Bunches of horsepower and retuned suspension makes sure the �Boss� Mustang delivers on its sporty looks -- Ford has emphasized nostalgia and goes back to its styling roots -(Lancaster, CA) Ford has usually introduced their Mustangs near racetracks, with the opportunity to flog the cars in a spirited manner. This place is in the middle of the high desert, usually known more for Chuck Yeager than AJ Foyt. This is also the home of Willow Springs race track, one of the most challenging courses in the country and one of the most versatile. Not only does it have a wide open race track, but it has a tight street type venue known as the 'streets of Willow' that is closer to urban conditions. Add to this a trip over the mountain ranges in between and we got to exercise the new Cobra R in the full variety of conditions. The Ford Special Vehicle Team's (SVT) 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R takes the pony car icon to the extreme. Developed with racing in mind, 300 have been shipped to selected SVT certified dealers. The new Cobra R is the most potent production Mustang in the nameplate�s 35-year history. Even the stock Mustang has a wider track, a longer wheelbase, new front suspension geometry, four wheel disk brakes, and power rack and pinion steering on every car. Differences unique to the Cobra R include the "power dome" hood with a rear air extractor to improve cooling for the 385hp engine, 18-inch wheels shod with BFGoodrich g-Force KD tires, and a lowered racing suspension for enhanced handling. The latest evolution of this popular American icon is improved with design, powertrain and handling enhancements. These include significant power increases for the V-8 engine, a new exterior design and, for the first time an optional all-speed traction control system with racing developed limited slip The Cobra uses the modular dohc engine to get extra horsepower and has an independent rear suspension that bolts up to the existing frame without changes. Look for lots of folks to adapt their regular 'Stangs with this easy modification. "We've made improvements that are much more than skin-deep," said Janine Bay, Mustang chief program engineer. "The Mustang Cobra R is true to its roots -- customers get an exciting new design with enhanced performance." Almost thirty years ago the Mustang created the "Pony car" concept. All the American manufacturers copied the concept, and many foreign designers copied aspects of the styling. Mustang has been the sales leader in its segment for the past 14 years. The basic Camaro may have had the horsepower advantage, but it does not have the appeal of the Mustang, as sales figures show. This coupe only version of the Mustang goes head to head against the Vette, and even rivals the soon to be introduced Z06 model. Following a �Skunk Works� lean and pragmatic design philosophy pioneered by ex-chairman Alex Trotman, by adapting existing tooling the designers were able to create a virtually new car, but avoided the time and cost impact of a clean sheet effort. Ford claims that they are able to offer more features for less cost than the competition. This allows the image to be enhanced and keeps the car fresh while waiting for the complete overhaul to come soon. But the visceral appeal is what attracts the second looks. The design team didn't want the Mustang to be confused with any Japanese or European car. There is no denying that this Mustang is an American muscle car, and its lineage is obvious. Tom Scarpello, specialty vehicle marketing manager at Ford, says the 2000 Cobra R is both a race car and a modern icon. "Three hundred people will be able to have a lot of fun in this car, and be very competitive racing it," Scarpello says. "This car elevates the whole idea of Mustang - without changing what it's been for more than 35 years." The regular Cobra model has been suspended for 2000 so this is the only high performance Mustang today. SVT also produces a high performance version of the soon to be dropped Contour, as well as the 380 hp supercharged Lightning F150 pickup. Look for muscular models of the Focus and Cougar to follow. This is the third generation of the Cobra R. The debut 1993 model, was introduced as a strictly competition package, and included wheel, suspension and cooling upgrades, chassis bracing and a higher-output version of the 5.OL HO V-8. Just 107 were produced. The 250 1995 Cobra R units were also delivered with a competition package, a higher-output 5.8 Windsor V-8 engine, a Tremec 5-speed transmission, unique suspension and 17 x 9-inch wheels. A 385-horsepower 5.4-liter 4-valve DOHC V8 engine from Ford's modular family defines the latest Cobra R. Most multi-valve engines are weak at low rpms, but these modular units will defend themselves well in stoplight Grands