Seal of Approval
Ford Performance improved the next-gen CJ by listening to its customers
By Steve Turner
Photos by Stacy Stangz and courtesy of Ford Performance
Often imitated but never duplicated, the Ford Performance Cobra Jet followed through on the promise of modern muscle cars by returning to the drag strip with a turnkey factory race car that honors the original Cobra Jets of the past, but moves the Mustang’s quarter-mile prowess into the future.
Unless you’ve been off the grid, you know that Ford Performance unveiled the 2016 Cobra Jet at The SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, last week. While we all expected the Cobra Jet to return on the S550 platform, the announcement of this new 8-second machine was the talk of the show and its revival trended across the Internet for days.
If you missed all that excitement, Ford Performance will sell just 50 new Cobra Jets—25 in Oxford White and 25 in Deep Impact Blue. These cars do not carry a Vehicle Identification number, rather there are sold as a Ford Performance Part available from North American Ford dealers under part number M-FR500-CJ for $99,990. Other than the paint colors, the only other options include the familiar snake graphics for $1,195 and a wheelie-bar setup for $1,995.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Ford Performance Drag Racing Parts and Competition Manager Jesse Kershaw about the new Cobra Jet’s development process. Along the way we learned about several new upgrades that were deployed on this new turnkey drag car, and many of them were the result of listening to current Cobra Jet owners and racers.
“We’ve had championship-caliber teams racing these cars for several years now and we’ve had a lot of wins,” he explained. “That gives us the luxury of learning from what a lot of our customers are doing.”
One thing that did not change is the short-block, this proven 5.0-liter combination is fortified with a forged-steel crankshaft, an ATI crank damper, Manley H-beam connecting rods, ARP 2000 rod bolts, Mahle forged pistons, and a billet-steel gerotor oil pump. It clocks in with a blower-friendly 9.5:1 compression ratio and has proven quite durable in the last-generation Cobra Jets.
Around that solid foundation, Ford Performance engineers made numerous detail improvements that resulted in a substantial horsepower increase over the last supercharged 5.0 Cobra Jet engine.
“The short-block is identical,” Jesse explained. “Then we used the new Mustang GT heads and the all-new Whipple intake manifold with the Whipple front entry and the high-pressure blower. They just set the blower up a little differently.”
That setup includes tighter tolerances inside the case and a different machining process on the blower discharge. In other words, it’s not your average 2.9-liter Whipple supercharger, nor is the accessory drive that spins it.
“The accessory drive is all-new. We developed it and Whipple produced it for us. But that was done at Ford with our internal accessory drive group. We were able to shorten the belt significantly and we made over 300 runs with that engine without any belt problems at all,” Jesse said. “The belt was still good, so you didn’t even need to change it. The accessory drive is really good. It’s far better than anything that we’ve had before and, frankly, it’s far better than anything the competition has.”
Another much ballyhooed addition to the new Cobra Jet is an electric water pump lifted from the C-MAX hybrid. Certainly electric water pumps are nothing new on drag cars, as they free up some power robbed by a belt-driven water pump and they can be run between rounds with the engine off to cool down the engine. However, adding a pump from production program was the handiwork of Ford Performance engineer, Ron Ewert.
“It has the electric water pump from the C-Max hybrid, which was really a stroke of genius by one of our engineers to do that. We did not feel confident in putting our backing in other pumps, but this pump has proven itself to be awesome. Not only is it super reliable, but it pumps a ton of fluid and cools it down really well,” Jesse said. “Ron came to us from the four-cylinder EcoBoost group and he has connections within mainstream. He got the pump and within a few phone calls we had the pump and he ran it on the engine dyno.”
And, run it on the dyno they did. In fact, Ford Performance engineers made a lot of dyno pulls on the new CJ 5.0-liter before tearing it down and inspecting the engine. It passed that inspection with flying colors, but these tests weren’t your average dyno pulls. They set up the electronics to simulate the throttle angles of a complete drag strip pass.
“We had over 100 dyno runs that were simulated drag strip runs where they would fire up the engine and they had it cycle so the pedal map would simulate what we saw on the track. It would do the burnout, stage, launch, and go through the gears on the dyno. Then it would cool down, they would shut it off, wait a few minutes, and hit it again,” Jesse explained. “We have run engines on the dyno before, but Ron went to painstaking detail to set up the engine on the dyno to what was going to be on the car. So the fuel system was identical, the hose lengths were close, etc. He really wanted to do as much on dyno and simulate that.”
You can watch one of those simulated runs right here…
After engineers validated the engine on the dyno, it was time to put the engine in the car and hit the drag strip. Ford Performance set the standard for this combo that it had to run 100 passes at 8.99 or quicker, which it did. Along the way the prototype Cobra Jet made over 300 drag strip hits without a hitch. Suffice it to say this powertrain is rugged and effective.
At the helm of the engine controls is a TriCor PCM loaded with revamped software that allows this version of the CJ 5.0-liter to rev to 8,400 rpm, where its predecessor hit a wall at 8,100 rpm. Perhaps more important than the extended rev range is that Ford Performance engineers built-in the ability to tweak the calibration via the new ProCal 3 tuner, which allows users to download calibrations from the Ford Performance web site and upload them into the PCM via an OBD-II dongle.
“We also have a unique software suite that we will be releasing in the future that has a higher level of user programmability. The racer will be able to pull timing at the hit and then ramp it back in,” Jesse explained. “Basically we are allowing small adjustments within the PCM, like pulling timing or minor adjustments to the fuel map. What we really wanted is that if you are on a poorly prepared track you can dial back the power and torque at the launch and dial it in as quickly as possible.”
Ford Performance is still tweaking the user interface, but this software should be available long before the 2016 racing season begins.
Another tweak to some onboard software is within the Electronic Power Assist Steering rack in the Cobra Jet. Yup, it has power steering even though it lacks many of the sensors used by the EPAS system in a street-going Mustang.
“I think that our car is still the easiest to drive for the beginning racer, and that’s because of the little things. We still have electric power steering. That is a little bit of a trick because we take out all the sensors from the production car to save weight, but we still must have high assist at low speed and very little assist at high speed,” Jesse elaborated. “The rack has different software from the street car, but it still has a power steering rack that allows you to steer the car with one finger onto the return road, which is a feature that most drag cars do not have.”
New software is not the only trick the new Cobra Jet may carry into next season. Ford Performance is hoping to bring something it has proven in the National Mustang Racers Association over to the National Hot Rod Association.
“We sealed the engines like we do the Coyote Stock engines. We are in negotiations with NHRA to allow sealed engines in these turn-key cars,” Jesse said. “While NHRA has not agreed to it yet, we are at least in talks with them. In hopes that they will agree to this, we are sealing all these Cobra Jet engines.”
“You should be able to go out and race this engine for a very long time —and possibly even set records with it—and if NHRA will honor our seal system, you won’t have to endure a teardown,” he added.
Whether the sealed engine feature is approved or not, we have a feeling that racers might just set a few records with the 2016 Cobra Jet, and now you know the effort the Ford Performance put into creating it, including adding a lot of new features inspired by customer feedback.
Ford Performance is building these cars now, and may deliver as many as 20 of them to customers before year’s end.