"In retirement" aptly describes both Mike Callahan and his '99 Crown Victoria, though both Mike and his Crown Vic defy the characteristics commonly associated with retirement. Instead of a donning a robe and slippers in the old-folks home, Mike and his car are seeing as much action in retirement than they did when they were working. For Mike, at least, retirement is a lot more fun.
Reading the title, you may be thinking, "What's a Cobra Vic?" Good question. The answer is: Maybe the coolest Crown Victoria ever made, and only 18 exist. They were built by Roush specifically for the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler, Arizona. At the time, Ford supplied all the vehicles for the school, and students drove Roush-prepared Mustangs. The instructors, needing cars that could carry up to three passengers while demonstrating on-track techniques, drove Taurus SHOs. But around 1998, the SHOs were getting tired, and Bob Bondurant went to Ford and Roush to discuss other options. Among the list of desired criteria were four doors, room for four adults, and a manual transmission (to demonstrate heel-and-toe downshifting techniques).
We spoke with Bondurant's assistant chief driving instructor, Danny Bullock, who was around at the time, and he says they used Ford Contours for a short period, but those cars didn't suit the school's needs. That's when Bondurant began to consider the Crown Victoria. Being offered only with an automatic transmission was a liability, but being a V8 rear-wheel-drive sedan was a strong positive. The decision was made to build a run of 18 Crown Victorias, replacing the SOHC 4.6 and 4R70W transmission with the current-model Mustang Cobra's DOHC 4.6 and T-45 five-speed manual.
Roush performed the swap and prepped the cars for track duty. We have a photocopy of the build sheet, and step number one reads: "Remove 4.6L 2V engine, assemble to automatic trans, and palletize." We wish that had been an option available at the dealership when buying one of these cars! Among other work Roush performed was installing an F-250 radiator and a pulley-driven clutch fan (for hot Phoenix summers), a Cobra R oil cooler, modified exhaust downtubes (minus catalytic converters), Eibach springs, Monroe shocks, Performance Friction brake pads, stainless brake lines, Cobra wheels and tires, 3.73:1 gears in the Crown Vic's stock 8.8-inch rear axle, a Fuel Safe fuel cell in the trunk, a fire suppression system, and a six-point rollcage.
Fast-forward several years, and now the Bondurant School has a relationship with General Motors. Most of the Fords were sold, and several of them ended up on eBay, including this particular car. Mike Callahan was shopping for a new car at the time. Being a Ford guy, he just typed Ford into an eBay search, and this was one of the returns. He was getting close to his own retirement and wanted a car that would allow him to compete in the variety of events he'd been watching. "I came up with a bucket list of things I wanted to do," he says, adding that he's not a mechanic, so he didn't want a car he'd have to build. Bondurant's Cobra Vic was a perfect fit. "It was already built as a track car. The 'cage is certified to 160 mph at Bonneville and 175 mph at the Ohio Mile, and it had a maintenance log about an inch thick, so I know it was taken care of at the school. I bought it sight unseen," he says.
Now retired, Mike has driven the car everywhere, including four of Hot Rod's Power Tour® events (he was a Long Hauler last year); twice to Speed Week at the Bonneville salt flats; the Optima Challenge stop at Eagles Canyon Raceway in Decatur, Texas; the Silver Springs Ford show in Florida; and the Car Craft Summer Nationals in Minnesota, where he competed in our Real Street Eliminator competition. "It's not a trailer queen, but I'm having fun," says the Cincinnati, Ohio, native. He's gone as fast as 142 mph at Bonneville and reached 131 at the Ohio Mile, where he's the D/Gas Super Stock class record holder. "It's been reliable, too," Mike adds. Nothing has broken, and Mike averages 22 mpg on the highway while crisscrossing the country. "It's unreal what I've been able to do with this car, considering what little amount of money I have into it," he says. That's the benefit of buying a pro-built, ex–race car that's still suitable for street use. You get the best of all worlds.