Meet Ivan’s Road Course Racing 2001 Mustang Cobra

At Ford Muscle, we love to showcase our latest purchases and project builds. We also appreciate a bit of variety. Ivan, a fellow Ford enthusiast, is no stranger to this concept. His builds have graced the Ford Muscle website for years. Everything from a 1,200 horsepower S550 Mustang to an F100 with an Aluminator engine was featured in a well-researched series. This time around, Ivan takes a different approach to a build.

Ivan managed to find a clean 2001 Mustang Cobra roller with 210,000 miles on the odometer. The Mustang was not sold a la carte, however, and featured an outdated modular engine and stock TR3650 transmission on the side. He was even lucky enough to find the extremely valuable amber brand taillights still attached to the car! So, without further ado, we’d like to introduce everyone to’s latest project: Project Apex.

The 1999-2002 Ford Mustang Cobra is easily one of the least popular Mustangs.

Where our previous builds focused on a numerical number brought in by the dyno or the aesthetics of making an older vehicle look amazing, Project Apex is different. The goal of Project Apex is to go beyond the straight-line racer and into the hearts of those looking to participate in track days. This can serve as a guide for those new to road racing or as a refresher course for those who have competed in track days before.

The Apex project will showcase everything needed to start racing on the road course. The focus will be on engine performance, handling, braking and safety. We’ll even take it a step further by showing the difference a product can make in track times. We’ll start with the engine build before moving on to the suspension and brakes. Once we have these items sorted, we will complete the installation of the transmission and safety equipment. Finally, we will be ready for the first track day of the season.

Project Apex gets a new heart

The engine that came with Ivan’s New Edge Mustang had seen better days. It was not the original Cobra engine and the mileage was unknown. The black valve covers suggest that the original Cobra engine met its demise and was replaced by a 2003 or 2004 Mach 1 engine at some point. While ambiguity remained over the engine’s mileage, there was no doubt about the condition of the four valves.

Whoops! A bad connecting rod bearing on cylinder one caused the piston to strike the head and obvious damage to the crank.

The modular motor had a spun rod bearing and would need a complete rebuild. We had already planned to build this engine to handle the stress of high revs for long periods of time, so naturally we resorted to a complete rebuild with the proper parts. We will also be installing new accessories and headers to maximize the performance of our new engine. This section of the construction will be covered on Engine Labs and will present what is needed for a modular motor to work best without the use of forced induction.

Refreshing version of a new Mustang Edge

While waiting for the engine to be built, we’ll cover the wear items needed for the first track day. If only car parts aged like fine wine, our job would be much easier! Unfortunately, they act more like French bread and become tough and crumble over time. This 210,000 mile chassis is no different, as the ball joints, bushings, bearings, brakes, radiator and tires all need immediate attention before you dare throw it into a corner. This section will not only work for track rats, but also for anyone looking for a “how to” to freshen up a high mileage chassis.

With a name like ProjectApex, you know this New Edge will be loaded with new suspension components!

Road racing is not just about the suspension and tire packages, we also have to assess the transmission path we needed to take. The transmission of a road race car faces a series of high rev changes, long term abuse and syncro stress while racing. The TR3650 and clutch supplied with the car are in unknown condition. However, judging by the condition of the engine, it’s safe to say that this car wasn’t just driven on Sunday by an elderly lady on her way to church.

Gear shift in a T56

In this section, we’ll walk through the evaluation process to determine which drivetrain is best for your budget and racing goals. We will discuss the use of a TREMEC T56 Magnum versus stock TR3650 transmission rebuild and the benefits each transmission offers in a racing application. Since the transmission is not a fan favorite, we’ll make sure the correct clutch is mated to this transmission, giving us track time full of fun, not frustration.

Safety first

Some people like the idea of ​​being the fastest without a cage, but since Ivan has come this far in life, he’s decided he’d like to continue building awesome projects from the ground up. We’ve rounded up a host of safety items, from roll cages to seats and even restraints to keep everyone inside Project Apex safe. This segment will give car owners trying out their first track day a veteran’s perspective on how to properly set up a car with safety in mind.

At this point we will be ready for our first track day! The once-idle 2001 Cobra will see the engine, transmission, suspension and safety treated. It is the ideal starting point for a novice wishing to get into road racing with his Mustang. Once back from track day we will give feedback on how the car is handling and where improvements can be made. After that, it’s back to the garage for our gray snake to get a fresh batch of track-oriented goodies from Max Motorsports.

Post-race evaluation

Once we have our baseline, we will refine the Cobra’s handling capabilities with a full road and track box with Maximum Motorsports’ IRS Grip Pack. This will address the next stage over a stock suspension and provide riders with a second stage of performance management. We imagine we’ll have reached the limits of our performance summer tires and will swap them out for a new set of 200 tread tires, but not before we’ve sent the previous tires to their grave in a fury of smoky drifts and exhaustion.

Project Summit

At this stage we want to exploit the full potential of the chassis and resort to a final stage of suspension with a Maximum Grip Box. This will complement our front and rear suspension, allowing us the best trail handling for a club racer or track day junkie.

The end? Never!

Will this be the end of the Apex project? Not even close! We are gearheads at heart and will constantly tinker to create a better platform with each new step. Building the rear, changing gears, new wheels, new tires, better aerodynamics and better cooling are all on the agenda. So sit down and get ready for a project that rivals the days of forum builds, without the hassle of scrolling through millions of comments and opinions.

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