Snake in Sweden: 1997 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra is a long way from home

Johan Zetterlund

Johan Zetterlund’s passion for cars—and, indeed, his choice of automobile—may seem relatively ordinary. Like many of us he got into the hobby a teenager, modifying his cars and spending the next two decades sharpening his skills. His restoration of an abandoned 1997 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra is nicely done, if not typical: lowered stance, some nice staggered wheels, a cat-back exhaust.

What makes Zetterlund’s story so remarkable is that he doesn’t live in Fort Wayne, Dayton, or Charlotte. Home for him is Eskilstuna, Sweden, over four thousand miles away from the Mustang’s birthplace in Dearborn. Here in America, an SN95-generation Mustang like his—even one with great paint and a killer curb presence—is a familiar fixture of the enthusiast sphere. In Sweden, though, it’s a bona fide exotic. A ’90s Mustang in Scandinavia is a rare machine sure to turn heads everywhere it goes.

Mustang Cobra SVT before after
Johan Zetterlund

Zetterlund’s SVT Cobra was one of a handful built for export to Japan. Such export Cobras differ slightly from the ones sold domestically, with subtle changes to the warning labels and lighting and no swap to right-hand drive. Both the export-spec tail lights (with amber-colored segments in the lower lenses) and the smaller fender flares are desirable haute couture for Mustang enthusiasts Stateside. Zetterlund sheepishly admitted that he’d rather have the U.S.-spec tail lights, because the all-red tail lights are pretty cool.

That desire for something different is a universal language that knows no borders. Forbidden fruit—the cars from abroad we can’t have—appeal to those with a taste for the unique. In SoCal this might manifest as a Skyline-badged Infiniti G35, whereas at a Mooneyes Show in Japan it might be a Datsun-badged Nissan Bluebird.

Zetterlund’s car remained in Japan until 2006, when it was exported to Sweden, via England, to the previous owner. The car was driven regularly until 2012, when it failed an annual inspection. For eight years the Cobra sat dormant, quietly gathering moss and door dings in a parking lot in Gothenburg. Eventually, in 2021, a friend of Zetterlund’s sent him a photo of the car. That was the first breadcrumb. “In Sweden, you can find out almost everything about a car from the plate number, so I got a hold of the owner, who one year later sold me the car,” Zetterlund explains.

When he got the Mustang home, Zetterlund realized to what degree his work had just begun. Despite the car’s low mileage (just 50,000), the ignominy of outdoor abandonment wreaked havoc on the car’s exterior. After a full paint job, Zetterlund also replaced the windshield, headlights, emblems, door handles, and weatherstripping. He also removed the interior and cleaned it by hand, piece by piece.

This process was a lot more complicated than it sounds. In America, you can wake up hungover on a Saturday, trundle on down to Pull-A-Part, and grab fresh carpet and door panels from a rotted-out SN95 with a V-6 and an automatic. Aside from a little time and effort, all it would cost is pocket change. In Sweden, you fix what you’ve got. Ordering parts even from granny-spec junkers would cost major money, not to mention months of time.

Mustang Cobra SVT before after
Johan Zetterlund
Mustang Cobra SVT rear three-quarter close before after
Johan Zetterlund

With the interior and exterior finalized, Zetterlund turned his attention to personalizing his Cobra with a few choice upgrades. In addition to the lowering springs, cat-back exhaust, and the 18-inch wheels from Sweden’s 59NorthWheels, the Mustang boasts some tasteful interior touches. Highlights include a Hurst short-throw shifter, Pioneer stereo, and a Rockford Punch 12-inch subwoofer in the trunk. All pretty standard bolt-ons for these cars, but that’s the charm of a ’90s Mustang: it doesn’t take much to turn one into a competent street cruiser that’s ready for the occasional, casual dragstrip run.

Mustang Cobra SVT wheel
Johan Zetterlund

Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap. Zetterlund estimates that he’s spent over $25,000 (USD) restoring this car. The investment has given him something he really enjoys. “I love the manual transmission and the raw power that the 4V motor delivers,” he says. “The fact that an SN95 is a plastic rocket inside is nothing new, you just have to get used to the squeaky noises and sounds inside the car. Man, I love the ‘90s, though!” There’s something comforting about the notion that, no matter where in the world you’re standing, a Mustang is a Mustang is a Mustang. (Unless it’s a T5!)

What’s next for Zetterlund and his global-citizen Cobra? It might soon be on the move. “I am not that much of an owner. I love the projects, but when I am done, I wanna move on to something else,” Zetterlund explains. “I might keep this one at least until 2023, I have my eyes on another great deal and a cool project!”

If you’d like to keep up with Johan Zetterlund, his Mustang Cobra, and any of his future projects, you can follow him on Instagram at @jdmsvtcobra.

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    Nice work. I can’t imagine someone letting that car sit & rot; they’re so much fun to drive. I’m guessing it doesn’t see any Swedish winters ! I’d trade him my mint tail lamps for his Euro ones, which I find more interesting & balanced in design.

    Its crazy how a car can be left in a parking lot for 8 years and not be towed. I guess they do it differently in Sweden. I do love a car getting saved though.

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