In it's natural element, the...
In it's natural element, the Cobra puts down a traction-limited, 12.8-second, nearly 114-mph quarter-mile. An 11-second car at the 'strip, Ron found the dusty Buttonwillow asphalt a poor match to the Cobra's hit. The conditions definitely favored the all-wheel-drive competitors.
Another consideration is the brakes. The Cobra PBR calipers are a good track piece, and the Hawk HPS pad is a good dual-purpose unit, but it was overwhelmed handling a hard-driven supercharged Mustang lap after lap. During practice, the pads got good and hot, with plenty of smoke drifting out of the wheelwells by the end of the session. Along with the subsequent cool down, this is just what the doctor ordered, however, as this more fully beds the pads to the brake discs, noticeably improving braking during the timed session.
A lengthening brake pedal was still an issue during the timed session, however. This could have been the pads, and just as likely moisture in the brake fluid (we're not sure the brakes had been bled recently). And given the street/track HPS pads, brake-cooling ducts would have helped. The fact that we were both standing on the pedal like a brachiosaurus might have had something to do with it, we suppose . . .
There was just one mechanical issue during practice: The dipstick tube came loose from the block, causing a visible smoke trail as the oil vaporized on the killer-hot catalytic converters. Ron mopped up the loose oil and stuffed the tube back into the block, and that was the end of that.
Before we knew it, it was on-track for the timed session. Ron made an intelligent warm-up lap, then went on a flyer but spun in a spectacular, dirt-slinging way leading onto the start-finish straight. Ah, always in front of everybody. Luckily missing anything unyielding, Ron was able to get moving again right away, taking another intelligent "let's see" lap, followed by another flyer. This was a good-looking lap from our pit-side vantage point, but tiring of an audience, Ron looped the Cobra again, this time up and over Magic Mountain, a tricky up-and-down-while-turning section not visible from the pits. With time running short, Ron turned the car over to us.
Taking it easy on our out lap, we discovered Ron's second spin had sprayed an acre or two of dirt and marbles at the crest and downhill of the blind Magic Mountain, so we made a note to go slowly there. There was time for one flying lap, possibly two, but our first flying lap wasn't half bad, and with the brake pedal going soft and the dirt on the hill, we decided to return Ron's daily driver intact. We estimate there was another 2 seconds left to be had given a perfect lap on a clean track, but as it was, we were reasonably satisfied with our 2:12.543 lap.
Testing Ron's daily driver...
Testing Ron's daily driver with an official cruise section was like verifying a fish could swim. Even triple-digit temperatures and searing sun posed no issues for the blown Cobra. Lapping at Buttonwillow in 100-degree heat got the temp gauge into its midrange and had us turning on the defroster for additional cooling, but that was all the special accommodation the car required.
We never figured a real-world Mustang would prevail against specialized magazine project cars, of course, but thanks to the Mustang's inherent strengths, we think Ron's 14-year-old Cobra put away more than half of the competitors. Certainly Ron can be proud of the minimal speed modifications his Cobra required to run with some pretty big dogs.
As always, the Mustang proved king of the bang-for-the-buck cup. Its strong engine, robust constitution, and low cost means all of us can get out there and have at it.
And in a test such as this, we must also acknowledge the Mustang's inherent weak points. The nose-heavy weight distribution and understeer built into these earlier chassis by a lawsuit-wary Ford Motor Company mean suspension mods are mandatory for meaningful track performance--and against turbo'd all-wheel-drive lightweights, you're going to need all the chassis a Mustang can muster.
But when it comes to our personal Top Car, we'll take the fast one we can afford to put in our garage. Or as Ron put it, "I'm happy with how it came out. Yeah, I had a good time. If I placed in the Top 3 with my daily driver, that would be great. I'll be the only one who'll go home, toss my daughters in the back, and go to dinner."
To see how Ron and 5.0&SF fared, check out the big results spread in the Jan. '10 issue.