KJ Jones Brand Manager, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
May 13, 2014
Photos By: KJ Jones, GTR High Performance

It's been said that money is the root of all evil. While we acknowledge money can lead to bad choices, currency is a critical element in just about any automotive upgrade effort. However, we all know there's nothing evil about modding a Mustang. With that in mind, we can't in good conscience say that costs shouldn't be considered when planning and performing upgrades.

Tedd Mason is a Southern California longtime Mustang enthusiast who knows this full well. He is a recent college graduate just getting his feet wet in the working world.

In the summer of 2013, Tedd emailed us about his dream Mustang build, explaining his intent to find, buy, and then upgrade an '03 Cobra, without paying a fortune to do so.

As we explained in our Project Cheaper Sleeper series, as well as in the 2013 edition of Mustang Performance (our annual special issue that last year was focused on budget builds), there's a lot of good that can be said about smart shopping for go-fast parts. By smart shopping, we mean turning to such resources as Craigslist, eBay, and the increasingly popular Mustang forums on the Internet to locate and purchase the pieces for your Pony.

This is Tedd Mason’s ’03 Mustang Cobra—a stunningly perfect car that Tedd purchased in bone-stock trim from the original owner, with only 25,200 miles on the odometer and having never, ever been driven in rain. In this configuration, this Snake is the exact car that Tedd wanted, searched for, and scored through a Craigslist ad for $22,000.
Outside of the Lethal Performance coil covers, the supercharged Four-Valve is stone-bone stock (a Bassani catted X-pipe and Flowmaster mufflers are also on board). Tedd’s ultimate plan is to buy and install all of the popular, proven Cobra performance bolt-ons, culminating with a blower swap that will push horsepower well over 500 at the feet.
While Tedd swapped the basic induction parts himself, the dyno testing and installation of a new McLeod Racing twin-disc clutch, BBK long-tube headers, and a Whipple 2.3-liter supercharger (detailed in the next installment on this project) were all handled by our friends at GTR High Performance in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Obviously, doing things yourself (and with the help of good friends) will save you some coin, which can be put toward paying for professionals’ service when it’s required.
Parts for Tedd’s project were procured through online deals made with fellow ‘Stangbangers from all over the country, so UPS, USPS and FedEx packages like these were arriving at his house on a regular basis.
Following the general rule of thumb that applies to all V-8-powered Mustangs, Tedd’s purchases were comprised of parts that improve airflow into the Eaton-blown 4.6, such as JLT’s induction tubes, a larger mass-air housing, and a bigger throttle body and plenum.
“I don’t make or have a lot of money, and I saved for years until I had enough to buy the car, and modify it,” says Tedd. “I literally bought pieces for this Cobra and just stashed them away, before I even owned it.” Tedd stresses the importance of communicating with online sellers and asking a lot of detailed questions about parts you’re interested in buying. “Since I can’t afford to buy things twice, I made sure I got photos of the pieces I was really interested in buying, and asked questions almost to the point of being annoying,” says Tedd. “Doing this really helped weed out the stuff that wasn’t good, or complete, as well as good sellers from bad.”
Tedd removes his Cobra’s factory air box and air-intake hardware, which will be replaced by a JLT Short Ram cold-air-induction setup. Smart shopping actually landed Tedd with two JLT kits (he also scored the long-tube set for a song), but he elected to go with the short package since it all will be replaced by the blower’s induction parts.
The biggest problem with stock air induction is its size (diameter) and overall convolutedness. Airflow efficiency for any engine typically comes by way of creating the straightest, smoothest path possible for air to travel across on its way into the engine.

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Tedd told us his intent was to use all of these outlets to buy the Terminator of his dreams, and transform it from bone-stock into a 550hp (on 91-octane pump fuel) street beast—for as little dough as possible.

The photos and information here are on the first segment of the project, basic bolt-ons, and detail how Tedd is making it happen—on his own, with assistance from the Mustang specialists at GTR High Performance in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

On the Dyno

With low-budget bolt-on in place, we tethered Tedd’s ’03 Cobra to the roller of GTR’s Dynojet chassis dyno, and evaluated the difference—in this instance, some impressive gains—they make in the snake’s rear-wheel horsepower and torque output.

As you see in the graph and rundown of numbers, there's really nothing atypical about the 30hp gain, which is a result of the first stage of upgrades that Tedd Mason performed on his virginal '03 Cobra. The parts Tedd added are long established as basic pieces that can produce 25-30 additional ponies on stockers (actually a little less with stock exhaust, but Tedd's Snake does have a slightly better/freer-flowing exhaust system),

The big deal in Tedd's performance increase is the manner in which it came about; through Tedd's diligent shopping (remember, he only paid $22,000 for an immaculate, one-owner, black Terminator that had less than 26,000 miles), and performing the initial upgrade tasks himself.

Tedd's detailed spreadsheet on his project's expenses breaks down the actual amount he's spending on upgrades in relation to the horsepower and torque his Mustang gains. Here's a look at the status after the basic bolt-ons were added. The fact that Tedd's bottom line is still well below the amount that's being fetched for lesser '03-'04 Cobras, really is a testament to the virtues of being patient, as well as detailed, and taking advantage of great deals when you find them.

