John M. Clor
June 24, 2013
Photos By: Ford Archives, Source Interlink Media

But owners soon discovered an issue with the Cobra's power output and took to Internet chat rooms to find that others had also discovered engines that were not making advertised numbers. With talk of class-action lawsuits, Ford wisely issued a recall of '99 Cobras to replace intake and exhaust components that were not up to specifications. In the wake of the '99 Cobra recall, SVT was allowed to regain control of its own engineering from the mainstream powertrain group, cancelling plans to produce a 2000 Cobra while it came up with a permanent fix.

With the regular-production Cobra being re-engineered for the '01 model, SVT decided to produce its third and final Cobra R in 2000—this one wilder and more powerful than before. Stuffed with a naturally-aspirated DOHC 5.4-liter V-8, the '00 Cobra R delivered 385 hp through the first six-speed manual transmission ever offered in a Mustang. Only 300 of the street-legal racing models, all painted red, came out of the Dearborn Assembly Plant, each instantly recognizable with a unique domed hood, rear deck wing, and front splitter. The '00 R was immediately crowned the fastest factory-built Mustang in history. With a price tag of $55,845, it was also the most expensive.

Determined to leave the SVT Cobra's old horsepower issues in the dust, SVT chief engineer John Coletti decided to put the '02 Cobra program on ice in order to buy enough time to give the '03 SVT Cobra a quantum leap in performance. Sure enough, Coletti's '03 SVT Cobra rocked the enthusiast world with the performance of its Eaton-supercharged DOHC 4.6-liter "Terminator" V-8. Making 390 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque, the '03 Cobra instantly became the most powerful production Mustang in history.

There are few folks left at Ford today who can give you a non-political explanation why the SVT operation was mainstreamed after the '04 model year. The SVT business model—run outside mainstream Ford with separate engineering, marketing, sales, and PR operations, plus a certified dealer distribution network—was revamped to run hand-in-hand with mainstream product development. Its engineering operation, however, remains a separate entity in today's SVT.

For '05, the Mustang was about to enter one of its most important transformations ever, one that returned the iconic ponycar to its design roots. An all new car—codenamed S197—successfully tied the Mustang's classic design cues with modern Ford engineering.

But with the regular-production Mustang GT now making 300hp, Ford found there were fewer people waiting for a high-performance model. Still, that wasn't a concern for the go-fast folks at SVT as they had already been working on an all-new '06 SVT Cobra powered by a supercharged 5.4-liter. Only this time, the politics of corporate reorganization meant that the car would be returned to mainstream management, where SVT's S197-based Cobra soon became the '07-'09 Shelby GT 500 with 500 horsepower.

With help from Shelby Automobiles and Ford Racing Performance Parts, the '08-'09 years saw the addition of the GT 500 "King of the Road," or "KR," good for immeasurable collectability and 540 hp.

Nearly 23,000 GT 500s were built between '07 and '09 as Mustang headed for a restyling in '10. The entire Mustang line received a redesigned body and interior, and the GT 500 got a special version of its own that concentrated on the hood, nose, and grille. Better news was that the KR's 540 horses had found their way under the hood of the regular production '10 GT 500.

Just one model year after getting a new bodystyle, SVT's GT 500 returned to the marketplace for '11 with a new powertrain. Gone was the supercharged cast-iron V-8 and in its place was an all-new, aluminum-block 5.4-liter that pushed output to 550 supercharged horsepower, 10 more than the previous year. Also new for '11 was the SVT Performance Package, which provided stiffer springs and damper, a 3.73:1 rear axle, and larger-diameter front and rear stabilizer bars. SVT followed that up in '12 with a new electronically selectable steering system and a host of interior upgrades, including available Recaro seats.

Despite the constant upgrades, SVT wasn't done upping the ante on its S197 Cobra. They "dropped the bomb" for the '13 GT 500 in the face of Chevy's 580hp Camaro ZL1. A move to an all-new aluminum 5.8L V-8 and an Eaton 2.3-liter Roots-type supercharger gave the '13 GT500 a whopping 662 horsepower and 631 foot-pounds of torque, making it the most powerful production car made in America. The good news here is that the beat goes on for at least one more year as the venomous 662-horse GT 500 is back for the '14.

With Mustang's sixth generation now on the horizon, where Ford's niche market initiatives will take it next is anybody's guess. Certainly, Ford now has bigger concerns amid the EPA's latest fuel-economy mandate, but as long as Ford remains in business, one thing is for sure: There WILL be another factory-built performance niche Mustang. You can bet on it!