1996 was a huge year in terms of performance differences, even if the Mustang looked very similar to its 1995 predecessor. In ’96, Ford moved the Mustang over to a modular engine design, also referred to as an overhead cam design. This was one of the major mechanical changes made during the history of the SN95 generation. Though enthusiasts were initially skeptical, the modular engine design is still in use today and allows engines to produce more horsepower with a smaller displacement.
1996 was also a big year for new colors, though many of them wouldn’t make it over to the later New Edge models. Their short-lived attribute contributes to their rarity and collectibility.
1996 Ford Mustang Specs
||Adj. for Inflation
Production Numbers and Curb Weight
|Deep Forest Green
Interior Trim Colors
|Bright Red Cloth
|Opal Gray Cloth
|Bright Red Leather
|Opal Gray Leather
|White Leather (Convertible Only)
|Front Leg Room
|Rear Leg Room
|Coupe S-281 Cobra
|Convertible S-281 Cobra
1996 Mustang Performance Improvements
The base, V6-powered Mustang would keep an overhead valve design for the next several years. But for the first time, the rest of the Mustang family converted to an overhead cam design.
Though the 1996 Mustang GT didn’t show a substantial performance gain over its predecessor, that alone would have been impressive. The 1995 GT was a 5.0L displacement with an overhead valve design. The ’96 moved over to a smaller displacement overhead cam engine that’s capable of producing approximately the same power curve, while greatly reducing the noise, vibrations, and harshness that can be found in the pushrod that came before it. In short, Ford was well aware that there are aspects of an engine to be improved besides simply power.
Though the engine displacement in the 1996 GT and Cobra are identical, the engine configuration is not. The 1996 GT is a SOHC, meaning that for each bank of cylinders there is a single camshaft. The configuration of the 1996 Cobra is a DOHC, meaning that there are two camshafts per cylinder bank, for a grand total of four camshafts. Though this makes a difference in attributes like curb weight, it also makes a noticeable difference in terms of power.
Because of the modular engine design, Mustangs made in 1996 and after are especially good candidates for Coyote Swaps.
In terms of transmissions, it was almost as an exciting year as it was for engines. The Mustang GT and Cobra moved from using the T-5 transmission to using Borg-Warner’s T-45. Reviewers were quick to note that the shifts in the T-45 felt substantially smoother and cleaner than they had in the T-5 (which remained the manual transmission for the V6 Mustang models).
Unfortunately, though the T-45 Transmission is a good transmission, there were some issues with the early units. In particular, it would seem that the third-fourth shift fork and the fifth-reverse gear forks had difficulty, which led to jamming and breaking. In future generations of the T-45 transmission stronger shift forks were installed.
If you are planning to do substantial modifications to a Mustang that is equipped with a T-45 transmission, it would be a good decision to go ahead and upgrade the transmission at the same time. The T-45 input shaft has a reputation for shearing off at high horsepower applications. The stock input shaft is a ten spline, but a lot of modifiers have converted the input shaft to one with a 26-spline count and have found that their T-45 transmission is able to handle substantially more power.
Other custom parts have emerged in the aftermarket to keep the T-45 transmissions up and running. For 1996 models, a 26-spline input shaft, stronger shift forks, and an improved input/release bearing shift would be the gold standard of transmission upgrades. Or, you could just install a new transmission. Ultimately this choice tends to come down to whether you are trying to modify based on what would have been historically available or are trying to create a powerful engine.
1996 Mustang Transmission Specs
|Transmission||First Gear||Second Gear||Third Gear||Fourth Gear||Fifth Gear||Reverse||Torque Capacity
SVT Cobra Additions
Though the popular phrase is that there’s no replacement for displacement, the 1996 SVT Cobra shows what else matters besides displacement. Though the Mustang GT and SVT Mustang Cobra had an identical displacement and identical Borg-Warner T-45 transmissions, the Cobra makes about 70 additional horsepower.
