What Is A Terminator Cobra?

Kevin Cassar
November 17, 2020

Steeda Terminator Cobra

Throughout Mustang history, there have been many unique models to have come out of Ford Motor Company. When the Mustang was at its heights in the late 1960s, everyone from Ford, Chevrolet, and Mopar pushed the envelope to see who could bring out the baddest pony car to date. Fortunately, for Mustang enthusiasts, we had the man, myth, and legend in Carroll Shelby. Turn to 1966, where everything was turning up to eleven in the American automotive and racing industry, especially after the legendary Ford GT won at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans. The following year in 1967, Ford and Shelby came together to take it straight to the fellow domestic competition with the introduction of the monstrous Shelby GT500.

It was the first among many insane Mustang models to come out of Shelby's genius mind to unleash venom to the public at a record-setting pace. To create the immense performance Carroll set out to create, he dropped in the legendary 427 Cubic Inch Ford V8 that was found in the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 in the 1967 Shelby GT500. He single-handedly triggered the horsepower wars that we still see today among the big three automakers from Detroit. Why is this so imperative to how it translates to the twenty-first century? It is because the heritage and mindset trickled its way throughout Mustang history to bring in the almighty and hallowed 2003-2004 SVT Cobra, aka "Terminator."

Unlike any of the SN95 or New Edge Cobra model to date, the Terminator Cobra was the first to receive a complete overhaul of suspension, drivetrain, specific transmission, and a factory-built Eaton supercharger sitting on top of the infamous 4.6L 32V Modular V8 engine. Throughout the two years it was built, there was a saying in which the Terminator Cobra single handly retired the Camaro from production. In the course of this article, Team Steeda is going to give you an in-depth insight into why the 2003-2004 SVT Cobra is still revered as the most venomous to come out of Dearborn to date!

Terminator Exterior Inside The Terminator Supercharged Venom Tremec Transmission Independent Rear Suspension

SVT Cobra Exterior

Terminator Exterior

To understand how the Terminator Cobra's design and influence came to fruition, we have to go back to 1994 when the SN95 Mustang debuted to the world. When the SN95 launched, it was the first Mustang to have accentuated curves, unlike any other generation beforehand. The 1995 Cobra R innovation set a precedent for all Cobra Mustang models to follow, especially when it came to the form and functionality of its exterior design cues and aerodynamic properties. When the new edge stallion debuted in 1999, it pushed the envelope yet again, giving it more curves and distinguished design properties, especially when it came to the 2000 Cobra R.

2003-2004 Cobra Exterior

This set the groundwork for Mustang and SVT designers to come up with the most sinister and vicious-looking Cobra ever to hit America's race tracks or streets. Starting from the front, the Terminator has a much more aggressive front bumper to aid in ground effects that every Mustang enthusiast desires while integrating larger air opening to help bring cold air into the massive supercharged engine. Ensuring everyone knows what is coming up in your rearview mirror, a large Cobra emblem is front and center in the upper grille. Unlike the New Edge Mustang GT, the Terminator Cobra has a power bulging hood with large heat extractors to promote power and sophistication. Simultaneously, the fenders and quarter panels give it curves to represent the muscle that sits underneath the hood.

Moving to the rear of the 2003-2004 SVT Cobra, whereas many Cobra models prior had pedestal spoilers equipped, the Terminator has a pedestal spoiler the aids in both styling but most prominently aerodynamic efficiency while stating "I'm here to take it to the competition." The rear bumper cover, like the front, indicates being more aggressive with an indentation for Cobra lettering and two large openings for the massive exhaust tips to come through. SVT engineers and designers were out to ensure that would be the only view the competition would see. These characteristics and design implementations are why anyone in the automotive community can clearly distinguish a Terminator Cobra from the rest of any Mustang lineup. Sixteen years later, to this day, it is still sought after as one of the best looking Mustang models to date.

Terminator Cobra Interior

Inside The Terminator

From this era of Mustang, the interior standards are not what you would expect today, especially when you compare it to the S550 Mustang interior. At this time, Ford was looking to push the envelope in terms of performance than they were interior design, but at the same time, giving the Terminator key attributes that it would separate itself from the Mustang lineup. Unfortunately, the interior had many plastics and rubber materials that were used, and at the same time, taking into account, this is the early 2000s technology and materials. Like all Mustang models, the famous double brow dashboard has always been prominent throughout every stallion generation; the Terminator Cobra is no different to this formula.

The 2003-2004 Cobra interior separates itself from the rest of the lineup in a few areas, including bucket seats that feature larger bolstering, higher-grade leather, alcantara, sportier gauge package, and specific steering wheel to enhance the standard Mustang GT interior features. Whereas the Cobra exterior is centered on form and function, engineers and designers at SVT weren't as focused on the interior as making the Terminator into the evilest factory built Cobra ever built to date. It is where we turn to how SVT got to its hallowed nickname that every enthusiast knows far and wide.

Terminator Cobra Engine

Supercharged Venom

Throughout the entire history of Ford Motor Company, there have been so many famous and hallowed engines that have been conceived by the incredible minds of Ford engineers. The engine that started the reign of V8 Mustang performance for decades to come was the legendary monstrous 427 cubic inch V8, aka "Beast" found in the Ford GT40, responsible for taking down Ferraris reign at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It started the push of technological and engineering marvels, which led to Mustang engine innovation's next five decades, helping find its way into the behemoth of an engine found in the 2003-2004 SVT "Terminator" Cobra.

