Ford has made some great variations of the Mustang over the years. The ’65 GT350, 69 Mach 1, and the new GT500’s just to name a few. But for me, there is no greater Mustang than the ’03, ’04 Mustang Cobra.

Ford has used the Cobra moniker for years with none being more disappointing than the ’99 and ’01 model year SVT Cobra. They were thoroughly outclassed by the new LS1 Camaro in every category, something Ford wasn’t too fond of hearing. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team(SVT) went back to the drawing board for 2002 and the goal was utter domination. The resulting car changed performance Mustangs from there after.

SVT wanted this Cobra to make a statement. With a chip on their shoulder, they got to work, using the code name ‘Terminator’ to motivate their work. The finished product came out with numerous upgrades over the last generation, but the biggest was by far the engine. SVT ditched the aluminum block for a cast iron unit. They then added forged internals, with pistons coming from Zolner with a set of Manley rods. The team also added new oil passages to the connecting rods. The entire engine was overbuilt straight from the get go, all to support the newly added Eaton M-112 Supercharger.

The roots-style supercharger was the icing on the cake, sending the Cobra’s power numbers through the roof. Ford rated these Mustangs at 390 horsepower and equal torque, which put them well past the competition. What we learned as time went on was that ford was being quite conservative with their new powerhouse. Most stock Cobras were found to be putting out roughly 420-440hp at the crank, straight out of the box. For those fond of tune soon found out while the Cobra was laying it down straight from the factory, it actually had a lot more to give.

Since then, there have been numerous builds with well over 800hp on an entirely stock block. Minor modifications like a smaller pulley and some clever fuel system work can easily take a Cobra to around 600hp, which was supercar territory just 10 years ago. And it wasn’t just the engine that was impressive. Ford paired the 4.6-liter V8 to a Tremec T-56 six-speed transmission, similar to the one you would find in a Viper. It also sported full independent rear suspension, allowing for a chassis that was good for more than just going straight. And to make sure you couldn’t mistake the Cobra for any other Mustang, SVT had the new body panels designed by Camilo Pardo, the creator of the 2006 Ford GT. Now the Cobra sported a menacing new look, and it had all the power to back it up.

The ‘Terminator’ Cobra was one of the first Mustangs in a long time to be able to compete with cars well out of its class. With the new GT350 Mustang being hailed as one of the greatest the brand has ever seen, I think it owes a fair amount of that success to the ‘Terminators’ that came before it.

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