It Might Look Like a 1970s Mustang II Cobra, but There's a 405-hp V8 Ready To Rock Everything looks better in Shelby stripes, whether it's the Mustang GT or the Falcon GT. By Michael Stahl, Contributor Date posted: 01-21-2008 405-horsepower V8 - Delphi-developed R-Spec suspension - Rear-drive family-size sedan - There's a ute, too! The 2007 Ford FPV Cobra GT is the flagship of Ford Australia's range of Falcon sedans, more proof that we Aussies know what we're about when it comes to rear-wheel-drive performance. The Cobra nameplate, the emotive "302" numeral on the hood and the blue-ribbon wrapping are meant to round up all the sacred icons in Ford's heritage, things that have as much meaning Down Under as they do in the States. Of course, the whole thing also has as much to do with selling snake oil as it does with selling performance, but no one minds when the bottom line is 405 horsepower in a car that fits the whole family. If Ford is looking for a car to counter the arrival of the Australian-built 2008 Pontiac G8 in the United States, the 2007 FPV Cobra GT wouldn't be a bad place to start. Bathurst Heritage This being Australia, you can have your Cobra stripes with a cargo bed instead of a trunk. The 2007 FPV Cobra GT makes Aussies remember the Ford Falcon XC-series model from 30 years ago, a bold hardtop that was the last of Ford's full-size, two-door performance cars in Australia. Just 400 of those 1978-issue Falcon GT Cobra hardtops were built. Around half were fitted with a locally produced version of the 302-cubic-inch Cleveland V8, and the other half — including 30 "Option 97" homologation specials meant to certify the Falcon GT for the annual Bathurst 1,000-km endurance race — came with the 351-cubic-inch Windsor V8. Pricing back in the day ran to a lofty AU$9,000 for the 302 Cobra, around AU$1,600 over a regular GS 4.9 tudor, while the Bathurst 351s went for AU$10,100. Though not the most prized among classic Falcon GTs today, clean examples of this car knock on the door of AU$100,000 (U.S.$88,610). Snake Oil Though the rear-wheel-drive BF II Falcon platform is getting old, a free-breathing 5.4-liter V8 and special suspension give it new life. Now, it's true that the 1978 Ford XC Cobra was the last true Australian big coupe from Ford, and a souvenir of Ford's Bathurst 1-2 triumph the previous year, its greatest ever. In more stark terms, however, the Cobra was about flushing out the last few hundred examples of the slow-selling hardtop body shells in the final year of the XC family, soon to be superseded by a car based on the U.S.-designed Ford Fairmont. The Cobra marketing idea came straight from Edsel B. Ford II, then the young assistant managing director at Ford Australia. Shelby stripes were being used to sell the Pinto-based Mustang Cobra II in America, so it wasn't a big stretch. Thirty years on — by coincidence — the BF II Falcon has also been slow to sell, and is facing replacement by the substantially new Orion later this year. So Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV), the high-performance subsidiary of Ford Australia, has wrapped a white Falcon with a blue ribbon and calls it a Cobra. Instant Classic? The numeral 302 has the same resonance in Australia as in the U.S., only here it means kilowatt power, not displacement. For modern, well-heeled Ford fans, the FPV GT Cobra is an instant Aussie icon. Just 400 Cobra sedans will be built just like the 1978 Ford Falcon Cobra, and you can specify either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic and pay AU$65,110. A further 100 Cobra utes are being offered at AU$61,200. To the Ford faithful, the re-clothed Cobra wouldn't even need to be any better than the production, AU$62,100 FPV GT that left us lukewarm last year. But it turns out the Cobra is amazingly better. Leaves You Breathless White trim highlights FPV 18-inch wheels; Brembo calipers clinch drilled and slotted 14-inch brake rotors. For a start, there's the engine. As with the FPV GT, the Cobra packs a 5.4-liter V8 that's an Aussie-assembled amalgam of a block from the Mustang Cobra R block, DOHC cylinder heads from the Lincoln Aviator, and assorted internal and external parts from Australian sources. For the Cobra, new inlet and exhaust camshaft profiles (with more lift and duration), high-compression pistons and stainless-steel exhaust headers help raise horsepower from the standard GT's 389 hp (290 kW) to 405 hp. (The emotive numerals 302 express the power rating in kilowatts.) The really good news for Ford enthusiasts is that this Boss 302 engine introduced by the Cobra has superseded the old Boss 290 across FPV's range of V8s. The engine's power maxes at 6,000 rpm, some 500 rpm higher than before, and similarly the richer torque peak of 398 pound-feet (15 lb-ft richer than before) comes at 4,750 rpm, some 250 rpm higher. A limited-slip