Hoooooooooo boy. Where am I going to start? What’s the point in having a disclosure? I’ve been obsessed the Foxbody Mustang Cobra since I could remember…. And now I’ve had the chance to drive it. And I have a bunch of thoughts about that.
(Alright, whatever. Full disclosure: Aaron and I communicated briefly via my favorite medium, Craigslist. Our agreement was that in exchange for some professional photographs of his immaculate car, I would get the opportunity for a short drive. He did, and I did, and here we are.)
Where do I even start with this thing? I really have loved it for as long as I can remember. I drove one for the first time two weeks after turning 16, when I knew barely anything about cars, had just bought a Celica, and had basically no understand of how what I was looking at was a Mustang. It was a forest green 5.0 hatch with the louvres. The hatch rattled. It was super 80s. It made no sense. I knew what a Mustang was supposed to be: it was either a muscle car from the mid-late 60s, or a goofy, loud thing from the early 2000s. Sorry, Terminator models. You know I’m not talking about you. At that time, I had no understanding of where the Foxbody (named for its chassis designation) slotted, it had already been forgotten by time.
And this? This is no ordinary Foxbody. As far as badass Ford Mustangs from 1979-1993 are concerned, this is the penultimate. It resurrected a name not seen since ’81, and not done justice since ’73. This was a Foxbody Mustang Cobra.
The Importance of the Mustang Cobra – Especially the Foxbody
The Foxbody Mustang Cobra, introduced in 1991, was arguably the first RWD performance car that Ford had made in nearly 20 years. It came with a tweaked engine that offered a lift of 30 horsepower and 5 pound-feet of torque over the standard 5.0L V8 Mustang. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but Ford messed with those figures seemingly at random during the 5.0 model run, so it’s hard to say exactly how much of a bump was garnered for the Cobra specifically. On paper, it came with a 1.5 second decrease in the 0-60 time, dropping it down to a respectable 5.7 seconds. Damn good for the early ’90s.
I’m going to try to keep things relatively short because I could talk about this particular car all day. The Cobra badge has a long history, dating back to ’68 with the badass Cobra Jet. It also took a dump for a short while in the mid ’70s with the King Cobra on the Mustang II. Let’s not waste space talking about the Mustang II. At a time when the GT40 and its Le Mans wins were no longer relevant, this was Ford’s pinnacle of performance. The Mustang Cobra was representative of the best of the best, and typically had the badging, decals, and performance figures to back it up. I won’t go into the history of the Cobra models or the Carroll Shelby partnership, mostly because I really want to talk about this specific car. Maybe another time. Let’s talk about this one.
Aside from the badging, model-specific wheels, and some slight bumper work (emphasis on slight), the 1993 Mustang Cobra looks exactly like other GT models. And thank god, because I think this design was one of the best things to come out of the 80s. It’s thick, aggressive, and almost like an over-grown wedge shape. I specifically love the hatch models because they create this awesome almost trapezoidal shape from the A-pillar backwards, which visually draws the eyes back to front without the use of excessive shaping body lines or belt-lines.
It’s simple, clean, and timeless. Without getting too pretentious, I recently read an article, probably on Jalopnik, describing the German distinction for classic cars; they’re either ‘true’ classics, which I believe is 1970-prior, and “Neue Classiks” (or something), which acknowledges that cars from the ’80s-late ’90s are not ‘modern’ cars or ‘classic’ cars, but have appeal with collectors. This Mustang is definitely the latter, and will probably never be imitated.
The badging is also wonderfully subtle. The ’80s berthed some incredible, loud decal and badge-work – if a car in the ’80s was blessed with forced induction, you were probably going to know about it. While the obvious draw is to the coiled snake on the quarter panel, I personally prefer the simple rear embossing that just reads ‘COBRA’. This generation of Mustang Cobra has no loud, retro-futuristic statement. It’s surprisingly gentle juxtaposed against such a brash car, but it works.
The progression of the Mustang Cobra is even crazier when you think about where we were just one generation of Cobra ago. The Foxbody, when updated for the 1987 model year, pulled the Mustang solidly into the ’80s and stayed aggressively attractive through the early ’90s. I think this styling was nearly perfect, and had serious merits logistically. By staying on a Ford chassis that had multiple applications, and just modernizing the body, it allowed Ford to introduce a car that felt very new with minimal production changes. When its incredibly ugly successor was introduced in 1994 (and discontinued the 5.0 in 1995!), Ford ensured they had created a cult classic.
