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Shock And Awe - 2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1 And SVT Cobra

Road Tripping The Mustang Mach 1 And SVT Cobra

Photography by John Pearley Huffman, Matt King, Miles Cook, Terry McGean

The TrackWhy is Bakersfield's famous dragstrip called Famoso? Probably because it's "famoso" for excruciatingly long lines in the tech and staging lanes. It seemed like forever before someone could verify that our completely stock cars were, in fact, completely stock. But we were at the drags, and at the drags you never feel overdressed or overweight.

The consensus here is that even though the Mach 1's engine doesn't shake much, it shakes enough to make watching the hoodscoop torque-over entertaining. Sure the shaker hood is a gimmick that doesn't make much power, but it's a great gimmick. We're also agreed that the flat-black paint and tape looks good on the car, and the interior, with its "comfortweave" black leather upholstery, is both better looking than the Cobra's and cooler when sitting on pavement on a hot day in Bakersfield. But we're not sure about the wheels, which are simply not the absolute stunners the Bullitt's faux Torq-Thrusts are.

With long lines and a lot of classes to call, we were only able to get two runs in on both the Mach 1 and Cobra. That's far fewer runs than we'd usually make hot lapping cars during a regular test, and nowhere near enough to optimize our launches.

A tree sloth could throw a brick at the Cobra's accelerator pedal and the car would run low 13s. Except for Chevy's Corvette and Dodge's Viper, there isn't another American car that can touch it, and the only foreign ones that can cost at least twice as much. Having developed some comfort behind the wheel, King ran a no-drama 13.31 at 104.87 mph in the quarter. We're all convinced that with some track time the Cobra would run near 13.0, and with some tweaking (maybe just tire pressure changes) it would dip into the 12s. No other Mustang has ever been anywhere near this quick from the factory. For the record, Car and Driver's test of a stock '03 Cobra had it running 12.9 at 111 mph-and there's no reason to doubt them.

Terry McGean had the dubious distinction of missing more shifts that afternoon than the entire UAW did during '02. On both his runs, Terry got spanked by lesser machinery-first a Honda Civic, and then a shockingly fast Nissan Sentra that ran a 13.0 at 104 mph. There's more technique to launching the Mach 1 effectively than there is the Cobra, but it's still a quick car. Motor Trend's Mach 1 test had the car running a 13.8 at 102.5 mph, and we're convinced that 13.6s aren't out of the question.

After cramming 40 seconds of thrills into six hours at Famoso, we hit the road back toward Santa Barbara (Miles and I) and L.A. (Matt and Terry) with one stop at an In-N-Out Burger for protein loading. Over absolutely riveting burgers, it was our consensus that it's truly amazing that less than a year after GM killed off its Camaro and Firebird, Ford offers not one, not two, but three performance versions of its Mustang.

The new Mustang debuts next year, and if Ford can retain the aura that keeps these cars compelling while shedding the compromises that make them a chore to live with, the next Mustang will be truly great.

But right now, even in their old age, at base prices of $28,370 for the Mach 1 and $34,065 for the Cobra, these cars are solid values. Those are minivan prices! And there's nothing mini about these cars.

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