Prix. Blue oval enthusiasts are celebrating. SVE developed high-flow aluminum cylinder heads, and a Canton Racing Products oil pan provides extra oil capacity, reduced windage losses and improved oil control under racing conditions. To cool the synthetic oil, an air-to-oil cooler system is mounted behind the front fascia. The exhaust system consists of short-tube headers leading into a Bassani X-pipe system with catalytic converters, chosen for improved sound quality, ending with unique Borla mufflers and side-exit pipes that provide more clearance at the rear for the 21-gallon Fuel Safe fuel cell. Add to that a McLeod aluminum flywheel, a Tremec six-speed manual transmission, 18 x 9.5-inch wheels and tires, Brembo 4-piston aluminum front brake calipers, and Eibach racing springs and it's a complete package. A rear wing and front splitter provides high-speed aerodynamic stability. The car's top speed is more than 170 mph. Winning on a road course is all about transitions in and out of corners, and handling those corners is the 2000 Cobra R's forte. With lateral acceleration higher than 1.0g on the 100-foot skidpad, Cobra R sets a new benchmark for road-holding in its class. The swept back windshield and wrap-around cockpit move the interior into the modern era. It is remarkable that there is so much interior room, while still maintaining the jet fighter sensations. There is even a removable hardtop option for the convertible. "Our visual theme is based on the most stable geometric form -- the pyramid," said Doug Gaffka, Mustang chief designer. "We've also enhanced or revived some classic Mustang styling cues." Slim, wraparound headlamps are a departure from the past, and the rear deck is made of sheet molded compound, which reduces weight and eliminates corrosion. Heritage cues include the classic long hood and short deck; a prominent hood scoop; enlarged, sculptured side scoops, with a bold triangular shape; and Mustang signature tribar tail lamps. The galloping chrome pony centered on the grille is once again circled by a chrome "corral," as it was on the original Mustang. Other familiar details include an optional rear spoiler, honeycomb grille textures and side character lines that echo the original Mustang even more than on the previous model. The new Cobra R features exterior enhancements that will boost performance on the race track, including a front air-splitter and tall rear deck spoiler, which will create downforce for increased stability at track speeds. They tried to capture the look of the original three slot vertical taillights, but missed it a bit. Usually I eschew chrome, but a little framing of the current lenses would complete the retro look. The Cobra R's suspension follows SVT tuning philosophy - compliant and subtle - with a strong emphasis on race-track handling. The engineers optimized tuning to balance center-of-gravity height, aerodynamic downforce, ride height, overall grip on bumpy roads, along with driving fun and driving ease at the limit. It works. Cobra R is equipped with 30 to 40% stiffer Eibach coil springs, which lower the car 1.5 inches in front and 1.0 inches at the rear. The front shocks are gas-charged monotube while the rears are gas-charged twin-tube. All suspension control arm and rear subframe bushings are made of stiffer material, while the outer pivot of the upper control arm has been relocated to increase camber. A number of well-respected performance parts suppliers worked with SVT in the development of the Cobra R, including Brembo for brake rotors and calipers, Tremec for the transmission, Eibach and Bilstein for suspension, and Borla for the exhaust. Visteon supplies the Cobra R's hydro-mechanical gerotor pump differential with speed and torque sensitivity. when the half shafts rotate at different speeds the pump applies hydraulic pressure through to compress a clutch pack, transferring torque to the other wheel, very helpful in maintaining grip during straight-line acceleration. The final drive ratio is 3.55:1, compared with the Cobra's 3.27:1. Cobra R's interior changes include the addition of Recaro sport seats, and the removal of the radio, air-conditioner and back seat to save weight. We have seen contenders such as the Javelin, Barracuda, Challenger, Daytona, Laser, Supra and 240SX come and go. Now GM is canceling the Firebird and Camaro, which will leave the Mustang alone in the field. Far from being concerned about the future, Ford is seizing the opportunity with both hands. They have shown us the Stallion concept that uses a supercharger and natural gas fuel to achieve 4-500 hp, and still preserve the environment. Look for the next generation Mustang to appear in about two years, built on the same platform as the new Thunderbird, hopefully with a little more interior space.