Press release from Ford, at 3 PM Central today:
The following statement is attributable to Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company.
The SVE Mustang King Cobra (1994) and the SVE Super Stallion (1997) were two Ford engineering exercises built to explore modernization of the SN95 platform by the addition of state-of-the-art SLA (short-long arm) and IRS (independent rear) front and rear suspensions. Ford knew that the SN95 platform, with architecture originally designed in the mid-seventies for the 1978 Fairmont, couldn’t remain competitive or leading edge in the market for very much longer, much less meet upcoming Federal safety (gas tank location) or crash (structural integrity) standards. The SN95 platform itself was simply was an update of the original FOX platform (an all-new platform designed for the 1978 Fairmont and 1979 Mustang, later used for the Thunderbird, LTD 2, Lincoln Mark VII, and several other cars). The SN95 is so closely related to the FOX platform that most SN95 parts easily bolt onto earlier FOX Mustangs.
Why is the story of the King Cobra and Super Stallion story important? Because these two cars, along with the MN12 based Mustang production prototype, the FR500 showcar, and doubtless other lost engineering exercises, are an important part of the history of the Mustang. They show that Ford had a much greater vision for the Mustang than what we eventually received in production. They also show that Ford’s budget – as well as the vision and acceptance of the top Executives, was the constraining factor (with the exception of Jacques Nasser, who personally sponsored both the 1999 Cobra and the 2003 Cobra – and said at the time of the 1999 introduction “Isn’t it about time we offered an IRS on the Mustang…!”). Those constraining factors continue to this day, and in the case of the current Mustang originally cost it use of the full DEW platform and then before production an IRS suspension developed for the (dumbed-down DEW) S197 platform.
Ford’s Special Vehicles Engineering (SVE) organization was at the time the internal engineering arm of the Ford Special Vehicles Team (SVT). SVT was purely a marketing organization at the time, and as of this date is a shell of its former self with basic engineering and testing carried out by the platform teams rather than a separate organization such as SVE. This change was introduced (with some internal controversy) because of the severe engineering and quality issues introduced by SVE re-engineering the cars as they saw fit, with much less rigorous engineering and testing before production release. Warranty issues were first seen in the 1994 Cobra (magnesium seat brackets and front suspension bushings, differing from the standard parts) and (as the SVT products further differentiated their engineering from the base products) in the 1999 Cobra horsepower and cooling recall. Clearly a “post-engineering re-engineering” methodology had to stop and Ford eventually put an end to it. But before that, the two SVE cars shown here were examples of just that type of “band-aid” engineering. Only the supercharged 4.6 DOHC engine persevered, and it had more than its share of severe quality and warranty issues (perhaps the worst ever for SVT) as well (as this author personally suffered thru).
Let’s review the King Cobra and Super Stallion (from our Ford Motor Company concepts, prototypes,. and show cars section – with over 150 examples), along with images from the time:
SVE Mustang King Cobra
The SVE Mustang King Cobra came first, almost at the same time the production 1994 Mustang was being introduced. Due to cost constraints, the 1994 Mustang was introduced with ye olde iron pushrod 4.9 liter OHV engine. This was not what was originally intended when the SN95 platform was conceived (which itself was only a last-minute substitution for an MN12-based Mustang originally intended for the 1991 timeframe). Ford had planned to use the “modular” 4.6 liter engines from the start, including the 4.6 DOHC engine introduced 1993 Lincoln Mark VIIII. However cost constraints held Ford back, so the old engine would have to suffice for the time being. Meanwhile, the future of the Mustang was being examined internally with the King Cobra. Images of the King Cobra - and it’s very existence – have never been released or discussed by Ford. It was purely an internal prototype of the originally intended SVT Mustang Cobra – a plan that was considerably dumbed down (and delayed) before final production in 2003.
The supercharged 4.6 is related to that of the Mustang Mach III, with changes suitable for production use. You’ll note that the layout below is very close to that of the 2003-04 Cobra.
Elements of the 1996 Mustang 4.6 V-8 (SOHC U& DOHC) can be seen here including the use of the Hydroboost braking system, the pre-production air filter, and the placement of the fuse box and other underhood elements.
Many of the engineering elements of the future 2003 SVT Cobra can also be seen here – from the supercharger placement (although not the same supercharger), to the expansion tank for the intercooler, to the shape and location of the MAF, air filter, and air inlet. The battery, however, is located in the trunk – something that would prove impossible for the eventual production car. Note that the power steering reservoir is located where the battery would normally be found and that would also change by necessity.
There was also an emphasis on building in anti-lift geometry in the rear suspension. It was apparent that this car would have a very heavy engine up front, and this architecture was necessary for handling and braking ability. Anti-lift would be an important benefit of the final production 1999 SVT Mustang Cobra IRS suspension as well.
- IRS with special attention paid to achieving low unsprung weight and anti-lift geometry
- SLA front suspension
- PBR fr/rr brakes w/specifically-tuned ABS
- Torsen differential
- Unique body components – hood for clearance, and functional side scoop to cool rear suspension
- Unique interior trim
The Mustang King Cobra shows that SVE had in mind a demonstration of its suspension ngineering capabilities. As we know, none of these major engineering elements made it to production. Nor has Ford been able to actually offer such a front and rear suspension on a production Mustang. It’s a shame that SVE and Ford fell so far after showing what they were capable of here, and again later on with the FR500.
|0-60 mph||4.9 seconds||(estimated)|
|60-0 mph||130 ft.||(estimated)|
|1/4 mile||13.0 @ 105 mph|
|200 ft radial skidpad||0.87g||(estimated)|
|600 ft slalom||65 mph||(estimated)|
SVE program managers included Al Suydam and Steve Anderson. Team members included Ron Smith and Eric Tseng.
