Rare Breed: Mike Smith's 1980 Cobra Mustang

Author: Evan Smith | 10/03/2020 < Back to Motor Life Home

Say “Cobra” to any automotive enthusiast and visions of Carroll Shelby’s roadsters come to mind. But the Cobra moniker runs far deeper, as it was used on many a Torino and even Fox Mustangs too. The most popular Fox Cobra is the 1993 SVT model and Ford officially used the “Cobra” name for the last time in 2004 with the 390 horsepower supercharged SVT “Terminator” Cobra.

Cobra means performance to anyone attending the 2020 Holley Ford Fest, and they would not be disappointed with the turnout of Cobra Fords. Yes, there are Terminators galore, but one not so common version is this clean 1980 model owned by Mike Smith of Dayton, Ohio.

Production began in 1979 and for ten years Fox Mustangs were pumped out by the hundreds of thousands. They gained instant popularity with drag racers, thanks to the lightweight of the unibody chassis and the V8 rear-drive configuration. Over the years, momentum grew and it continues to be one of the most widely celebrated Fords. Smith has owned his 1980 Stang for over 21 years. It retains the factory look, but has been upgraded with a strong small-block that’s topped with Holley carburetion. Roughly 5,500 1980 Cobras were produced, and this one sees regular drag strip action.

In 1980 the Cobra was an appearance package with new front bumper and air dam with fog lights, non-functional cowl-type hood scoop, and rear spoiler. Graphics included belt-line stripes, a redesigned hood decal, and "COBRA" decals on both the side quarter windows and the rear spoiler. Exterior trim was black and included the door handles, key locks, antenna, and sail panels. Furthermore, it included “engine-turned” dash bezels and three COBRA emblems—one in each door panel and one on the passenger side dash bezel.

Horsepower was not what we know today, as the options included a 2.3L (140-inch) four-cylinder Turbo with mandatory four-speed manual transmission (131 horsepower) or the 4.2L (255-cube) V8 (115-122 hp) with either an overdrive 4-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.

Smith’s Cobra makes a tad more power. It’s motivated by a BES-prepared 363-cube small-block built off the 8.2-inch deck platform. It uses Edelbrock Victor Jr. heads and a 750 cfm Holley HP carb. The engine is backed by a C4 three-speed automatic transmission and gear changes are handled by a B&M shifter. Smith upgraded the rear end to a Ford 8.8 with 4.56 gears and he set up the suspension with bolt-on parts to hook and allow it to turn 6.40s at 107 mph in the 1/8-mile.

“I just love this event,” he told us. “I typically bracket race at local tracks, but this is on of the events we travel to every year,” said Smith. “I race 1/8-mile and the NMRA has a great class for us, plus I love seeing all the Fords that come out.”

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