SN95 Mustang: Cheap Thrills Budget Pony Car


SN95 Mustang: Cheap Thrills Budget Pony Car


Mustangs have always been a great starting point for all types of performance-car builds, no matter what kind of ride you crave. And right now, the SN95 Mustang generation is selling for bargain basement prices, making these cars an appealing choice for working-class enthusiasts looking to get into the action on a budget.

These cars are built from the same great formula that has made Mustang a perennial favorite – compact 2+2 dimensions, relatively light chassis, and V8 power. But, unlike so many previous iterations of Ford’s famous pony car, most SN95 Mustangs are currently just "used cars,” and they’re priced accordingly.

That means tantalizingly affordable examples of these lively machines are easy to find just about anywhere.

While some refer to the 1994-1998 cars as "SN95" and call the 1999-2004 cars Ford’s period "New Edge" moniker, it’s more accurate to call all of them SN95s, because they share the same foundation. Either way, this platform is essentially an update of the 1979-1993 “Fox” Mustang chassis. Many of the parts are the same or very similar between both generations.

For this guide, we’re sticking to the mainstream models that are commonly available and affordable. That means GT and Cobra. The V6 versions are practically giveaways, but they aren’t worth your time unless you’re planning an engine swap. And the small number of race-ready R-Model Cobras were pricey collectibles the day they rolled off the assembly line.

But that still leaves loads of good, strong performing cars ready for your meager budget and wild imagination.

Year by Year Differences


If you’re a diehard small-block Ford lover who’s itching to build some old-school horsepower, then a 1994-1995 Mustang GT or Cobra is for you. Both were powered by Ford’s venerable pushrod 5.0-liter Windsor small-block V8.

By today’s standards, engine output for both versions was relatively meager, with GTs making 215 horsepower; Cobras fared slightly better, getting GT40 cylinder heads and a freer-flowing intake manifold to raise horsepower to 240.

Even so, these 5.0 small-block cars benefit from the massive aftermarket parts support that blossomed in the heyday of 1980s and ‘90s Fox Mustang mania, and these are the easiest SN95 engines to modify.


For 1996, Ford introduced the Modular engine to the Mustang. The term “Modular” referred to Ford’s plan to produce these engines in various cylinder and displacement configurations with common tooling. GTs got a single-overhead-cam, 16-valve 4.6L version rated at 215 horsepower, while Cobras got an aluminum block, dual-overhead-cam, 32-valve version rated at 305 horsepower.


In 1999, the GT’s 4.6L 2V engine got improved cylinder heads and intake manifold that added 45 horsepower, for total of 260. These later heads and intake can be added to earlier 2V engines. At the same time, Cobras got their own breathing improvements, which added 15 more ponies, lifting 1999 and 2001 cobras to 320 horsepower.

But the biggest news for 1999-2001 Cobras was their rear suspension, which replaced the previous 8.8-inch live-axle setup with an independent rear suspension. Worth noting, this IRS design was a bolt in, so it can be swapped into earlier cars relatively easily.

The Cobra nameplate sat out the 2000-2002 model years, aside from a rare handful of road racing-focused Cobra R versions produced for 2000. The mainstream street-oriented Cobra returned for 2003-2004 to close out the SN95 generation on a high note.

With a Roots-type supercharger atop the engine boosting output to 390 horsepower, the 2003-2004 Cobra was the top performing SN95 Mustang. Unfortunately, prices today reflect this status – expect to pay at least double what other non-R-Model SN95 Cobras cost.

See Holley's complete line of SN95 performance parts now

Pick Your Pony

Compared to Fox Mustangs, the market for good, affordable SN95s is a feast of abundance – there are loads of these cars still out there. You’ll likely be buying from a private seller, so Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are great places to start your search.

