Ask any young kid who likes to play with toy cars what their dream car is, and you’re bound to get a variety of answers ranging from Lamborghini to Volkswagen Beetle. But for Thea Zancanella, the answer was always a Ferrari. It turns out she did own a car named Ferrari, but not quite the one she planned to drive.
“When I was a kid, I made a list of goals,” Thea told us. “One was to own a Ferrari.”
Several years later Thea was in high school. That’s when a friend asked if she would pilot his Pontiac Firebird in “High School Drags,” as he was not young enough to compete. Thea readily accepted the offer.
This is my ‘forever’ car. We have a deal: If I don’t scratch her, she won’t hurt me. — Thea Zancanella
“I was hooked,” she says. “I took second place at the Fourth of July race.”
It was a few years later in 2003, that Thea found herself at a new car auction in Denver, Colorado, when a pristine, Sonic Blue 2003 Cobra rolled across the block. Up for sale due to an overheating issue, the basically new Cobra was labeled with the dreaded “lemon” status. Thea saw a chance to make lemonade. She saw right past the Cobra’s issues and right into the car’s potential. She entered a bid on the Cobra, and brought it home.
“I couldn’t resist,” Thea said. “I knew the car would end up on the track, and get modified anyway.”
Thea got to work on the car soon after purchasing it. Within the year, she selected and installed a few basic bolt-on modifications, but on-track testing in 2005 destroyed the Cobra’s clutch. It was then that Thea made the decision to pull the stock, six-speed manual transmission in favor of a Turbo 400. Later that year, more bad luck struck as an overly aggressive timing curve in the car’s calibration wreaked havoc.
Rebuilding It Better
Thea was competing in a race in Topeka, Kansas, when the Terminator took out a head gasket. Not long after, Thea left her hurt Cobra at home, and attended Fun Work Weekend during a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, for a wedding. While there, she watched John Mihovetz race his Cougar for the first time, and had a light-bulb moment.
“I instantly knew what direction I wanted to go with my car,” she enthused.
Upon her return home to Colorado, she contacted Scott Patten of P&P Performance in Byers, Colorado, for his assistance in building a single 76mm turbocharged setup. She was happy with the end result, and enjoyed the combination for a few years before the bug bit again, and she decided to upgrade to a single 88mm turbocharger to give the Cobra a boost in power. At the end of 2008, Thea’s wallet took another hit when she located the threshold of the cast 4.6-liter engine.
The car landed itself back at P&P Performance, and after some long, hard thinking about the next course of action, Thea decided to have a single 98mm turbocharged setup installed with a 5.4-liter engine built by John Mihovetz of Accufab. Knowing that the Cobra was going to be a beast on the drag strip, Scott Patten upgraded the cage to a 25.3, and a Motec EFI system was installed as well.
“I think I starved for two years,” Thea said, referring to the saving needed to fund the twin Precision 82mm turbochargers, which is a combination that Thea describes as being, “So much fun!”
Now the good stuff. No expenses were spared while building the Cobra’s lethal powerplant. The Mustang is powered by a 330 cubic- inch engine, which was built by Accufab. It contains a Bryant crankshaft, with all machine work done by John Mihovetz. A Dailey billet oil pan is paired with a Dailey oil pump, and a dry-sump tank by Peterson Fluid System. John at Accufab massaged the aluminum Ford GT Supercar heads as well. A Waterman fuel pump and an Aeromotive regulator make sure the beastly combination is well fed, and a Hogan intake manifold tops the powerplant, combined with an Accufab throttle body.
A M&W ignition box operates with Motec coils, MSD wires, and Autolite plugs. The aforementioned Precision turbochargers were installed with a Chiseled Performance intercooler, while the Performance Racing Turbo 400 transmission was built by Proformance Racing Transmissions in Woodstock, Illinois. A Precision shifter allows Thea to bang gears consistently, and a bolt together converter from Performance Torque Converters was chosen to complete the combo. Custom headers were built by P&P Performance to work seamlessly with the combination, and Scott Patten tuned the Cobra as well.
When it comes to suspension, the Cobra has it covered. Menscer Motorsports front shocks and struts reside in the front, while Santhuff shocks handle the rear. The Cobra features manual steering with no front sway bar. A 9-inch rear includes Mark Williams axles and spool. DMC Racing rear control arms and a DMC Wicked Lite housing work with a Mark Williams anti roll bar. While the Cobra retains its beautiful stock Sonic Blue hue, Thea chose Weld Alumastar wheels, and wrapped them in Mickey Thompson Pro drag radials (275) in the rear. Aerospace Components brakes bring the Cobra safely to a stop at the top end.
To remove extra weight from the Cobra’s body, Thea removed several of the stock body components, and chose to replace the doors with Motor City Solutions carbon fiber versions, as well as an HO Fibertrends hood which weighs only 24 pounds. She also added a spoiler from Skinny Kid Race Cars to the decklid. The cockpit retains its original black interior, with the addition of the 25.3 roll cage installed by Scott Patten, and a fire suppression system.
“We have a lot of upgrades to complete in the future, but the car currently weights 3,350 pounds, so a nice expensive diet is on the wish list right now,” Thea said.
2003 Mustang Cobra Mods
Block: 5.4-liter Aluminum
Crankshaft: Sonny Bryant
Rods: Accufab Billet
Pistons: Accufab JE
Camshafts: Accufab Comp Cams
Cylinder Heads: Ford GT aluminum
Intake: Hogan w/ Accufab throttle body
Power Adder: Two Precision 82mm turbochargers
Fuel System: Waterman fuel pump w/ Aeromotive regulator
Transmission: Proformance Racing Transmissions TH400
Engine Management: Motec
Ignition: M&W ignition box w/ Motec coils, MSD wires, and Autolite plugs
Struts: Menscer Motorsports
Brakes: Aerospace Components
Wheels: Weld Alumastar
Tires: Mickey Thompson
Brakes: Aerospace Components
Wheels: Weld Alumastar
Tires: Mickey Thompson Pro drag radials
“I drive it as perfectly and consistently as possible each time down the strip, to give my tuner consistent data so he can make better and more accurate adjustments,” she told us.
To date, Thea’s impressive racing résumé includes a 2014 PSCA Rocky Mountain Summer Series championship, two 2015 PSCA RMSS wins, a 2016 Mod Nationals Modular Outlaw win, and a 2007-2008 Fun Ford Weekend MAX Street Heads-Up win. Having owned the Cobra for a decade and a half, we were afraid to ask, but we did it anyway: How much did Thea invest?
“Please don’t make me add it up,” she protested. “I’ll cry! More than $250,000.”
We’re pretty sure that her ‘Ferrari’ is worth every penny, because she simply loves this Cobra.
“It is still beautiful. I haven’t had it chopped up, so it still feels very safe and sound while racing,” She added. “This is my ‘forever’ car. We have a deal: If I don’t scratch her, she won’t hurt me.”