Hold on.

Tightly.

The 4.6-liter, 305-h.p., 32-valve V-8 packs a punch when you kick the pedal, and the 17-inch radials bite the pavement–unless it has rained and the asphalt is covered with water and those radials would rather surf the turf.

Anti-lock brakes are standard, but traction control isn’t available. For shame.

And be advised that the Mustang line gets some cosmetic changes for the 1999 model year, including a small h.p. boost in the 4.6-liter V-8 engine–the Cobra version and the base 225-h.p. V-8.

So if you wait a few months, you will have to hold on longer and tighter when leaving the light, though, of course, the price of the ’99 isn’t going to be lower than that of the ’98.

The SVT Mustang Cobra is the limited-edition (less than 10,000 to be built), really high-performance sports coupe produced by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, the in-house custom shop that also does the Contour SVT and is putting the final touches on the ’99 F-150 Lightning pickup.

The brakes and suspension are beefed up and 17-inch speed-rated tires added to accommodate the motoring enthusiast. The focus is on handling. Ride tends to be firm.

Other than the high output V-8 and subtle styling differences, Cobra sports neat chrome Cobra snake ornaments bolted to the fenders to separate it from other Mustangs.

The snakes drew lots of glances from those who appeared to be dreaming about what a chrome Cobra would look like hanging around their neck. Get a car cover or make friends with a welder.

Not only will Ford limit output, but Cobra also comes only with a smooth-operating 5-speed manual, which delivers 17 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway.

But you do have a choice of closed or convertible top. We tested the drop top, which could have been a bit more finely tuned and user-friendly.

Unlatch the levers from the header, hit the power-down button and the top motors out of the way. Hit the power-up button and the top motors up and, as sometimes is the case with Ford convertibles, you now must pull, yank and generally try to line up the fasteners with the holes they slip into and then press the levers to lock in place. Whew!

The Chevrolet Cavalier power top operates more smoothly, but, of course, there isn’t a Cavalier Cobra to play in like there is in a Mustang.

Base price is $28,430. Add $1,040 for leather interior, upgraded sound system and anti-theft system; $195 for deck lid spoiler; and $525 for freight.

New for ’98 are a compact-disc player added to the AM/FM stereo cassette premium sound system, dual cupholders and clock integrated into the radio display.

When looking for an SVT Cobra, call Ford’s toll-free SVT hot line at 800-Ford-SVT (800-367-3788), or its French-language hot line–905-845-2511, ext. 1517 for those Quebecois.