Here are some specific things to look for when shopping for a 1994-2004 Mustang:


Today’s ethanol-infused fuels eat old fuel systems alive – especially when these cars sit awhile. “Ran when parked” Mustangs will likely need a new fuel pump and possibly a new tank. To check if the fuel pump is working, turn the key to the Run position, but don’t start the engine.

The pump should moan for a second. If you don’t hear anything and the car won’t run, it likely needs a new fuel pump. Fortunately, replacements are available and it’s a relatively simple job to replace it.

Manual transmissions in Mustangs are always gluttons for punishment. There’s no such thing as, “It just needs a new synchro.” If there’s a crunch, it’s junk. Plan on a full rebuild, which can easily cost around $1,000 just in parts to do it properly.

Automatic transmissions will give you the common auto-trans warning signs – slipping or clunking when changing gears and shuddering when the torque converter locks up. Pouring in some magic potion only delays the inevitable rebuild.

The cable clutch on 1979-2004 Mustangs can be a trouble spot, too. Decades of use and heavy clutches quickly wear out the clutch linkage components. Basic fixes should at least include a new clutch cable, fork, and, if it’s a 1994-1995 with a T-5 manual transmission, replacing the aluminum input shaft bearing retainer with a steel one.

The former is simple, but the latter requires removing the transmission. Both are worthwhile and will fix crusty clutch feel.

While you have the transmission out fixing your gritty clutch action, keep going and remove the bellhousing, clutch, and flywheel to fix that leaky rear main seal. (Yes, that’s why there’s oil on the bottom of the bellhousing.) But note – a new rear main seal on 4.6L engines requires special tools to set the depth of the seal properly. The tools aren’t cheap, so either borrow some or buy them to avoid do-overs.

Also be sure to inspect the usual oil-leak suspect points, including valve covers, PCV valves and the oil pan. Due to updated sealing technology, the Modular engines tend to have fewer leak issues than the pushrod engines.

If you hear any whirring from the rear end or you’ve got the “one wheel peel,” it’s time to crack open the diff cover and replace the limited-slip clutches. While you’re smelling that old gear oil, pull the axle shafts and check for wear. If there is a dark gray patch with pits or chunks missing, the axles are done. Replace the outer bearings and seals when replacing axles.

See Holley's complete line of SN95 performance parts now


The build quality on SN-95s was actually pretty good. No, the panel gaps on these cars were never the Lexus/Mercedes paragon of tightly spaced uniformity. Nonetheless, the body panels on an SN95’s hood, doors, and decklid should be reasonably consistent.

Compared to earlier generations, these Mustangs had less adjustment available on body panels, so it’s more difficult to tweak the hinges to cover up a poor repair. If the hinges aren’t worn, the doors should line up.

Here’s a quick tip on that: With the windows rolled down, the doors should close with just a nudge. If the striker drags on the latch, something is amiss.

SN95 Mustangs aren’t as corrosion prone as previous generations are. However, if a Mustang spent a significant portion of its life driving in winters north of the Mason-Dixon line, check for rust on the bottom of the doors, edges of the rear wheel wells, and the floor pan.

Improving Your SN95 Mustang

Once any irritating issues are fixed, it’s time to move on to the fun part – modifying your Mustang. Like previous generations, the SN95 Mustang has loads of aftermarket components available. You’re always just a quick click of the mouse or an easy swipe on your smartphone away from the goodies you need to significantly improve the performance of your car.


Upgrading the exhaust system is one of the best places to start when modifying a Mustang. Besides the obvious audio mojo enhancements such mods provide, they’re a simple way to significantly improve power output.

An axle-back system is one of the easiest choices to start getting the benefits of a performance exhaust. These kits include everything you need and can be easily installed in an afternoon. Or, for an even greater performance upgrade, cat-back systems offer bigger increases, usually with the added power benefits of their designed-in X-pipe, which adds additional power and further improves the overall sound quality.