A number of issues were encountered in the development of this car (and the related show car Super Stallion – which perhaps was one and the same car underneath?). The chief problem was excessive heat in the shocks – pushrod operated, and located in a “tray” in the trunk. The side vents cooled those shocks, but only to a degree.
Also, of course, was the entire issue of cost: since the SN95 hadn’t been engineered for an SLA up front and an IRS in the rear, production costs would be excessively high – especially for a short run of 8-10,000 cars per year. As it turned out, as we now know for the 2003 Cobra, the SLA front suspension was dropped, the IRS was totally redesigned to make it considerably more production-friendly, and the supercharged engine would continue in development for a few more years before finally appearing in 2003.
SVE Mustang Super Stallion
While the SVE Mustang King Cobra was originally an exploration of intended things to come, the Super Stallion was nothing more than a show car (introduced at the 1997 SEMA show). However, it did reveal to the public for the first time the front SLA and rear IRS development work that had been done. Several magazine articles of the time showed detailed photos of the front and rear suspension. Unfortunately, none of these unique suspension pieces would ever be seen again, much less in production. However, the improved 4-valve cylinder heads, the T-56 (previously seen in the Mustang Mach III show car), and the use of front Brembo brakes were an early indication of things to come on future SN95-based Mustangs.
The bodywork of the Super Stallion takes a step forward from the King Cobra by providing proper room for much-needed larger wheels and tires. Custom front and rear fenders provide extra width and opening size. The King Cobra, given the standard early SN95 fender wells, was left at a strange angle in order to get the needed wheels and tires under the car.
Possibly this car was simply the King Cobra underneath, with the new engine added. In any case, when the car was revealed, the production 1999 SVT Mustang Cobra with it’s entirely different IRS suspension was already well in the pipeline and would be shown to the press 6 months later. The reworked 1999 Mustang was the result of a 750-million dollar (over-)budget project, led by Janine Bay, including the cost of the design and production prep of the IRS that was used in production.
This car, and the King Cobra, showed that Ford engineers were trying to give the Mustang a world-class suspension, despite the desperately outdated and unbalanced platform – and the intent to replace it with an entirely new platform after the turn of the century (delayed until 2005). A prior “last shot” at improving the FOX platform had been seen in the FR500, although that car was never (despite press releases to the contrary) intended as anything other than a show car.
- 5.4L “modular” V8 with improved 4V cylinder heads and 16 injectors
- Flex fuel compatible
- Dual MAF and throttle body assemblies
- Garrett (Allied Signal) Positive Displacement Supercharger w/Cockpit Controlled Disengagement Clutch
- Garrett Air to Water Intercooler
- Borg Warner T56 6-speed
- Front: SLA Front Suspension w/Koni DA shocks
- Rear: SLA IRS w/pushrod actuated Koni DA coil over shocks mounted in the truck
- Front: Brembo 4 Piston w / 13″ x 1.25″ cross drilled and slotted rotors
- Rear: stock Cobra rear calipers w / 12″ x 1.0″ cross drilled rotors
- Speedline 3 Piece Racing Wheels (18″ x 8.5″ Front / 18″ x 9.5″ Rear)
- Goodyear 265/40ZR18 Eagle F1-GS Fiorano Tires
|545 HP @ 6000 RPM (101 HP/Liter)||590 HP @ 6000|
|497 Lbs-Ft @ 4750 (84% of Max Torque at 2000 RPM)||536 Lbs-Ft @ 4750 RPM|
Development Team Members
- Steve Anderson – Program Manager
- Bill Lane, Kevin Lambert, Dave May, Primo Goffi, Al Oslapas, John Moore
Mustang Super Stallion – technology with attitude
LAS VEGAS, Nev., November 3, 1997 – Roaring down the Las Vegas strip, the Mustang Super Stallion technology concept makes its debut at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show.
“The Super Stallion is a showcase of the innovative high-performance technology that Ford has up its sleeves,” said John Coletti, manager, Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE). “We’ve enhanced some of the already great Mustang features and added a few new twists to make this car every performance enthusiast’s dream.”
Leading the way in innovative powertrain and chassis technology while developing exciting, high-performance cars and trucks is the focus of Ford’s SVE group.
Super Stallion serves as a test bed for new engineering processes in addition to reinforcing Ford’s product passion. While Super Stallion is not intended for production, many of its technologies may be considered for mainstream application in the future.
Under The Hood
Powered by a 5.4-liter four-valve DOHC V-8 engine with a high capacity Garrett supercharger, Super Stallion is capable of 545 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 495 foot-pounds of torque at 4750 rpm. Super Stallion’s engine was built at Ford’s Windsor, Ont., engine plant and was modified by SVE in Allen Park, Mich. The engine modification was made possible by the flexibility of Ford’s modular engine family. The overhead cam engines are easily modified because they share basic architecture, tooling and components.
Out on the track, Super Stallion puts up some impressive numbers with a top speed estimated at 175 mph, a 0-60 mph time well under five seconds and a quarter-mile time of less than 13 seconds at 112 mph.
Specially modified aluminum cylinder heads provide better air flow, while 16 injectors keep fuel pumping through the performance hardware. The engine compression ratio is 8.2:1.
Air enters the engine through twin throttle bodies that are mounted to the high-capacity, clutch-activated, Garrett supercharger. This configuration relieves the engine of the parasitic losses incurred during the normal periods of “non-performance” operation. The end result is a significant improvement in fuel economy.
Shifting into gear is made possible by a multi-disk McLeod clutch system and a Borg-Warner T56 six-speed manual transmission.
