2003 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra Project - Cobra Crankup Part 1
Getting Back To Our Roots With An '03 Terminator
From the October, 2008 issue of Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
By Vinnie The Hitman
Photography by Michael Galimi, Vinnie The Hitman
Boom-pow! An '03 Cobra joins...
Boom-pow! An '03 Cobra joins the stable here at MM&FF as our most-recent test mule. This car has 69,000 miles, and the original owner kept the Dark Shadow Gray snake clean. It's solid, but as we'll discuss in the next few issues, there are certain things you need to pay special attention to in order to make a Cobra perfect. Here, we baseline the car as purchased, and lay down a 12.74 at 109.38 mph.
Do you remember the first time you saw an '03 Cobra in the living flesh? For us, it was practically a religious experience complete with the sunglow and organ music. Our hearts were jumping off the rev limiter when we plopped our slab-sided behinds into the sumptuous suede-accented leather seats for the very first time, as the mere thought of driving the baddest and most powerful Mustang to roll off the assembly line was just a flick of the throttle away.
The '03 and '04 SVT Cobras ended up being a fantasmic (as in fantastically orgasmic) finale to the Fox-4 Mustang's 11-year run with its torque-belching, 390hp engine and taut, Bilstein-equipped, fully independent suspension. SVT gave us a world-class ponycar that could hang with more lofty and-just about always-more exotic machinery in terms of acceleration, handling, and sheer American excess.
Fast forward a few years to 2007, and we see that history has a habit of repeating itself. Ford's latest Mustang supercar is now called the Shelby GT500, and, like the Terminator that preceded it, it features a factory-supercharged mod motor with a six speed and super-bad looks.
Terminator Cobras were never...
Terminator Cobras were never considered lightweight. In this day and age, though, with advanced safety systems and crash protection, a 3,500-pound Mustang seems to be pretty light.
In between runs, we'd cool...
In between runs, we'd cool off the engine with some ice and a blower. The entire aluminum top half of the engine serves as a massive heatsink for the 4.6L's iron short-block, and, by concentrating on getting all the heat away, it pays great dividends for decreased e.t. and greater power. Check out the aftermarket air filter that was in the car when we bought it. It was worn, but it still seemed to work.
Because the '03-'04 Cobras...
Because the '03-'04 Cobras produce so much torque, it's best to equip one with drag radials for street and strip use. Here, we air down the Nitto tires to 17 psi at the track. Note the restrictive factory exhaust pipes. Yuck!
The difference is that it weighs over 4,000 pounds and costs quite a bit more, at roughly $42,330 for an '08 version (five years ago, the '03 model listed for $33,460). Granted, you get a lot more car for the money with improved technology, but we figure for about half that money, we can have a little fun and drive around in something that still gets stares everywhere it goes.
We're not putting down the new car-no, not at all. We simply can't compare the two because they are so dissimilar, and there are obvious differences here in both the cars and the people who drive them. Both share Ford DNA, though, and as a result, each are surrounded by Cobra enthusiasts. So what does a Ford fanatic do when his or her love for a supercharged snake needs to be quenched? Quite simply, you go shopping for a used one.
With our piggy banks broken and our Internet access open, we put ourselves in the hunt for a Terminator Cobra. We found several examples on Mustang-specific Internet forums, and even perused the newspaper listings, but sadly, most of the cars were too modified for our tastes and perhaps a bit overpriced in our minds. Desirable examples that were clean and had little to no modifications did surface every so often with prices lingering in the $22,000-$25,000 range. We figured this was a good reference point, but wanted to pay less. And then it happened. On a clear Wednesday afternoon (not on company time, of course) we were able to bid online on a Dark Shadow Gray Cobra with 69,000 miles on it. The description was relatively short, stating that the car had a cold-air induction kit, a handheld performance programmer, and a pair of aftermarket mufflers welded in place. A phone call to the owner made us feel better about the car's history, and shortly thereafter, a deal was struck. We paid less than $20,000 for the car, factoring in the cost of trucking it across the country ($1,000) because it was located in Southern California-about 2,800 miles from our New Jersey office. Within a few weeks of our call to a trucking company, our new pride and joy was at our front door.
Once in our possession, the original owner's description was indeed accurate. Some of the highlights included no previous accident damage, glossy paint, and an incredibly clean undercarriage because of its pampered and garaged life in SoCal. After a thorough wash and detail, we assessed the rest of the car and ran through the mechanicals with a fine-tooth comb. Like any used Mustang-or any used car for that matter-there were a few wear items that needed to be updated or replaced.
One of the first things that...
One of the first things that any Cobra owner should buy is a quality shifter. We went with MGW's precision billet-aluminum shifter with its infinitely adjustable handle. Installation took all of 30 minutes, and the results were stellar. The factory shift knob goes right back on the MGW shifter, and it even allows reuse of the factory inner and outer boots.
At Mustang Magic, we first...
At Mustang Magic, we first put in a set of new plugs, which, as we would find out, is key to Cobra maintenance. The spark plugs are located in the center of the valvetrain covers and are easily accessed once the individual coil packs and covers are removed. A magnet is required to retrieve them from their deep recesses.
The original spark plugs still...
The original spark plugs still looked good, but closer inspection revealed that they were getting a bit aged. We checked the gap on them, and they appeared to be fine as the factory gap is 0.054. Mustang Magic technical Steve Shaughnessy has seen some Cobras come into his shop with gaps that have opened up incredibly due to abuse and age. Luckily, for us, this car lived a simple life, transporting its original owner to and from work.
Mustang Magic's Dynojet 248c...
Mustang Magic's Dynojet 248c chassis dyno offered us repeatable and accurate results. Because our car had a few mods already done to it, we expected more than the typical 350-360 rwhp. Instead, we were blown away with the 420hp reading we got. We agreed that the car's higher mileage was a contributor to the unusually high readings. Here, Mustang Magic tech Joe Lauzardo prepares our Cobra for another run to back it up. All runs before and after were corrected for the weather conditions.
With the car off the dyno...
With the car off the dyno and into the work bay, Shaughnessy gets to work by removing the factory supercharger's driven pulley. A special puller is required to do this properly, as a conventional two- or three-jaw puller can damage the Eaton's snout.
From left to right, we see...
From left to right, we see the factory pulley, Mustang Magic's own 3.0-inch unit, and lastly, its 2.8-inch piece. Shaughnessy recommended the 3.0-inch diameter one for our application for the best combination of power, reliability, and response.