Cobra, a name synonymous with power, performance and stunning looks.
But whats in a name? For that we have to go back to 1946, long before Carroll Shelby had even sat in the seat of his first racecar. Crosley Motors, an automotive manufacture based out of Ohio, primarily making sub-compact cars. If you are wondering where you have heard the name Crosely before its likely from the Corsley Broadcasting Company, also owning the Cincinnati Reds in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Anyways, Crosley Motors developed a engine in which its block was made from brazed copper rather than traditional iron casting. this is how they came up with the name COpper BRAzed, forming the word COBRA. Being made from copper made these engines very light and therefore they found their way into some racecars. Many of which would have surely been on field when Carroll Shelby was beginning his racing career.
Fast forward to 1963 when Carroll had just made the deal with AC cars and Ford to supply engines for his new car, all he needed was a name. The story Carroll told was he had a dream one night and saw the word COBRA on the front of a car, woke up, wrote it on a note pad, went back to sleep, and when he woke up he saw the word cobra on the pad and knew thats what he needed to name it. Many see this as a snakeoil story, while it was more likely he had seen the name years before when racing with CoBra powered cars, we may never know the truth.
Obviously the name stuck and became a legend, and in 1965 Shelby sold the name COBRA to Ford Motor Company, which is also why the official name of Shelby Roadsters are CSX-XXXX depending on what series they were built in, although they will have a tough time getting everyone to call these iconic cars either AC Cobras, or Shelby Cobras. This is also why Ford called their 428 ci engines the Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet.
As everyone knows the 70s in america were dim as far as cars go, and ford attempted to revive the name COBRA in a effort to fluff some sale. It didn’t make power, didn’t have much performance, and didn’t have stunning looks, but it wore the name none the less, the COBRA II was nothing more than some badging and bolt on body modifications. Even still in 1978 Ford wasn’t done shaking the COBRA name down for all its worth, they created the Mustang II King Cobra. A package only available on the v8 equipped Mustang IIs, it featured things like a snake on the hood, a 5.0 engine, adjustable shocks and disc brakes. Still a far cry from the Cobras of a decade before.
It wasn’t until 1993 that Ford again went into the treasure chest to find the COBRA name, only this time it was a worthy venture. Ford started the SVT(special vehicle team) in a response to Chevrolet producing cars like the ZR1 corvette, and 454SS truck. The first products made by SVT were the 1993 Cobra and 1993 Lightning, both classics today.
The 93 Cobra had a full GT40 engine upgrade, .480 lift cam, roller rockers, tuned exhaust, shocks and struts made by Tokico, and lastly and finally a running pony on the front. The Cobra was back. It was a success, Ford new it and also released a special edition the car called the Cobra R. The R was amped up, stripped down and rigid, setup to tack on the worlds best sports cars the car was the final and best incarnation of the 14 year long run of the foxbody mustang. It was so serious Ford required that the original buyer have a valid racing license.
In 1994 Ford had its first major restyle on the Mustang since 1979, the chassis was still very much the same but the body chassis update would be known as SN-95. The SN-95 ran from 1994 to 2004 with updates in 1996 and 1999(New Edge styling).
1994 didn’t only bring a new Mustang but also a new Cobra. The 94 cobra used the same powerplant as the 93 cobra, but was offered in a convertible and had many cobra unique interior upgrades. the 95 cobra was essential the same as the 94, but in 95 they offered a Cobra R again. the 95 R still had a small block ford but it used a 351 marine based shortblock fitted with GT40 heads and roller rockers, it was completely stripped down. no ac, power locks, power windows, foglights, electric mirrors, or power seats. It also used a much more robust Tremec 3550 transmission and a 22 gallon fuel tank. This was Ford at its best but there was more to come!
1996 brought many changes, while Chevrolet was and still is using pushrod engines for its cars, ford began developing performance DOHC rear wheel drive power plants in the early 90s and some Lincolns used them as early as 1993. It was only a matter of time before the Mustangs would get them and in 1996 they did. Both the GT and the Cobras received Ford Modular engines, The GT getting a single overhead cam 4.6 and the cobra equipped with a 305HP hand built dual overhead cam aluminum 4.6l V8. Ford finally had what it needed to compete with Chevrolet’s LT1, but was it too late? in 1997 Chevy released its LS1 making 345hp. Ford needed a revision if it wanted to stay in the fight.
In 1999 Ford brought a new style to the Mustang and even more upgrades to the Cobra, at least they said they did. The 1999 Cobra engine was still hand built like the 96 to 98, but this time it used a single intake port head design known as the “C” head. The New Edge Cobra also featured coil on plug ignition, returnless fuel systems and independent rear suspension. All of these upgrades should have yielded huge power upgrades over the old SN95 engine, Ford had rated the engine at 320hp, some 15 hp more than the previous engine. As consumers got their hands on these 99 Cobras the reality of the new engine not making the claimed power set in and owners were seriously upset. A class action lawsuit was on Ford’s desk and they had to come up with a solution quick. The solution? Put a stop sale on all unsold 99 Cobras on dealership lots, and issue a recall to replace the intake manifold, engine control computer, and cat back exhaust with revised parts that would bring the car to a true 320hp at the crank shaft. Had this damaged the Cobra name too much? Would Ford make a 2000 Cobra? Could they rescue the once great name from the ashes of a PR nightmare? They could try, but they would need something incredible.
