In recent years, the great pony car war of Mustang versus Camaro has been better than ever. The Coyote 5.0 in the GT is a bona fide Camaro-killer, and the Corvette-based LT1 is a old school torque-monster ready for any challenge.
But this battle hasn’t always been so even. When GM started using its LT1 Corvette engine in its token pony car back in 1993, the Camaro went on a winning streak that lasted seven years straight. Every stock versus stock magazine test, and 99% of stoplight races, ended in the Mustang staring at the tail lights of the Camaro. Even when the Mustang changed to the more powerful 260 horsepower version of its single overhead cam modular engine in 1999 for its GT, it was already behind the eight ball because GM had upped the muscle car ante a year earlier to its formidable LS1 V8 that laid down a minimum of 305 horsepower. Not to mention the Camaro had six forward gears compared to the Mustang’s five, and had a 3.42 rear axle gear (for the manual transmissions), while the GT made do with its “performance” 3.27 gear. 0-60 times for the Mustang hovered around the mid-to-high five second range and quarter mile times hung around the mid-to-high 13 second department, while the LS1 Camaro times (given equal drivers of course) were typically several tenths quicker to 60, and, on average, about half a second quicker through 1320 feet, which might as well be a lifetime to most racers.
The Mustang simply could not keep pace, even with its vaunted SVT Mustang Cobra, whose DOHC V8 put down 320 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, just could not keep pace with the top dog Camaro SS and its more powerful powerplant. But just when all hope seemed lost, a blood-red ray of hope roared out from Ford’s Dearborn assembly plant in the form of the almighty 2000 Mustang Cobra R.
Although it was limited to only 300 copies, this side-piped savior helped restore the will to fight in the Mustang faithful. Ready for battle with a naturally aspirated 5.4-liter V8 that produced a stick-it-up-your-tailpipe-Camaro 385 horsepower and a matching 385 lb-ft of torque, the Cobra R was ready for anything GM could throw at it.
But this was no mere straight line drag racer, oh no. This Mustang came to prove Ford had the engineering know-how to tangle with the world’s best at the strip or around a road course. Armed with a list of parts that sounded more like a hot-rodder’s Christmas wish list than actual options, the Cobra R used nothing but the best parts available for its construction including: Carillo connecting rods, forged pistons, a McLeod aluminum flywheel, a Bassini X-pipe exhaust complete with Borla mufflers, Brembo four-piston front calipers, Bilstein shocks, Eiback springs, a Tremec six-speed transmission, not to mention a 21-gallon Fuel Safe fuel sell, Recaro seats, and, of course, the obligatory K&N air filter.
The Cobra R was indeed a stormer, running to 60 mph in a Vette-killing 4.5 seconds, and the quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at 110 mph. The real strength of the Cobra R was around the race track, which is indicated by its Viper-challenging 1.01g on the skidpad and 71.1 mph run through a 600 foot slalom. Aside from the powertrain changes, the R identifies itself as special with the aforementioned side pipes, lowered suspension, bigger 18-inch forged alloy wheels, low-slung lip spoiler, and of course its skyscraper rear wing.
The only chink in the armor of the mighty 2000 Cobra R was its extreme exclusivity. With only 300 examples made, if you didn’t get on the list early enough, you were doomed to scout the highways on Sunday mornings for a chance to see a wealthy collector out stretching the Cobra’s legs. With an as-tested price of $55,000, not to mention the thousands of dollars in dealer “market adjustments” imposed on potential buyers, precious few true enthusiasts were lucky enough to snag a set of keys to one of these devilish speed demons.
The 2000 Mustang Cobra R was the third iteration of the ‘R’ models, the other two coming in 1993 and then again in 1995. But the 2000 version served as nothing short of the finest performing thoroughbred to wear the blue oval. It was essentially a race car for the street, and served as a halo car to be a source of hope for Ford’s faithful followers. It did so in spades, and its scarcity only serves to support its legendary status as one of the hottest hot rods to ever lay down a strip of rubber all in the name of fighting the good fight, and keeping the balance of power even in the on-going war of the pony cars.