Baseline Bolt-Ons Difference
RPM Power Torque Power Torque Power Torque
3,000 205.39 359.56 217.45 380.69 12.06 21.13
3,100 213.93 362.44 226.09 383.05 12.16 20.61
3,200 220.59 362.04 235.10 385.87 14.51 23.83
3,300 228.55 363.76 243.33 387.26 14.78 23.50
3,400 236.45 365.26 250.60 387.11 14.15 21.85
3,500 243.21 364.98 258.02 387.18 14.81 22.20
3,600 249.42 363.89 266.31 388.53 16.89 24.64
3,700 258.49 366.93 273.92 388.82 15.43 21.89
3,800 266.47 368.29 281.97 389.73 15.50 21.44
3,900 273.93 368.89 289.18 389.46 15.25 20.57
4,000 280.52 368.32 295.01 387.35 14.49 19.03
4,100 287.63 368.45 302.13 387.03 14.50 18.58
4,200 295.97 370.11 310.91 388.79 14.94 18.68
4,300 299.97 366.40 316.10 386.09 16.13 19.69
4,400 308.60 368.38 324.21 386.99 15.61 18.61
4,500 313.16 365.51 331.94 387.42 18.78 21.91
4,600 316.83 361.76 335.94 383.57 19.11 21.81
4,700 322.70 360.60 340.81 380.85 18.11 20.25
4,800 330.28 361.40 348.69 381.53 18.41 20.13
4,900 337.38 361.62 356.17 381.77 18.79 20.15
5,000 345.39 362.81 363.27 381.59 17.88 18.78
5,100 350.84 361.31 371.54 382.61 20.70 21.30
5,200 357.06 360.64 377.58 381.36 20.52 20.72
5,300 361.06 357.80 382.76 379.31 21.70 21.51
5,400 369.06 358.95 389.04 378.38 19.98 19.43
5,500 373.19 356.37 395.09 377.29 21.90 20.92
5,600 379.46 355.88 401.35 376.42 21.89 20.54
5,700 384.27 354.07 407.17 375.17 22.90 21.10
5,800 389.43 352.64 412.12 373.19 22.69 20.55
5,900 392.71 349.59 412.35 367.12 19.64 17.53
6,100 396.76 347.30 419.04 366.79 22.28 19.49
6,200 399.20 343.72 424.30 365.31 25.10 21.59
6,300 402.74 341.16 418.95 354.93 16.21 13.77
6,400 404.65 337.34 424.14 353.61 19.49 16.27
6,500 396.37 325.29 430.07 352.93 33.70 27.64

Description Date Purchased Price
1 Flowmaster American Thunder Exhaust 5/1/2012 $250
2 Bassani Catted X-Pipe 5/1/2012 $250
3 LFP Throttle Body & Plenum 4/4/2013 $370
4 Throttle Body Gaskets 4/12/2013 $20
5 SCT BA3000 Mass Air 7/8/2013 $148
6 JLT Ram Air Intake 8/23/2013 $80

Total Spent $1,118
Baseline Horsepower and Torque 404
Post-Installation (CAI and TB) Horsepower and Torque 430
Dollars Spent Per Horsepower/Torque Gained $43

More to Come

As '03-'04 Cobras go, the common performance-upgrade set includes the bolt-ons featured in this report (pulley swaps are also among the first basic mods), and eventually culminates with replacing the stock Eaton supercharger with an aftermarket, twin-screw or TVS supercharger.

Tedd Mason chose to bypass bolting pulleys on his '03 Cobra's engine, and instead is going straight to the increased forced air of a 2.3-liter twin-screw. Like all of the other pieces that make up the project's upgrades, Tedd scored the complete supercharger system through working the Internet, and capitalizing on a killer deal with a fellow Cobra owner.

As we mentioned early on in this report, there are instances in a budget build where using brand-new parts is important. While unopened, never-used equipment sometimes can be scored on the cheap, there are times when the new stuff you need isn't available in killer-deal form. A new, better-than-stock clutch certainly is a necessary item for a Cobra project like Tedd's, where big-time power and torque are anticipated. In a better-now-than-later move, Tedd had GTR High Performance install McLeod Racing's RXT twin-disc clutch system. And, as the exhaust had to come down for the clutch procedure, Tedd agreed it made good sense to install BBK Performance's long-tube headers, too.

GTR High Performance will be taking care of the blower install; an effort that we'll present in our next installment on Tedd's real-world, low-budget project.

In preparation for the increased power and torque that’s sure to come with the 2.3-liter supercharger that’s coming, Tedd is adding McLeod Racing’s RXT twin-disc clutch (PN 6932-03). The clutch system features an aluminum flywheel, pressure plate, two ceramic-faced discs and floater plates that together will provide a greater clamping force than the stock clutch, without compromising pedal feel and street driveability.
Tedd also chose to add McLeod Racing’s steel bearing retainer, which is much stronger than the T-56 transmission’s original cast piece. The clutch-release (throw-out) bearing, and McLeod’s clutch cable, aluminum quadrant and firewall adjuster are other necessary essentials for the upgrade.
Improving exhaust efficiency is the aft-engine modification that is equally as important (as intake upgrades). Long-tube headers are the common replacement for the exhaust manifolds. BBK Performance’s headers (PN 1533) and off-road X-pipe (PN 1635) are being used on Tedd’s Snake.

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A new clutch requires approximately 500 miles of normal driving for proper break in. After road time, Tedd’s ’03 Cobra will return to GTR for another run on the dyno (to record a new baseline w/long-tubes and X), and for the new supercharger’s installation.

Horse Sense: Some of the feedback we've received about our own builds, while mostly positive, has also included remarks about the perceived “limitless” budgets that magazines have for executing such projects. For the record, the 5.0&SF team doesn't have a blank check for building project Mustangs, and we really are concerned about costs when it comes to making changes.