For today’s Throwback Thursday, our memory again takes us back many many years, to our first brand new car. It’s again our 1979 Mustang Cobra Turbo, purchased new off the lot in 1979. We were already a Mustang fan, having owned a 1967 Mustang as our college car, followed by a 1970 Mercury Cougar (and a 1974 Capri as our winter car). But now college was all but over, we were already in the workforce, and it was time to buy our first brand new car.
But why the Mustang, and why this particular type of Mustang? At the time we lived in Nifelheim, the Norse Hell (ever hear of the Blizzard of ’77?), where we had 6 months of cold and snow, followed by a couple of months of warm summer.And those summer months were frenetic for whatever warm weather hobby you enjoyed.
Nifelheim holds their yearly new car show in the downtown convention center every January. One of the exhibits was the local SCCA region, and that’s where we learned about autocrossing, officially known as “Solo II” racing. We decided to take that up and therefore wanted a small car with dynamic handling characteristics. And at the time, the Mustang was the only car of this type in existence.
But why the 4 cylinder? Actually it was by circumstance. We had a deal made for a nice bright read 8-cylinder Capri, with 4-speed manual, but the dealer ripped us off with numerous add-ons that raised the price too high for our limited budget. And they insisted on their own rust proofing treatment… which meant the underhood areas would be covered in a black waxy tar-like substance. We didn’t want anything of the sort. So we took the Cobra from another dealer as an alternative. And even with out own elementary driving skills, the car handled better with the lighter weight engine up front.
Now we just had to get past a couple more months until our first event… and polish up our manual transmission driving skills as well.
At the time, the local region used a 3/8 mile oval “baby” NASCAR motorsports track outside of town for their autocrosses, along with the x-shaped inside crossover. A variety of course layouts could be made here, and most used the banking shown below.
This was a great place to learn my new hobby, and the car was well-suited to it. I attended the full season of events, and even pulled a trophy for first place in my class at the end of the year.
I went to events far and wide in this car. Here I am at an autocross at Cherry Valley Motorsports Park. The event started at the end of the day for familiarization, then the timed part of the event began after dark. The big lights were necessary because it was held in pitch black darkness. Some drivers went right off the course.
The Cobra was not without its design issues, in fact lots of them. First and top of the list was the rear suspension. This began my long hate relationship with solid axle Mustangs…. although at the time that was the only type of suspension I’d had any experience with. The car skipped and hopped if you left the line too fast… and it wiggled underneath in the turns. Soft bushings in the control arms were the norm way back then… Ford hadn’t yet tightened up the bushings (or added the “quad shocks”) as they would continually fine-tune for the next 25 years of the life of this basic chassis. And the car didn’t even have a limited slip differential. But it was still a good car to learn in, since this trait meant that you had to learn finesse. That’s what autocrossing was all about.
And as you can see in the picture above, my 5′ 11″ frame – with helmet – hit the roof. That made for a very uncomfortable lean-forward seating position.
I was also heavily involved with TSD rallies back then, attending SCCA Pro Rallies in Pennsylvania (spectator, worker, and then Stage Captain), and I had a 25 mile commute in the car to my 1st company. Summer was also mosquito season.. and they appeared regularly in enormous black swarms. One of my first drives to that company resulted in the front of the Cobra being plastered in dead mosquitoes… and a three-hour session that same night at a car wash attempting to remove them (local car supply shops stocked all sorts of likely carcinogenic chemicals specially formulated just for that purpose).
What became of the Cobra? For our second season, I went into a prepared class by adding adjustable Koni inserts, sway bars (Quickor Engineering), a bit more boost (who could resist?), and a slight exhaust modification (downturn with removable tailpipe). I also started attending events in other SCCA regions. And then the one thing happened that changed forever the hobby for me, as well as likely ruined my financial future. On Memorial Day weekend in 1980, I attended my first open track event. And got hooked for life. That event, sponsored by the Corvette Club of Cleveland and held at Nelson Ledges, changed the direction for our life – personally, professionally, and in this hobby. I got a trophy, and got hooked on high-speed driving events. And that means there is never enough handling or power (and we struggled to keep them in that order of priority) to satisfy. And whatever car you happen top have is never good enough. Everything you own, be it your track car or even your Explorer, is judged by its characteristics on-course and at speed.
And that meant the end of the Cobra Turbo for me. For it’s replacement, I gave up some handling (thanks to big iron lump of a 4.9 liter V-8 up front), I gained improved seating (thanks to real German Recaros), enjoyed improved braking (much larger brakes all around), and raised my monthly car payment significantly (thanks to Ford Credit for enabling my obsession!). That will be the topic of a future Throwback Thursday post.
In summary, for my 1979 Mustang Cobra Turbo, I’ll offer this quote: “From small beginnings come great things.”