EXPERT REVIEW

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WE WERE playing Ticket, a game that went like this: Nobody obeyedthe New Jersey Turnpike’s posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour.Nobody drove under 65 mph. Everybody tried to stay in the middle ofspeeding traffic. The first driver to complete the entire 135-milelength of the turnpike without a traffic ticket won.

None of us knew one another — not by name anyway. Our identitieswere wrapped in our vehicles and their license plates. I was driving the1994 Ford Mustang Cobra — a flaming red sports coupe with blue Michiganmanufacturer’s tags. That meant there was no way I could win.

The art of mastering Ticket is inconspicuous speeding, which is whymost players try to remain in the middle of traffic until an opportunetime to break away.

But there was no way to remain inconspicuous in the new Cobra — notwith its red paint, polished aluminum wheels, its snake-nostril hood;not with its flared rear fenders, high rear spoiler, high rear end. Toosexy. It attracted attention in “park.”

That meant I was forced to run in the worst possible positions — waybehind the pack or way ahead of it, or abandoned in the left or rightlanes, all spots vulnerable to radar.

My isolation was group imposed. Fast, red sports cars are speedalarms. Cops can spot ’em anywhere. Other drivers use such cars asmarkers. To wit: Let ’em zoom by and draw the ticket.

Anyway, for me, it didn’t matter. I finished the Delaware-to-New Yorkturnpike run in reasonable time. I didn’t have an accident, and didn’tget a ticket; and even though I had to drive the Cobra under speed mostof the way, I had a hell of a good time.

Background: The new Cobra is a real snake, nothing like thecobbled-together, phony, marketing-exercise, jive-time Mustang Cobra itreplaced.

This Cobra comes with big, 13-inch diameter, vented front and reardisc brakes; modified MacPherson strut front suspension; rigid-axle rearsuspension with four trailing links and two leading hydraulic links. Inother words, folks, the thing stops right and handles even better.

The engine is Ford’s 5-liter V-8, bumped up to produce 240 horsepowerat 4,800 rpm. That’s 25 more horsepower than found in the Mustang GT,but 35 less horsepower than found in the humongous 5.7-liter V-8 of thecomparable Pontiac Firebird Formula. Big whoop. Not on this side of thejail cell will you ever come close to using all of the horsepower in anyof those cars.

Torque in the new Cobra is set at 280 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm.Four-wheel, anti-lock brakes are standard. Ditto dual-front air bags anda standard five-speed manual transmission and 17-inch diameter GoodyearEagle GS-C tires. The Cobra can be bought as a coupe or convertible.

Complaints: The five-speed gearbox could use a bit more finesse. Ifound it a bit choppy. And though the suspension is mostly righteous,there’s a bit more wallow in the Cobra’s body than exists in thecomparable Firebird Formula.

Praise: Ain’t nothin’ but a whole lot of fun. But if you really wantto have a good time in this front-engine, rear-drive muscle car, buy itin a color less conspicuous than red.

Head-turning quotient: Star of the turnpike rest stops. Lotsa whoops.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Superb ride and acceleration. Darnedgood handling, especially when you anticipate and then prepare to takesharp curves. Excellent braking.

Mileage: Down the hatch! About 18 miles per gallon (15.4-gallon tank,estimated 265-mile range on usable volume of 89-octane unleaded),running mostly highway, driver only with light cargo.

Sound system: Kick butt! Optional Mach 460 Electronic AM/FM stereoradio and cassette and compact disc. One of the best auto audio soundsystems ever.

Price: Estimated base price is $21,000. Estimated dealer’s invoiceprice is $18,458. Estimated price as tested is $23,000, including $1,525in options and a $475 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: The Cobra is in limited production — ,000coupes, 1,000 convertibles — which means dealers can charge anythingthey want. Compare with Chevrolet Camaro GT/Pontiac Firebird Formula.

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