See all of Holley's SN95 exhaust systems now


All SN-95 Mustangs came from the factory with four-wheel disc brakes. Cobras had vented rear rotors, while GTs and V6 models used solid discs. The calipers were the same on both; thinner brake pads were specified to fit over the Cobra’s thicker vented rotors. Cobras also got larger, two-piston calipers from PBR that clamped 13” rotors.

But neither of these stock brake configurations are up to the task of hard performance work – they were relatively weak systems aimed at only mildly spirited street use.

Fortunately, Baer offers complete systems that can dramatically improve the brakes on practically any Mustang, bringing the stopping power of your ride into the modern era. Best of all, these kits include everything you need to get the job done, and they’re designed for easy installation.

See the complete line of Baer brakes for SN95 now

Upgraded ECU

If serious engine modifications are in your future, it’s hard to beat the adaptability of the Holley Terminator X EFI system. It’s no secret that 1994-1995 Mustangs need a chip for tuning, and chip tuners are few and far between. To get around this problem, Holley's Terminator X system combines today’s self-adjusting aftermarket EFI capabilities with a new wiring harness.

You’ll eliminate the need for chip tuning and replace that old, crusty engine wiring harness at the same time. A Holley EFI system makes tuning for engine modifications like camshafts and power adders as easy as a few taps on the included handheld device.

Take a look at Holley's Terminator X EFI system now

Engine Swaps

Let’s face it – even when these cars were new, the performance of SN95 Mustangs wasn’t exactly mind-melting by today’s standards. And now their engines have typically suffered decades of wear, neglect, and abuse, further diminishing their output.

Fortunately, the aftermarket has plenty of great solutions for this problem. By swapping a modern engine into your Mustang, you can get the best of both worlds – cool retro 1990s style and contemporary power output.

Here are some great choices for swaps, with plenty of pieces to make the job easier no matter how little time or talent you have.

Ford Coyote: Dropping in Ford’s modern 5.0L Coyote engine is the most popular swap for these cars nowadays. Using an aftermarket front crossmember and headers simplifies the job. The Coyote engine shares the same bellhousing pattern as Ford’s Modular engines, so transmission options are plentiful.

Holley offers a wide array of kits and components to facilitate these swaps. You can get everything you need to get the job done, including mounts, oil pans, headers, and fuel system components.

See Holley's complete line of Coyote swap kits and components for SN95 now

Ford 7.3L Godzilla: This heavy-duty truck engine cranks out good power and burly low-speed torque in stock form, making it likely to be the next big thing for Mustang engine swaps. But until recently it posed significant problems when swapping into anything but hefty full-size pickups – the factory Godzilla is truly monster size because of its deep oil pan, tall manifold, and wide accessory drive.

Now Holley has solved these problems with a highly effective combination of gerotor oil system, low-profile intake manifold, and wide assortment of accessory drive combinations. Together, these improvements shrink the Godzilla’s overall dimensions to fit the tight confines of Mustang engine compartments.

Check out Holley's swap systems and components for Godzilla SN95 swaps now

General Motors LS: If you want to increase performance, cut weight, and irritate Ford purists, an LS swap is just the ticket. Holley makes it easy, with a comprehensive collection of kits and components, including oil pans, engine mounts, and headers.

The biggest hurdle when LS swapping an SN-95 Mustang is driving the accessories – namely the power steering and air conditioning. Holley’s mid-mount front accessory drive systems offer a tidy, elegant solution by mounting the accessories tight to the engine. The result is an LS swap that has air conditioning and power steering, looks great, and doesn’t interfere with anything.

No matter what kind of car project you’re contemplating, an SN95 Mustang is a great starting point. They’re inexpensive, plentiful, and versatile – a terrific blank canvas for whatever you can dream up. But if you’re waiting for these promising pony cars to get cheaper, don’t hold your breath. They’re at the bottom of their depreciation curve, and prices are only going to go up from here. So don’t wait – snap one up now and start wrenching!

See the full Holley line of LS swap components and kits for SN95 now


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