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Tire-Shredding Terminator: Focused Performance Gains for Ford's Former Street Fighter

The early 2000s weren’t exactly the golden era of American muscle cars. GM killed the Camaro and Trans Am twins in 2002, leaving the Corvette as the only thing that could be remotely described as muscular in the General's stable. The Charger and Challenger were still years away from production, but Dodge had just released the Neon-based SRT-4.

Comp Orange Terminator Mustang

The Mustang was the sole survivor of the traditional American pony car market, and to say that it was long-in-the-tooth would be an understatement. The New Edge era Mustang had debuted in 1999, but its bones were still related to the ancient Fox platform.

2004 Ford Mustang Cobra front

Power levels for the entry models were adequate at best (certainly considering the lack of competition), but chassis dynamics held the Mustang back. Nissan’s 350Z, even down on two cylinders, was a better option for enthusiasts that wanted a RWD performance experience. Frankly, outside of nostalgia, there wasn’t much reason to buy a Mustang as the 20th century came to an end.

2004 Mustang Terminator front bumper

Enter the Terminator

Released in 2003, the SVT Cobra, dubbed the Terminator, changed all of that. Long before the days of the Hellcat and GT500, the Terminator came out punching way above its class. Fitted with a 390hp supercharged V8, a T56 six speed transmission, and an independent rear suspension, this Mustang gave enthusiasts a taste of what modern muscle would become a decade later.

2004 Mustang Cobra rear end

Of the 3,768 Terminators coupes made in 2004, only 281 came in Competition Orange, and that’s the model that owner Jeff Keenum has wanted since its release. When this one became available, he made the move, promising his wife that his other Mustang would find its way out of their garage.

Terminator Mustang with Nitto NT01

Preservation over Transformation

Given this Terminator’s pedigree, it made sense to Jeff to keep this project more about preservation than transformation. The supercharged V8, while not as potent as modern power-plants, represents the best of the best for a certain generation of vehicles. Changing that too much, frankly, invalidates the point of buying the Terminator.

Terminator Mustang V8 engine

That being said, a JLT cold air intake and Magnaflow exhaust have been added to add some growl. A McLeod Super Street Pro clutch kit provides a heavier pedal effort than stock, along with improved holding capacity, designed for a vehicle with mild modifications like this Mustang.

Ford Mustang Terminator magnaflow exhaust

Taking Advantage of Modern Technology

The one place that can use some improvement, however, was the chassis dynamics. Although the New Edge Cobras were the first Mustangs to take advantage of an IRS system, suspension technology has drastically improved in the decades that followed. A full Maximum Motorsports rear IRS Street/Competition package forms the base of the overhaul. A set of H&R race springs tighten up handling while also bringing the pony car closer to the pavement.

2004 Competition Orange Mustang SVT Terminator

To round out those handling upgrades, the Mustang was also fitted with Steeda X2 ball joints and Steeda bump steer kit to correct the suspension geometry.

Rear end of Ford Mustang Cobra Terminator

Wheels and Tires

To ensure that all of this increased performance potential actually made it to the road, the Mustang was fitted with a set of True Forged Victory 3 piece wheels in 18x9 and 18x11 sizing. The front wheels are covered in 265/35/18 Nitto NT555 high performance summer tires up front, and competition Nitto NT01 DOT compliant track tires measuring 305/35/18 in the back.

True Forged wheels on Terminator Mustang

Looking forward, Jeff’s plan for this Mustang is mostly to just enjoy it. He claims that this car will be a “lifer” for him, so he’s in no rush to change things up. He does plan to move to a more streetable, muscle car tire combo, such as the NT555G2/NT555RII combo in the future.

Nitto NT01 on Terminator Mustang

A New Edge for the New Era?

As the cars of the millennium began to reach the classic stage, the Terminator stands alone as perhaps the last vestige of the second wave of American muscle. What started with the Fox body Mustangs of the early eighties ended with a car that in many ways actually more closely resembled its descendants than its ancestors. It’s not hard to imagine that as the current third wave seemingly begins to wind down, the Terminator Mustang will continue its ascent into the realm of muscle car legends.

Rear end of 2004 Ford Mustang Cobra

  • Here's everything you need to know about the 2003-2004 Terminator Mustang!
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