"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.
Who: Mike Callahan
What: 1999 Ford Crown Victoria
Where: Cincinnati, OH. Home of the Bearcats!
Engine: A stock Mustang Cobra, dual-overhead cam, 4.6L engine was dropped in place of the single-overhead-cam engine Ford's Panther Platform originally came with. Roush Performance in Plymouth Township, Michigan, performed the swap and further modified the engine for improved cooling, adding a larger radiator from a V10 F-250, an engine-driven clutch fan, an additional electric pusher fan mounted in from of the radiator/AC condenser, and a larger oil cooler. To make room, the battery was moved to the trunk, and the coolant reservoir from a '93 Crown Victoria was installed. The Cobra engines were rated at 320 hp compared with the Crown Vic's 230 hp.
Transmission: A fullsize Ford hasn't come from the factory with a manual transmission since the '60s, so the Cobra Vic's T-45 five-speed is one of the most intriguing aspects of this car. There's just something so satisfying about a stick-shift transmission in a big car. To improve shift feel and durability, Roush rebuilt each transmission with carbon-fiber synchronizer blocker rings. They grafted a clutch pedal onto the Crown Vic's stock brake-pedal assembly and ran the clutch cable through the firewall, just like a Mustang. A B&M Ripper shifter for a Mustang pokes up through a Ford Contour center console modified to fit the transmission tunnel.
Exhaust: The stock manifolds were left in place. Crown Victoria Police Interceptors came with dual exhaust, which is a good start. Roush built catalyst-delete mid-pipes and connected them to a custom Borla exhaust system, which includes an H-pipe.
➔Jack Roush was here.
Rearend: All the Panther platform cars (Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, Town Car) came with Ford's stout 8.8-inch rear axle. Roush just changed the ring-and-pinion from 3.55:1 to 3.73:1 with a Traction Lok differential. Mike recently had 4.10:1 gears installed.
Suspension: For serious cornering, the stock springs and shocks were way too soft. Roush scrapped them for Eibach lowering springs with a much higher rate (we've heard as much as 1,200 in/lb for the front springs) and Monroe shock absorbers. The front and rear sway bars also got tossed in favor of much bigger ones. After buying the car, Mike further modified it by adding rear control arms from Carriage House Engineering and an even bigger rear bar. Equipped with Delrin bushings, the control arms have eliminated wheelhop issues Mike was getting with the stock arms.
Brakes: Surprisingly, the braking system on these cars was good right from the factory. Roush just upgraded the brake pads with a set from Performance Friction and added cooling ducts to the backside of the front rotors. In addition, the rubber flex hoses were replaced with braided stainless-steel hoses.
Wheels/Tires: The skinny, steel wheels were replaced with a set of 17x9 1995 Cobra R wheels. Roush also installed 3-inch-long wheel studs, front and rear, because the wheels needed 3⁄4-inch spacers, front, and 1⁄2-inch spacers, rear, to achieve the correct backspacing. Currently, Mike uses 285/40ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.
Safety: Roush built and installed a six-point rollcage complete with window nets for all four windows and a Halon fire suppression system with discharge nozzles located in the passenger compartment and near the fuel cell. The stock gas tank was removed, and a Fuel Safe 22-gallon fuel cell was installed in the trunk. It houses a Mustang Cobra fuel pump, which feeds the injectors through braided fuel lines. A set of Recaro front buckets with five-point safety harnesses keep Mike both comfy on the freeway and track-legal.
Interior: The center console from a Ford Contour looks as if it were made for the Crown Vic, and we love seeing the five-speed shifter instead of an automatic-transmission gear selector. The stock speedo/idiot-light dash was replaced with Cobra instruments, which include a tachometer as well as gauges for water temperature, volts, and oil pressure.
Cool Trivia: Only 18 cars were built, but they were numbered 1 through 19, skipping the number 13. Bob Bondurant kept one Cobra Vic, which is on display at the school.