As you know modern car companies release a car model year in the year before. So in 1999, 2000 model cars were being allocated and literature as well as advertisements were being sent to dealers. For Ford this wasn’t always the best thing, as in 1999 dealers were taking orders for the upcoming 2000 Cobra, which the marketing department at Ford had made before the 1999 stop sale was issued. Ford had to make a last minute decision and opted to drop the Cobra from the 2000 model lineup because of the bad PR and not enough time to iron out all the fixes needed to make another model year. But the name wasn’t going to die out like that, there was another project that had been in the making for years. The 2000 Cobra R.
The 2000 Cobra R was the saving grace of Ford, it was the insane build that Ford needed to save the Cobra name and its image after being portrayed as lying about its top shelf car’s performance. The 2000 R was built as its own thing, with a enthusiast dedicated team who bought only the parts they needed for the project without clouding any compromise for the sake of a better bottom line for Ford as a whole. They would contract Recaro, Brembo, McLeod, Eibach, BF Goodrich, Tremec, Borla, Dana, Federal Mogul, K&N as well as many others to make this the best mustang yet. The engine was started as a 5.4L block pulled from the trition truck line, mated with heads made for the Cobra R specifically, later used on the 05-06 Ford GT. Inside the block were forged piston, rods, and crank shaft. it used a baffled large capacity oil pan, Air was taken in through the 8 stack, trumpet style intake, and exhaust was dispensed through shorty headers, a Bassani X pipe, and side exit Borla exhaust. On the trunk was a fixed wing, on the front bumper was a removable splitter, and in the cockpit was nothing but a couple of Recaro seats, a steering wheel and a shifter. The brakes were Brembo, the rear end was a hydro locking differential. It was hardcore. With the 2000 R making a better impression than the year before, Ford had enough time to dial in the standard Cobra model and was ready to give it another go in 2001.
In 2001 the changes made to the Cobra were mostly cosmetic but refined the car to compete in the 21st century. The engine block was changed to a North American made unit from the Italian forged piece found in the DOHC cars from 93 to 99. The transmission was also updated to the stronger Tremec made 3560. As far as the cosmetics went, they included a rear bumper that said COBRA, seats finished in suede and a snake insignia embroidered in the back piece, a dual din radio, and a nicer steering wheel.
While all these pieces of the puzzle made for a better picture they werent enough to compete with the much more powerful Z28 or SS Camaro, much less the Corvette. Ford needed to pick up the pieces. The Cobra needed something like the 2000 R to bring to the masses not just a niche market.
Which brings us to the whole writing of this blog. The 2002 Cobra, with only 100 units produced its not surprising when I see or hear young and old mustang enthusiasts saying it doesn’t exist or that it wasn’t actually a Cobra. I was inspired to write today’s blog because of a customer who contacted me wanting to buy a set of wheels for his 2002 Cobra, last year. I like most of the mustang world had and still have limited knowledge of these cars but have learned enough that I feel confident in sharing info here. In the beginning, prior to this customer contacting me I thought all the 02 Cobras were yellow coupes, made in the states and shipped to OZ. Ive since learned that there are plenty of colors, Ford true blue, yellow, red, silver, black and even green. I also have learned they came in coupe as well as convertible form. The cars were shipped from America to a company in Australia called Tickford, Similar to the function of Roush in America. The cars left the states largely unfinished, with no holes in the firewall, or dash at all in the car, Tickford would make 250 different modifications, spending more than 4 million USD, to convert the 250 cars. A few of the known modifications were moving the steering wheel to the right hand side of the car, modifying the engine mounts to make way for steering shafts, plumbing heater hoses to the other side, and lastly placing the mid level running lights in the bumper. All of these modifications led to a very expensive price tag. with the coupe models selling for a STEEP $85k AUS, or ~ $66k USD, it made for a tough sale and at the time most Australians saw it as a lesser car than the reigning Holden Monaro. While the info on the car is limited the motive for making it isn’t, it didn’t cost Ford of America anything to send some half finished cars from the year before to a company wanting to invest millions into a project, all so that Ford Australia could compete with the predecessor to the Pontiac GTO.
With a solid year for Ford to make way for the 2003 Cobra, the public was expecting great things, as Chevy had dropped its Camaro in 2002, and the corvette still fetching a premium most buyers didn’t want to pay or simply wanted the room pony cars were know to offer. All these factors plus the insane power and handling offered from the 2003 Cobra solidified its namestake as a COBRA and earned it the well known nickname Terminator.
Today, Cobra is just as relevant as ever, with Ford’s retro styling of the mid 2000s came the retro naming, using the snake and the name every chance they get be it on the 2007-2014 GT500 or the 2016 to current GT350, the cobra name isn’t going any where.