Project APEX: Meet Ivan’s Road Course Racing 2001 Mustang Cobra

At Ford Muscle, we love to showcase our latest purchases and project builds. We also enjoy a bit of variety. Ivan, a fellow Ford-loving colleague, is no stranger to this concept. His builds have graced the Ford Muscle website for years. Everything from a 1,200 horsepower S550 Mustang to an F100 with an Aluminator engine, have been shown in a well-documented series. This time around, Ivan is taking a different approach to a build.

Ivan managed to find a clean 2001 Mustang Cobra roller with 210,000 miles on the odometer. The Mustang wasn’t being sold a la carte though, and included a defunct modular engine and stock TR3650 transmission on the side. He was even lucky enough to find the extremely valuable amber marker taillights still attached to the car! So, without further ado, we would like to introduce everyone to the newest project from Project Apex.

The 1999-2002 Ford Mustang Cobra is easily one of the most under appreciated Mustangs.

While our previous builds have focused around a numerical number brought to us by the dyno or the aesthetics of making an older vehicle look amazing, Project Apex is different. Project Apex’s purpose is to reach past the straight-line racer and into the hearts of those looking to participate in track days. This can serve as the novice’s guide to road racing or a refresher course for those who once participated in track days.

Project Apex will showcase everything that is needed to start racing on the road course. An emphasis on engine performance, handling, braking, and safety will be applied. We’ll even take it a step further, showing the difference a product can make on-track times. We’ll start with the engine build before moving onto the suspension and brakes. Once we have those items sorted, we’ll finish up the transmission and safety equipment install. Finally, we’ll be ready for the first track day of the season.

Project Apex Gets A New Heart

The engine provided with Ivan’s New Edge Mustang had seen better days. It was not the original Cobra engine and the mileage count was unknown. The black valve covers suggest the original Cobra engine had met its demise and was replaced with a 2003 or 2004 Mach 1 engine at some point. While ambiguity remained about the engine’s mileage, there was no doubt about the four-valve’s condition.

Oops! A bad rod bearing on cylinder one resulted in the piston hitting the head and obvious crank damage.

The modular engine had a spun rod bearing and would need a complete rebuild. We already anticipated building this engine to handle the stress of high RPM for extended amounts of time, so naturally, we resorted to a full rebuild with proper parts. We’ll also be installing new accessories and headers to maximize the performance of our fresh engine. This section of the build will be covered on EngineLabs and will showcase what is needed to make a modular engine perform at its best without the use of forced induction.

Refreshing Take On A New Edge Mustang

As we wait for the engine to be built, we’ll be addressing the wear items that are necessary for the first track day. If only automotive parts aged like fine wine, our job would be a lot easier! Unfortunately, they act more like french bread and get hard and crumble over time. This 210,000-mile chassis is no different, as the ball joints, bushing, bearings, brakes, radiator, and tires all require immediate attention before we dare throw it into a corner. This section will not only work for the track rats, but also for those looking for a “how-to” about refreshing a high-mileage chassis.

With a name like ProjectApex, you know this New Edge will be loaded with fresh suspension components!

Road racing is not just about suspension and tire packages, we also have to evaluate which transmission route we needed to go. The transmission in a road race car faces a series of high RPM shifts, long-term abuse, and syncro stress when racing. The TR3650 and clutch that came with the car are in unknown condition. However, judging by the engine’s condition, it is safe to say this car was not just driven on Sunday by an elderly lady headed to church.

Shifting Gears Into A T56

In this section, we will walk through the evaluation process about which transmission is best for your budget and racing goals. We’ll discuss the usage of a TREMEC T56 Magnum versus rebuilding the stock TR3650 transmission and the advantages each transmission provides in a racing application. Seeing as how the transmission is not a fan favorite to pull out, we’ll be making sure a correct clutch is mated to this transmission, giving us a track time full of fun, not frustration.

Safety First

Some people enjoy the idea of being the fastest without a cage, but since Ivan’s made it this far in life, he decided he would like to continue building awesome projects from above ground. We’ve gathered a host of safety items from roll cages to seats and even restraints to keep everyone inside Project Apex safe. This segment will give car owners trying their first track day a veteran’s perspective on how to properly set up a car with safety in mind.

Project Apex

At this point, we’ll be ready for our first track day! The once dormant 2001 Cobra will have the engine, transmission, suspension, and safety addressed. This is the perfect starting point for a novice wanting to get into road racing their Mustang. Once we’re back from the track day, we’ll be giving feedback on how the car handles and where improvements can be made. After that, it’s back to the garage for our Grey snake to get a fresh new batch of track-oriented goodies from Maximum Motorsports.

Post-Race Assessment

Once we have our baseline, we’ll be sharpening the Cobra’s handling capabilities with a complete Road and Track box with IRS Grip Package from Maximum Motorsports. This will address the next step up from a stock suspension and provide racers with a second stage of performance handling. We imagine we will have met the limits of our performance summer tires and will exchange them for a fresh set of 200 treadwear tires, but not before sending the previous tires to their grave in a fury of smokey drifts and burnouts.

Project Apex

At this point, we’ll want to get the full potential out of the chassis and will resort to a final suspension step with a Maximum Grip Box. This will complete our suspension front and rear, allowing us the best on-track handling for a club racer or track day junkie.

The End? Never!

Will this be the end of Project Apex? Not even close! We’re gearheads at heart and will constantly be tinkering to create a better platform with each new stage. Building the rearend, swapping gears, new wheels, tires, better aerodynamics, and cooling are all on the agenda. So, sit back and get ready for a project that rivals the days of forum builds, without the hassles of scrolling through the millions of comments and opinions.

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About the author

James Elkins

Born into a household of motorsport lovers, James learned that wrenching takes priority over broken skin and damaged nerves. Passions include fixing previous owners’ mistakes, writing, and driving.
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