Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

The Best Cars in the World. Mustang GT, SVT Mustang Cobra and Mustang Cobra R

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The resurgence of the Mustang GT during the 1 980s as a favorite of hot rodders and sports car enthusiasts provided the momentum for Ford to increase its performance image as it headed into the 1990s. The pony car remained Dearborn’s weapon of choice, but selling performance in the 1990s required a more diverse arsenal since the musclecar battles that had been fought at the drag strip during the 1960s had now spread to parking-lot autocrosses and road courses.

The Best Cars in the World. Mustang GT, SVT Mustang Cobra and Mustang Cobra R - photo 1
Mustang 5.0 GT

The 1993 Mustang 5.0 GT convertible represents the last year of the Fox-platform cars that, beginning In 1982 with the initial 5.0 GT, rekindled the musclecar spirit in new domestic vehicles. Besides updating the Mustang’s exterior from a boxy 1980s’ look to a sleeker, more windswept appearance, the SN95 chassis that debuted in 1994 featured separate coupe and convertible configurations. Convertibles were an afterthought in the previous-generation Fox-platform cars, and were created by chopping off the roof.

Besides duking it out with traditional rivals GM and Chrysler, there was now significant performance competition from Europe and Japan. Frick pony cars, that could only wobble around corners, were scorned and replaced with well-balanced cars capable of stopping, cornering, and accelerating.

Mustang fans, joined by patriotic musclecar enthusiasts, led a successful campaign that convinced Ford to keep the Mustang faithful to its red, white, and blue V-8powered, rear-drive roots. At the same time, another traditional American vehicle was also becoming a factor in the marketplace. The pickup had migrated from farms to the cities and suburbs. As with any popular vehicle, there were owners who wanted a truck that was faster and handled better, hence the creation of the F-150 Lightning.

The Best Cars in the World. Mustang GT, SVT Mustang Cobra and Mustang Cobra R - photo 2
Mustang 5.0 GT

In 1991, Ford answered these challenges of strength and power by establishing its Special Vehicle Team. The SVT is an in-house band of performance enthusiasts who have developed vehicles including the Mustang Cobra and the F-150 Lightning, so the Ford Motor Company can flex some modern American muscle.

Mustang celebrated its 30th birthday by pacing the 1994 Indy 500. The pace car was a red SVT Cobra convertible. Actually, there were three pace cars with A. J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones as guest drivers. These were the first-ever Cobra ragtops, and 1,000 replicas were produced and sold.

Mustang GT

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Mustang GT

When Ford announced that the “Boss was Back’ with its 1982 5.0-liter Mustang GT, this signaled the re-emergence of new-car performance after a decade of struggles with emissions and fuel economy requirements. It also rekindled the art of hot rodding cars off the showroom floor. An entire aftermarket industry developed around the Mustang GTand the Fox-platform chassis. While it may seem blasphemous to the “bow-tie” supporters, many people consider these cars to be the 1955 Chevys of the 1980s in terms of their popularity and adaptability to performance modifications.

Adaptability is one thing, but flexibility is another, especially when it applies to the nature of a chassis that dated back to 1979. By 1993, the Fox-platlorm Mustang was 1 5 years old and Chevrolet had an improved Camaro to tempt pony car shoppers. It was time for a new Mustang. Despite a scary moment or two in the late 1980s when it seemed that the next Mustang might evolve into a four-cylinder, frontwheel-driver made in Japan, Ford eventually listened to the protests of Mustang lovers and its own good sense. The new 1994 Mustang followed the traditional front-engine/rear-drive format. The boxy 1980s look was swept aside by wind-sculpted, swoopy new bodywork. Similar to the original Mustang, the new car had a chrome running horse emblem in the center of the grille and a “C” scoop on its flanks just ahead of the rear wheel. Inside, a retro-styled twinpod dash was a reminder of the first models.

Below: The most distinctive external feature of the 1993 Cobra R was the black trim on the special 17-inch alloy wheels. These wheels resurfaced in 1994 as an option on the Mustang GT. Ford produced and sold 107 of the $25,692 Cobra R models.

The Best Cars in the World. Mustang GT, SVT Mustang Cobra and Mustang Cobra R - photo 4
1993 Cobra R

Below: The Fox platform went out with a bang in the summer of 1993 when SVT made a limited run of 107 Cobra R models that were intended for SCCA and IMSA racing. The changes to a regular Cobra included a stiffer suspension setup with Koni shocks and Eibach springs, and the removal of the air conditioning, power windows, power locks, sound insulation, and back seat in order to shed 150 pounds.

