'03 Cobra Sets A New Standard of Performance
Beginning with the original in 1993, every generation of the SVT Mustang Cobra has elevated its standard of performance. Now, the 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra raises the bar yet again, this time increasing power output to a level never before achieved in a production Mustang. The addition of a Roots-type supercharger and water-to-air intercooler to the Cobra's 4.6-liter, DOHC 4-valve V-8 engine bumps output to 390 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque.
The new SVT Cobra also joins the 2002 SVT Focus in providing a six-speed gearbox as standard equipment. Additional enhancements for 2003 include exterior design alterations to the front and rear fascia, hood, rocker moldings and side scoops, as well as several changes to the interior appointments, including new multi-adjustable front seats trimmed in Nudo leather and Preferred suede.
"Every once in a while, a car comes along that really shakes up the status quo," said Tom Scarpello, marketing and sales manager for Ford's Special Vehicle Team. "Since the '64 1 /2 Mustang was launched, there have been a number of Mustangs that set the standard for performance when they were introduced. The 2003 SVT Cobra is the new benchmark, and proudly carries on the tradition of Mustang performance leadership."
"We've had some pretty successful Mustangs, and specifically SVT Mustang Cobras," said John Coletti, chief engineer for Ford SVT, "but the whole idea is to improve. That's what we're committed to, and the number-one thing our customers want is enhanced performance. The supercharged engine allowed us to go where we needed to go — to give our customers a whole lot more car than ever before."
The 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra's 4.6-liter, DOHC V-8 is equipped with an Eaton ™ supercharger and new aluminum alloy cylinder heads that provide increased flow capabilities. The engine produces 390 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 390 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm, compared with the 2001 model's 320 hp at 6,000 rpm and 317 foot-pounds of torque at 4,750 rpm.
To provide strength necessary for the substantially increased torque output, the new Cobra engine is built on a cast-iron block. This unit contains the carryover forged-steel crankshaft, which is fitted with new Manley forged "H-beam" connecting rods, forged pistons similar to those in the SVT F-150 Lightning, and an aluminum flywheel similar to the 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R's.
The engine is mated to a TTC T-56 6-speed manual transmission. Behind that, an aluminum drive shaft with upgraded universal joints connects to the rear axle, which now has a 3.55:1 gear ratio.
Suspension and Brakes:
The SVT Mustang Cobra's independent rear suspension system receives upgraded bushings and an additional tubular cross-brace for 2003, necessary for increased loading due to the higher power output and larger tires. The Cobra coupe's springs have higher rates compared with 2001, increased from 500 lb./in. to 600 lb./in. at the front, and from 470 lb./in. to 600 lb./in. on the rear springs. In a departure from past practice, the Cobra convertible receives its own individual suspension tuning to suit the unique characteristics of its convertible body. The convertible's front spring rates are 500 lb./in., and the rear springs are 470 lb./in.
The 2003 SVT Cobra is equipped with gas-charged monotube Bilstein dampers at all four corners, and the pad material on the rear brakes has been upgraded for enhanced durability and brake performance.
Design and Equipment:
Exterior design changes distinguish the SVT Mustang Cobra from the regular production Mustang GT. While it retains the SVT-signature round fog lamps, the front fascia is more aggressive looking, and also helps to deliver more air to the engine compartment. The hood also has been redesigned, and now has flow-through scoops that help vent hot air from the engine compartment. Both the hood and rear deck are made of lightweight composite materials. Showing that SVT appreciates even the smallest details, the windshield wipers feature an aerodynamic "wing" to help keep the blades planted at speeds up to 130 mph.
At the sides, the rocker panels have been reshaped with simple, clean vertical surfaces. Color-keyed, foldaway outside mirrors are unique to Cobra, and the side scoops have new, horizontal fins to match those in the hood scoops. The rear deck lid features an integrated spoiler with an LED center high-mounted stop lamp.
The convertible model has a new, high-quality cloth top material, which not only adds to the top's durability, but also helps provide better sound insulation for the interior.
"Our customers want a more distinctive, recognizable Cobra," said Scarpello. "It's the top of the Mustang line, and also Ford's flagship performance car. So we put more emphasis on exterior differentiation and on interior touches that set it apart."
Inside, new front bucket seats are designed to provide enhanced support for both comfortable cruising and spirited driving. Seating surfaces have Nudo leather trim and Preferred suede inserts. The driver's seat has standard six-way power, plus new power-adjustable thigh and side bolsters, and power lumbar support. Switches for these new controls are in an easy-to-reach location on the right-front corner of the seat.
