Beginning with the original in 1993, every generation of the SVT Mustang Cobra has elevated its standard of performance. Now, the 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra raises the bar yet again, this time increasing power output to a level never before achieved in a production Mustang. The addition of a Roots-type supercharger and water-to-air intercooler to the Cobra’s 4.6-liter, DOHC 4-valve V-8 engine bumps output to 390 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque.
The new SVT Cobra also joins the 2002 SVT Focus in providing a six-speed gearbox as standard equipment. Additional enhancements for 2003 include exterior design alterations to the front and rear fascia, hood, rocker moldings and side scoops, as well as several changes to the interior appointments, including new multi-adjustable front seats trimmed in Nudo leather and Preferred suede.
"Every once in a while, a car comes along that really shakes up the status quo," said Tom Scarpello, marketing and sales manager for Ford’s Special Vehicle Team.
"Since the ’641/2 Mustang was launched, there have been a number of Mustangs that set the standard for performance when they were introduced. The 2003 SVT Cobra is the new benchmark, and proudly carries on the tradition of Mustang performance leadership."
"We’ve had some pretty successful Mustangs, and specifically SVT Mustang Cobras," said John Coletti, chief engineer for Ford SVT, "but the whole idea is to improve. That’s what we’re committed to, and the number-one thing our customers want is enhanced performance. The supercharged engine allowed us to go where we needed to go - to give our customers a whole lot more car than ever before."
The 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra’s 4.6-liter, DOHC V-8 is equipped with an Eaton™ supercharger and new aluminum alloy cylinder heads that provide increased flow capabilities. The engine produces 390 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 390 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm, compared with the 2001 model’s 320 hp at 6,000 rpm and 317 foot-pounds of torque at 4,750 rpm.
To provide strength necessary for the substantially increased torque output, the new Cobra engine is built on a cast-iron block. This unit contains the carryover forged-steel crankshaft, which is fitted with new Manley forged "H-beam" connecting rods, forged pistons similar to those in the SVT F-150 Lightning, and an aluminum flywheel similar to the 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R’s.
The engine is mated to a TTC T-56 6-speed manual transmission. Behind that, an aluminum drive shaft with upgraded universal joints connects to the rear axle, which now has a 3.55:1 gear ratio.
The SVT Mustang Cobra’s independent rear suspension system receives upgraded bushings and an additional tubular cross-brace for 2003, necessary for increased loading due to the higher power output and larger tires. The Cobra coupe’s springs have higher rates compared with 2001, increased from 500 lb./in. to 600 lb./in. at the front, and from 470 lb./in. to 600 lb./in. on the rear springs. In a departure from past practice, the Cobra convertible receives its own individual suspension tuning to suit the unique characteristics of its convertible body. The convertible’s front spring rates are 500 lb./in., and the rear springs are 470 lb./in.
The 2003 SVT Cobra is equipped with gas-charged monotube Bilstein dampers at all four corners, and the pad material on the rear brakes has been upgraded for enhanced durability and brake performance.
Exterior design changes distinguish the Ford SVT Mustang Cobra from the regular production Mustang GT. While it retains the SVT-signature round fog lamps, the front fascia is more aggressive looking, and also helps to deliver more air to the engine compartment. The hood also has been redesigned, and now has flow-through scoops that help vent hot air from the engine compartment. Both the hood and rear deck are made of lightweight composite materials. Showing that SVT appreciates even the smallest details, the windshield wipers feature an aerodynamic "wing" to help keep the blades planted at speeds up to 130 mph.
The 2004 SVT Mustang Cobra, available as either a coupe or convertible, is the most powerful regular-production Mustang ever made. With a Roots-type Eaton™ supercharger and water-to-air intercooler, the Cobra’s 4.6-liter, four-valve V-8 engine produces 390 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque.
For 2004, the SVT Mustang Cobra has two new exterior colors, Competition Orange and Screaming Yellow. New Dark Charcoal Preferred Suede seat inserts are now available in addition to the Medium Graphite inserts. Finally, a limited number of SVT Mustang Cobra coupes and convertibles will be available with the new Mystichrome Appearance Package.
Several exterior design cues distinguish the SVT Mustang Cobra from the regular production Mustang GT. The more aggressive front fascia incorporates signature SVT round fog lights and delivers more air to the engine compartment. In turn, the unique hood features flow-through air extractors that help vent hot air from the engine bay. Both the hood and the rear deck are made of lightweight composite materials.
At the sides, the rocker panels have been shaped with simple, clean vertical surfaces. Color-keyed, foldaway outside mirrors are unique to Cobra, and the side scoops have horizontal fins to match those in the hood scoops. The rear decklid features a unique integrated spoiler with a light-emitting-diode center high-mounted stop lamp.
Inside, the front bucket seats are designed to provide enhanced support for both comfortable cruising and spirited driving. The standard Dark Charcoal Nudo leather trim is accented by Preferred Suede seat inserts available in either Medium Graphite or Dark Charcoal. The titanium-color gauges, including a supercharger boost gauge, feature SVT electroluminescent backlighting.
The 2004 SVT Mustang Cobra’s 4.6-liter, DOHC V-8 is equipped with a Roots-type Eaton™ supercharger and aluminum alloy cylinder heads with high-flow capacity. The engine produces 390 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 390 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.
The Cobra engine is built on a cast-iron block for strength. Other reinforcements include a forged-steel crankshaft, forged “H-beam” connecting rods and forged pistons.
The engine is mated to a TTC T-56 six-speed manual transmission. Behind that, an aluminum driveshaft with upgraded universal joints connects to the 3.55:1 rear axle.