Super Stallion’s engine is also equipped for flex-fuel operation. It is capable of running on gasoline, alcohol or any combination of the two. The system’s optical fuel sensor tells the computer the exact composition of the fuel allowing the EEC-V module to make necessary changes automatically. The benefits of having flex-fuel capabilities include cleaner emissions and improved performance, with the ability to achieve 50 more horsepower on E85 fuel.
Super Stallion’s suspension is tuned for optimal performance, ensuring the car will remain stable even under maximum handling conditions.
The front independent short/long arm suspension features an all new SVE design, replacing the standard McPherson strut system, and includes Koni double adjust shock absorbers. This configuration provides more negative camber during maximum turning, for improved cornering performance and anti-dive characteristics.
Another innovative design is the competition-style independent rear suspension. The springs and shocks are part of a unique module that is mounted in the trunk minimizing the unsprung mass while providing exceptional anti-squat during acceleration and anti-lift during hard braking.
The five-spoke, three-piece aluminum wheels from Speedline measure 18 x 8.5-inches in the front and 18 x 9.5-inches in the rear and feature 265/40ZR18 Eagle F1Fiorano Goodyear performance tires. Stopping power is provided by Brembo calipers and 13-inch vented discs on the front. The rear uses 12-inch vented Brembo discs. In addition, hard stops are controlled by electronic ABS. Stopping distance from 60 mph is 116 feet and from 100 mph is 310 feet with exceptional anti-fade characteristics.
The aggressive stance and sleek lines of the production Mustang are enhanced by unique graphics and carbon fiber accents to give the Super Stallion a distinct performance look.
An all-new hood design, with nostril-like openings, allows this beast to breathe a little easier. Improved air-flow into the engine compartment keeps the 5.4-liter V-8 cool under the most intense driving conditions.
The front fascia has been modified to include two large, round driving lights along with integral ducts that feed air to the engine, while the rear fascia features integrated dual exhausts. Both the front and rear treatments as well as the mirrors and scoops are made of carbon fiber to keep weight at a minimum.
The quarter window ducts and quarter panel scoops allow for rear shock and brake cooling, which ensures peak performance of these vital components. The rear decklid and spoiler have been modified to improve the aerodynamics of the car and provide outstanding high-speed stability.
A dramatic exterior graphics package completes Super Stallion’s “street racer” appearance. The car takes on two different personalities with radically different color configurations on each side. The passenger side is painted in a deep metallic blue base color giving the car an unassuming look, disguising its true power. In contrast, the driver’s side is white and stands out to give Super Stallion a menacing look, hinting at its true capabilities.
Super Stallion’s interior features four leather-wrapped ebony bucket seats. The front seats include integrated three-point safety restraints, which improve the rear seat ingress/egress, and dynamic seat bolsters. The seat bolsters are unique in that they articulate to hold the occupants in place during hard cornering. The bolsters retract to make entry and exit of the vehicle more comfortable.
Keeping track of all of Super Stallion’s systems is made possible by an on-board performance diagnostics system mounted in the headliner. In addition, two extra gauges are mounted on the A-pillar to monitor intake manifold vacuum/boost and fuel system pressure. The rest of the performance-oriented white faced gauges are housed in the instrument cluster.
The supercharger is activated with the flip of a switch that is mounted in the center stack area of the console. When the system is on, the “armed” light is illuminated and Super Stallion is performing at its ultimate. Also found in the center stack area is a digital readout that measures the amount of alcohol present in the vehicle’s fuel.
The center console runs the length of the car and houses the leather-wrapped shifter. It also provides extra storage space and cup holders for the rear passengers.
To complete the driving experience, Super Stallion is equipped with a Mach 630 watt sound system from Visteon Automotive Systems. The radio/CD unit is housed in the instrument panel and features two amplifiers, a center image speaker mounted in the dash, 2.5-inch speakers in the A-pillar sails, 5.5 X 7.5-inch woofers in the doors, three sub-woofers and two mid-range tweeters mounted in the package tray.
“We’ve taken high-performance technology to a new and exciting level with the Super Stallion,” said Coletti. “It’s the ultimate ride!”
Steve Saleen is Back in The Driver Seat of His Legacy and Heritage
Launching Several New Saleen Models
Corona, CA –
(April 2, 2012) Famed racecar driver and automotive icon, Steve Saleen,
announced today that the Saleen brand has been returned to its rightful place, himself.
After several years of litigation, Steve Saleen has successfully regained control of the
Saleen brand name and products that he created and built since 1984.
“In 2007, it was a difficult decision to resign from Saleen, Inc.”, said Steve Saleen. “But I
knew it had to be done in order to preserve the Saleen brand and to ensure the
authenticity and high performance that our customers had come to expect.”
That also marked the year that Steve Saleen unveiled his signature line, SMS Supercars
(SMS stands for Steve Mark Saleen). SMS Supercars was the continuation of Steve’s
vision for high performance automotive manufacturing. During the few short years that
followed its inception, SMS Supercars and Steve Saleen successfully launched three new
models, the SMS 570 Challenger, SMS 302 Mustang, and the SMS 620 Camaro. With
this, SMS Supercars also launched an entire catalog of aftermarket parts, including the
innovative SMS 296 Supercharger system.
Steve Saleen further added, “Although the Saleen brand is a huge part of my identity, I
knew it was the vision and passion that would shine through on my signature vehicles.
However, it couldn’t have been done without the support of the Saleen community. The
foundation and inspiration that they gave me to move forward with my vision was what
ultimately moved us to regain the Saleen branding. Most importantly the Saleen
community gets their identity back as well.”
