Ford Mustang’s Cobra Jet - “Feel It In Your Spine”

By Martha Hindes,
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau

Detroit, August 16, 2018--David Born has perhaps the most tactile description of what it’s like to drive the Mustang Cobra Jet. “You feel it in your spine.” he said, as the new 50th Anniversary edition of Ford Motor Company’s heritage racing auto unveiled today in Detroit roared to life.

“Roared” doesn’t live up to the actual thunder emitting from the 5.2-liter engine that powers this track eater that can lap up a quarter mile in a mere mid-8 seconds range. With media members standing around with hands over ears, it blasted out a noise that should come close to the decibel level of a jet plane engine at takeoff.

So much for being subtle.

The noise we could feel as well as hear as the tarp came off under leaden midwestern skies was because of what was not on this model. There was nothing past the header to buffer the sound, just a pass through exhaust that exited at the rear. Earlier 5.0-liter Cobra Jet versions had some exhaust venting on the sides, but that blew dust all around the track which was not ideal for racing.

There’s no doubt about the intentions of the Cobra Jet. Inside is an NHRA-certified roll cage and FIA-certified driver and passenger racing seats with five-point harnesses. The rear-mounted (reusable) Stroud parachute with a ribbon that reads “remove before flight” confirms it. With a capability of reaching at least a 150 mph top speed from takeoff to braking, that’s a safety mandate for a drag racer so it doesn’t run out of track in time to stop.

The special 5.2 powerplant is derived from Ford’s 5.0-liter V8, maximized with a 3.0-liter Whipple supercharger. “The engine sends power to the ground through a 9-inch solid rear axle, two-way coil-over shocks with adjustable ride height and a low-drag disc brake system from Strange Engineering as well as a four-link rear suspension with antiroll and panhard bars,” says Ford in its spec information. Die-hard Mustang owners who might have converted their own Stangs in the past for racing duty will understand that exactly.

Front wheels are the 9-inch narrow variety specified for drag courses. Rears are wider.

The three gate transmission, an automatic that functions as a manual, also is from Whipple. In addition to a Race Pak data logger screen mounted above the steering wheel showing speed and tachometer readings, a small light is attached to the dash that flashes when it’s time to change gears. That’s the life blood of one scraping milliseconds off a timed run. Carbon fiber in construction also whittles weight from the vehicle which can boost performance.

While the Cobra Jet uses the standard Mustang body, other parts are from specialty suppliers as Ford’s all-out Mustang production runs at its Flat Rock, Michigan plant doesn’t leave room for the entire assembly.

Born, who is Ford’s Performance Engineering Manager, said that testing the Cobra Jet’s boundaries at tracks around Michigan is part of the job, but always fun.

And the importance of the vehicle in racing venues to Ford is summed up in the often repeated “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” slogan many dealers repeat. The new 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet is expected to continue adding victories to its long history of track successes.

A purpose-built vehicle like the Cobra Jet doesn’t come with many options. Two are color. You can choose Racing Red or Oxford White. And choosing 50th Anniversary graphics and badging can make it look just plain mean. Some less obvious available switches are a second set of tires, and also a second engine that can be swapped out to meet heavy duty racing demands.

With Ford’s sponsorship of the 2018 automotive Dream Cruise in suburban Detroit, it was a natural place to launch this new production vehicle, with the reveal coming even before the cruise’s official ribbon cutting August 17. The actual build begins at year-end with deliveries starting early next year.

One longtime Mustang buyer is Craig Johnson, of Seattle, Washington, in town for the annual Dream Cruise. He now has “only” three classic Mustangs in his personal stable, including a ‘70s Boss 302 he rebuilt. He was in Mustang heaven after the event. As a judge at Mustang Club of America competitions he should know the significance.

“Mustang has been very vital in keeping Ford vital,” he said. His 24-year old son is totally into the Mustangs. “There are very few cars that can do that.”

Cobra Jet was born to be a drag racer when Ford first launched it in 1968. Now at age 50, the 50th Anniversary Edition is meant solely for racetracks. There is no street legal version. The 68 scheduled for production – to honor the year it first debuted –won’t even have vin numbers.

“You can’t go to the Secretary of State’s office and register it,” said Eric Cin, Ford’s Director of Personalization and Accessories. Instead, it is meant to be trailored to racing events and club meets to perform. It’s likely most of the 68 chosen to buy it for the $130,000 price tag will be the kind of enthusiasts who actually do track driving. Many more already have put in reservations. Previous editions of the Cobra Jet have been limited to 50 a year which likely will remain the pattern after this year.

With such a limited number and so many potential takers, who will make the ultimate decisions on who can buy? It’s really a team effort, said Cin.

Copyright, 2018, Martha Hindes, Automotive Bureau, All Rights Reserved.