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The Lowdown on Worthwhile Basic Mods for 96-98 Cobra UPDATED W/ SUSPENSION
Ok, here's a quick rundown of what basic mods you should or shouldn't buy for your 96-98 Cobra. I added some more in-depth suspension stuff as well. Feel free to add input on whatever I forget. This should help cut down the number of useless posts.
This should be a top-priority on your mod-list, even if everything else is left stock. The stock shifter in the 96-98’s (and 94/95's even) are prone to damaging the transmission if the car is driven aggressively (i.e. powershifting). There are no internal stops in the T45's, so a forceful shift can break a shift-fork or worse. Most owners have gone with shifters from MGW, Steeda, B&M, or Pro 5.0, just to name a few. The aftermarket shifters have bump stops to prevent damage to the transmission when shifting aggressively. There are a lot of rave reviews about the MGW, it features different size handles to fit each specific drivers needs and is one of the more quiet aftermarket shifters. The Pro 5.0, Steeda Tri-Ax, and Hurst shifters are also loved by many but tend to be noisier than the MGW in many instances. The B&M Ripper and Pro-Ripper are also great shifters. Pretty much any aftermarket shifter with positive stops will do the job of saving your transmission, but some will make for a better driving experience than others, though it depends on your preference. This is one of those things, like exhaust, that you should use your friends' cars as reference to compare and find what you like. Don't make an expensive mistake by skipping this mod, it'll save you money later! (Thanks Shangsta!)
The most noticable mod per dollar for your Cobra is a new set of rearend gears. They will substantially help the acceleration of your Cobra and let it get into the powerband quickly. For a mild 96-98, 4.10 gears should be the lowest (numerically) that you even consider. 3.73's aren't worth it. 4.10's or bust. Ideally though, you want a 4.30 gear. The reason being is that on N/A 96-98 Cobras, you will shift right before the traps with 4.10's. The 4.30's will let you run through the traps in the powerband, thus decreasing your ET's. If you really wanna get serious, go right for the 4.56 gears. These will make your car an absolute monster compared to stock. As far as brands go, always use FMS gears if possible, but Motive gears are also a quality replacement. This is one area you don't wanna skimp in quality.
One of the first power mods people do for their Mustangs is a cold-air intake system. They are cheap, and can increase performance quite well considering the low price. You should buy a quality CAI though. BBK makes a very "pretty" intake, but the gains are minimal at best. Moving on, the best intake currently available for 96-98 Cobras is the JLT intake. In both CAI and RAI versions they make good gains, with the CAI edging out the RAI by a couple rwhp. Next up is the Demolet Densecharger. This intake also has great gains, with the ability to change filter placement to find the best gains for your car. Furthermore, UPR makes a nice intake with pretty good gains, as does WMS. C&L's kit is very good quality, but the gains are a couple below the aforementioned intakes. The beauty of the C&L is that it has a cast-in nitrous boss that can be tapped as a great place for a nitrous nozzle, hence why I use it.
Catback Exhaust Systems
When it comes to catbacks, go for whatever you think sounds the best. Use friend's, or online exhaust clips, for reference on their combos to find out what sound you like. They will all make decent power gains, but the difference is negligable from one to another most of the time. Some mufflers will sound better with and H-pipe, and some better with an X-pipe. A GENERAL rule of thumb is that a chambered muffler will sound better with an H-pipe, and a straight-through muffler with sound better with an X-pipe, though this is not always the case (my H-pipe and Magnaflow combo sounded amazing).
When it comes to midpipes, you really can't go wrong with a good name-brand product. This modification deletes the stock catalytic convertors with straight-through piping, or replaces them with high-flow units. The unobstructed exhaust with help the motor exhale better, usually netting 8-15 rwhp, depending on your other modifications. The X-pipe will typically give a couple more horsepower than the H-pipe, but like the catback, go with the sound you like because the difference is negligable. If you plan on installing longtube headers (see below) in the near future, you may want to wait on this modification as a longtube header will require a special midpipe of a shorter length and collector design. After installing an offroad (catless) midpipe, your rear O2 sensors will trip a check-engine light (or MIL, malfunction indicator lamp). Don't worry, this won't affect performance as it is a "soft code," meaning it is emissions related and not performance related. To remedy this situation, you will need to buy MIL-eliminators. These resistors simply plug in between the O2 sensor and the stock connector from the factory harness. Another option is have your tuner (read on...) turn off the rear O2 sensors. You will not hurt anything if you don't take care of the light, but you will fail emissions, should you need to take them. Also, the H-pipe will typically give a more deep rumbly "classic musclecar" sound, and the X-pipe will yield a little more high-pitched "exotic" sound.