A huge part of that is the dual overhead cam design as opposed to the single overhead cam design of the GT. But there are other aspects that are also important when considering why there’s such a huge performance difference between these two relatively similar vehicles.
The materials that the Cobra uses for the engine block, crankshaft, connecting rods, intake manifold, and exhaust manifold are all different. The Cobra replaces the cast-iron block of the GT with an aluminum block with iron cylinder liners. Likewise, while the GT relies on a heavy cast-iron crankshaft, the Cobra takes the opportunity to reduce its rotational weight, and we get a cross-plane, forged steel, fully counterweighted crankshaft.
Dual overhead cams mean that instead of having to limit itself to two valves per a cylinder, the Cobra was able to increase to a full four valves per a cylinder.
The end result?
While the GT is able to get a perfectly respectable 15.2-second quarter mile hitting a max speed of 91 mph, the Cobra is able to cut the time down significantly, achieving a 14.2-second quarter mile and reaching a max speed of 100 mph in that time.
It’s an impressive car from a mechanical perspective. In terms of appearance, the Cobra also has some stand out features. The Cobra was available in Mystic, a one-year-only color that was Ford’s first attempt at a color-shifting paint. Other than Mystic, Cobra buyers had the option of Laser Red, Black, and White.
1996 was a big production year for Saleen Mustangs. The vast majority were S-281 Saleen Mustangs, which used the 4.6L GT’s engine as a base and then increased its capabilities through different modifications. Saleen was able to increase the horsepower of these models to 220 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque. A few S-281s were also made using the Cobra models.
The S-351 Saleen Mustangs used a big 5.8L V8 engine that was capable of pumping out an astonishing amount of horsepower.
By far the rarest and most powerful of the Saleen Mustangs was the Coupe SR though. Created as a race car, it was capable of reaching 500 hp thanks to its 5.8L engine, which was coupled with a supercharger. Only two of these were created.
Boss Shinoda Mustang
Created by Shinoda Performance Vehicles, the Boss Shinoda Mustangs came in several levels. From the first level which was primarily focused on appearance (body decals, Budnick wheels, front spoiler, wheel flares, and rear spoiler). The second level included suspension upgrades as well.
Popular Upgrades for 1996 Mustangs
1996 Mustangs are great candidates for transmission upgrades, as noted before. There are a few issues with the transmissions that are relatively easy to correct and can improve the performance of your Mustang. Many have noticed that something as simple as changing the input shaft to a 26 spline can improve performance. Likewise, an air filter replacement is a fantastic way to take care of your engine and a quick way to get a power boost without breaking the bank.
Cold air intakes allow you to combine the performance benefits of an aftermarket air filter with an extra supply of cold dense air delivered to your engine, another surefire way to increase horsepower and performance.
1996 Mustangs were the first year with modular engines. This puts this year uniquely at the position of being the oldest Mustang you can get while still having a relatively easy time with upgrading to modern components. Engine and transmission swaps are just easier when you’re going from modular-to-modular or pushrod-to-pushrod.
Additionally, 1996 Mustangs came in some colors that were just fun. Deep Violet and Bright Tangerine are incredible colors that really create a splash and lend themselves to some unique and attractive builds. Likewise, if you’re lucky enough to have a Mystic Cobra, that’s a beautiful and collectible car that’s also a lot of fun to drive.
Whether you’re thinking about restoring a 1996 Mustang back to factory specs, or thinking about buying a beat-up 1996 pony to upgrade into your very own, CJ’s has parts for 1996 Mustangs that will help you complete your build.
Want to compare these specs to another SN95 Mustang? Check out our pages for the 1995 Mustang Specs, 1997 Mustang Specs, 1998 Mustang Specs, 1999 Mustang Specs, 2000 Mustang Specs, 2001 Mustang Specs, 2002 Mustang Specs, and 2003 Mustang Specs.
Image Credit: Creative Commons