Good thing I wrote so much about the exterior. You can see for yourself – the Foxbody Mustang Cobra interior (and every other Foxbody) is sparse. There’s not a whole lot happening. The seats are plush but overall unsupportive and needlessly complex to operate. They are the last chair you’d want to sit in at your grandmother’s house, minus the plastic covers. The dashboard design, which is typically cornerstone for interior layout, is entirely non-existent. It’s a harsh, plastic slab with some dull gray coloring. It was not my favorite part of the car.
On the plus side, I did really like the high-RPM coloring on the gauges; the yellow and red offer a nice, eye-drawing pop that wills you to hold a gear for that last half-inch of the tachometer. It comes with a little feeling of accomplishment, which is nice. The steering wheel felt quintessentially ’80s American car. It felt lazy, almost as if lifted from the parts box that held jewels from the LTDs and Crown Victorias of yester-year. It would have been more at home on the stern (bow? port?) of a boat, albeit with slightly quicker reactions.
My last note stems from the overall material usage. Now, let me preface this: I know what year this was built, and I know what country it comes from. But this is all retrospective and hindsight is 2020. The materials used in domestic cars in the 80s and 90s suck. Even though this was a Mustang Cobra, much to my chagrin, there was no extra little stitched or stamped Cobras hidden throughout the interior. I don’t know why I expected that, but it was just a breadth of plastic and disappointment. I’m moving on.
My first thought when firing up the car was simple: shit. This shouldn’t sound this good. And in a way, it didn’t. Although this particular Mustang Cobra had wildly low mileage, it had received its share of bolt-on, aftermarket upgrades. Period correct, of course. We have Flowmaster to thank for the way that it fires up. It had a surprisingly subtle idle, and calmed down so quickly that my mind went straight to the view from the cockpit.
The seating position was unpleasantly low and forward, which was terrible for visibility. My only thought was that the engineers of the Mustang Cobra had made the decision to distract from the sheer vastness of the front overhang and hood. They succeeded. I was less daunted by the length in front of me, but distracted by discomfort. We’ll chalk that up to a win for Ford.
Maneuvering our way out of the 30-degree-grade driveway and gated community was… surprisingly okay. It was easy to drive. The throttle uptake was simple and direct (if a little lazy), the clutch was straightforward enough that I didn’t immediately stall out, and shifting into the first, second, and third gears happened without incident.
But who cares about all that shit; I pulled out onto the highway and Aaron exclaimed “HAMMER DOWN!” What was I to do? I put the hammer down. A relatively lazy first-gear start was met with a sharp jolt from a slam into second and it finally started to pull like I had
dreamed hoped with some reset expectations. By no means was it the fastest, or quickest, car I’d ever driven, but the tires chirped and it pushed Aaron and I back into our weird thrones for 20-40mph while the V8 barked from below.
I felt the year 1993 rush to meet us through fourth and fifth gear as I chased that little yellow warning at 5300rpm. This was, of course, not my car. But it was something I had waited a long time to handle and it felt good. I was content.
Would I Daily?
In a way, it’s easy to liken a lot of the experience to some of my favorite 80s hair bands. Let’s use Scorpion as an example. It was brash. It was loud and aggressive. It was satisfying at the helm, and it gave me the intense feeling of being a badass. It didn’t really care what I thought, and instead washed over and through me, and transported me simultaneously backwards in time and forwards in space. It’s a cool feeling. But it was also vicarious.
I couldn’t help but feel that I was almost experiencing it wrong. It was fun and machismo, but it was maybe like going to a Scorpion concert now. I bet they still rock faces off, but it’s coming from a place out of time. The music is 25-30 years old now, and it would make me wonder less about my current experience, but instead what it would have been like to feel it at its peak.
I still adored it, its design and sound are timeless, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out on its full, initial sex appeal. I would absolutely still daily a Mustang Cobra – no question. But I really wish I could have known it 25 years ago, and its a little sad I never got to know its love at first sting.