When it comes to headers, you really want to make the right choice. They all have different positives and negatives. For a 4V Cobra, longtubes should be your only choice. If you live in California, you may have to use shorties by law. Shorties don't offer much in the way of peak rwhp gains, but you will gain some much-needed lowend torque and smooth out the powerband to an extent. JBA makes a nice set, and they are compatable with stock or stock-style midpipes. On to longtubes, there are many choices available. Starting with the higher end of the spectrum, SHM has has some great LT's. Although I believe production has ceased, if you can get these for a good price, they are one of the best, if not THE best, 4V header. They use a stepped design to maximize power and flow, but come with a serious pricetag and limited availability. Next in line, and more readily available to us mortals, are Kooks longtube headers. These headers are fantastic quality and make great power. Available in stainless, they are very resistant to corrosion and a rust. Moving on, we have Hooker Supercomp headers. These headers, in my opinion, are the best option for their price. While more expensive then Mac or BBK, they allow you to drop the transmission without the removal of the passenger-side header, which is a big plus when you need to replace the clutch or tranny. They use a slip-fit collector, which can often leak, but the addition of some high-temp/pressure RTV sealant and a good clamp, they work great. They are available in coated or stainless, and with both 1 5/8" or 1 3/4" primaries. Next are BBK headers. These headers are relatively inexpensive and make great performance gains. The quality is also good and they are available in a few different finishes. The kicker with these headers is that you must remove the passenger-side header when you wanna drop the tranny, which is a pain in the ass IMO. You may have also heard of Mac headers. While they make a decent header for 5.0's, there have been many instances in the past with DOHC 4.6's with welding slag breaking loose and getting sucked into the EGR valve, causing an engine failure. My advice? Stay away from them altogether, but if you do use them, don't connect the EGR tube until at least a few hundred miles of driving. A good medium between longtubes and shorties are the Bassani midlengths. They give great gains, although a little lower than longtubes, but are of the highest quality and give more ground clearance than LT's.
Underdrive Pulley Sets
Though some argue they are a waste of time, they have been dyno-proven to make 11rwhp on 96-98 Cobras. The main thing to look for when choosing a pulley set is the crank-pulley style. BBK makes a nice set, but they use a piggyback-style crank setup where the factory dampner bolts to the BBK pulley. I personally do not trust this system. Instead, I would suggest a Steeda or March setup which use a 1-peice crank-pulley/dampner.
They may make decent gains on 5.0's, but this is the 4V modular world guys, and going fast with stock parts is what it's all about. The factory throttle body will handle all you can throw at it, unless you are running a ton of boost. BBK and Accufab make nice TB's, but you're wasting your time and money for only 2-3 rwhp MAX on an N/A or mild blower motor.
Mass-Airflow Sensors (MAFS)
Unless you are supercharging your engine, it's best to leave the stock one in place. The stock MAF sensor will read the most accurately, and has little restriction at mild levels of performance. If you end up getting a blower down the line, check with your tuner on which MAF to buy, but SCT makes some great products in this department, or a Lightning 90mm MAF can be utilized.
The factory driveshaft will do just fine most of the time, but if you want a small performance gain (maybe a tenth in the quarter), an aluminum driveshaft is a nice addition to any car. They decrease rotational mass and reduce vibrations at speed. You can even buy lighter carbon-fiber driveshafts, but they are pricey.