The instrument cluster, with titanium-color gauge faces, has been redesigned to include a boost gauge, and features electroluminescent lighting.
The gear shift knob is leather-wrapped, with a brushed-aluminum insert on the top, inscribed with the six-speed pattern.
New metal-trimmed pedals and dead pedal complete the interior transformation.
Additional SVT Mustang Cobra standard features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel; leather boots for the shift and parking brake levers; tilt steering wheel; power windows, mirrors, door locks and trunk release; the SecuriLock ™ passive anti-theft system; remote keyless entry; speed control; and a MACH 460 audio system with AM/FM stereo and an in-dash, six-disc CD player.
Exterior color choices for 2003 are Oxford White Clearcoat, Ebony Clearcoat, Torch Red Clearcoat, Sonic Blue Clearcoat, Satin Silver Clearcoat Metallic, Mineral Grey Clearcoat Metallic, and Zinc Yellow Clearcoat.
The interior is available in two color schemes; both feature a Dark Charcoal environment, with a choice of either Medium Parchment or Medium Graphite accents.
The 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra is equipped with second-generation driver and passenger airbags, as well as three-point safety belts in all seating positions.
Additional safety features that are standard on the 2003 Cobra include an emergency release for the rear deck lid, located inside the trunk. It has a phosphorescent handle that's easy to find in the dark, and allows anyone locked in the trunk to open it from the inside.
Ford's BeltMinder ™ safety belt use reminder system senses whether or not the driver is wearing the safety belt. If the driver is not buckled up when the vehicle is in motion, a warning chime sounds intermittently, and a red light illuminates on the instrument panel.
CHASSIS SYSTEMS: It's A Lot More Than Straight-Line Performance
To complement the 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra's significant increase in power output, Ford Special Vehicle Team engineers went to work on changes in suspension tuning that were required to give the car well-balanced driveability.
"One-dimensional cars don't fit the SVT philosophy," said John Coletti, chief engineer for Ford SVT, "and this is a very, very nicely balanced car. This car isn't just about straight-line performance. That's the key. You can go touring in this Cobra and it's very comfortable and easy going. It has the finesse to drive and handle well in the twists and turns, as well as on straight roads."
Changes to the independent rear suspension system include revised bushing, mount and spring rates. A new tubular cross-brace has been added, which attaches to the differential and is designed to stabilize the differential assembly under hard acceleration. Revised rear suspension geometry helps improve roll steer.
For the first time, SVT Cobra coupe and convertible models have their own individual suspension tuning, with spring rates suited to the individual needs of each vehicle. The 2003 coupe's spring rates are 600 lb./in. front and rear, while spring rates on the convertible are 500 lb./in. in front and 470 lb./in. at the rear.
SVT engineers specified gas-charged, monotube Bilstein dampers, front and rear, for optimum suspension control. They impose less compromise in the suspension engineer's ongoing dilemma — the trade-off between ride and handling.
The rear anti-roll bar is a 26mm tubular unit. The front tubular anti-roll bar is one millimeter larger than on the pervious model, now 29mm.
The braking system includes 13-inch Brembo™ front rotors with PBR™ dual-piston calipers, and 11.65-inch rear rotors with single-piston calipers. The pad material on the rear brakes has been upgraded for enhanced durability and brake performance.
The five-spoke, cast-aluminum wheels are a new design, and now measure 17 x 9 inches, up from 17 x 8 in 2001. They are fitted with 275/40ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.
The SVT Cobra's rack-and-pinion steering system gets a new, low-lash intermediate shaft in 2003, and a higher rate steering gear bushing. These changes improve steering feel by helping reduce play in the system.
"Tom Chapman (chassis supervisor for Ford SVT) and his team really outdid themselves tuning the suspension of this car," said Tom Scarpello, marketing and sales manager for Ford SVT. "They have created a car you can drive every day. It's beautifully controlled over smooth surfaces, and won't knock your fillings loose over rough ones. People will be surprised that a car with this kind of power drives so nicely."
Supercharger Delivers Driveable Power On Demand
With 390 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 390 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm, the supercharged 4.6-liter, DOHC V-8 makes the 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra the fastest, best-performing Mustang ever produced in volume over a few hundred units.
"This is a Cobra R with all the comforts and amenities included," said John Coletti, chief engineer for Ford's Special Vehicle Team. "And because we used a supercharger to make that tremendous power, it's also a very driveable package. It has power that gives gratification on demand. When you open the throttle, it just goes!"
"This car really has a split personality," Coletti continued. "It can be very docile and comfortable, but when you want to go, along comes the wild side."
