Top Mustangs - 2003 SVT Cobra “Terminator”

March 26th, 2021 Chris Phillip
Top Mustangs - 2003 SVT Cobra “Terminator”
Cars reaching production are rarely complete fulfillments of high-performance dreams, but the 2003-04 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra “Terminator” is the exception.

When Special Vehicle Team boss John Coletti abruptly cancelled the planned 2002 Mustang Cobra after a disappointing test session, he challenged his elite group to do the impossible: develop a muscular, supercharged engine mated with an independent rear suspension capable of handling all that power. Oh, and do it within months - not the period of years that is usually dedicated to new-model-year development. The suspension work for the cancelled 2002 Mustang Cobra had been fully dialed in for the planned naturally aspirated engine. Adding the weight of the supercharger played havoc and demanded a near start-from-scratch as far as vehicle dynamics were concerned.

But the supercharger was causing other problems: the blown 4.6L engine was simply too powerful for normal connecting rods, which often failed in dramatic fashion during dyno tests. The solution? SVT cut a deal with NASCAR/NHRA supplier Manley Performance Products to supply racing-spec connecting rods, one of several major upgrades that made the Terminator engine both powerful and reliable. While in production, those engines were hand assembled start-to-finish by elite two-man teams at Ford’s Romeo Engine Plant. Amazingly, the Terminators were built on the standard Mustang assembly line at the historic Dearborn Assembly Plant. SVT worked closely with the plant personnel to make this unusual process feasible, planning how to mate the assembled engines, wheel and tire assemblies, and other unique Terminator aspects with their builds interspersed among the thousands of standard Mustang assemblies.

When news of the Terminator was made official, the car claimed the cover of every major automotive publication - proof that SVT had fully succeeded in meeting Coletti’s daunting performance challenge. Today, the Terminators remain the pinnacle of SVT’s legendary automotive achievements.

Frank Moriarty is the author of more than a dozen nonfiction books, including the new full-color edition of “Iron Fist, Lead Foot: John Coletti and Ford’s ‘Terminator.’” For more information please visit:

About the photo: The Terminator was the only Mustang of its era equipped with independent rear suspension, which provided superior handling at high speeds. Story by By Frank Moriarty