Power is nothing if you can't put it to the ground. Drag-radials will help give you that needed traction. For a daily-driven car that needs a longer-lasting tire, Nitto makes a fine drag-radial. Though they aren't what I would consider a "race" tire, they offer GREAT traction compared to your average street tire. Additionally, they last quite long (sometimes 15K-20K miles) and can be driven safely in the rain. Next in line are BFG drag-radials. These tires offer much better off-the-line traction than the Nittos, but wear a little faster. The traditional "leaf-treaded" versions (typically the 17 inch ones) are great in the rain as well. The 18-inch versions have a different tread design with a smooth center, and you must be more careful in the rain. This version also gives awesome traction. If you wanna get serious, Hoosier and Mickey-Thompson make AWESOME drag-radials. While they don't last particularly long, or give even a shred of wet-traction, they deliver the ultimate in dry-weather straight-line grip without going to a full-blown slick. Decide what is best for you by what your particular needs are.
Chips, Handheld Tuners, and Professional ECU Tuning
In the past, computer tuning was misunderstood and almost "taboo" on mild cars, but today, with advances in software and more understanding and experience, computer tuning has become "the latest craze." For good reason too. The gains from a good tune are multi-faceted. Your car will idle better, have better drivability, get better gas mileage, run safer, and of course, yield more power. The factory LLX-(1,2,3 or 4)ECU is programmed with 3 main goals: safety, emissions, and drivability (with STOCK parts of course). The factory sets timing incredibly conservative, in fact, the stock ECU stops adding timing at only 4800 RPM, at a pathetic 18 degrees total timing. Additionally, the factory commands a 10.8:1 air-fuel ratio, which is less than optimal for performance, to say the least. Also, the factory bases their timing around the opening of the IMRC plates (see the Common Issues sticky), which many people delete upon installation of low gears, superchargers, etc. So, moving on, which type of ECU modification is best for you?
Basic Mail-order "Chips": This is the simplest form of ECU recalibration. Basically, it's a small unit, maybe a little smaller than your cell-phone, that plugs into a port on the factory computer. These "chips" use a very vague combination of timing increases and recalibrated A/F ratios to increase power and gas-mileage. While they will give a small improvement over stock, the cost is not justifiable due to the relatively recent plethora of tuning options that have become available. Units from Jet Performance, Hypertech, etc are available, but use technology that is well...obsolete.
Handheld Programmers: These are a great option that have become very popular in the last couple years. SCT (formerly commonly known as Superchips Tuning) has really grabbed the market lately. Additionally, Hypertech, Diablosport, and Sniper Tuning haved gained popularity. These handheld tuners allow for mild user-friendly changes in fuel, timing, gear-ratios (on newer cars, to correct the speedometer), etc. They can also be used to turn off rear 02's (like mentioned earlier), and have other convenient features. The beauty of handhelds is that you can often buy them with as many as 3 pre-programmed tunes for your car, and then make little changes yourself, such as retarding a few degrees of timing when you want to run nitrous, etc. Additionally, a professional tuner can use this handheld in conjunction with his more advanced software to burn you a custom tune(s) while monitoring the ECU's actvities as well as A/F ratio. This is your best option, but requires additional expense.
Professional Tuning: One of the best ways to recalibrate your ECU is to have a professional do it "manually" with his own software. Often times they will use your own handheld in conjuction, as mentioned, but can also simply burn you a "chip" or multi-tune "switch-chip," which can hold tunes for gas-mileage, N/A performance, nitrous, race-gas, etc. With this method, the tuner "datalogs" your ECU's activity on his computer, as well as the A/F ratio via a special sensor inserted into your exhaust. Datalogging is when you make baseline runs and a computer (often a laptop for convenience) stores all the ECU's activity for that period so that the tuner can make finite adjustments accordingly. The beauty of this method is that the tuner can make very detailed changes which will milk every last horsepower or MPG out of your car, and increase your drivability and engine's safety as well. This is usually done on a chassis-dyno, but can also be done on the street, which is preferred by some tuners.
So you wanna get a little more serious with car? First, make a conscious choice about what you want out of you Cobra performance-wise. Many people simply want a lower ride, others want good handling or a dragstrip terror. The key here, like all other aspects of performance, is matching the proper parts with each other, and matching the package as a whole to your specific goals with the car. That being said, know what you want before blowing all your cash on the next good deal that comes along. Never spend money twice and do it right the first time.