The Refacing of Saleen
The return of the Saleen brand will allow Steve Saleen to begin offering all of his current
SMS Supercars products under the Saleen flag. With this move, SMS Supercars will be
carefully integrated into the Saleen branded family of products.
Steve Saleen will also be launching under the Saleen brand its 4V, SC, SSC, and X
Models of the 2013 Mustang, 2012 Challenger, and 2012 Camaro ranging from 425hp to
over 750 horsepower. These models will have the latest technology in Aerodynamics,
Suspension, Braking, and Performance starting at less than $40,000.
This is expected to provide a full range of products for all Saleen dealers, Speed Shops,
Race Teams, and Automotive customers in the American Pony Car segment of the
performance market. All aftermarket offerings will include: Saleen Superchargers, SMS
Superchargers, Saleen Vehicle Body Component parts, SMS Challenger Body
Component parts, SMS Mustang Body Component parts, SMS Camaro Body Component
parts, SMS Butterfly hoods, as well as all other interior and engine parts for these
With the reuniting of Steve Saleen and the Saleen brand, Mr. Saleen is currently planning
to make available all 1984 – Current Saleen vehicle aftermarket, replacement and
warranty parts. All parts will be available through the Saleen.com website, by contacting
Saleen at 800-888-8945 (formerly SMS Supercars) directly, or through the nearest Saleen
Moving forward, Mr. Saleen detailed that the Saleen registry will be updated to include
all SMS branded vehicles. By including the SMS branded vehicles in the registry they
will gain their rightful place in the Saleen family. The Saleen Registry is the official
record established to maintain the authenticity and exclusivity of all Saleen signature
Additionally, any current owners or dealers of SMS branded vehicles will be provided
with replacement badging for their vehicles, if they so desire. They can contact the
customer service division of Saleen (formerly SMS Supercars) directly, provide the
details on their vehicle, and the replacement Saleen badging will be sent out immediately.
About Steve Saleen
An automotive pioneer by trade and a driver by passion, Steve Saleen, has been involved
with racing since the late 1960’s. His racing career includes multiple wins and
involvements in CART/PPG Indy Car, Trans-Am, and SCCA series; with the most
widely known racing involvement with the Saleen/RRR Speedlab team that was formed
between Tim Allen, Bob Bondurant, and Steve Saleen. Mr. Saleen is also the holder of
multiple manufacturer titles resulting from the winning pedigree that he instills in his
Saleen branded vehicles. A Mustang Hall of Fame inductee, Steve Saleen, is world
renowned as a builder of high-performance American muscle cars. Beginning with the
first Saleen Mustang in 1984, Mr. Saleen has continued to innovate and set the bar with
his American automotive passion.
The spy pictures of the 2013 Shelby at the Nurburgring have been seen all over the net and are interesting to examine in detail. Focusing on the suspension, one publication claimed that the Shelby exhibited obvious negative camber in back, and concluded that Ford finally rolled out the IRS that it originally developed for the all-new S197 Mustangs.
We’re very sorry to report that it doesn’t have an IRS: we’re here today to shoot down the IRS notion. It pains us to do so, because the Mustang very badly needs an IRS to replace ye olde solid axle. Covered-wagon axles from the mid 1800s have no place on a modern Mustang. And as you’ve probably been reading, the Mustang also badly needs a transmission, but that’s another story.
Here’s the picture of the Shelby at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Look at the position of the brake caliper, and the size of the caliper. Same as all the other pedestrian Mustangs. Solid axle and stock brakes. Sorry, the IRS that was originally developed for the S197 stays on the shelf (picture below!).
First, here’s what the pedestrian solid rear axle and brakes look like: very very very crude.
Here, on the other hand, is what the rear end looked like on the planned and partially announced (magazine interview quotes) 2005 or 2006 Cobra: note the IRS (large center nut) and 4-piston Brembo calipers. This prototype was spotted several times driving around Dearborn.
Cobra, you say? Yes, a new generation SVT Mustang Cobra. However at the last minute SVT itself was all but eliminated due to quality disasters, the Cobra was cancelled, and the IRS was shelved due to financial cutbacks. Plans were dumbed down, the result was the Shelby Mustang with a solid axle, tiny rear brakes, 58.5% of it’s weight up front due to the substitution of an iron engine block, and multiples of poseur scoops and stripes and silly fanged worms. It’s gotten better since it first came out, but it still has faults inherent in the crude, tall, narrow, and top-heavy platform. And it will still hop, skip and jump if the pavement in the turns has any bumps whatsoever. Forget about back-roads drives.
And what of the IRS? We’ve got other articles covering it in this site, and Ford even said a year into the rollout of the 2005 Mustang that they would consider offering it as an option to stay competitive. Too bad it never happened, because the final production version was absolutely bullet proof (having gone thru three generations of development, the first being the Australian Falcon IRS). Here it is:
With a couple of brackets on the frame, it’s a simple bolt in. That’s a double a-arm design, with a massive but lightweight aluminum subframe. It’s total weight was lighter than the solid axle and of course it’s unsprung weight was considerably less. It uses an Explorer rear diff, and was designed to be more easily installed in the production line that the more clumsy SN95 IRS was from 1999-2004. The brakes are mounted to the rear, opposite that of the production single iron caliper on the solid axle. That makes it a dead giveaway to spot in spy picture now or back when the 2005 Mustang was being developed. You may well have spotted one then if you were driving around Dearborn with your eyes open… as several people did.
An opportunity to buy an original 2000 Cobra R, still in it’s shipping wrap, doesn’t come along very often. In fact, this may be the last time you’ll ever see such a good deal.
See the eBay auction here: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=180617080877 (we suggest you “add to watch list” to see when it was sold, and for how much).
