Tech: 2016 Cobra Jet Build

00 2016 Cobra Jet Featured

Born to be Wild

How Ford Performance builds a factory-engineered, 8-second drag ’Stang

By Steve Turner
Photos courtesy of Ford Performance

Racing season will be here before we know it. Fortunately for the lucky 50 buyers of 2016 Cobra Jets some of those cars are built, while the others will be assembled soon. We recently got a look into the process creating these impressive Ford Performance machines, and it’s a little bit different to accommodate the nuances of the S550 platform.

The latest Cobra Jets begin life as bare bodies constructed alongside their street-going cousins at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. These bodies are transported to Watson Engineering for the installation of the roll cage and four-link rear suspension. The latter operation necessitates cutting out a lot of the trunk floor.
The latest Cobra Jets begin life as bare bodies constructed alongside their street-going cousins at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. These bodies are transported to Watson Engineering for the installation of the roll cage and four-link rear suspension. The latter operation necessitates cutting out a lot of the trunk floor.

“We had a couple challenges this time that are new; mostly because the car has an independent rear suspension. Final assembly was at Watson Engineering, which is the same as we did in 2014,” Ford Performance Drag Racing Parts and Competition Manager Jesse Kershaw explained. “The difference this time is in the past the body comes from the plant, would come to Watson, get the roll cage put in it, then back to the plant for paint. Then it was ready for final assembly. For the 2016 model there were some challenges to putting the live axle in the body that didn’t allow us to do all the body modifications before it got painted.”

Because installing a solid rear axle and a four-link in place of the factory independent rear suspension means removing a lot of the existing structure in the back of the car, that meant a car ready for a solid axle couldn’t travel down the paint line at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant. That resulted in a bit more back and forth between FRAP and Watson Engineering for a new Cobra Jet chassis.

While the Cobra Jets move between Ford and Watson facilities for the build, the cars still follow a strict factory build process. This 40-point checklist requires team members to sign off on each procedure.
While the Cobra Jets move between Ford and Watson facilities for the build, the cars still follow a strict factory build process. This 40-point checklist requires team members to sign off on each procedure.

“It is a little bit different because it has this secondary paint process because the plant has these locating fixtures on the body and some of the things we were putting in were in the way or things that we were taking out needed to be there,” Jesse said. “Now the body comes to Watson and the put in about 70 percent of the cage and rearend mounting. Then it goes to the plant for painting and comes back. Watson then has to put in the rest of it and they touch up the paint there at Watson.”

Once that process is complete the chassis is ready for assembly, and Watson has all the parts in stock to complete the car. All the small parts and the wheels and tires are on site, while the engines and transmissions arrive in batches of five so as not to take up too much space. In all the process takes about 11 business days to go from a chassis to a Cobra Jet. However, before the car is deemed ready for sale it must undergo a rigorous quality control inspection.

“There is an end-of-line inspection where they fire the car up and check for leaks. The various engineers that are responsible for a system sign off on that system. Some Watson representatives also sign off on some of the build quality areas,” Jesse said. “For example, the electrical engineering guy checks the electrical and the calibration guy ensures the car is flashed properly. Only after everything is signed off will it get released to the dealership.”

You can watch a timelapse of the 2016 CJ build right here…

Once owners receive their new race cars they will not only benefit from a factory-engineered race car, but from the things Ford Performance engineers have learned over the years after previous owners have received their Cobra Jets. Almost any conceivable question can be answered by the car’s expansive manual.

After the cage and 70 percent of the rear chassis structure are welded into the bare chassis, these 2016 Mustang bodies return to their birthplace a Flat Rock where they travel down the paint section of the assembly line to receive one of the two CJ color options—Deep Impact Blue or Performance White.
After the cage and 70 percent of the rear chassis structure are welded into the bare chassis, these 2016 Mustang bodies return to their birthplace a Flat Rock where they travel down the paint section of the assembly line to receive one of the two CJ color options—Deep Impact Blue or Performance White.

“We have added more and more details to the operations manual. It is over 70 pages. It’s a book. Everything you want to know—every nut, bolt and part number is in there. There is a lot of detail,” Jesse said. “It wasn’t always like that. It started with an eight- or 10-page manual and grew to 35 pages. It was 40 some pages on the 2014 car and now it’s over 70 pages with photos and descriptions.”

The improved manual is great news for CJ owners, but the better news is that all the 2016 models should be finished in time for racing season.

The painted bodies return to Watson on carts for easy transport through the early stages of the assembly process.
The painted bodies return to Watson on carts for easy transport through the early stages of the assembly process where the car receives the remaining chassis mods and the painting process is completed.

“We shipped 12 cars last year in 2015 and I want to say we have shipped eight or 10 to date in 2016,” Jesse said. “We plan to have all the cars built by March 1st.”

