamie is outfitting them with new isolators before reinstalling them back in the car.
With the Steeda Weight Jacker control arms and springs in place Jamie temporarily adjusts the spring perch so that the spring doesn't fall out during installation. Jamie will back track after everything's installed to make final adjustments.
Using an under hoist jack stand to support the rear end while on the lift, Jamie tightens the Steeda Weight Jacker control arms both at the chassis point and at the rear end. He also reattaches the rear shock at this time.
Next up is attaching the sway bar brackets, which come with the lower control arms, for the new Steeda sway bar. The brackets aren't marked, but the brackets' mounting holes will almost be parallel when you have it correctly set up. The other way to know you have the brackets on incorrectly is once you're done, the sway bar hangs super low. That will be a dead giveaway. Make sure to reattach the parking brake cable bracket, as well.
The Steeda rear sway bar Jamie installed on our Cobra is a solid 1-inch full steel bar. The sway bar utilizes billet steel ends, which Steeda says increased the bar's overall end strength. When sway bars fail, it's most often at the end, where many of them are flattened in order to attach them to the rear lower control arms. The billet ends are welded onto Steeda's sway bars for increased strength.
With the rear end done for now, we moved up front. Our Cobra already featured Steeda Sport springs, but as you can see, no sway bar. The springs did the best they could in the turns, but without a sway bar to speak of, along with Mickey Thompson Sportsman SR skinnies up front, handling wasn't the car's strong point. We weren't looking for a corner carver, but we did want more predictable handling when the turns present themselves. A Steeda sway bar was definitely in order.
With 2003-04 Cobras, or Terminator swaps like our 1994 Cobra, the sway bar, if mounted in the stock location, comes into contact with the lower radiator hose. Therefore, it has to be lowered in order to mount the Steeda sway bar. These longer bolts in the factory location makes it possible to add the spacers in order to lower the sway bar. The longer bolts lock themselves in within the frame rail, making it possible to firmly attach the spacers and sway bar.
So, everyone knows how a front sway bar mounts, right?! It uses the sway bar end links that are attached to the front lower control arms, and then use frame rail brackets at the top. What we just mentioned in the previous caption is the need for spacers when installing in a 2003-04 Cobra, or a Terminator-swapped Fox or SN95 like ours. Here you can see the bracket attached at the frame rail, along with Steeda's lightweight front sway bar brackets.
Besides the Steeda suspension upgrades, we also needed a new passenger side inner tie rod. The inner tie rod attaches to the outer tie rod, connecting the steering rack to the spindle. Our existing tie rod had excessive play so while we were at Steeda, Jamie also replaced that for us, as well, to rejuvenate our Cobra's steering system.
On both sides Jamie installed new rod ends for our Cobra's existing bumpsteer kit.
With the front suspension ready for the road, Jamie turned his attention to the subframe connectors. First things first, he supported the transmission to remove the crossmember. Once Jamie is finished, the transmission crossmember will be welded to the subframe connectors for a more solid installation.
Jamie is truly a jack of all trades, because he handled the subframe welding, as well. Steeda's full-length subframe connectors are reinforced at each end with torque box plates to provide a strong attachment point to the front and rear subframe areas. Steeda's subframe connectors also feature a one-piece reinforced seat bolt cross brace for each side. These subframe connectors also have pre-welded mounting tabs to make for easy welding. Once Jamie is finished welding in the subframe connectors, we'll follow up with black paint to keep corrosion at bay.
With the subframe connectors welded into place, Jamie turned his attention to the Flowmaster cat-back exhaust system. Jamie starts by loosely attaching the flow tube/mufflers assembly to the X-pipe, along with the tailpipes, mating them together, checking for proper fitment, and making sure the exhaust isn't contacting any rear suspension components or the rear end, itself.
Once Jamie is happy with tailpipe and muffler placement, he tightens all the nuts and bolts a final time. The Flowmaster cat-back exhaust is exactly what we needed to make for a more rewarding driving experience.
Throwing our Cobra on Steeda's in-house alignment rack, Jamie goes through final installation of the Weight Jacker control arms. He uses a measuring tape to set ride height, using the control arms' jackscrew with a -inch ratchet to adjust each side accordingly. As soon as the ride height is achieved, Jamie locks down the Weight Jacker's lock nut.
Driving the 3-4 hours home from Steeda was much quieter thanks to the Flowmaster exhaust, but as we mentioned earlier, that fact exposed other issues we need to quickly address. The first being the rear end. Our car has excessive gear noise, so that needs to be remedied. Second, our Cobra's audio system needs a little help. Once we fix the car's rear end noise, our audio system will need to be brought into the 21st century to make for a more enjoyable driving experience. Then there's the car's fuel system leak from the tank, but we have started gathering the parts to get that fixed. Like the Mustang in your life, there's always something to upgrade.
Photography by Michael Johnson