We followed the original development of the 2000 Cobra R with great interest, twice saw pre-production prototypes up close and in-person (and once in a snowstorm in Dearborn!), and accumulated what is probably the largest collection of images on the net. Read lots more, view some unique images here: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-ford/FMC-products/platform-sn95/2000-cobra_r/default.htm
The 2000 Cobra R was the high water mark of the SN95 Cobra, with the most aggressive suspension tuning and certainly the most unique engine. And without the terrible reliability issues of the 2003-2004 supercharged Cobra.
The 2000 Cobra R is without question highly collectible, and the price of $70,000 USD is excellent given it’s original price and the inevitable dealer markup.
Looking at a 2000 model year product from the perspective of 11 years later, in terms of overall driving dynamics an off-the-shelf Camaro SS will easily out-do the 11-year old R. And the upcoming production Boss 302 Mustang will out-do either of these. Sadly, Ford can only seem to deliver special machines like these on a very limited production basis… leaving them in the hands of the (very) few individuals who can afford the ultra-high price and nasty dealer markups. That leaves the great majority of driving enthusiasts shopping elsewhere.
But time marches on, inevitably the manufacturers bring better products to market, and for that we should be thankful.
Quarter mile, winner takes all. And may the best car win:
We were looking at the latest Ariel Atom specs recently and lamenting the fact that we’d heard that it is no longer street legal. GM cut off it’s supply of EcoTec turbo engines (something Jay Leno and Bob Lutz championed) and the Ariel Atom manufacturer lost the only means it had of inexpensively getting thru Federal emissions certification. So now the Ariel Atom is back to the Honda K series engine it was originally designed for – and (except for lack of street legal registration ability) better off for it. But also lost is the attraction of driving one of these on the street, surprising pedestrians, and having a great driving experience on back roads.
Then we were reminded that Ford had once upon a time dreamed about building a sportscar not unlike the Atom in concept and perhaps just a bit more sane (?) in execution. In fact, it pre-dated the Atom and was revealed in 1996. And it was powered by Ford’s own V-12 (which is still used by Aston Martin). Read on for more information.
The Ford Indigo was a concept car, designed with the possibility of limited – and legal – production. Note the windshield, safety bumpers, and full body. It’s inspiration was Formula 1 and Indy Cars. It’s creator was none other than John Coletti of SVT. In a Coletti-typical (and blatantly-orchestrated) bid to convince Ford bean counters that the creation of such an outrageous showcar was justified, and that production would provide benefits that could trickle down to “pedestrian” cars, much was made at the introduction that lessons were learned in this program and that a net contribution to Ford engineering capability was achieved. And remember that Coletti’s very enthusiastic sponsor was none other than Jacques Nasser, who at NAIAS two years later would be seen in a promotional film proclaiming “it’s about time we put an IRS on the Cobra” as he was driving a ’99 Cobra prototype around Ford’s Dearborn test track.
The Indigo was created at the high point of the original SVT organization. Ford management had not yet realized that SVT products were seriously flawed in their engineering and durability testing – and the accounting of the full costs of warranty claims had not yet come to light. They probably missed the recall of the ’96 SVT Cobra and blamed it on the similar recall of the ’96 Mustang GT. They probably accepted the recall of the ’99 Cobra and blamed it on Team Mustang, since that separate organization had responsibility for launch. But they couldn’t miss the disaster of the 2003 Cobra, with it’s flawed tuning and widespread engine replacements. And then came the Ford GT – which at the time was labeled by Ford as “the pace car for the entire company” (an all-too-true prophecy). The production and quality disaster this became - detailed here - was probably the final straw, leading to the virtualization of SVT, the distribution of it’s personnel back into the general workforce, and – very possibly – to the abrupt departure of John Coletti. We’ve talked to some of their former SVT workers who managed to survive, including one unlucky individual who was relegated to suspension design of the stillborn Ford Ranger replacement.
But as a high point, the years that saw the creation of the Boss 604, the Super Stallion, the Indigo, the GT-90, the Tremor Concept (all of which we encountered in press unveilings), and the production Ford GT and Cobra R were probably the all-time high of the former SVT organization. Flaws and aggravation aside, this author bought 4 of them, high speed open-tracked them all to the max, and had great fun with them when they weren’t in the shop getting warranty work.
It’s hard to imagine that Ford would ever have approved the Indigo for production, but if they had it would have made a very unusual and powerful high speed open track ride. A 2300 pound car, with 435 naturally aspirated horsepower and an optimized suspension would have done very well against Corvettes (+1000 pounds, poor suspension), the Ariel Atom (-900 pounds and an even more race-like suspension), and assorted Loti (same weight, great suspension, little buzzy Toyota motor with no torque and it’s own over-heating issues).
What’s become of the Indigo concept? Ford sold it (along with a lot of other concepts and showcars) to help pay off it’s debts and it’s currently sitting in a private collection. It can’t be licensed for the street, but perhaps it’s new owner will bring it to a Ford enthusiast show someday.
For your consideration, here are the specs of the Indigo, the original press releases, and full size copies of the brochures. We were fortunate enough to attend the original press unveiling, and even have several copies of the original brochures in our library. We remember walking around and looking at details of the car at the unveiling, scarcely believing our eyes. There was nothing like it from GM and Chrysler; they were incapable of such a creation.
Click on the thumbnails below for a full-size image.
The Indigo has been reported to be on display at the Spirit of Ford in Dearborn.
Brochure Copyright Ford Motor Company
With the upcoming announcement of the Focus RS500 in Europe, it’s time to take a look back at North American efforts. One particular interesting production Focus was the 2004-2005 Saleen N2O Focus.
