The year was 2003, and Ford Motor Company’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) had just revamped the engine in its New Edge Mustang Cobra. The old naturally-aspirated days were long gone with the arrival of a supercharged 4.6-liter 4-valve that was chosen to sit between the strut towers of the snake. With 390 horsepower on tap, the car would be considered docile in stock form by today’s standard. However, 20 years ago the car was known for prowling the streets and putting fear into many cars from a stop or roll.
Only enhancing the repertoire of this snarling supercharged V8 was its ability to be mod-friendly. Adding a simple pulley, tune, and fuel would allow the power to jump to the 500 horsepower mark, and bark the tires through every shift. The lack of a major parts list to meet these power goals would set the Terminator apart from the rest and usher in a new generation of Ford Mustangs.
This new supercharged ‘stang would put Ford back on the map as a powerhouse of muscle; it would also set the stage for this generation of Cobra to become a legend. The cars came to be affectionately known as the Terminator. Where horsepower numbers didn’t achieve a universal liking, the sound of the blower whine and voracious exhaust notes did.
Shortly after the release of the Mustang SVT Cobra, video-based websites began to allow promotion of the street and race scene. These video clips would broadcast rowdy street cars combined with racing that quickly attracted the eyes of many youngsters. Websites like StreetFire.net and the early YouTube days would evoke an emotional attachment and desire to build similar cars to the ones seen online. One particular video titled “Bad Ass Mustang Cobra with Kenne Bell Supercharger” hit YouTube on November 2, 2006.
The 1-minute and 8-second video featured a black Terminator Cobra named “Snake Bite” performing various burnouts, street pulls, and flybys. The vicious exhaust note, combined with the high-pitched whine of a Kenne Bell supercharger screaming at full tilt, attracted users like none other. Snake Bite was quite the appropriate name, too, for a car that would acquire over six-million views through its 16 years online.
Spencer Schuelke was one who was bitten hard by this video. “When I was in high school, I saw the notorious snake bitten video on YouTube…it was the most popular Terminator video ever,” Schuelke says. “This video hooked me on wanting to own the nostalgic Cobra one day. I also owned a 2003 Mustang GT for a few years through high school and always wanted to step up to the next level with the 4V Cobra.”
Three Years In The Making
This short YouTube feature would send Schuelke into a hyper-focused frenzy to get his hands on a Terminator Cobra. The end result would be a Sonic Blue 2003 Mustang Cobra entering his garage to undergo surgery to become the real-life build that he dreamed of in class all those years ago.
“I always wanted a nasty high-horsepower Cobra that I could go out to car shows and cruise-ins with, and still put down close to four-digit horsepower on the street when I wanted,” Schuelke explains. “As most people would understand, the slow progression of more power and everything to support it snowballed over the last three years, and probably will continue to do so.”
Instead of providing a blank check or high-balance credit card to complete the build through the hands of someone else, Schuelke preferred to use his personal time and tools to piece together the Terminator in his own garage. The only time it would leave the four walls and jack stands of its personal space, was to be tuned at Blankenship Performance.
The 4.6 liter is not known for its cubic size, but moreso its ability to hold big power when built properly. Since the plan from the start was to build a “nasty high-horsepower Cobra,” Schuelke went ahead and replaced the connecting rods with Manley units, and installed a Kellogg Crankshaft in the bottom end.
The top end received a dosage of increased vital capacity through the implementation of COMP Cams Stage 2 blower cams and ported and polished four-thread heads. As with any internal combustion engine, oil supply and flow is a critical piece of the puzzle, so Boundary oil pump gears found their way into the mix. Feeding large amounts of fuel into the 281 cubic-inch engine is a pair of Walbro 525 fuel pumps that lead into a set of Injector Dynamic 1700cc injectors. The extra unused fuel is then transferred back to the tank through a return-style fuel system.
Schuelke’s first iteration of his Cobra retained a supercharger as the preferred method of forced induction. Striving to create something better for version 2.0, he decided to rebuild his engine bay, including a new way of pushing air into the intake manifold. Over a 10-month span, he would smooth the engine bay, build custom brake and power steering lines, install a Holley Dominator ECU, and the biggest change of all: a switch to a pair of Precision 6766 turbos. The mirrored turbos provide not only a boost in power, but a show-quality end result, as well.
When asked what is his favorite part of the car, Schuelke simply responds, “it has to be the deep vicious exhaust note this car has at wide open throttle. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better sounding car at WOT than the Cobra. There’s just something about a supercharged or turbo 4V that is distinctly different from any other car on the road.”
To achieve this eargasm, Schuelke moved away from his 1- headers, x-pipe, and catback exhaust combination to a pair of straight pipes exiting near the front. Even though the turbos suppress the exhaust decibel, the open downpipes still create a ferocious sound that pays homage to the original Snake Bite’s savage V8 exhaust note when it passed the camera.
At a certain power level, it becomes a flex to be able to shift gears and guide a car straight, while the horsepower tries to overpower the rear wheels and chassis. However, there is something fascinating to certain drivers to be multi-focused during this process. Especially when dealing with one of the last few analog cars that provide a raw sense of power and output from the chassis, without the help of any driver aids.
Schuelke decided to retain the manual transmission with a few improvements. The first step was installing a Silver Sport Transmission STX short-throw shifter onto his TREMEC T56 transmission. Holding the power of the twin turbo setup is a Mcleod RXT 1200 HD clutch. While the power continues to be transmitted from the gearbox to the rearend, a Driveshaft Shop aluminum 3.5-inch driveshaft acts as a conductor of horsepower. The Eaton TruTrac rearend receives this transfer of energy before sending it through a pair of G-Force Outlaw half-shafts.
Spring For The Fences
Making power comes easily in a fully-forged 4.6-liter Modular, however, getting that power planted requires more than just a sticky set of Mickey Thompson Street R Radial tires. Schuelke also installed Viking Warrior double-adjustable coilovers on the front, and H&R sport springs on the rear. Maximum Motorsports full subframe connectors keep this chassis from flexing during hard pulls.
Originally an independent rear suspension guy, Schuelke had to make the change and convert his car to a solid rear axle. “After doing everything I could to the rear suspension, I still had wheel hop. It would never hold the power I wanted to throw at it,” Schuelke explains.
Bringing this Terminator back down from sonic speeds is a set of Wilwood six-piston calipers, with 13-inch rotors up front. The brakes are clearly visible through the BBS RK Plasma front wheels. In the rear, a set of 15-inch Weld S77 wheels provide a sidewall thickness to try and attain a grip on the road.
“After all the headaches and issues I ran into building this car, it never fails to put a smile on my face when I take it out for a cruise and open it up,” Schuelke explains. “I don’t think I could, or would ever get bored of this car… the pure raw driving experience this car provides is irreplaceable. The looks and attention these cars still get almost 20 years later is priceless!”
While this car will rarely see a dragstrip, its extreme horsepower level and sound is a nod to the days of yesteryear when Snake Bites’ power hungry thirst would blast through the speakers of a school-owned desktop computer. The sound would attract the attention of every gearhead kid in the class who would gather around. The end result of these racing clips would create a desire to duplicate the setup or achieve what Schuelke has done, and surpass it.