2003-2004 Terminator Cobra Engine

To understand how the Terminator Cobra engine came to be, we have to go back to 1996 when the modular engine debuted both in the Mustang GT and the Cobra. Unlike past Mustang models, they all used pushrod technology with a single camshaft within the engine block. Modular Ford motors use overhead camshaft timing to produce better efficiency and power to aid in all-out performance. The engine that benefitted most from this technology is the 4.6L 32V V8, where it is equipped with dual overhead camshaft timing, which helped increase redline, torque, airflow, and power distribution. It was the first engine ever to feature this type of technology in modern Mustang history.

Unlike the Cobra models from 1996-2001, the Terminator was the first to have Manley forged aluminum connecting rods, cast aluminum pistons, and a forged crankshaft to allow maximum horsepower and torque. The necessity of this was the ability to handle the tremendous amount of boost pressure coming from a first-ever factory-installed 1.9L Eaton supercharger. Since every engine was hand-built by two SVT engine builders, each motor has been known to have different power levels than the designated 390 horsepower and 390 lb/ft of torque; some have seen well over 400 horsepower underneath the hood. Now you're probably wondering why it got the nickname "Terminator?" Throughout Ford's history, they have been giving codenames to all their unique engines. It just happens that the head of the Mustang was John Colletti him and his team while developing the 2003-2004 Cobra found that because the supercharged 4.6L 32V V8 made so much power for its time, they came up with the code name Terminator. They thought it would terminate the competition, which it did, and it is said that the Terminator Cobra helped retire the catfish Camaro.


Cobra "Terminator" 4.6L 32V Supercharged V8 Engine Specs

Measurement Technical Specification
Configuration Cast aluminum block and heads
Intake Manifold 1.9L Eaton Roots Style Supercharger
Exhaust Manifold Cast Steel headers
Valvetrain DOHC 32V
Pistons Cast aluminum
Connecting Rods Forged aluminum
Ignition Distributor-less with coil on plug design
Bore X Stroke 3.55 in X 3.54 in
Displacement 4.6L/281 Cubic Inches
Compression Ratio 11.0:1
Engine Control Sytem PCM
Horsepower 390 @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 390 LB/FT of Torque @ 3,500 RPM
Recommended Fuel 93 Octane
Fuel Delivery Electronic FUel Injection
Oil Capacity 6.5 quarts 5W-30 Full Synthetic (3,000-mile service interval)
Redline 6,500 RPM


ALTTAG

Tremec Transmission

During the early 2000s, many companies, including Chevrolet and Ford alike, were pushing to have more capability in terms of how each of their performance vehicles would transmit power. To make this happen, SVT reached out to their friends over at Tremec Transmission to implement a first-ever six-speed manual transmission to handle the power and torque the Terminator engine produces. It has to be noted that the standard five-speed transmission could not hold up to the brute force the supercharged 4.6L 32V V8 produces.

To counteract these significant issues, SVT engineers relied heavily on Tremec to develop a more stout version of the legendary T-56 6-speed manual transmission to handle the substantial torque it would have to transmit through the drivetrain. Fortunately, the latest T-56 was the best engineered to date; with close-ratio gears, short-throws, and stout 27-spline output shaft, it could handle a tremendous amount of power this time. The T-56 could hold at most 400 lb/ft of torque with the factory clutch and flywheel. It is why we suggest upgrading these components with a more stout flywheel, clutch, and short-throw shifter if you decide to add more power; this will aid to counterbalance the T-56 manual transmission's weak points. The great things about Tremec are that they have been proven throughout Mustang history, starting from the Fox Body to the modern S550 pony. It helps separate the 2003-2004 Cobra from the rest of its competition to help take out its biggest rival in the Camaro.


BorgWarner/Tremec T-56 Transmission Gear Ratios

Year 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th Reverse
2003-2004 2.66 1.78 1.30 1.00 0.80 0.63 2.90


Cobra Terminator Suspension

Independent Rear Suspension

The Mustang is the only pony car to have been in continuous production for more than fifty years. Simultaneously, the original pony car has been fabled for all the accomplishments on and off the race track. Over the six generations of Mustang, it failed to come to modern times because of a solid-rear axle. Well, all of this changed when Ford introduced its first attempt at their version of an independent rear suspension in the 2001 SVT Cobra. For Mustang and Cobra fans alike, it was the first glance of getting to compete with other sports cars that were twice the money on the road course or autocross.

A couple of years later, when the 2003 SVT Terminator Cobra debuted, it progressed with IRS (Independent Rear Suspension) technology to help put the power down better and give new owners the real handling that John Coletti envisioned for the Mustang faithful during that period. As the years went on, the implementation set the stage for what would help the S550 Mustang become so successful today. Some say without Colletti's influence of combining the 2003-2004 Cobra with IRS, who knows where the suspension dynamics would be without this engineering marvel. Furthermore, companies like Steeda were some of the first to develop performance suspension modifications such as lowering springs, shocks, and coilovers to help the Terminator handle better both on the street or at the local road course and bring it to the next level of performance.


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Image Credit: Michael Mucciaccio




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