This should be one of the first mods to your Cobra. As you may know, the Fox4 platform upon which all Mustangs from '79-'04 are based was designed for the 1978 Ford Fairmont. Faaantastic, eh? The point is, your Mustang's chassis is a wet noodle compared to other late-model performance vehicles. A GREAT start is to put on a set of subframe connectors. These bars mate the front and rear subframes for a much stiffer car (not stiffer ride, stiffer chassis). There are a variety of choices to choose from in both brands and options. A basic bolt-on set of subframe connectors will help, but are not worth the effort. Eventually the bolt holes will stretch and tear, defeating the purpose of the connectors. You need to get weld-in connectors. For the average street/strip car, your basic full-length weld-in connector will do just fine. Maximum Motorsports and other companies make nice ones, but any garden-variety brand of the same design will work fine, after all, they are just bars. Have an experienced welder install them, making sure to keep normal load on the unibody via having the wieght of the car on the tires. A roll-on lift is preferable for this. Options for subframe connectors include lateral ties (make them look like a "t") which are standard on most, through-the-floor bracing, driveshaft-loops, and connections to a roll-cage (in race applications), jacking rails, etc. While any extra option is good, you'll typically be just fine with standard "t" shaped full-length connectors. The benefits of this mod are increased chassis rigidity and strength, a decrease in squeeks and rattles, better handling, and better launching at the dragstrip. If you plan on going more hardcore with your car, now would be a good time to have the welder guy put in some torque-box reinforcements as well.
In case you've been living under a rock for the last decade, springs are the number one way to change handling dynamics, weight-transfer, and ride-height. When it comes to up and down movement of the car, the springs absorb the initial shock, and shocks (struts too) dampen or limit the effects of this initial shock. Moving on past my nerdy tech-babble, let's start with the most common reason for springs: lowering. If you're sick of that 4x4 stock look, a set of lowering springs will please your fancy. The typical "standard" of lowering for a daily-driver type is 1.25-1.5" or so. You can't go much lower than that without needing caster/camber plates or different shocks/struts, but more on that later. A variety of brands are available and products from Steeda, FMS, H&R, Eibach, etc are proven. FMS B-springs, Eibach Pro-Kit and H&R Sports provide a nice compromise with a1.25-1.5" drop, better handling, and decent ride-quality. FMS C-springs are made for convertables and comparable. Now that we've covered our bases on basic lowering, on to the actual performance aspects...
Handling: If you want your Cobra to really take the twisties, you'll need a good set of springs. The options listed above provide good handling characteristics for a milder daily-driver type car. If you are gonna take it a step further, you may want to look into H&R Supersports and Eibach Sportlines, among others. These will not only lower your car 1.75-2.25", but also provide a stiffer ride and increased capability in the turns. The tradeoffs are that you'll feel EVERY bump in the road, plus you'll need caster/camber plates and better shocks/struts unless you want problems down the road (no pun intended).
Drag-racing: If you want to launch your car harder at the strip, different springs can benefit you. While not on the very top of the list (nothing beats sticky tires or an experienced driver), certain springs help wieght-transfer and straight-line grip immensely. I must mention that the stock springs are actually very good for drag-racing, despite their 4x4 stance. The aforementioned FMS B-springs are some of the best all-round springs. Not only do they deliver all the stuff I mentioned earlier, they also deliver great dragstrip performance. I've personally seen many people cut low 1.4 60-foot times on these springs in conjunction with other parts. For a dedicated drag setup, there are also springs available such as the Eibach Drag Package. This setup sits a little too high in the front (although the rear is nice and squat) for most people, but delivers good performance. It also comes with an airbag that goes into the right-rear spring to keep the car launching evenly (the rotational force of the driveline makes the right-rear squat harder than the left side, naturally). I run this setup, but I replaced the front springs with 4-cyl Fox springs because they let the car sit lower with similar launch characteristics. 4-cyl front springs are also a cheap alternative. Moroso, Summit, and others offer drag-spring packages as well, but many of these require cutting for fitment and ride-height changes, which can intimidate the average shadetree mechanic. Steeda also makes a drag-pack similar to Eibach, but I don't have any experience with it, although I'm sure it is top-notch like most Steeda products. They make other springs for the aforementioned applications as well.
