MUSTANGDRIVER | JANUARY 2020” When it was time for Mike to get his first car, he wanted an ’82 GT of his own. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards.TEXT  |  MARC CHRIST  IMAGES  |  KEITH KEPLINGERFrom the MUSTANGDRIVER archivesOver a decade before the ’93 SVT Cobra slithered its way onto the driveways and into the dreams of Mustang enthusiasts, another Mustang Cobra existed. From 1979-81, Ford made the first Mustangs to carry the Cobra nameplate. Offered only as a package option, these early Foxes were the precursor to some of the coolest and most beloved Mustangs ever produced. Though not a rare option, the four-eyed Cobras are becoming hard to find. Therefore, when we see one as nice as Mike Clay’s, we certainly give it a second look.

Mike Clay is one of the Mustang Week staff members, and has been a four-eyed Fox fan for 33 years. “My passion is four-eyed cars,” Mike told us. “When I was ten, my dad bought a brand-new ’82 GT.” When it was time for Mike to get his first car, he wanted an ’82 GT of his own. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards.

 “I ended up getting a 1973 Mach 1 for my first car,” Mike told us. Still, his longing for a 1982 GT never waned. As the years ticked by, Mike fruitlessly searched for his dream Fox.

“The ones I found were either too far gone or too original.” Then, about three years ago, Mike’s friend Aaron Stiles found an ’80 Cobra in a barn in Utah. It had 80,000 original miles on the stock 2.3L turbo four-banger, a four-speed gearbox, a lightly damaged right-hand quarterpanel, and it had been sitting in a barn for 20 years.
He started by ordering a 306ci engine out of a wrecked car from MPS Auto Salvage. The engine had already been rebuilt and topped with iron GT-40 heads. Spread of the article in the print edition of MUSTANGDRIVER“I didn’t like it at first,” Mike said of his first impression of the light blue hatchback. “It had an ugly black stripe up the grille and hood.” Besides, it wasn’t an ’82 GT. Nevertheless, Mike struck a deal on the project and transported it to his hometown of Gretna, Virginia, eager to embark on the four-eyed project that he had longed for since the age of ten.Mark’s Paint and Body in Rustburg, Virginia, fixed the quarter panel and corrected the paint scheme up front. They reapplied the factory Light Medium Blue and black paint scheme, complete with the disco snake on the hood.
We absolutely love Mike’s Cobra. It exploits the right amount of modern upgrades so not to sacrifice its character as a rare early Fox.“I didn’t like it at first,” Mike said of his first impression of the light blue hatchback. “It had an ugly black stripe up the grille and hood.” Besides, it wasn’t an ’82 GT. Nevertheless, Mike struck a deal on the project and transported it to his hometown of Gretna, Virginia, eager to embark on the four-eyed project that he had longed for since the age of ten. Being involved in the Mustang industry has allowed Mike to meet and become friends with many people in the business, so he quickly took advantage of those contacts.

He started by ordering a 306 ci engine out of a wrecked car from MPS Auto Salvage. The engine had already been rebuilt and topped with iron GT-40 heads. He sourced Out To Pasture Pony Parts for the 8.8-inch rearend, dash, T-5, ’87-up spindles, and console. Mike then tapped Latemodel Restoration Supply for a laundry list of necessities, including headers, exhaust, valve covers, air cleaner, A/C delete, underdrive pulleys, Eibach springs, SVE control arms, KYB dampers, disc brakes, and the ’93 Cobra wheels/tires that give Mike’s Snake its signature look. Fox Mustang Restoration supplied various other restoration parts, such as the carpet.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing from the beginning. “The car had a real rocky start,” Mike says of the early build process. “At one time, I was ready to give up on it.” Finally, after Mike had done much of the mechanical work and interior upgrades, he turned to Pro Dyno to iron out some issues and finish the project. 

Mark’s Paint and Body in Rustburg, Virginia, fixed the quarter panel and corrected the paint scheme up front. They reapplied the factory Light Medium Blue and black paint scheme, complete with the disco snake on the hood. Mike ditched the stock seats for SVO foam and matching upholstery. He even tracked down a pair of period-correct mesh headrests and dyed them to match. 

We absolutely love Mike’s Cobra. It exploits the right amount of modern upgrades so not to sacrifice its character as a rare early Fox. And the fact that he drives it—on and off track—puts it pretty high on our list. Interestingly, Mike recently found the ’82 GT that he’s been searching for—a black-on-black hatch with original paint that he bought with his dad. Now the two can cruise the streets of Virginia together in their four-eyed Foxes and pretend it’s 1982 all over again. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
  MUSTANGDRIVER | JANUARY 2020