Gary Randolph is no stranger to Mustangs. Heck, he still has his first one, a base-model '66 coupe that he bought from his grandfather over three decades ago. He has since added an '83 GT, a 2,000-mile '93 Cobra, and a 2,800-mile '03 Cobra to his collection. But the centerpiece of Gary's collection is the Mustang you see here—the first production '93 Cobra.
Back in 1990, Ford put together a team of engineers, executives, and technicians to organize the Special Vehicle Team, or SVT. Their job was to develop limited-edition vehicles that stressed performance, substance, and exclusivity. The '93 Mustang Cobra would be the first SVT vehicle.
In August 1992, SVT built 18 pre-production Cobras for research and development. Several were used for crash-testing and never saw the light of day outside Ford. The remaining cars were kept in-house for internal use and never released to the public. Gary's Cobra, #19 as it has become known in SVT circles, was the first production Cobra sold to the public after it was built on December 17, 1992, at the Dearborn Assembly plant. On that day, Ford built three Cobras, starting with #19, as a trial run.
Painted in Performance Red, #19 was one of only nine Cobras that received the code EY single-stage paint. The first seven Performance Red Cobras were part of Ford's pre-production run. Cobra #21 was also painted Performance Red. However, it stayed at Ford, making Gary's Cobra #19 the only publicly sold Cobra to bare this striking color. All subsequent red Cobras were painted Vibrant Red.
Cobra #19 was sold at Koons Ford in Baltimore in 1993. The original owner had no idea of the car's significance and drove it hard. It was street raced and many of the original parts were discarded. At one point, the car sustained significant damage in an accident.
It was then sold to a second owner, who uncovered the car's significance to Mustang history. Even with that, the Cobra was stored outside for years. And basically that's the way the car stood when it was offered on eBay in August 2007. Luckily, Gary spotted the "First Production Cobra" auction.
After confirming the 1FACP42D8PF129858 VIN, which had been mentioned in several books, Gary called friend and restorer Bill Ritchick to discuss the possibility of performing an authentic restoration. They both knew the project would be scrutinized due to the car's historic significance. After contacting the owner and discussing what it would take to end the auction, a decision was made to head to Maryland with a trailer and a pocket full of cash to drag the car to Ritchick's shop in New Jersey.
Within weeks, a complete disassembly was started. Great care was taken to document every detail, with hundreds of photographs taken of each part, including the Cobra-specific ground effects, rear bumper, and wing, which had handwritten markings such as "test part" and "#1" on their underside. Parts were sorted; items deemed restorable were set aside. Next, a search was started for NOS parts for everything else needed to complete the restoration. Gary's bone-stock, low-mileage '93 Cobra was a great source of information.
One of the more important features, the rare Performance Red paint, was scrutinized heavily. Careful attention was taken when determining how the car was painted from the factory. At the body shop, the car was stripped, then coated in PPG gray-green primer, which duplicated the factory's e-coat. New seam sealer was applied, and the doors and fenders were hung as the car received a final red sealer. The urethane and fiberglass parts received a black sealer instead of the grey-green sealer, as this was how it was done at the factory. As a result, these parts are slightly darker than the body paint, matching what was done at the factory.
The main goal was to match the factory in every area, even adding the correct amount of overspray where it would have happened at the factory. And since it's a single-stage paint, the car retains a gloss look, even under the hood. The later Vibrant Red cars do not feature this, as their base/clear paint schemes were sprayed differently with the clear coat not extending under the hood.
While this work was going on, rebuilding and restoration was well underway on the car's mechanicals. The engine, transmission, and rearend were rebuilt to original specs. Again, using Gary's other Cobra as a guide, the correct bolts, screws, clips, and other miscellaneous fasteners were located and restored to their correct finish—painted, phosphate, zinc, or cadmium plated.
The search for NOS parts continued for over three years, with Gary procuring the rare Cobra-specific parts such as shocks and struts, wheels, taillights, glass, and exhaust. The 17-inch Cobra wheels still have their stickers on the face, and the steering wheel remains wrapped in its original packaging. Fox Mustang Restoration, Tousley Ford, and Performance Parts Inc. were great sources for some of these rare parts. Others were scored on eBay.
Reassembly began in January 2011. Bill worked on the car steadily for five months, carefully reassembling Cobra #19 with restored and NOS parts to bring the car back to original condition. B&B Machine Shop, Bob Hamlin Transmissions, Chris Ciadella, Ed Shaw, Emil Hibian, and Jim Signorelli pitched in to help complete the restoration only days before Cobra #19 made its debut at the 2011 Carlisle Ford Nationals.