Before the Hellcat, There Was the Terminator: The Legend of the 2003 Mustang Cobra
In 2015 when the crazed folks at Dodge and SRT unleashed the Challenger Hellcat onto the market, it was a big deal. With more than 700hp on tap and a price that was fairly reasonable, it helped usher in a new era of factory street performance.
But it wasn’t the first time in modern history that an American automaker had unleashed a radical new supercharged muscle machine into the wild, because before the Hellcat, there was the Terminator.
The Terminator, officially known as the 2003 Ford Mustang Cobra, was a very big deal when it came out and in many ways can be considered a swan song of the Fox platform Mustang that went back to 1979.
Aside from a new front bumper and some other minor changes, the ‘03 Cobra didn’t look much different from the ones that came before it, but it was sporting some serious new hardware under the hood.
Big Power—For the Time
It was powered by an SVT-spec 4.6L DOHC V8 with a Eaton supercharger borrowed from the Ford Lightning pickup. It made 390hp and 390 pound feet of torque.
These were big numbers for the time, and the ‘03 Cobras performance was even more impressive, capable of turning 12 second ETs right off the show room floor in the right hands.
It packed other serious equipment too, including a beefy T56 six-speed manual transmission and independent rear suspension tuned using lessons from the 2000 Cobra R.
But what was even more impressive than the ‘03 Cobra’s factory performance was its potential to go even faster with mods. Being supercharged, a few simple and inexpensive upgrades could bring massive gains.
With basic supercharger pulleys, intake and exhaust systems and a set of drag radials, Cobras soon started dipping into the 10s at the drag strip—astonishing performance for the time and still great today.
These supercharged Cobras were only sold for two model years before the all new retro-styled S197 Mustang debuted for 2005, finally leaving the aging but beloved Fox platform behind.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 2003-04 Cobras haven’t depreciated in the same way as other Mustangs of the late ‘90s and early 2000s have, but today they are still relatively affordable for the fun, along with the history they provide.
Given all of that, It’s fair to say the 2003 Cobra was the Challenger Hellcat of the early 2000s, and while it was fairly hyped at the time there’s no doubt it’s legend would be even greater had it been released in the age of social media buzz.
As we increasingly see more appreciation for the performance cars of the early 2000s, the Terminator Cobra becoming a bonafide classic is an easy bet to make.
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- How about a tough question? The aforementioned 2003 Cobra or 2000 SVT Cobra R? Good luck choosing.