2003 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra

A smokin' deal.

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Our first clue? That, two and a half years ago, the SVT Cobra R was delivered to our Newport Beach offices via a flat-bed tow truck. Turns out there was so little ground clearance that its Dzus-fastened front spoiler needed to come off before the car could be unloaded. A peek beneath its rear valance revealed a rectangular fuel cell where the stock tank once was, and a towering rear wing and NASCAR-style twin exhausts dumping out in front of the rear tires clearly announced its intentions.

Yep, we had $54,000 worth of thinly veiled race car on our hands, twitchy as a facial tic, boomy as a stadium fireworks finale, with a ride that'd compress your spine like a linebacker head-butting a tackling dummy. It ran like a wide receiver, though, with its breathed-on 5.4-liter Triton truck V-8 delivering 385 bhp and serving up a 13.2-second quarter mile.

Today, Ford's Special Vehicle Team offers up a nearly-as-quick, more civilized Mustang for a forehead-slapping $20,000 less. And that's including leather upholstery, air conditioning, a sound system (other than the engine) and an actual back seat.

How, you ask?

First off, it's going to be made in relatively large volumes: an estimated 12,000 cars a year, versus the Cobra R's entire run of 300. Second, SVT's John Coletti and his engineers have minimized the exterior flash and pumped up the engine room — quite literally — with the same Eaton Gen IV Roots-type supercharger used on SVT's F-150 Lightning pickup. Only in the Mustang's case, it's acting on the 32-valve 4.6-liter modular V-8 that was standard issue, sans blower, in the 2001 SVT Cobra (no 2002 Cobras were built).

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To better withstand the increased stresses of forced induction, its block is now cast iron, clearanced to accept the forged crank's counterweights. Exquisite forged connecting rods (H-section pieces from Manley) now link the lower-compression dished pistons (8.5:1) to the crank. At full furor, a peak of 8.0 psi boost crams through revised aluminum cylinder heads, but not before surrendering heat to an air-to-water intercooler with its own separate coolant loop and expansion tank.

The impressive result is output just shy of a Z06 Corvette's: 390 bhp at 6000 rpm, with a like amount of torque at 3500.

This colossal twist channels through an 11.2-lb. aluminum flywheel, a clutch disc now clamped more securely by its pressure plate, a new 6-speed manual (the Tremec T-56), a large-diameter aluminum driveshaft and on to the limited-slip final drive, lashed down more tightly with an added tubular crossmember in the rear subframe. Finally, through a pair of toughened halfshafts, the full wrath unloads on 275/40ZR-17 Goodyears fitted to boldly-spoked 17 x 9-in. wheels.

Which, barring excessive wheelspin, will slingshot this relic to the standard performance benchmarks in some truly phenomenal times: try 4.9 sec. to 60 mph, 11.1 to 100 and 13.3 sec. at 108.1 mph through the quarter. I'll save you a look at our Road Test Summary by offering that this 'Stang will edge out a 911 Carrera 2 — and stay within a tenth or two of the Cobra R — well into triple-digit speeds.

Gauged against domestic iron, the Cobra will go toe-to-toe with a standard C5 Corvette, and at least give a Z06 owner something to think about. Impressive indeed, considering that the late-1970s' Ford Fairmont figures prominently in the Cobra's bloodline, and that at $34,750, it's about $15K cheaper than the Super-Vette and nearly half of the Porsche's MSRP.

We're happy to report that its handling emulates a Corvette far more than a Fairmont. The multilink rear suspension, with its cast-aluminum lower arms, maintains adhesion far better than the Mustang GT's live-axle setup, and the standard Bilstein shocks, valved to cope with 600 lb./in. spring rates all around, deliver a firm ride that's kidney-hostile only over the most severe bumps.

Steering feels sharper, with higher-rate rack bushings and those 40-series tires, and 0.90g of maximum grip is approached in a linear, predictable way that terminates in mild understeer. But, in finest Mustang tradition, steering out the side window [cross wrists holding an imaginary steering wheel, and look 90 degrees to your left] can be summoned with a sharp prod of the throttle.

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