Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
October 19, 2006
Anthony Giagnacova of Neptune, New Jersey, is one of the Terminator faithful, though he is looking to add an '07 Mustang GT to his stable. He picked up this '03 Cobra second-hand at Rt. 66 AutoMall in New Jersey, where he is a sales associate.

The '03-'04 SVT Cobra Mustangs, or "Terminators" as SVT referred to them, are some of the most powerful auto-mobiles on the road. They've taken Mustang owners into the supercar realm when modified, and have become a cultural automotive icon, earning respect on the street from Corvette and exotic owners alike.

For 2007, the Cobra namesake has been shuffled off in favor of the Shelby GT500 moniker. Based on the new S197 platform, the Shelby embodies the essence of all that was, errr, is SVT, but as the Shelby comes to market, we have to wonder, even with 500 hp, if the performance crown has truly been passed. According to former MM&FF Editor, Jim Campisano, it has, but a lot of Terminator owners may disagree.

When the production SVT Cobra broke cover, its performance was way beyond virtually any previous Mustang, save for the rare and expen-sive '00 Cobra R and a few big-block Stangs of an era gone by. It featured forged pistons and Manley rods, which racers would normally term as a "built short-block." This gave the bottom-end superior strength, and with some simple upgrades, allowed Cobra engines to reach the 800-900hp level.

Its most exciting feature, though, was the Eaton blower that gave the Terminator a generous 90hp bump and more notably a surplus of low-end torque. This treatment was something the 4.6 had been lacking. The huge leap in grunt was coupled with better handling from an IRS suspension, a larger wheel/tire combination, and improved driveability and strength thanks to its six-speed manual transmission.

The snake's MSRP was up there at $34,000-plus, but the improvements impressed the masses enough to justify the cost. Performance that was unheard of with bolt-ons was just a few mods and less than $2,000 away. MM&FF modified one of the first Terminators, which ultimately ran 11.68 with just a small drive pulley, a K&N filter, the front antiroll bar removed, and M/T tires. Bone-stock it ran 12.43 at 113 mph! Owners have gone 9s since, some with mostly stock engines.

With such amazing power, prying the performance crown from the SVT Cobra owners will be difficult. The last Cobra achieved cult-like status as Terminator models have formed a formidable following of loyal enthusiasts who patrol the roads with their heads held high and their right foot ready to wake up the snake's supercharged mill. Much like the Toyota Supra in the import world, the Terminator carries the respect of the domestic crowd, and its numerous owners are eager to show you how lethal their snake's bite is. "A few years back, if you had a Mustang, the LS1 guys were like, c'mon, let's go. They don't want to touch a Cobra, though," says Richard Lelsz of Houston, Texas-based Strictly Performance.

The superior performance is evident at racetracks across America. Rumor has it the performance of Terminators, along with Corvettes and Vipers, prompted NHRA to change its 11.99-second rollbar requirement, as these cars are capable of mid-11s with just simple bolt-ons. (A rollbar is now needed at 11.49 or quicker.) But a mildly modded Cobra can run deep into the 11s, and many owners don't want to install a rollbar. Because of that, many high-horsepower Cobras never even make it to the track. This fact has spawned a new era of enthusiasts who brag about dyno numbers rather than timeslips. As you can see, the Terminator had a huge effect on the performance scene (which is the point of this article), one that might not be eclipsed by the GT500.

The Terminator has spawned numerous Web sites, such as www.svtsnake.com, and the interest in these cars has created more traffic for sites like www.svtperformance.com and www.svtoa.com. The factory package is cool enough for most to fall in love with, but many who have chosen to modify these cars have found making big power and torque numbers is easier than asking, "How much do you want?"