With the Malaise Era quickly fading into the rear-view mirror by the early 1990s, the pony-car wars were starting to heat up again in earnest. Throughout the mid-’70s and early ’80s, automakers had struggled to find ways to balance the performance that enthusiasts wanted with fuel economy considerations and the regulations mandated by the federal government.
Ford needed a potent model to keep the 13-year-old Fox fresh, while development of the fourth-generation SN-95 continued.
But both the Fox and its 5.0-liter V8 would mature over time. By 1992, with cross-town rival Chevrolet poised to debut the fourth generation Camaro and its Z28 performance variant, Ford needed a potent model to keep the 13-year-old Fox fresh, while development of the fourth-generation SN-95 continued.
The answer came in the form of the Special Vehicle Team’s Mustang Cobra. Debuting at the 1992 Chicago Auto Show, it was a Mustang with performance tuning that came from a newly formed skunkworks team within Ford with the express purpose of creating the most capable production Fox Mustang ever.
Special Vehicle Team
Formally launched in 1993 with the specific goals to create “Performance, Substance, Exclusivity and Value,” SVT supplanted the Special Vehicle Operations group within Ford that would oversee performance-focused developments within the company.
Their first project to make its way into production would be the 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra. Rather than a radical reinvention of the Mustang GT, the Cobra instead saw the team make numerous subtle tweaks throughout the car in order to yield a significantly more capable machine.
Under the hood, a 5.0-liter V8 that shared the same block, crank, rods and pistons as the standard GT engine. The rest of the engine was a different story, however, as the Cobra received high-flow GT-40 iron cylinder heads; a high-flow Cobra intake manifold; a unique, hydraulic-roller camshaft, underdrive pulleys; and a low-restriction exhaust. In all, the Cobra’s 302 made 235 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, which was enough to propel the 3,250-pound coupe to 60 mph from rest in just 5.9 seconds.
1993 Cobra Specs
Type: 90-degree, OHV Windsor V-8
Displacement: 5.0-liter/302 ci
Horsepower: 235 horsepower at 4,600 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 4.0×3.0-inch
Front: Modified MacPherson strut type, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear: Rigid axle located by four trailing links, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Front: 10.84-inch vented disc
Rear: 10.07-inch vented disc
Wheels: 17×7.5-inch cast aluminum
Tires: Goodyear P245/45ZR-17 BSW
On the handling front, SVT turned to the suspension experts at Tokico to provide uniquely-tuned springs, dampers and sway bars for the Cobra. For stopping power, the Cobra featured dual-piston calipers up front that clamped down on 10.84-inch vented discs – while the rear utilized single-piston calipers and 10.07-inch vented discs. Outfitted with Cobra-specific 17 x 7.5-inch cast aluminum wheels wrapped in Goodyear Gatorback rubber, the SVT snake could dispatch the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds and stop from 60 mph in 140 feet – more than respectable numbers for the era.
Visually, the SVT Mustang Cobra didn’t stray too far from the Mustang GT, but subtle aesthetic tweaks can be found from stem to stern. Along with Cobra-specific wheels, it also featured a unique lower valance up front that allowed more air into the engine bay, while out back a unique spoiler and rear taillights helped distinguish the Cobra from the Mustang GT from any angle.
Available only as a manual-equipped coupe, 4,993 examples of the SVT Mustang Cobra would be built in its sole year as a Fox, with 1,854 car painted black, another 1,784 in Vibrant Red (1,775 of those buyers would opt for the optional clearcoat application), and the remaining 1,355 Cobras dressed in Teal.
R Is For Race
Debuting alongside the SVT Mustang Cobra was the far more exclusive and track-focused Cobra R. Designed as a homologation car to provide Ford racers with a competitive platform for the IMSA Firestone Firehawk Grand Sport and SCCA World Challenge racing series, the Cobra R featured a number of changes versus the standard Cobra.
Since the car was being homologated for road racing, many of those changes focused on handling prowess. To that end, overall weight was reduced by removing the fog lights (which allowed racers to add additional air ducting to cool the brakes), along with the rear seat, air conditioning, radio, and power accessories.
Additional bracing from the Mustang GT convertible enhanced the car’s rigidity, while the Cobra R’s track-tuned suspension package included Eibach springs and adjustable Koni shocks and struts. Braking was also enhanced by the inclusion of big 13-inch rotors up front, while cooling capability was improved with a larger radiator and an external oil cooler.
Just 107 Cobra R models were built in total — all of which were Vibrant Red with Opal Grey interiors, and featured the upcoming wheel design from the 1994 Mustang GT with a unique paint application. Although Ford’s desire was to see these cars head out to the race tracks of America to mix it up in wheel to wheel competition, it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of them ended up in collectors’ garages instead.
Today, the SVT Mustang Cobra and Cobra R serve as the production high-water mark of Fox Mustang performance.
Though Mustang performance would improve over the subsequent years, a trend which continues to this day, the Cobra’s notable place as the first in a series of models produced by the SVT team would cement its desirability among Mustang fans. Well cared for examples can go for more than twice their original MSRP of $18,505.
While a handful of Cobra R models made their way into IMSA and SCCA competition, a number of examples were tucked away almost immediately after delivery. Today, these cars command over three times their 1993 purchase of $25,692 – on the rare occasions they are up for sale, of course.