As background remember that the Focus of these years was fully engineered by Ford of Europe, and was built in Mexico for the North and Central American markets. During these years, the Focus was a true “world car” (something Ford won’t achieve again until the new 2012 model arrives). Compared to it’s European cousins, the American models were missing several options, engines, and models. Also missing was Europe’s “ST” model – that is, until Ford simply re-badged it and sold it as an SVT for a short (and not very successful, as it’s competition rapidly obsoleted it) production run. The North American Focus of these years was a direct relative of the current European Focus, with only generational differences in the strut front and Control Blade rear suspension.
It’s not widely recognized that Steve Saleen built several models of cars other than Mustangs. These included F-150s, Rangers, Explorers, and Focuses (Foci?). Only the Mustang was a continuous production model – the other offerings were all limited runs. Concepts that didn’t go into production were built on a Tempo, Taurus, Contour, and Thunderbird. Saleen has a very rich history, and it’s certainly too broad to cover in this blog post.
Each Saleen was built in a dedicated assembly plant in Irvine California (which we once had the pleasure of touring). If you have been following Saleen over the years, you know that Saleen was registered as a vehicle manufacturer in the eyes of the Federal Gov’t, with all that implies. Saleens are not in any way shape or form “tuner” cars.
The Saleen N2O Focus was designed by the Saleen rulebook: Racecraft suspension, body kit, improved seats and shifter (Momo in this case), signature white-faced gauges. And, breaking the Saleen rulebook, a nitrous kit (more on that later). The net result of any Saleen production is a complete car, with each aspect of the driving experience well-thought out.
The Saleen N2O Focus was limited to 2004 and 2005 model years (a lessor model, the S121, was also built). Saleen started with a 2.3 liter Focus (2004) or a 2 liter Focus (2005) base, with the standard MTX-75 5-speed manual transmission. Struts, springs, sway bars (1.25 fr/ .98 rr) with urethane pivot bushings, and a front strut tower brace were all added. Unique 17×7 TSW Revo wheels with Pirelli 215/45-17 tires were used (extra-sticky Pirelli Corsas were optional). Brake pads were replaced, but the front disc/rear drum system was otherwise untouched. 13″ 4-piston brakes were an option up front (and didn’t change the rear).
The suspension is the centerpeice here; roadtests of the Saleen N2O Focus all reported that it worked very well. Read the review in Modified magainze here: http://www.modified.com/roadtests/0503_sccp_2004_saleen_n20_focus_road_test/index.html
And now the numbers, with the 75-shot Nitrous: 227 hp and 226 torque. In a 2600 pound car, this results in a 6 second 0-60 (traction and open-differential limited), and a 14-second flat quarter mile. Very respectable.
The market for used Saleens varies widely. The high-water mark of the Saleen N2O Focus is probably this $18,500 example: http://www.investmentmotorcars.net/inventory/detail/04focus/detail.htm. You’ll note that this blue example only has the Alpine option. 88 2004 models were produced, in 2005 Saleen adapted the new Focus front end and 75 were produced.
Some friends of ours recently added this 2004 model to their collection. It’s their first Saleen, after a history of SVT ownership (and a quasi-Saleen ’91 Mustang GT). This example has the optional Alpine stereo ($2744), but not the Saleen brake package ($1365) or the Saleen color changing paint (a $16,000 dollar option!).
We were generously given time to test drive the Saleeen. Our first impression was very positive – the Momo seats work extremely well. The shoulder “wings” are in exactly the right place and are exactly the right size for street or track use, without inhibiting the ability to turn slightly for backing up. They are padded very well, and there is no doubt the driver could spend several hours in these seats, or any number of racetrack laps.
The handling is excellent - it has a “go-cart” feel without the typical evils of bump-steer or bump-stop crashing. And this despite coming from the Saleen factory much lower than a stock Focus. Steering is very quick, and your first impression of it would be that this would be a nice ride for an autocross. Typical for Saleen, the suspension is very well thought out.
Lets backtrack a bit and talk about the nitrous. Since Saleen is a manufacturer, and offered a full warranty on all of their products, the Nitrous kit was delivered disconnected. It was up to the owner to connect it and fill the bottle, which then voided the standard Saleen and Ford warranties. This was an obvious trick to get around emissions laws – certainly anything running on Nitrous has absolutely zero chance of passing emissions laws. Saleen at first ignored that problem, since it was by owner decision. Then the California Air Resources Board (CARB) stepped in. This, and missing certification of two other Mustang models in the same years, resulted in a $700,000 dollar fine from the CARB. Oops. History doesn’t record why Saleen choose nitrous… superchargers and turbochargers were (and still are) available.
To leave emissions compliance behind, simply fill the nitrous bottle, connect it, purge the lines, and away you go. Various Hondas, Nissans, and Ford’s own SVT Focus will also all be left behind. Otherwise, without the nitrous, the Saleen N2O Focus will return as much as 34 MPH in mixed highway driving. Very nice.
Back to the driving. A quick trip to try out a new BBQ joint across town offered an opportunity to try the Saleen on a variety of back roads, across both poor pavement and good. The suspension again surprised us with it’s compliance – the Saleen easily ate up bumpy roads and never crashed or bump-steered. This would make a fun car for back-roads driving… just don’t hit the nitrous in a blind crest!
So now this Saleen starts life with it’s second owner. We’ll report back later on what kind of events or drives it participates in.
We have a complete set of images in our new Gallery section here: 2004 Saleen N2O Focus Gallery
Reference: Saleen N2O and S121 Focus forums: http://saleenforums.soec.org/forumdisplay.php?f=75
Motor Trend’s blog “2010 Ford Mustang: Near Enough is Not Good Enough” talks today about the IRS suspension that was developed for the S195 (2005) Mustang.
