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Here's What Made The Cobra R Special

Samuel Weber
December 29, 2021

2000 mustang cobra r

The Mustang has become a cultural icon across America and the entire world, showcasing the American performance market in movies, music, television, and just about every other media platform available. Since its creation, the Mustang has been used for joyriding, drag racing, but also in road racing and high-performance driving experiences because it offers massive value for the money with its V8, rear-drive setup, and ease of which they can be worked on and modified to the owner’s perfect specifications. However, while so many people only want their Mustangs to go fast in a straight line or to be able to cruise around town in them, Ford and SVT had different plans regarding the pony car’s performance.

mustang boss 429

Ford saw the massive success the Mustang had on road courses from the beginning of production and chose to create performance versions of the car to cover different markets. For the drag racing community, the Cobra Jet was born with the sole purpose of destroying quarter-mile drag strips, the Boss 302 and 429 for track racing in the late 1960s, and the Mach 1 from the same era for road circuits. As the Mustang kept moving forward, these cars fell by the wayside, and by the end of the oil crisis in the mid to late 70s the ultra-high-performance Mustang had all but died out.

1993 Cobra R 1995 Cobra R 2000 Cobra R Cobra R Successors

1993 mustang cobra r racing

1993 Mustang Cobra R

While there had not been a truly high-performance Mustang in over 15 years, Ford decided to make it clear that they had not given up on the Mustang as a road-racing car. In 1993, Ford jumped back into the high performance market with the all-new SVT Cobra R as the ultimate road-legal Mustang. Produced in incredibly low numbers totaling 107 cars, the Cobra R was the most visceral version of the Cobra yet and removed the “unnessecary” features such as the rear seats, air conditioning, radio, and more. Steeda and SVT worked closely together on the Cobra R to create a higher performance braking system to pair with the adjustable Koni Racing Shocks as well as a cooling system for the engine and power steering systems.

steeda modified mustang cobra r

The Cobra R was one of the first completely stripped-down Mustangs ever, and the added performance came at a higher price tag, hovering around $25,000 in 1993 (around $46,000 when adjusted for inflation) which made it the most expensive Mustang on the market. These cars were only available to Sports Car Club of America members which unfortunately led to many of these being owned by collectors who never took them racing as they’d been designed for. These cars also stood out with being only offered in Performance Red paint. While it didn’t gain any power over the normal SVT Cobra, the handling and cooling improvements turned the Mustang into a serious track car that could outhandle much more expensive company from around the world.

1995 ford mustang cobra r race car

1995 Mustang Cobra R

In the wake of the 1993 Cobra R’s success, Ford brought out another Cobra R for the 1995 model year. In the new SN95 body style, the Cobra R was more aggressive than the looks of the Fox Body Mustang. Additionally, Ford turned the performance up even higher by swapping the older 5.0L V8 out for a more powerful 5.8L V8 which caused the car to put down more torque (365 lb-ft) than the original gearbox could handle. Like the original Cobra R, the car was only available to National Hot Rod Association or SCCA drivers to buy as it was supposed to be the most powerful Mustang for the road ever. The 300 horsepower figure also made it one of the fastest accelerating Mustangs in addition to its 151 mile-per-hour top speed.

While the first Cobra R was only available in Performance Red, the 1995 Cobra R was only available in Crystal White over tan cloth. With only 250 cars built, the Cobra R also was more expensive than the previous one at $38,000 brand new. These cars received the same treatment as the previous model, meaning no rear seats, radio, air conditioning, or other amenities. These also received fiberglass hoods to clear the larger engine and intake setup that kept the Cobra R running to it’s peak performance.

2000 ford mustang cobra r

2000 Mustang Cobra R

After a brief absence between 1996 and 1999, Ford was back with another Cobra R for 2000, and they were back better than ever. For 2000, the Cobra R came with 385 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque, making it rocket down the road faster than ever. The new R’s top speed came to 170 miles per hour while crossing the quarter mile in under 13 seconds. The R, which has always been designed for handling, did not disappoint in 2000 when it was able to pull 1.0G under acceleration. The R went back down in displacement to 5.4 liters as opposed to the massive 5.8 liter found in the 1995 model. Even with the smaller motor, the Cobra R gained the now iconic cowl hood that helped with keeping the engine cooler than before.

2000 cobra r driving

The 2000 Cobra R returned to its roots by offering only Performance Red paint, and stayed as a track special without rear seats, power windows or seats, air conditioning, and came only as a manual gearbox like the others. On the outside, there were more performance enhancements than ever before, with a massive front splitter paired with a huge rear wing, both of which were designed to keep the car planted on the racetrack. Additionally, a free-breathing side exit exhaust system from Borla made its way to the Cobra R too, improving backpressure and horsepower figures. All 300 of these coupes sold nearly immediately. The Cobra R was the last true race-bred Mustang with the Cobra name, set up entirely as a road-legal race car compared to other Mustang models.

mustang boss 302

Succeeding the Cobra R

While there has not been a Cobra R since 2000 and the Cobra name was retired altogether in 2004 after the Terminator models, the spirit of the Cobra R does still live on. Ford has continued to develop more track-focused cars since the Cobra R, and two stand out to the same level of performance as these iconic performance cars. The first of these cars comes in the form of the 2013 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca which was developed to be one of the most track-capable Mustangs ever. It shared many of the same traits as the Cobra R in fact, drawing heavily on its development. With the option to remove the rear seat, radio, air conditioning, and offer Recaro racing bucket seats, the Boss 302 Laguna Seca took the guide seriously.

shelby gt350

The other car to follow the same vein as the Cobra R lies in the GT350R, the only Mustang to use the R naming since 2000. The GT350R comes without rear seats, the option to remove the radio and air conditioning, a more powerful Tremec gearbox to handle abuse on the race track, and was designed to be the best track Mustang for the street ever. These cars share a lot with each other in both their design and intention as well as their driving style. Until the GT500 came out, the GT350R was the highest performance Mustang on the market.

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