We can't say this about every factory Mustang aluminum rim, but Ford has surely nailed the last two Cobra Rs. The '95s will go down as one of the best Mustang wheel designs of all time, and the '00s carry on in the grand tradition. Massive 18x9.5-inch dimensions are a perfect match for the generous wheelwells of the '99-'04s, such as Craig Kensler's '01 featured here.
Growing up in a Ford-crazed family, perhaps it was inevitable Craig Kensler would end up following the path blazed by both his parents. It's the kind of upbringing most car fanatics aren't privy to but would have loved to been part of. We're talking about a clan devoted to vintage road racing a pair of Shelby GT350 replicas. Craig tells us he began working on the cars at the tender age of five. OK, so "work" in the preschool years may have been limited to cleaning the brake dust off the American Torque Thrusts, but it was obviously the springboard to greater things Ford.
The Mineral Gray GT was shining...
The Mineral Gray GT was shining in full glory the morning of our photo shoot, leaving no doubt why Craig chose it from the '01 color palate. While not looking outrageous, the car has a serious look with its 18-inch rolling stock, absent rear spoiler, V-6 bumper cover, and Mach 1 chin spoiler.
When it came time for driving age, Craig dabbled with early Mustangs but ended up being infatuated with the power and style of what we've come to know as late-models. After crossing paths with a couple of used SN-95 platforms, Craig finally decided to purchase a brand-new pony from which to modify-setting his sights on the recently announced Bullitt, which obviously dates our story to 2001. He actually went so far as to place an order at his local Ford dealer in Tacoma, Washington, then began a several-month wait for the coveted special model's arrival.
Cooling his heels turned out to be a good thing in this instance, as it provided a chance to reevaluate the upcoming purchase. Shortly prior to the Bullitt's delivery, Craig spotted a Mineral Gray GT prowling the local streets and quickly became enamored by the new-for-2001 hue. Of course, with the Steve McQueen special being limited to black, blue, or green, Craig found himself at something of a crossroads. The Bullitt would surely be something special, but a GT would offer the color of choice, while helping give a jump-start to planned modifications through its somewhat lower purchase price. In the end, you can see which car won out.
By the summer of 2001, Craig's hardtop sported typical bolt-on suspension pieces, which gave him a competent platform for which to take part in his first open-track event at Portland Inter-national Raceway. You could say it was love at first drive, and such club activi-ties proved the impetus for the more extensive modifications that were fitted at the time of our photo shoot. Clearly the most impressive upgrades are hidden from view, where a catalog's worth of Maximum Motorsports components have transformed the stock, understeer-dominated driving characteristics into a balanced corner carver. Nearly every trick in the book was installed by Craig and his dad, from Maximum's tubular K-member and control arms to the torque arm, Panhard bar, adjustable rear sway bar, and Bilstein-equipped coil-overs at all four corners.
More visible are the wheel and brake upgrades, scooped mostly from the '00 Cobra R parts bin. Those are Brembo four-pot calipers squeezing slotted rotors up front, augmented by Hawk pads and stainless lines. The rears may see Cobra pieces fitted in the future, but for now the stock arrangement makes due with upgraded pads and rotors. Cobra R 18x9.5-inch castings are genie Ford Racing Performance Parts offerings, with the standard finish that's consistent with an open-track theme.
While Craig plans to swap...
While Craig plans to swap the stock buckets for a set of Sparcos, he's already ditched the back seat in favor of a delete panel, and he made the interior a safer and more informed place to plant his hiney. To that end, Autopower's four-point rollbar is a perfect place to support a fire extinguisher and five-point G-Force harnesses, while a combination of Auto Meter and Illumiglo overlaid factory instruments track vital engine functions.
We imagine Craig's GT to be an enjoyable car to thrash around a road course with the stock 260 hp, but you know he wouldn't be content to stand pat there. While the engine itself remains buttoned up from the factory, it's hung with a Vortech SQ blower and FRPP stainless headers-the first component in an upgraded exhaust that features a MagnaFlow X-pipe and mufflers, and simple turndowns. Underneath, a Canton road-race pan holds 7 quarts of Ford synthetic, making sure the engine doesn't die a premature death due to lack of lubrication. Further back, a T56 six-speed takes the place of the original T45, which failed unceremoniously during the GT's first year.
Craig is fortunate to have his GT reserved for weekend duty, avoiding the dings and dents that so often accompany the daily drive. While the miles remain low, the fun factor is clearly high, with multiple track events and auto-crosses now in the books. Not content to stay close to his Tacoma home, Craig has traveled with friends Brian Bogden and Dave Lennartz to California for a session at Thunderhill, with plans for more out-of-town track days in the future. And has Craig any regrets about missing out on that special-edition Bullitt? Well, with a GT packing this much ammo, would you?