They’ve got a couple of points wrong in their article, but by and large it’s right. My own involvement with the IRS Mustang begins in 1999, when I took delivery of the 1st or 2nd IRS-equipped Cobra in Texas. And I took delivery of another in 2003, with the improved IRS (thicker half-shafts, and very much improved bushings). Both cars were so good on the track – especially my 2003 (with 2000 Cobra R springs and shocks) that I swore I’d never do another solid-axle Mustang. I spent some considerable time talking to the lead engineer of the IRS at SVT on several occasions and learned from him what it would take to make it work best on the track (start with doubling the spring rates, for one).
Like Joe over at My Ford Dreams, I hold the current Mustang in complete contempt. But it’s even worse than Joe knows – an IRS for the Mustang wasn’t just stuck in development, it was out being tested on streets and test tracks. So much so that it was encountered on the street and photographed (the exact same car later had a solid axle transplanted into it and became the engineering mule for the Shelby). I have the photo preserved, and put it on my blog years ago. I’ve copied that entire post below (or follow the link below to view *all* my posts about the IRS).
Motor Trend claims the IRS that was finalized for the Mustang came right out of the Australian Falcon. That could be true, although the photo of the IRS doesn’t support it. Trying to build an IRS out of some backwards stamped-steel components on the cheap does not make for a good IRS. Ford knows how to build one, but the eternal cost cutters inside Ford ruined it. If the Australian rumor is true, it’s another example of those types at their worst.
But I don’t think it was from Australia. I spent over a year corresponding with the senior executive inside Ford who was running a project to study the feasibility of the IRS in the Mustang, a few years before the S197 design was finalized. It was his job to figure out how to cost justify it, and it turned into a major political battle against the cost cutters. I won’t mention his name because I was asked to keep it confidential, but from our talks I learned a lot and I hope he did too. I’ve also talked to some of the Ford engineers who worked on the S197 IRS project and every single one of them were mad as hell that they weren’t allowed to put into production what they worked so hard on, and what they believed should be standard in the S197 across the board. Yes, across the board – every single model. Those folks wanted to build the best car they could – not a low common denominator for customers who didn’t know any better. Of those folks, only two are still in the company. One was bounced out of the former SVT group and wound up designing a suspension for a worldwide Ranger replacement that little Billy Ford cut out of the budget years ago.
Lets make sure we all know who the real idiots were in Ford: both Phil Martens who canceled it and especially Hau Thai-Tang (Director, Advanced Product Creation and Special Vehicle Team:) for running around saying it it wasn’t needed anyway. It was Hau Thai-Tang who told the press a couple of statements that made me see red. First, the IRS was “go” as an option. Later it was off and those of us who wanted one were “snobs”. In progression, HTT goes from addressing the requirements of his customers and promising they would be met, to outright insulting them:
- “Drag racers and Ford’s accountants will be pleased at the choice of a live axle out back. Among our customer groups that know and care what sort of rear suspension their car has, a large number of them want a solid rear axle; they’re primarily the core enthusiast drag racers, and they like the durability, reliability, and ease of modification with it, changing axle ratios, etc.,” says Thai-Tang. “There’s another group that wants the sophistication and cornering advantage of an IRS, and we’re going to offer it on the upcoming SVT Cobra. Unlike the last time, when we kind of shoehorned the IRS in [an older platform]; this time, we’ve designed the rear architecture to accommodate both right from the beginning.”
- “Ninety-two percent of (Mustang) Cobra customers wouldn’t have considered a Ford product”
- “We’ll never appease those IRS snobs.”
Note that the IRS was canceled and the Cobra was canceled, Yes, there was a real Cobra – it was a model above the Shelby (which Shelby has nothing to do with developing).
And, finally, thankfully, Hau Thai-Tang himself was canceled – sent to South America in exile to build a cheap SUV with no future. Straight to hell, where he belongs. And then SVT itself was canceled, at least in it’s original form. The reason for that was simple – every product they brought out on their own got progressively worse and worse from a quality standpoint. The further away the product got from the “base” production vehicle, the worse the quality ended up. Their final product, the 2003 Cobra, has terrible engineering problems in several areas. Many owners suffered thru engine replacements that Ford didn’t want to perform (including myself, who was amazed to find three identical red Cobras like mine all lined up at the dealer for the same purpose – total engine replacement). Finally, the crowing achievement of SVT – the Ford GT – turned into another debacle. What was billed as “the pace car for the entire company” turned into a quality and warranty disaster: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?p=726.
I suspect – without evidence- that it was also the final straw for Coletti that forced him into retirement. Great guy as he was, as popular as he was, his products were seriously flawed. And I know, I had 4 of them. The IRS was finally perfected, but the engines got worse and worse. Cooling problems in all of them, and a total lack of engineering and testing process for the final one. And despite it’s great suspension, that car was a worthless POS because of that damned poor engineering.
Somewhere inside Ford, the S197 IRS suspension sits on a shelf ready for production. It’s not too late – it can still be done. Indeed, not one year after the introduction of the 2005, a Ford executive said that they “needed” to offer the IRS as an option. That may have been back-tracking, but it was said. Fast-forward to today, where there is no platform for a Mustang replacement in the pipeline. The Mustang is too big and too heavy (although not anywhere near as bad as it’s competition) for the long term. Ford needs a platform like the Nissan FM platform to build a family of small rear wheel drive cars on. It doesn’t have it (the Australian Falcon is a very poor chassis, and very much out-dated).
