Against staggering odds, Ford's Special Vehicle Team - under the mercurial leadership of automotive legend
John Coletti - succeeds in creating their "Terminator," a muscle car destined for greatness.

"Like every other Mustang fan, as soon as I heard about this supercharged car I couldn't wait for it to be built." - William Clay Ford, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company

A factory supercharged Ford Mustang had long been on the wish list of muscle car fans, but it took the performance-driven passion of a single man to make it happen: O. John Coletti.

Coletti? That was one name in the Ford Motor Company phone book guaranteed to stir up differing opinions among the huge auto manufacturer's upper management. Maverick or visionary? Tyrant or leader? One thing was certain about the mercurial Coletti: he had an unswerving faith in the value of high performance. And after almost single-handedly rescuing the Ford Mustang from discontinuation via a covert, renegade program, Coletti rode his notoriety into his own throne within Ford—as head of the elite Special Vehicle Team. But in late 2000, Coletti stretched the boundaries of his own legend, abruptly canceling the division's highly-anticipated 2002 Mustang Cobra while disrupting marketing plans and enraging SVT's network of dealers.

IRON FIST, LEAD FOOT is the untold story of how Coletti's performance mandate led to the creation of a car known as the "Terminator", the 2003-2004 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra. It's a tale of closely-guarded secrets and daunting challenges as a small, elite team struggled to create a car that will long stand as an icon of American muscle.

With interviews ranging from company chairman Bill Ford to the assembly line workers of the historic-yet-antiquated Dearborn Assembly Plant, IRON FIST, LEAD FOOT takes readers behind the scenes of this breakneck program and brings them face-to-face with the towering presence of an auto industry legend, John Coletti.

Iron Fist, Lead Foot: John Coletti and Ford's "Terminator"

IRON FIST, LEAD FOOT presents the story of an automotive development program unlike any before it, and one unlikely to ever be repeated.

After all, how often is a nearly fully-developed high performance vehicle cancelled on the verge of its manufacture - its model year sales down the drain - because in the uncompromising judgment of one man it was just not good enough? And in place of that vehicle comes the supercharged "Terminator," brimming with drastically enhanced performance in every aspect, the result of an intense flat-out development program with milestones measured in days and weeks rather than the auto industry’s customary months and years.

IRON FIST, LEAD FOOT takes readers deep behind the scenes, to restricted locations within Ford Motor Company where teamwork, dedication, and vision all came together to bring the "Terminator" to reality.

No matter what you drive, no matter how fast you like to go, IRON FIST, LEAD FOOT is a fascinating book for anyone with a passion for automobiles.

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Chapter One: Desert Storm

When Ford introduced its sporty and economical Mustang to tremendous fanfare in 1964, no one could have imagined that in just a few short months "the little car that could" would become a symbol for outrageous performance. But by the 1980s the Mustang was falling from favor among elements of Ford's management – and the model was scheduled for elimination. But John Coletti refused to let the legendary name die, and organized a secret effort that saved the car. Years later, as head of the manufacturer's Special Vehicle Team, he anxiously awaited "seat time" in the 2002 Mustang Cobra prototype, the car that was planned to be SVT's flagship vehicle. Did it meet his demanding standards? To others it might have been "good enough" – to Coletti, it didn't come close. So SVT emerged from its desert testing area with a new mandate from their leader – go back to the drawing board.

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Chapter Two: Clearing the Path

John Coletti knew that by ordering his team to start over with the new Mustang Cobra, it would be vastly improved. There were just a couple of details he had to take care of: telling SVT's dealers – the car sellers who paid a premium to vend Coletti's wares – that they would have no product to sell in model year 2002, and convincing SVT's advisory board, made up of fellow Ford executives, to back a plan based more on assumptions and bright ideas than hard facts and figures.

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Chapter Three: Appearances Count

To celebrate its performance heritage, the new Mustang Cobra – a project now known as "the Terminator" – would need to make a bold statement. But designer Camilo Pardo was hesitant to follow the easy path by maxing out the Mustang's lines with wings and scoops. Pardo placed the Terminator next to his other SVT project, a reworking of the legendary GT40 supercar. Could he carry over styling cues from one vehicle to the other? Was there a way to make this Mustang more muscular in appearance, while striking a seemingly incongruous balance of maturity and ominous bearing?