To breathe in the great quantities of air required by this supercharged engine, the mass-air flow sensor has been increased from 80mm to 90mm, feeding the twin 57mm bores of the throttle body.
The Eaton ™ Roots-type supercharger is the same model used on the SVT F-150 Lightning, with a cast aluminum case, machined aluminum internal rotors, and its own dedicated drive belt. The supercharger compresses intake air to a pressure of 7.5 to 8.0 pounds per square inch, and under the supercharger the compressed air passes through a water-to-air intercooler. This removes heat gained during compression to make a denser, more powerful compressed air charge.
The upper and lower intake manifolds are revised to accommodate the supercharger installation, and also to give greater airflow to the cylinder heads.
The aluminum alloy 4-valve heads are new to the Cobra. They were chosen because they provide greater flow capabilities, and help give increased low-end torque without sacrificing peak horsepower.
The valve head diameters are unchanged, at 37mm for the intakes and 30mm for the exhaust valves, but the camshafts have been reprofiled to give increased low-end torque.
Due to a 20 percent increase in power output from the 2001 engine, SVT engineers needed extra strength in the block to withstand increased stresses. The cast-iron version of the 4.6-liter block was the answer. It is fitted with the forged steel crankshaft used in previous Cobra engines, and the block needed some additional machining on its interior side bulkhead areas to make room for the counterweights of this crank.
The SVT engineers specified forged "H-beam" connecting rods from Manley Manufacturing, which have the strength to withstand the engine's high torque output. The rods are fitted with new forged pistons with dished tops similar to those on the SVT Lightning. These pistons lower the compression ratio to 8.5:1, which is necessary to handle the higher compression pressures developed in the supercharged engine.
The 2003 SVT Cobra's flywheel, similar to the one on the 2000 Cobra R, is made of aluminum and weighs 11.2 pounds. This flywheel not only helps reduce vehicle weight, it also reduces inertia to increase the engine's free-revving capabilities.
The clutch is an 11-inch, single-plate unit as in the 2001 Cobra, but its pressure plate has increased clamping capabilities to help handle the higher torque output.
The 2003 SVT Cobra joins the 2000 Cobra R as the only Mustangs ever factory-equipped with a six-speed gearbox — the TTC T-56. A new aluminum drive shaft with upgraded universal joints, a 3.55:1 gearset in the differential, and higher capacity half-shafts complete the changes to the 2003 powertrain.
"One of the favorite modifications for Mustangs is putting on a supercharger," said Coletti. "Enthusiasts have figured out that if you really want to increase power output from a Ford modular engine, you install a blower. So now people can get it right from the factory with our engineering know-how and warranty behind it."
HERITAGE: SVT CONNECTS WITH ITS CUSTOMERS' ENTHUSIASM, AND THEIR EXPECTATIONS
The Ford Special Vehicle Team's success over the years has been built on a relationship with its customers that is exceptional in the auto industry. An equally important factor is that SVT is made up of car enthusiasts within Ford, who understand their products, as well as their customers' connection with those products.
"SVT is a small organization, and we get close to our customers with such things as the SVT Owners Association, participation in auto-related events, and our SVT InfoCenter (1-800-FORD-SVT)," said Tom Scarpello, marketing and sales manager for Ford SVT. "We are in tune with them, and that's a huge part of the reason we're successful."
The 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra is a prime example of this success, as it continues to flourish at a time when other "pony car" offerings that go back to the 1960s are disappearing from the scene. Scarpello says the '03 Cobra is the authentic American muscle car, that can legitimately trace its heritage to the original 19641/2 Mustang.
"We're true to what we are," he said. "This car is genuine — the real deal. It goes back to the golden years of American muscle, and for our customers there's a real connection there."
Customer demand is what has driven the evolution of the SVT Cobra, according to John Coletti, chief engineer for Ford SVT.
"This car will confirm that Ford really knows what our customers want," Coletti said. "We simply are doing a good job of serving our market. The Mustang shows that there still is significant demand for this type of car, and that Mustang is a car with broad appeal, including young people."
Scarpello and Coletti agree that the primary "wants" of their customers are to be true to the Mustang heritage, delivering American muscle and a lot of all-out performance, in a package that represents real value.
"The performance-value equation is very important," said Scarpello. "We say the hallmarks for our SVT vehicles are performance, substance, exclusivity and value. They're all important; they're all part of our DNA, but value is vital. It's the bottom line, and that rings true, loud and clear, with the 2003 Cobra. For example, if you look at the horsepower you get for your dollar, it would be hard to beat the value of a 2003 SVT Cobra."
Story by Ford Motor Company Edited By Maximum-Cars.com