The current Mustang will probably be patched up in a few years, like the SN95 Mustang was half-way thru it’s lifespan (as the FOX Mustang was 3 or 4 times). If Ford’s plans to take a few hundred pounds out of each model in it’s lineup works out, it may even last another ten years. But who wants one, when every year that goes by shows how backward it is? Oh yes, we have a “track pack” option – but that is nothing more than something we could have easily done ourselves (and better) and it does little to actually prepare the car for open track weekends. The brakes are still too small, and the cooling is still too poorly done. I remember shaking my head in disgust when in 2006 the demo Mustang brought by Ford to the SVT events kept garking it’s coolant all over the place – and they had retired their Ford GT a year earlier for the same exact reason. The SVT engineers that came with the Mustang told me that they had already totally rebuilt the Ford GT’s engine once and never could make it work on the track. Yes, it’s a pace car for the entire company – the company that went down the drain at the same time.
Here’s the reprint of the article from my site on the S197 IRS.
S197 Mustang IRS Suspension
Many pictures have surfaced of a red engineering prototype of a future high-performance flagship Mustang. What hasn’t been known to date is what rear suspension would be used in the eventual production car – although it’s been repeatedly told to us during the original development of the all-new 2005 Mustang that it would be an IRS. Now we have confirmation of those statements.
A lucky member of the online Mustang fan community, fortuitously equipped with a camera, came across an engineering prototype on the streets of Dearborn recently. His pictures have ended up all over the web, across several sites. The red mule he encountered has an independent rear suspension (IRS). How do we know? Look closely at the photo below and you’ll see a large nut in the center of the hub (in addition to 4-piston Brembo brakes).
Now look at the following picture of the standard solid axle suspension on an ’05 Mustang: note that like all solid axle setups from Ford the center of the hub is just indented – no nut. There is very clearly a significant engineering difference from the car above.
For comparison, let’s look at a stock ’99 Cobra IRS (same as ’99 thru ’04). Notice the nut in the middle the hub.
And here’s how this goes together on the ’99-04 (image from the Ford shop manual) – notice the threaded area on the half-shaft to the upper left, and nut at the lower right. This is typical of all IRS suspensions. The half-shaft has to be bolted to the hub thru the upright.
The large nut is the giveaway: the red engineering car has an IRS. A couple of other observations, based on this low-res spy photo:
- The red mule has 4-piston calipers front and rear. And not just the “baby” Brembos found on the 2002 Cobra R, but much larger “real” Brembos.
- The rear hub on the ’99-04 IRS has the tie rod attachment point located very close to the rotor – resulting on a lot of heat transfer into the tie rod and also the inability to fit larger rotors. It’s located further in on the red mule.
- Its not clear how provision is made for rear parking brakes… they aren’t integral in Brembo calipers. There isn’t a second set of small calipers. Therefore, the system must use small drum brakes within the to the rotor (aka like the Supra, C5/6, Jaguar S-Type R, etc).
- Tire size continues to be much taller than SN95s – the tires are 285/40ZR-18s Goodyear F1s.
Unfortunately, the spy photos are such low-res that we can’t see any further detail… there appears to be an aluminum lower control arm, but the resolution is really too poor to verify the meaning of it’s position or the type of rear suspension.
Reference: this is a Lincoln LS rear suspension, 2002 vintage. It might be logical that this is what will be used to source some of the parts (some, given that the LS uses an 8″ differential)… however there are some fundamental differences in component location. Note that the LS suspension is state of the art… including coilover shocks. The same rear suspension is also used by Jaguar, and of course on the Thunderbird (and on the Mustang GT concepts, which were literally rebodied Thunderbirds using the complete platform including the full SLA/IRS suspension front and rear). Note that on Jaguar R models, Brembos are used along with hub-integral drum parking brakes (Lincoln uses the cheaper version, with conventional iron calipers and caliper-integral parking brakes).
Conclusion: We know the IRS has been under development from the start, and Ford has been talking about it right from the start as being standard on the future “Cobra”. This time out, given the new platform, it’s in integral part of this new platform rather than an afterthought. One of the early spy pictures appeared to have an IRS underneath. In any case, the rear suspension is being brought into the 21st century (at last), and Mustang buyers can now follow along.
History of the Red Mule: A later version of the red mule has a solid axle, as shown in these pics:
Notice the standard brakes, and the standard swaybar hanging down behind the axle. And the lack of the “nut” as shown above. This is a solid axle car – once the decision was made to leave the IRS behind, a standard GT axle was swapped into the car. This is the car ole ‘Shel is shown driving, just before it’s debut at the New York Auto Show (2005). Some early Shelby press material even referred to the larger rear brakes and 4-piston Brembos – this oversight was eventually corrected and removed from that material.
So, the Mustang performance flagship has a solid axle. And as we’ve found out since, the “real” Cobra was cancelled by Ford. In various interviews, we have been told that the “real” Cobra (aka with the IRS, big brakes, and something on described as “more” under the hood) had been cancelled (this decision was made in November 2004). The Cobra moniker was then added to the Shelby, which otherwise was simply a special edition model (like the Mach, et al, used to be). The Shelby was never an “SVT”, although it was engineered by SVE. All that changed when the big shakeup inside SVE/SVT at the end of 2004. The Cobra moniker was then removed and SVT was killed off as a product organization. The remaining SVT engineers are a virtual team split across several development groups.
Will we ever again see a real sporting “SVT Cobra”? Just exactly why did SVE/SVT drop out of product creation? Those are questions for which there are no public answers. Ford’s premier Mustang is dead, replaced by a straight line muscle car.
Will we ever see the IRS? We at least now know that Ford has the suspension… and it’s ready to go.