The Best Cars in the World. Mustang GT, SVT Mustang Cobra and Mustang Cobra R - photo 5
1993 Cobra R

A revised intake system and more-free-flowing heads boosted the 1993 5.0-liter Cobra R engine’s power output to 235 horsepower, 30 more than in the GT. The more potent engine did not run out of breath above 4,000 rpm as did the stock GT unit.

The new chassis was 56 percent stiffer in bending and 44 percent stiffer in torsion than the Fox platform. A big plus for those who enjoy top-down motoring was that the new Mustang also had a specially designed convertible chassis. The previousgeneration Mustang ragtops were chopped-top conversions of hardtop cars.

The Best Cars in the World. Mustang GT, SVT Mustang Cobra and Mustang Cobra R - photo 6
1993 5.0-liter Cobra R

The standard GT wheels were similar to those of the 1991-1993 models, with I6x7-inch alloys carrying 225/55 ZR16 tires. The big news was an optional 17-inch wheel setup that had 245/45 ZR17 Goodyear Eagle GSC tires. This gave Mustang owners a one-up on Camaro and Firebird drivers who had no such option at the time. Ford also atoned for past performance sins by finally making four-wheel disc brakes standard on the GT.

The 5.0-liter V-8 carried over to the new GT, but that was not all good news. Rated at 215 horsepower and mated to a Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed manual transmission (a four-speed automatic was optional), the GT came up one gear and 60 horsepower short of the new Camaro, which had a 275-horsepower V-8 and six-speed transmission. Road & Track magazine recorded a 0-to-60-mile-per-hour time of 6.7 seconds, and a 15.2-second quarter-mile in its test of the new 1994 GT. This was 0.4 seconds slower than the Camaro in both categories.


Body/Chassis – Unit steel

Engine – 4.6-liter SOHC V-8, two valves/ cylinder, iron block, alloy heads, electronic sequential fuel injection.

Power – 260 horsepower @ 5,250 rpm. 302 ft-lbs torque @ 4,600 rpm.

Transmission – Five-speed manual.

Suspension – Front: MacPherson struts, lower A-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar

Rear: Live axle, angled upper and lower trailing arms, coil springs,

tube shocks, stabilizer bar.

Brakes – Four-wheel vented discs with ABS.

Wheels/Tires – 16×7. 5-inch cast-aluminum alloy; 225/55 HR16 (17-inch optional).

Wheelbase – 101.3 inches.

Length – 183.2 inches.

Curb Weight – 3,410 pounds.

EPA Fuel Economy, City/Highway – 17/24 miles per gallon.

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The interior of the 1993 Cobra R

The interior of the 1993 Cobra R was still plush for a racecar despite the weight-reduction plan that deleted many creature comforts including the air conditioning and stereo. The lack of racing seats was a problem not addressed until the 2000 model.

SVT got even more serious with the 1995 Cobra R. Although 250 models were produced, a racing license was necessary to purchase the car as well as a check for $35,499—plus $2,100 in taxes—to discourage speculators from crowding out the intended customers.

Ford sought to improve things in 1996 when it replaced the pushrod 5. 0-liter V-8 with a high-tech modular 4.6-liter single-overhead-cam (SOHC) unit with alloy heads. This engine was also rated at 215 horsepower, although a 305-horsepower, all-alloy, dual-overhead cam (DOHC), four-valve-per-cylinder version was installed in the 1996 SVT Cobra Mustang.

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1995 Cobra R

The new engine was a technical tour de force, much smoother and higher revving, but when it came time to put the pedal to the metal at the drag strip, the new engine was a step backward. Road & Track numbers showed the 1996 GT to be 0.1 second slower both from 0 to 60 miles per hour and in the quartermile than its 1994 5.0 counterpart. To celebrate the Mustang’s 35th anniversary, Ford made a number of styling and performance changes to the 1999 Mustang. The appearance changes tried to capture a retro look reminiscent of the original car. Not everyone appreciated the restyling, but performance fans had to be happy with the changes under the revised hood. The 4.6 liter gained 35 horsepower lor a total ol 260 horsepower at 5,250 rpm. This was still 45 horsepower shy of a comparable Z28 Camaro.