Shocks and Struts
While springs are the primary element in your suspension's activity, shocks and struts are the meat and potatoes of it. Properly matching these with your springs is key. I must add that shocks and struts DO NOT CHANGE RIDE HEIGHT...I can't stress that enough, but I hear it all the time for some reason. Anyway, if you're lowering the car more than 1.5" or so, you'll probably need a set of aftermarket units. For a pretty cheap option, you can snag some Bullitt/Mach Tokicos or even some 03/04 Cobra Bilsteins. These offer an awesome bang-for-the-buck as well as increased handling and ride-quality. On a lowered car, the stock pieces will wear out quickly and even "bottom-out" (full compression) sometimes.
Handling: Adjustable offerings from Bilstein, Koni, and other companies provide the ultimate in shocks/struts with the ability to match rebound settings with performance goals. These are great for open-trackers, autocrossers, or mountain-road crusaders. If you are serious about handling and have the funds, this is a great way to improve agility. Although they have multiple settings for many uses, these units are still valved on the handling end of the spectrum even when set loose, compared to the ones in the paragraph below.
Drag: The stock shocks/struts are also pretty good for drag racing, but if you want to get serious in conjunction with your springs, QA-1, Strange, and Lakewood offer awesome options. The first two are adjustable, and the Lakewoods are not. The Lakewoods are great, but are not as street-friendly due to lack of adjustability. The Lakewood struts can be had in 70/30and 90/10 valving, with the 90/10 being the loosest extension rate as to really let the front-end lift. 70/30's are a better street strut and work well too. They also make a 50/50 valved rear shocks which work great. Koni makes a drag setup as well, but I have no experience with those (although the handling ones are AWESOME). Strange and QA-1 adjustables are a pretty sweet setup, and unlike the ones listed in the "handling" section, are more on the drag side of the spectrum. You can set them tighter for daily-driving, then loosen them up for the strip, which is not an option with Lakewoods. For reference, you typically want to set the struts at full-loose, and the shocks right in the middle at the drags.
Let's face it, if you didn't have to buy them, you probably wouldn't. While they offer better adjustability for race applications, most people just need them because they don't have enough adjustment after they lower the car. C/C plates let you extend the range of adjustment on the front suspension's alignment. If you want to know more on the tech side of this, search the internet, the info is out there. Anyway, Maximum Motorsports and other companies offer quality plates that will suit you just fine. In more extreme handling/race applications, the more expensive options are typically better because of the increased stresses they can stand, whereas cheaper plates can crack. Don't worry about this on a streetcar really. That's as far as I'll go with these parts as they're pretty boring and they piss you off because you MUST buy them often times even though you probably won't use them to increase performance.
Upper and Lower Control Arms
If you don't know what these are, take a look under your Mustang and find those four "bars" connected to the rearend. Yeah, those things suck, read on. The factory LCA/UCA's are stamped flimsy units that buckle under load and have bushings made for comfort and not performance. One of the first mods stangers do to put power to the ground is a good set of LCA's. Solid aftermarket units with polyurethane-bushings take most of the flex out of the system and allow more positive launches and increased traction, in layman's terms. Be careful who you buy from though, because many of the cheaper ones lack good bushings, which kind of defeats the whole purpose. Upper control arms are not quite as necessary right away, but still help. The same principles with bushings apply here too. Adjustable uppers are great for changing pinion angle as well on lowered cars. When it comes to bushings, you typically want polyurethane units instead of solid bushings (which will be clunky and rough), but if you are gonna just a solid bushing, only put them on the rearend side of the arms unless it's a true racecar. Like I said, I'm not gonna get too specific with these, but they also increase handling by keeping the rearend centered better, etc, etc.
I think I covered most of the basics and much of the more in-depth aspects of performance. If you wanna get REALLY serious, the internet is filled with great tech stuff about pistons, heads, cams, yadda-yadda-yadda, and other uber-specific techy stuff. What the internet does lack is databases of specific information for the average late-model stanger, which is what I'm trying to build here. Feel free to add your input, I strongly encourage it. I'll be making some more installments in the near future, so stay tuned.
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Daily-driven '96 Cobra with: Turbo, intercooler, methanol, wieght-reduction, suspension, stock-longblock, blah-blah-blah.
Last edited by RippinSVT; 03-13-2007 at 05:50 AM..
Reason: I added a lot...