(This is the first of a two-part article on the construction of the 2016 Mustang Cobra Jet)
FLAT ROCK, Mich. -- Following in the rich tradition of previous Ford factory-built Mustang race cars -- such as the 1968 Mustang Cobra Jet, the Mustang Boss 429 and the FR500S Mustang Challenge car -- Ford Performance, Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant (FRAP) and Watson Racing have started work on another 50-unit Mustang Cobra Jet production run for 2016.
Back in 2005, Flat Rock Assembly (then-known as AutoAlliance International, or AAI) started building the S197 version of the Mustang and to date has produced more than 1,500,000 units. The new-for-2016 S550 Mustang platform proved to be challenging to all members of the Cobra Jet team, but the end product proved out the skill and determination of every team member involved with the build.
While impossible to build on the high-volume FRAP main line, the 2016 Cobra Jet “body-in-white” was built and painted on the FRAP body shop/paint line and the final “build out” was finished at the Watson Racing build facility in Brownstown, Michigan .
A 2016 Cobra Jet starts out life as a “prepped” body-in-white S550 Mustang. Prior to arriving at the Watson Racing build line, a 2016 Mustang shell was produced on the main FRAP body line and dipped in an e-coat primer to prevent panel corrosion.After the primer coat, the unit is sent to Watson Racing for an NHRA-legal 8.50 E.T. 10-point Chromoly cage install. Watson Racing also installs the rear four-link mounts, floor pan modification and access panels. After the cage and body updates were complete at Watson, the body is shipped back to FRAP for a trip down the main assembly paint line to coat the cage and interior in Oxford White or Deep Impact Blue.
There are two Cobra Jet assembly lines complete with hydraulic lifts and heavy carts that help the Watson build team build the car into a “roller.” When the Cobra Jet body hits the first build station, the line technician installs the rear seat close-out panel to the interior. The factory Mustang hood is also drilled and hood pins and latches are installed. All parts are binned near the station where they are to be installed. A build list sheet also provides the technician with build information specific to each car.
The first part installed on the car is the main wiring harness for the electronics. An electrical bulkhead panel is installed on the passenger side firewall and the battery cable is routed towards the trunk for the electrical kill switch that is mounted on the rear of the quarter panel per NHRA specifications.One cool thing about the Cobra Jet build is that the only parts installed are “go fast” or safety-related items. The body is void of insulation, seam sealers and other sound deadening material that weigh a car down. Ford Performance engineers also kept wiring to a minimum to save weight.
After the cabin wiring harness is installed, the battery hold-down bracket and Aeromotive Stealth Fuel system is mounted in the trunk. The Stealth Fuel Cell developed for the Cobra Jet is a six-gallon aluminum racing fuel cell with an Aeromotive Eliminator fuel pump and filter inside the cell unit.
After the underbody is complete, the car moves onto interior assembly and engine bay parts install. The first item installed in Station 2 is the carpet as well as the front and rear interior panels. The OEM factory headliner is also part of the Cobra Jet build to complete the plush interior of the factory built racecar. The Cobra Jet 10-point cage has also been pre-certified by an NHRA chassis inspector so that the new owner can roll the car right off the trailer and into the tech line.For the IP (Instrument Panel) install, a preassembled unit complete with Auto Meter Monster Tachometer is installed. Once the IP is in place, a Hurst Quarter Stick shifter is mounted to the transmission shifter bracket.Once the IP and carpet is installed the line technicians move to the front of the car to install the engine/transmission, radiator/fan unit, intercooler heat exchanger and intercooler pump. For ease of installation, the 2016 Cobra Jet engine/transmission is mounted to the engine cradle and radiator. The unit is placed on a custom-built metal stand that allows the power unit to be rolled under the car while it’s on the lift. The Cobra Jet body is then lowered onto the stand and the engine cradle is bolted into place.
After the cooling system is mounted, the manual brake booster and proportioning valve is installed in the driver’s side of the engine bay. These units were built exclusively for the Cobra Jet and help save weight in the car. The Cobra Jet also has a line-lock for locking the front brakes in the burnout box. An air/oil catch can and intercooler coolant reservoir also are installed.
There are more than 100 unique part numbers for the Cobra Jet build so the crew has had to juggle inventory with just-in-time parts shipments and parts availability throughout the six-week build.
(Coming in Part 2: Installing the engine/transmission, wheels, tires, and Ford Performance decals)