differential is standard equipment. The GT Cobra's curb weight doesn't differ from the Falcon GT at 4,090 pounds. Good thing the brakes are up to it, as there are 14.0-inch drilled and slotted brake rotors up front, and four-piston Brembo calipers deliver the braking force. (Six-piston Brembos are optional.) Though it's a marque dedicated to performance, FPV doesn't publicize performance figures, but local testing has seen the Cobra fail to improve on the previous 389-hp GT's 14.5-second quarter-mile times. But forget the time; keep thinking 6,000 rpm. Rev-elation Cobra graphic dramatizes special seats with silver stitching and sparkly seating surfaces. Compared to the previous Falcon V8, the Boss 302 feels like it's sucked up a healthy lung-load of Ventolin. Six grand means peak power, remember. The 405-hp V8 has a free-spinning spirit in the upper rpm range that was utterly absent in the asthmatic 389-hp V8. Mated to the smooth and intuitive ZF-built six-speed automatic, which also offers a sequential manual gate, the Boss 302 V8 makes the Cobra everything a modern Falcon GT ought to be. There's at last a revvy top end to go with the effortless, relaxed performance at touring speeds. The only glitch is an annoying exhaust drone at 1,750 rpm in top gear — bang-on Australia's 110 km/h (68 mph) speed limit on the motorway. Damped With Excitement Free-breathing engine, new suspension calibration and Dunlop tires transform the Falcon GT's performance on the track. At last the Cobra also has the makings of a competent chassis beneath it. Its R-Spec suspension has been jointly developed by FPV and damper supplier Delphi, and it aims to allow car owners to exploit the new engine's usefulness by taking this family sedan to the occasional track outing. Previous FPV GTs were flubbery in the front end, but the R-Spec package — a finely tuned recipe of valves within the twin-tube dampers — has increased damping response, with immediate benefits to steering feel, turn-in response and front-end stability. The R-Spec suspension does pick up road ripples more noticeably than the standard GT setup. On a choppy surface, it's the difference, say, between 18- and 19-inch wheels. (The Cobra wears 19-inch wheels with 245/35ZR19 Dunlops.) This slight deterioration in ride quality is more than offset by the vastly improved overall composure of the chassis, though. The Cobra is just a different car from the floating, flopping GT, which has always pitched back and forth at speed. We wouldn't expect the same sort of improvement in the Cobra ute, as it makes due with a live rear axle to fulfill its load-toting responsibilities, while the sedan features independent rear suspension. Trim Not Taut, nor Terrific Solid rear axle under the ute puts down the power, though it compromises the ride. Of course, an asthmatic engine and iffy chassis composure haven't been our only criticisms of the previous FPV GT. Delightfully detailed though the Cobra's stripes and white-framed wheels might be, there's still an air of unfinished aftermarket engineering for a car that's asking Mercedes E-Class money. You see it in things like the subtle flexing of the hood as you drive along, or the gas struts that aren't quite strong enough to support the trunk lid, or the gaping spaces in the trim fits within the interior, and even the trim piece on a door armrest that fell off. The seats offer spot-on support for all-size examples of the human frame, though the seat cushion is squishy and its electric height adjustment is limited. The rest of the seat's adjustments are, like the steering column's height and reach, strictly do-it-yourself. The dashboard's checkered aluminum caps strike a gaudy note, along with the silver-lamé inserts in the seats, but there's plenty elsewhere to delight the eye. We especially like the row of auxiliary gauges atop the center stack, and the Ford-cool blue backlighting for the main instrument cluster. Oh, and the air-con works a treat. Celebrating 1978 Just like a hot-rod pickup truck, the Cobra ute features one of the snappiest bed tonneau covers ever designed. However one might regard the 2007 Ford FPV GT Cobra's 30-year-old retro stripe job, this GT's true appeal lies in its newfound talents in drivability and handling. Maybe it's significant that these gains haven't been achieved by added-on electronics but instead by old-fashioned, 1970s-style tweaks to the engine breathing and suspension dampers. Sometimes old-fashioned engineering by those Australian colonials can work wonders that the so-called smart guys in the States can't duplicate. As a 2007 performance sedan, this Cobra has at last earned its stripes. Only in Australia does it make sense to create a track-ready version of a family sedan. First Impressions: Classic (or contrived) retro sticker kit clothes a modern Aussie Ford GT that — finally — earns its stripes.