What If? 2000 Ford Crown Victoria Cobra R

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Abimelec Arellano

Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! — Jack Baruth

(Originally published in Car and Steerer, December 1999 issue)

Hey, pal! How’d you like to hear about a brand-new American performance sedan … that’s actually a really old American performance sedan! That’s right: Ford’s dragging the tired old Panther platform out for another go around the, er, zoo. And this time it’s got serious Mustang power, with a transmission to match.

The Crown Vic, which has been basically the same car since 1979 and which is also the platform twin to the Mercury Marquis (no de Sade edition yet, to our sorrow), took a walk on the Euro side eight years ago with the Touring Sedan model. That model extracted a meager 210 horsepower from its then-new 4.6-liter overhead-cam V-8. The dinner-at-four-thirty crowd didn’t bite; they liked their Crown Victorias less like Bimmers and more like bummers. So Ford detuned the 4.6, got rid of the body cladding, and simplified the body to the current undistinguished silhouette with its solid C-pillar and unfocused face. Four years later, Ford kneecapped its five-liter Mustang by putting the same two-valve OHC engine in the poky pony for 1996. We didn’t approve of that one bit—but we did look with kindness on the quad-cam SVT Cobra that came shortly after.

Crown Victoria SVT Cobra R overhead engine
Abimelec Arellano

Ford got a little egg on its face when that Cobra didn’t quite make the rated power, but a little Extrude Hone and a re-tune solved the problem. And there don’t appear to be any empty promises with the newest Cobra, the limited production Cobra R. It’s powered by a free-breathing, 385-horsepower, 5.4-liter take on that same engine. In our test last month, it turned 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, the quarter-mile in 13.2, and cracked the sky with a 170-mph top speed.

That super-Mustang has just a few problems. The first is the price, which is out of the world. The second is the production, limited to 300 units. The third problem? Why, it’s not easily mistaken for a taxi or cop car at a distance. Ford’s rectified all three of these difficulties with the new-for-2000 Crown Victoria Cobra R.

Crown Victoria SVT Cobra R mag cover mockup
Abimelec Arellano

Start with the price: it’s a safe-and-sane $35,000 fully equipped. That’s almost four thousand dollars cheaper than the cheapest Town Car, the standard-wheelbase Executive. That money gets you: vinyl cop-car interior with Cobra R buckets, manual A/C, no radio, and five-spoke wheels with big 17-inch tires. It also gets you a six-speed manual transmission, revised suspension tuning, a rear spoiler, a mostly monochrome exterior, and the center console from the current Mustang.

You don’t get a choice of colors, however: for 2000 it’s the Cobra-spec Performance Red Clearcoat. The situation may change in 2001, if enough retirees and Joan Claybrook devotees check the wrong box on their dealer order form.

Abimelec Arellano

Another thing not supplied on the Crown Cobra … well, that would be an independent rear suspension. SVT reps told us it wouldn’t make much difference. They also told us it launches better at the drag strip, an assertion borne out in our testing where it matched it’s Mustang sibling to the sixty mark before falling behind a bit with a 13.8-second quarter-mile. Top speed? That’s electronically limited to 130 mph, for the tires. Tough luck, pal.

The combination of sleepy prehistoric platform and warp-speed powertrain is kind of charming in daily use. The Crown Vic isn’t made much more onerous to drive by the heavy shift and clutch action of the Mustang-sourced six-speed. The power assistance was dialed down, but no extra feel was put in. So you steer by sight, the way you do in a Corvette.

As an “R” Ford, there’s no carpeting and not much insulation in this Crown Vic. All the better to hear the engine do its dirty work, but Grandma ain’t gonna like it one bit. Even the power release for the trunk has been deleted, which seems like a mean-spirited way to not really save any money or weight.

In our slalom, the Crown Cobra displayed an alarming tendency to go from mild understeer to strong oversteer at a dab of the accelerator. It’s no racetrack special despite the wide wheels and aggressive shock tuning. The brakes run out of steam in a hurry as well, being conventional sliding-caliper affairs of heavy-duty spec instead of the special stoppers on the Mustang R.

This ain’t no M5, pal. But it isn’t priced like an M5, and you can get it fixed at taxicab rates, likely using taxicab parts. We think this is probably the next-to-last year for the full-size Ford, which will almost certainly be replaced by a Bonneville competitor on a modern front-wheel-drive platform currently under development. So if you want a Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis the way they make ’em now, this is your last chance.

It’s also more or less a last chance for our remarkably well-known road warrior Spaniel Felson, who managed to put the hyperthyroid Crown Cobra through the front doors of Ann Arbor’s “Pretzel Bell” restaurant after what he described as “a sustained bout of understeer that you’d never expect from a Crown Victoria.” When Felson gets out of the hospital, he’ll be cleaning tables at the Pretzel Bell. If he’s lucky.

We’ll ask Ford for another Crown Cobra in the near future to put up against its natural enemy: not the BMW M5, but the Bonneville SSEi. It’s not packing as much power, but it’s a lot more sophisticated. And sophistication goes a long way. Even in the taxi business!

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