That means they should be ready to run in time for the likes of the NMRA’s Cobra Jet Showdown and the exciting new heads-up battle with the COPO and Drag Paks over at the NMCA.

“I’m excited about the NMCA Factory Super Cars class and the feedback I’ve gotten from numerous Cobra Jet racers in the NHRA has been positive. So I’m looking forward to this being a very successful class pitting the three manufacturers against each other,” Jesse added. “I can guarantee there will be a large Ford presence and I am hoping there will be a good constituency from the Chevy and Mopar camps and we can really make a show of it.”

Before the build process even began Watson gathers all the parts necessary to assemble 50 Cobra Jet racers. Many of the specialty parts, including all the unique metal bits, are built in-house at Watson. With all the parts inventoried and ready to go, the Cobra Jets can be produced in short order.
Before the build process even began Watson gathers all the parts necessary to assemble 50 Cobra Jet racers. Many of the specialty parts, including all the unique metal bits, are built in-house at Watson. With all the parts inventoried and ready to go, the Cobra Jets can be produced in short order.
Among the parts necessary are 50 sets of front and rear wheel/tire combos. These cars roll on Weld drag wheels with 26x4.5-15 Hoosier front-runners and 30x9-15 Hoosier slicks.
Among the parts necessary are 50 sets of front and rear wheel/tire combos. These cars roll on Weld drag wheels with 26×4.5-15 Hoosier front-runners and 30×9-15 Hoosier slicks.
The Cobra Jets are built at dedicated build stations with lifts and rolling carts are used to move the larger parts assemblies into place. Engines and transmissions arrive in groups of five as needed so as not to take up to much space.
The Cobra Jets are built at dedicated build stations with lifts and rolling carts are used to move the larger parts assemblies into place. Engines and transmissions arrive in groups of five as needed so as not to take up too much space.
The painted bodies are fitted with the factory rear impact brace and the pre-painted rear fascia is installed.
The painted bodies are fitted with the factory rear impact brace and the pre-painted rear fascia is installed.
The first step is to get the suspension and drivetrain into the car. Here a DIB CJ gets its 3.89-geared Strange 9-inch axle and four-link rear suspension. Then the rear Hoosiers are bolted up.
A key step in the process is getting the suspension and drivetrain into the car. Here a DIB CJ gets its 3.89-geared Strange 9-inch axle and four-link rear suspension. Then the rear Hoosiers are bolted up.
The entire front module is assembled and on a cart before being bolted into the Cobra Jet. The means the Whipple-supercharged Coyote (complete with American Racing Headers long-tubes), electric power assist steering rack, lower control arms and more are all assembled before going into the car.
The entire front module is assembled and on a cart before being bolted into the Cobra Jet. That means the Whipple-supercharged Coyote (complete with American Racing Headers long-tubes), electric power assist steering rack, lower control arms and more are all assembled before going into the car.
One of the new innovations that we have covered previously on the 2016 Cobra Jet is the repurposing of the Ford C-Max Hybrid electric water pump on this race car. Not only does this pump move a lot of fluid, but it’s also rugged enough to meet Ford’s OE durability standards, so there is no worry about its ability to cool the Coyote down between runs.
One of the new innovations that we have covered previously on the 2016 Cobra Jet is the repurposing of the Ford C-Max Hybrid electric water pump on this race car. Not only does this pump move a lot of fluid, but it’s also rugged enough to meet Ford’s OE durability standards, so there is no worry about its ability to cool the Coyote down between runs.
The Cobra Jet Coyote is bolstered with a billet-steel gerotor oil pump, Mahle forged pistons, Manley H-beam rods, ARP fasteners and an SFI-approved ATI crank damper. With stout internals and a 9.5:1 compression ratio this engine is ready to make the most of a Whipple 2.9-liter supercharger featuring an intercooler fed by a high-capacity water/ice tank.
The Cobra Jet Coyote is bolstered with a billet-steel gerotor oil pump, Mahle forged pistons, Manley H-beam rods, ARP fasteners and an SFI-approved ATI crank damper. With stout internals and a 9.5:1 compression ratio this engine is ready to make the most of a Whipple 2.9-liter supercharger featuring an intercooler fed by a high-capacity water/ice tank.
After assembly is complete each Cobra Jet goes through an exhaustive inspection process before being deemed fit for delivery to the dealership. After each car passes quality control it moves on to have graphics installed and it’s ready to race.
After assembly is complete each Cobra Jet goes through an exhaustive inspection process before being deemed fit for delivery to the dealership. After each car passes quality control it moves on to have graphics installed and it’s ready to race.
As of this writing over 20 2016 Cobra Jets have been built, but Ford Performance plans to have all 50 cars constructed by March 1, so we can look forward to seeing them all race this year.
As of this writing over 20 2016 Cobra Jets have been built, but Ford Performance plans to have all 50 cars constructed by March 1, so we can look forward to seeing them all race this year.

2016 Cobra Jet Build Gallery

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