The Cobra R: a holy grail of early-’90s factory road racing ability. It’s hard to catch sight of an original Cobra R and hold your jaw in place. For Dan Perkins, the Cobra R relinquishes abundant memories of years on the track with Steeda Autosports.
Ford produced two versions of the Cobra R model in the 1990s — the first in 1993, and another in 1995. Though created just two years apart, the pair differ greatly. If asked to choose between the two, the Fox-body version is an easy choice for many, but for those more interested in the performance of the car, the SN95 version is the clear victor.
Luckily, Perkins doesn’t have to make that decision: he owns one of each! Each Cobra R has a very interesting history, with their respective lives beginning at Steeda Autosports of Pompano Beach, Florida. Steeda was an integral part of Cobra R production and improvement, and at the forefront were these exact two cars.
1993 Cobra R
First, the story behind the Steeda #47 1993 Cobra R.
If you’re even the least bit familiar with Steeda, you know the company was founded on the basis of starting with stock Ford vehicles and elevating their performance to unheard of heights. Steeda was heavily involved in the development of the 1993 Cobra R, relaying its racing-acquired knowledge to Ford SVT engineers.
Of the many contributions made to the program, perhaps one of the most important was Steeda’s assistance in designing the Cobra R’s braking system to ensure the completed design would be able to withstand the taxing rigors of road racing. Together, the teams conducted durability testing of the 13-inch rotor and caliper system for the Ford Mustang. They also worked together to develop durometer bushings for use in Ford high-performance suspension systems.
Steeda Autosports CEO Dario Orlando was the original owner of this particular Cobra R, which was the tenth of 107 built. Each Cobra R was only available for sale to licensed race drivers. Soon after, in December of 1993, Perkins bought it, and has kept it in his collection ever since.
According to Perkins, the car was race-prepped and campaigned by Steeda Autosports and D2 Strictly Biz Racing (the name of the partnership between Dan Perkins and Dario. D2 – get it?). It was driven by Orlando, Peter Uria, and Lance Stewart, and had a chief engineer named Steve Chichisola. Prior to the sale, Steeda brought the car to Sebring International Raceway in 1993 and won its inaugural race, awarding it the first Cobra R win.
When Perkins purchased the car, the partnership continued. It was campaigned twice in IMSA Street Stock. The first never even got started, after the driver missed a gear heading into Sebring’s turn 17, sucking in a valve and blowing up a new engine. So, the team didn’t make the race.
The second race, which also took place at Sebring, was a rain-soaked race, and drivers Peter Uria and Bart Hayes still managed a Seventh-place finish.
“We considered it successful, considering we were down on power compared to the Firebirds and the Mazda twin-turbos. Plus, we had the standard fuel tank which caused us to pit more often for fuel,” Perkins explained.
Making the effort even more successful was the data the team was able to provide for Ford, which would be useful in development of the 1995 Cobra R, in addition to various other components used on production Mustangs.
As Perkins explained, the series the team ran was geared toward production vehicles, so the project worked well with products Steeda produced for enhancing street cars.
What Steeda parts were used on the 1993 Cobra R, you ask? All told, the car was equipped with Steeda 14-inch front and 13-inch rear brakes with Hawk Performance brake pads, as well as Steeda Performance Sport Springs. Tokico Shocks were installed along with a Steeda G-Trac Bar, Steeda front and rear sway bars, Steeda billet lower control arms, a Steeda Tri-AX shifter, and Ford Racing 3.73 gears.
1995 Cobra R
The story continues with Perkin’s 1995 Cobra R. As with the 1993 model, Ford wasn’t just giving the 1995 Cobra R models away — these cars were built as a serious race effort to compete in road racing. You had to prove you were a competitor to get your hands on one. Following the success of the 1993 Cobra R model, SVT’s engineering team set out to create an even more competitive version. In another collaborative effort, Steeda provided valuable racing insights and assistance to the SVT team to help make the vision a reality of a stronger, faster, and better Cobra R.
After spending quite a bit of time on-track with the 1993, it was clear a more powerful engine and greater fuel capacity were on the list of must-haves. This meant the 1995 version saw the Cobra’s 5.0-liter engine replaced with an SVT-modified version of the Ford 5.8L Windsor. It was reengineered to put out 300 horsepower. A Tremec 3550 5-speed manual transmission was chosen to match.
Also, it was decided the 1995 version would be equipped with a 22-gallon racing fuel cell, allowing for more time between fuel stops. In an effort to reduce weight, the back seat was removed, as were the radio, power windows, power seats, and air-conditioning. The fog lights were omitted to allow room for cool-air induction for the front disc brakes. On-track handling was improved through the addition of heavy-duty progressive rate springs, thicker stabilizer bars, and a front strut-tower brace.
In all, 250 units were produced in 1995. While all 1993 models were only available in Vibrant Red, all of the 1995’s were built in Crystal White with Saddle cloth interior. Each vehicle was outfitted with a special center-tiered fiberglass hood designed to clear the engine and induction system.
Perkins’ particular Cobra R (number 125 of 250) followed in its older brother’s tire marks. It too was race-prepped and campaigned by Steeda and D2 Strictly Biz Racing in the IMSA Street Stock GS class. Its driver seat was occupied by a number of racing greats including Boris Said and Shawn Hendricks of NASCAR, Peter Cunningham (SCCA, IMSA, Grand Am, CART and more), Peter Uria (IMSA, SCCA), and Bart Hayes.
It was the first production Mustang to win a pole position in professional IMSA GS class competition, before setting a new track record at Daytona in its inaugural IMSA Endurance race. In 1996, the Steeda Cobra R won its first IMSA race for a Mustang in more than a decade by lapping the 65-car field twice during a six-hour endurance race at Texas Motor Speedway. This success was followed by First place finishes at Mosport Park and Daytona.
In addition to its success on-track, the Cobra R was also seen extensively in Steeda marketing efforts and was on display at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
As for Perkins, he’s proud to own both pieces of automotive history.
“We did to this car what Ford intended it to be used for. It is a work/race mule that is truly one of a kind! Anyone can bag a car. In fact, Dario had a bagged car when I bought this car and I had my choice. I definitely do not regret my choice.”