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Snake, charmer: Is the 1996-’98 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra a good buy?

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1996 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra coupe. Images courtesy Ford Motor Company.

The 1993 Mustang Cobra and Cobra R were the Fox-body’s going-away present from Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT). SVT developed a new Cobra variant for the replacement SN-95 Mustang, and for the first two years, 1994-’95, it used the same 5.0-liter Windsor V-8 as the ’93 Cobra. That changed in 1996, when Ford debuted the 4.6-liter Modular V-8 in the Mustang GT, with a lighter, more powerful, hand-built version reserved for the SVT Mustang Cobra. With Fox Mustangs getting more expensive by the month, is now the time to shop for a 1996-’98 SVT Mustang Cobra?

The 4.6-liter V-8 that debuted in 1996 SVT Mustang Cobra was a big step up from the 5.0-liter V-8 it replaced, swapping the Windsor’s pushrods for overhead camshafts. The aluminum Cobra engine received two camshafts per cylinder bank, opening four valves per cylinder, while the cast-iron block Mustang GT made do with a single overhead camshaft and two valves per cylinder. In Mustang GT tune, the Modular V-8 produced 215 horsepower and 285 lb-ft of torque, while in the Cobra the engine produced 305 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. That was a notable jump from the previous Cobra’s output of 240 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque, and performance improved accordingly.

1997 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra convertible

1997 Cobra convertible.

According to Ford, the 1996 Cobra was capable of running from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, an improvement of 0.4 seconds over the previous version. For the 4.6-liter Cobra, the quarter mile went by in 13.99 seconds at 101.6 mph, bettering the previous Cobra’s time by 0.2 seconds and 0.6 mph. The automaker’s estimates may have been conservative, too, since Car and Driver measured a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds (though its quarter-mile time was comparable to Ford’s).

The SN-95 platform wasn’t entirely new, and it’s probably most accurate to describe it as an evolution of the Fox platform with improved handling and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) characteristics. While the Mustang’s traditional live axle carried over, Cobra models received upper and lower trailing arms, two hydraulic links, and a 27mm anti-roll bar in the rear. Up front, the suspension used a MacPherson strut setup with separate springs on the lower arms and a 29mm anti-roll bar. Five-spoke, 17-inch wheels were shod with 245/45 ZR-17 BF Goodrich Comp TA tires, and the front brakes used dual-piston calipers to grab 13-inch vented rotors. In the back, single-piston calipers grabbed 11.65-inch discs, and Bosch four-wheel ABS was standard on Cobra models.

1998 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra coupe

1998 Cobra coupe, one of 563 finished in Atlantic Blue Clearcoat.

Most changes to Cobra models between 1996-’98 were cosmetic, and (as was the case in 1994-’95), both coupe and convertible variants were available. In 1996, Ford offered Cobra coupes with BASF Mystic paint, which shifted hues from green to bronze to purple depending upon lighting. At $815, it wasn’t an inexpensive option, yet 2,000 examples were finished in this special paint during the model year.

In 1996, Ford built 10,003 SVT Mustang Cobras, including 7,493 coupes (priced from $24,810) and 2,510 convertibles (priced from $27,580). The following year, 10,049 Cobras were assembled, with convertible production increased to 3,088 to meet demand and coupe production decreasing to 6,961 units. Prices rose for 1997, with coupes starting at $25,335 and convertibles at $28,135.

1998 Ford Mustang Cobra

1998 Cobra coupe. Laser Red Tinted Clearcoat was the second-most popular color that year, with 1,236 coupes sprayed in this hue.

For 1998, the final year before the “New Edge” restyling of the entire Mustang line, a total of 8,654 Cobras were built, including 5,174 coupes and 3,480 convertibles. Prices started at $25,710 for the coupe, and $28,510 for the convertible.

Adding things up, Ford produced a total of 28,706 SVT Mustang Cobras between 1996-’98, including 19,628 coupes and 9,078 convertibles. In keeping with the car’s sporting mission, all were equipped with a Borg Warner T45 five-speed manual transmission.

While earlier Fox-body Mustang prices appear to be on the rise, 1996-’98 SN-95 Cobra prices are either flat or declining, depending upon the source. NADA shows values for an average condition coupe ranging from $8,500 for a ‘96, to $8,950 for a ’97, to $9,100 for a ’98. Convertibles are priced higher, with average condition ’96 models estimated at $8,900, ’97 models at $9,050, and ’98 models at $10,150. Those prices are within $100 of NADA’s estimates for the same time frame in 2017, indicating a flat market (or, if you’d prefer, a buyer’s market) for these models.

1998 Ford Mustang Cobra

Hagerty’s current estimates are roughly in line with NADA’s, and the insurer estimates coupe values at $9,000 for a ’96-’98, and convertible values at $9,400 for a ’96-’98. Going back to 2017, however, the insurer showed significantly higher projected values, with coupes from all three years having an average value of $12,600 and convertibles valued at $13,650. If their figures are correct, it’s most definitely a buyer’s market for this year range of SVT Cobra models.

A quick glance at our classifieds shows seven 1996-’98 Mustang Cobras currently listed with us, ranging in price from $13,500 for a ’96 convertible with 40,000 miles on the odometer to $20,000 for a 63,000-mile ’96 coupe with Mystic paint. Pricing is higher than estimates for all examples currently advertised with us, but these are low-mileage outliers and not condition #3 drivers.

If you’re in the market for weekend-driver Mustang that can handle anything from road trips to autocross and track days, the 1996-’98 Ford SVT Mustang Cobras represent a solid value, and we doubt that prices will stay this low much longer.