Photography by Joe Greeves.
Technically spanning three decades–1979 to 1993–the Fox-body Mustang is to a generation of enthusiasts what the 1932 Ford, the 1955 Chevy, and the 1969 Camaro were to the preceding generations. They were built in the seeming tens of millions, were monkey-simple to work on, and required little to make their lightweight bodies accelerate with license-revoking velocity.
During their 15-model-year run, the 5.0-liter-powered GT and LX models were the performance leaders of the Fox Mustang den, but the pinnacle of both performance and exclusivity was reached in the final production year, with the 1993 SVT Cobra.
The Fox Mustang dabbled with the Cobra nameplate early in its career, with models offered between 1979 and 1981. They were largely tape-graphic packages, as the less that was said about their blow-through turbo-fours and anemic V-8s, the better. Cobra was also used on Canadian-sold GT models from the mid-1980s and later, allowing Ford to maintain rights to the name.
But it was the 1993 version that truly lived up to the moniker’s reputation. At a glance, it looked like a GT, but distinctive 17-inch “fan blade” wheels set it apart from other production models, while a closer inspection revealed numerous exterior differences: Ground effects that were more contoured to the body and eliminated the GT’s fake scoops, a grille opening between the headlights that featured a running horse emblem, a Cobra-specific rear spoiler that featured a pair of center stanchions, and unique taillights that featured pinstriped lenses similar to the 1984-86 Mustang SVO.
The Cobra’s 17-inch wheels had a specific offset due to longer axles that were used with specific rear disc brakes (sourced from the late-1980s Thunderbird Turbo Coupe), so they require spacers to look right on non-Cobra models (aftermarket examples, ironically, are designed to fit non-Cobra models and do not fit the 1993 Cobra).
Engineering and development of the Cobra was carried out by Ford’s then-new and now-defunct Special Vehicle Team department. Under the hood, the Cobra differed from its GT/LX cousins with a 235-horsepower version of the venerable 5.0-liter engine (a 30-horse jump as the 5.0-liter’s output was downgraded from 225 hp to 205 hp in 1993). The extra ponies came from several places: a set of high-flow GT-40 cylinder heads, a unique, matched intake manifold that featured a COBRA plaque, and a specific camshaft designed to build low-end power were the major changes; additionally, 24-lb/hr fuel injectors (the standard 5.0s had 19-lb units) as well as a larger mass air meter (70mm versus 55mm) and throttle body (65mm versus 60mm) rounded out the power upgrades.
Other Cobra-specific features included a stronger version of the Tremec T-5 transmission, a higher-capacity clutch, a stronger driveshaft front yoke, and standard 3.08 gears in the Traction-Lok rearend. And wading against conventional wisdom, the suspension on the Cobra was actually softened when compared to GT models. The sway bar diameters were reduced, and softer springs were installed to give the car a more balanced and comfortable feel on the road.
There were 4,993 examples of the SVT Cobra built in 1993, offered in only three colors: Black, Vibrant Red and Cobra-only Teal Metallic. Interior colors were Opal Gray or Black, with either cloth or leather upholstery. Production breakouts show the rarest combination as Teal with black cloth; only 185 were built.
There were also 107 Cobra R examples built. Designed strictly for racing, all were Vibrant Red and featured the deletion of the rear seat, air conditioning and other non-essential items such as sound deadener. They also wore pull-ahead, five-lug wheels from the next-generation Mustang. Comparatively few of these examples were actually raced, as many remain hermetically sealed by collectors waiting to cash in on their value.
As for the other 4,993 Cobras, they’re easy to find on the market, but few have been left in their virgin state. Be it a cold-air induction system, cat-back exhaust, or suspension tweaks, the collector seeking a factory-original example has his work cut out for him. And the Cobra suffers from the same wear issues that are common to all 5.0-liter-era Mustangs, including notoriously thin exterior paint that is prone to dulling and rock chips, rear quarter-window molding that dries and checks with age, yellowing headlamp lenses, wear-prone leather upholstery, and a center console ashtray lid that tends to break, causing the spring-loaded door to remain in the up position. Also, the finish on the Cobra wheels is susceptible to peeling and discoloration.
Finding the lowest-mileage example possible is the best way to avoid the common maladies, but that’s no guarantee the car will be modification-free. Ask the seller about any and every mod, no matter how small–including under-drive pulleys and removal of the air cleaner silencer. Also, ask the seller if he or she has the factory-issued authenticity certificate to go with the car. Collector cars are all about the paperwork, and the SVT certificate is a must with any 1993 Cobra.
Number Built – 4,993
Construction – Unitized body and chassis
Engine – 302 cubic inch V-8
Power/Torque – 235 horsepower, 280 lb-ft torque
Transmission – Tremec T-5 five-speed manual
Suspension front – Independent, MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar
Suspension rear – Live, coil springs and shocks with trailing arms
Brakes – Four-wheel disc
Length/width/height – 179.6/69.1/51.1 inches
Wheelbase – 100.5 inches
Weight – 3,255 lbs.
0-60/quarter mile – 5.6 seconds, 14.3 seconds at 98 mph (Car and Driver, February 1993)
Top speed – 140 mph
MPG – 17 - 24 mpg
Most powerful production Fox-body 5.0-liter Mustang
SVT aura of distinction and exclusivity
Robust engine and transmission hold up well if not abused
Restoration parts are mostly plentiful and inexpensive
Not cheap–the Cobra has barely depreciated
Common wear issues affect even lower-mileage, well-kept examples
Difficult to find one that hasn’t been modified
Repairing peeling/discolored wheels can be expensive
Remanufactured alternator $120.79*
Brake discs and pads $56.79 (front rotor); $25.79 (front pads)*
Leather seat upholstery kit $729.99**
Headlamp replacement kit $89.99**
*Based on information from rockauto.com
** Based on information from latemodelrestoration.com
WHAT TO PAY
1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra
MSRP – $20,051
Low – $18,100
Average – $24,400
High – $32,400
*Based on prices from NADA Guides,
Insurance cost is $400/year for a $20,000 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
WHEN TO BUY
Fox Mustangs are slowly becoming more collectable, as nostalgic enthusiasts find there aren’t many low-mileage, un-modified examples left. There is a higher ratio of low-mile 1993 Cobras, but there were fewer than 5,000 of them to begin with. These cars are not getting any cheaper and with the economy still in the doldrums, now is probably the best time to make a deal on one.