The 17×9-inch wheels of the 1995 Cobra R were the largest ever offered up to then on a Mustang. /As a result, they have become a cult item among Mustang aficionados who are searching for that extra edge in handling and style.

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1995 Cobra R

SVT followed the credo that there Is no substitute for cubic inches when they designed the 1995 Cobra R to do battle with road-racing Camaros. Out went the 5.0-liter V-8 and in went a 5.8-liter (351 cubic inches) Windsor V-8. A trick camshaft, alloy pistons, forged connecting rods, and special heads and intake helped wring 300 horsepower and 365 ft-lb of torque out of the old warhorse.

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1995 Cobra R

According to Motor Trends testers, who tend to be quicker and less sensitive to drivetrains and tires than those of Road & Track, the anniversary Mustang went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds. MTstime for the Z28 is a flat 5 seconds. Consumer Guide recorded a time of 6.5 seconds. A real-world number would probably be in the low 6-second range. The Mustang GT may not be the performance leader it once was. The Cobra is now Ford’s top dog—make that pony—but the Mustang GT has matured into a capable sporty car worthy of wearing the grand touring initials.

SVT Mustang Cobra

Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) was formed in late 1991 to create limited-production specialty vehicles. Think of them as very sophisticated corporate hot rodders. The people who design and build these special vehicles within the SVT are the Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) group. The first vehicles to emerge from the SVT garage were 1993 high-performance variants of the F-150 pickup and the Mustang. The SVT version of the Mustang reintroduced the Cobra name as a potent icon of Ford performance. It was also the last hurrah for the Fox platform, which would be replaced by a new Mustang the following year.

From the outside, the 1993 SVT Cobra featured subtle but handsome modifications to distinguish it from the GT. The most noticeable changes were a tiny grille opening in the nose featuring a chrome running horse badge and new taillights. Exterior’ colors were limited to red, black, and teal. The Cobra also featured 17-inch wheels for the first time on a Mustang. Measuring 17×7.3 inches, the wheels were fitted with 243/45 ZR17 tires. The GT’s 5.0-liter V-8 resided under the hood, but any resemblance to the GT was purely coincidental. The SVE had fitted a new upper and lower intake manifold as well as a bigger throttle body and mass air sensor. Injectors also went up in size and were fed by a high-flow fuel pump. Freebreathing heads featuring larger intake and exhaust ports were installed. Corresponding changes were made to the engine management electronics and cam profile. The bottom line added up to 235 horsepower.

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SVT Mustang Cobra

The five-speed manual transmission was revised to handle the new power output, and four-wheel disc brakes were also part of the Cobra package. The Cobra was more than just a one-trick pony

as the SVE went to work on the suspension and utilized the talented backsides of Jackie Stewart and Bob Bondurant to help calibrate the optimum ride and handling setup. Motor Trend tested a 1993 Cobra and came up with a 0-to-60 time of 6.2 seconds. Elapsed time for the quarter-mile was 14.4 seconds at 97.4 miles per hour. These times were quick enough for the SVT to sell 4,993 Cobras against its target of 5,000 units. A new Mustang debuted in 1994, and the SVT was ready with a new Cobra model. Engine output was increased to 240 horsepower, and larger brake discs (13 inches up front, 11.65 inches in back) were fitted. Revisions were also made to the suspension, which primarily decreased spring rates and fitted smaller stabilizer bars from those of the 1993 Cobra. New 17×8. 0-inch wheels were also part of the package.

Subtlety was again the guiding force in exterior differentiation from the GT. Larger, round fog lamps replaced the rectangular units of the GT, and a slightly altered rear spoiler was fitted. Inside, white gauge faces made their debut as an SVT trademark. To celebrate the Mustang’s 30th birthday, a red Cobra convertible was selected to pace the 1994 Indy 500. The SVT produced 1,000 Pace Car Edition Cobras to commemorate the event. These were the first convertible Cobras ever offered. In 1995, a convertible model, available only in black, was added to the otherwise unchanged Cobra lineup. Over 5,200 Cobras were sold that year.


Engine – 4.6-liter all alloy, DOFIC V-8, four valves/cylinder, electronic

sequential fuel injection.

Power – 320 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm (6,800 redline), 317 ft-lbs torque @ 4,750 rpm.

Transmission – Tremec five-speed manual/limited-slip differential and traction control.