The chassis of the 2004 SVT Mustang Cobra is highlighted by its exclusive independent rear suspension with upper and lower control arms, Bilstein monotube dampers, coil springs and a 26 mm tubular stabilizer bar. The front suspension uses a modified MacPherson strut system, also with Bilstein monotube dampers, coil springs and a 29 mm tubular stabilizer bar. The Cobra coupe’s springs are 600 pounds per inch front and rear. The SVT Cobra convertible has unique spring rates of 500 pounds per inch in front, and 470 pounds per inch in the rear.
Both coupe and convertible feature 13-inch Brembo™ ventilated front rotors with PBR™ dual-piston calipers. At the rear, the SVT Mustang Cobra features 11.65-inch ventilated rotors with single-piston calipers. Anti-lock brakes are standard.
Options are limited to chrome-finish wheels, no-charge rear spoiler delete and the limited-edition Mystichrome Appearance Package.
It wasn’t long ago that Ford’s Special Vehicle Team was the only factory-sponsored high-performance group around. Now, General Motors is developing its own Performance Division, DaimlerChrysler is ramping up its Performance Vehicle Operations, and several import companies also are developing performance-parts divisions. The idea is that these high-performance vehicles, available for sale through dealerships all across the country, will feed the growing numbers of enhanced-power-hungry customers. John Coletti, chief engineer for Ford SVT, says, "It’s about time they joined the party."
Ford’s original idea in 1993 was simple: Create an in-house group that dedicates itself to power and performance. Under Coletti’s leadership, SVT has recently finished its 10th year of operation with over 100,000 high-performance vehicles sold, which includes the fastest pickup (the SVT Lightning), one of the quickest sport compacts (the SVT Focus), as well as the fourth-generation Mustang SVT Cobra. And what better way to celebrate an anniversary than with the addition of the strongest and most powerful Mustang to date? This special-edition Cobra offers an excellent bang-for-the-buck ratio with the highest-rated horsepower and torque numbers ever seen on a production Mustang, for a total cost of $34,750 (convertibles list for $38,850).
The ’03 SVT Cobra uses the same four-valve aluminum heads as on the Mustang Mach 1 (which uses the cast-iron 4.6-liter V-8 block), but it includes an Eaton Roots-type supercharger that boosts output to 390 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. Other additions and modifications include a T-56 six-speed manual transmission, stiffer rear springs to handle the extra power, bigger wheels and tires, and better brakes. Add to this a few brushed- aluminum interior accents, titanium-colored gauges, and heavily bolstered Nudo leather bucket seats, and the entire package screams high-powered passion.
The Mustang Cobra is the most closely related to the musclecars from the past in look, feel, and sound. Classically American, the Cobra doesn’t dominate in any single category but uses every bit of its 390 horsepower to make a smoky, tire-roasting impression, and serves a worthy way for this platform to live out its life. Not bad when considering you could buy a half dozen of these for the price of one Italian supercar. That’s quite a few bangs for the buck.
Torque is no longer a problem for Ford’s 4.6-liter "modular" V-8; thanks to the Eaton blower, there’s 390 lb-ft at hand. Ergonomics and seat/steering-wheel/shifter relationships are all messed up, evidence that this pony is getting on in years. The sport seats are comfy and grippy.
The combination of an iron block and an aluminum flywheel was used previously in the Cobra R. As in that car, the ’03 Cobra’s engine is mated to a six-speed manual. Unfortunately, the new linkage demands real muscle and concentration to move from gate to gate. As with the previous five-speed, the shifter curves away from the driver, exacerbating its long-reach positioning. SVT does not offer an automatic.
Other driveline changes include a beefed-up clutch, which engages lower in its travel than did the old one. The U-joints and half-shafts have been strengthened as well, and the driveshaft is now aluminum. The final-drive ratio has been lowered from 3.27 to 3.55:1.
SVT engineers estimate that they’ve chopped a good half-second off the 0-to-60-mph time; we recorded 4.9 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 109 mph.
The Cobra’s brakes are carried over pretty much intact from the 2001 model; only the rear pad material has changed. Still, with 13-inch Brembos up front and 11.7-inch rear discs (both vented), performance is up to par. For those headed to the racetrack, SVT makes hi-po pads—their squealing keeps them from being standard issue. Interestingly, the new front fascia incorporates openings next to the foglamps, where enthusiastic owners could take things a step farther and add cooling ducts to the brakes.
Up front, there are increased spring rates and a fractionally thicker anti-roll bar. The independent rear suspension was fussed over a bit more, with stiffer springs (except for the convertible, which retains the ’01 car’s softer spring rates, front and rear), new bushings, revised geometry, and a new brace attached to the differential to keep it in place during hard acceleration. Bilstein gas-charged monotube dampers deliver faster response and suffer less deterioration in performance caused by heat.
The net effect of this tweaking is that the Cobra is a decidedly more enthusiastic partner in crime when you want to go screaming around corners. The engine and the chassis are particularly well matched. The wheels are nine inches wide, up from eight inches, but the engine is so much more powerful that the car doesn’t feel over-tired. The car turns in well, and there’s plenty of torque to bring the back end around. What’s really a blast is how controllable it all is. The Goodyear Eagle F1 tires are very benign in the way they relinquish grip, so you can edge the Cobra into oversteer precisely as much or as little as you want to. It doesn’t take a tremendous leap of faith or wild stabs at the pedals to unstick the rear end. For increased throttle sensitivity and ready power oversteer, drive it in a lower gear with the revs at the top of the range.
Other Cobra special bits inside include a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob and metal appliqu s on the shifter and the pedals (the accelerator is also a bit wider to aid heel-and-toe shifting). A boost gauge has been added to the instrument cluster. Outside, the lower front bumper, the rocker panels, and the rear spoiler have been reshaped, but the most noticeable change is the new composite hood. Its center section is raised to clear the tall super-charger, and its reverse scoops extract hot air from the engine compartment.