Suspension – Front: MacPherson struts, lower A-arms, variable rate coil springs,

tube shocks, stabilizer bar.

Brakes – Four-wheel vented discs with ABS.

Wheels/Tires – 17×8-inch forged-aluminum alloy; 245/45 ZR17.

Wheelbase – 101.3 inches.

Curb Weight – 3,446 pounds.

EPA Fuel Economy, City/Flighway – 17/24 miles per gallon.

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the 2000 model Cobra R

And now for something completely different: the 2000 model Cobra R eschews the subtle appearance of its predecessors for an evil, hard-core racer look. Stuffing the taller 5.4-liter V-8 into the Mustang engine bay required lowering a chassis cross-member. More noticeable change was the tumescent hood, also a necessity for adequate clearance. SVT built 300 2000 Cobra R models with a price tag of $55,000.

Borrowed from the Lincoln Navigator, the Cobra R’s 5.4-liter V-8 used aluminum high-flow, four-valve heads and forgedalloy pistons to bring power levels up to 385 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, with 385 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm.


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Engine – 5.4-liter DOHC V-8, four valves/cylinder, iron block, alloy heads,

electronic sequential fuel injection.

Power – 385 horsepower @ 6,250 rpm, 385 ft-lbs torque @ 4,250 rpm.

Transmission –  Tremec six-speed manual.

Suspension –  Front: MacPherson struts, lower A-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar Rear: Independent, upper and lower arms, coil springs, tube shocks, stabilizer bar.

Brakes – Four-wheel vented discs with ABS.

Wheels/Tires – 18×9. 5-inch cast-aluminum alloy; 265/40 ZR18.

Wheelbase – 101.3 inches.

Curb Weight – 3,590 pounds.

EPA Fuel Economy, City/highway -13/18 miles per gallon.

Cobra R looks ready to do high-speed wind sprints with 18×9. 5-inch wheels and aerodynamic accoutrements. The side exhaust not only sounds and looks cool, but it is also necessary to avoid racing fuel cell and independent rear suspension setup. Stiffer Eibach springs lower the R model 1.5 inches in front and 1 inch in the rear versus the standard Cobra.

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Things became even more exciting in 1996 when Cobras received their own special engine in the form of a 305-horsepower, all-alloy, four-valve, DOHC 4.6-liter V-8. Each engine is hand-assembled by two-man teams that work in a’ dedicated section of Ford’s Romeo, Michigan, engine plant. It takes a little over an hour for the specially trained teams to assemble an engine. In order to complete this custom approach to engine building, the assembly team adds one more personal touch by autographing a metallic decal that is applied to the passenger-side cam cover. Other changes to 1996 Cobras included larger 3-inch exhaust tips, firmer suspension settings, and a revised hood with twin power bulges to clear the new engine’s intake system. The rear wing also became a customer-delete option. A chameleon-like Mystic Clearcoat paint, which changed hues according to lighting conditions, was available on the Cobra coupe for an extra $815.

With horsepower up to 305 at 5,800 rpm, the Cobra’s 0-to-60 times went down accordingly. Road & Track recorded 5.9 seconds in a test pitting the SVT Cobra against a 1996 305-horsepower Camaro SS. With identical horsepower ratings, the two cars turned identical times. Not surprisingly, 10,006 Cobras were sold in 1996, and 1997 sales were also at the 10,000-unit limit imposed by the SVT.

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The front splitter attaches with Dzus fasteners and works to reduce front-end lift, especially important since SVT claims a 170-mile-per-hour top speed for the car. 23For 1999, as with all Mustangs, the exterior of the Cobra took on a new angular appearance. The new body allowed for a 1 .4-inch-wider rear track for improved handling. The handling improved even more thanks to a new independent rear suspension in place of the live axle that was still used on other Mustangs.

Besides the improved rear suspension, the big news surrounding the 1999 Cobra was a horsepower rating of 320 for the 4.6-liter engine. Unfortunately it was not good news as many owners accused Ford of letting some of those horses slip out of the barn before delivery. As a result, there were no 2000 model year Cobras produced because Ford rounded up the strays and made modifications to all the 1999s it could track down. Ford guarantees that the 2001 Cobra will have all 320 horses as advertised. New features on the 2001 Cobra include a rear bumper embossed “Cobra” instead of “Mustang,” and new suede seats embroidered with the serpent logo.

«Modern American Muscle»

Patrick Paternie and Dan Lyons

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