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Chapter Four: Handling with Care

The quickest route to big power was to migrate the Cobra to a supercharged engine. The 2002 edition of the car was now rescheduled as a 2003 model, but that was the easy part. Its naturally-aspirated engine, fully developed for the 2002 car? Now useless. The suspension so carefully tuned for the 2002 car's balance? Equally useless. The SVT engineering teams had to start from scratch, butting against an unforgiving deadline in an all-out charge to realize Coletti's vision.

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Chapter Five: Heart and Soul

Boom! There went another one. The Terminator engine was showing a disturbing tendency to snap connecting rods like uncooked spaghetti – much to the dismay of anyone who had the misfortune of being near the dyno room when such a failure occurred. The SVT engineers had a solution – contact a company that specialized in connecting rods for racing and convince them to ramp up their production to meet the needs of SVT. But other executives questioned: what about the intimidating cost of such a radical move? Coletti's answer was predictable: cost be damned, we're going to do what's right for the car.

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Chapter Six: To the Limits

John Coletti's performance mandate was clear, and he awaited results. On the front lines, SVT's handling and performance engineers ran batteries of tests at racetracks across the country, trying to meet not only the standards of their leader but the myriad of durability and endurance guidelines demanded of any auto manufacturer.

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Chapter Seven: Detail Oriented

Creating any special edition brings more than performance challenges, and the Mustang Cobra was certainly no exception. SVT had to cultivate a relationship with scores of suppliers in a monumental task of coordination, lining up everything from specialized seats and headlights down to windshield wipers bearing little aerodynamic spoilers to keep them firmly planted on the glass via downforce at speed.

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Chapter Eight: Power Plant

At Ford's Romeo Engine Plant north of Detroit, engine-blocks-in-progress had been plucked from the assembly lines to be morphed into SVT powerplants. But to realize Coletti's Terminator vision, an entirely new plan was demanded: the engines would be built from scratch on an oval-shaped niche line. The workers on the niche line had an unusual demand for their UAW contract, though – the right to affix the names of each two-man team to every engine they built. Coletti smiled at the thought; pride of responsibility was perfectly aligned with his way of doing things.

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Chapter Nine: Under Cover

From the beginning, SVT's Terminator had been a clandestine effort, one that was designed to surprise the automotive world upon its debut. Its existence was on a need-to-know basis. "I was aware of the program early on," says Ford chairman Bill Ford. "Like every other Mustang fan, as soon as I heard about it I couldn't wait for it to be built." Bill Ford's knowledge of the Terminator was to be expected. But interest in a factory supercharged Mustang had always been extremely high among enthusiasts. Almost every year, rumors flew that such a model was about to debut. This time, the rumors were true.

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Chapter Ten: Muscle Down the Line

Unlike a boutique sports car, the 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra would have to be built in the same manner as any other Ford Mustang product. Its massive powerplant would be assembled along the niche line in the Romeo, MI engine plant by two-man teams, then shipped to the Dearborn Assembly facility where the Cobras would lurk amidst their less muscular brethren on the assembly line. The challenges of building a unique vehicle in a mass production environment were staggering – but the job had to be done and done right.

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Chapter Eleven: Power to the People

On a cold night in February, 2002, an excited group of Ford fans gathered at a dealership in Arlington Heights, IL. Although the 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra was not scheduled to be unveiled to the world until the following day at the Chicago Auto Show, select invitees were given the first sneak peak of a car whose "spy shots" had tantalized and mystified the automotive world. That night, the Terminator met its first fans. But no-one was a bigger fan of the car than its spiritual father, John Coletti. That was obvious the very next day when Coletti presented the car to the auto show media in a characteristic manner: by careening into the presentation area at the wheel of a Terminator, accompanied by supercharger whine and clouds of tire smoke. Within weeks, the newest Cobra appeared on the cover of every major auto publication, and a heady air of excitement enveloped SVT to a greater degree than at any time in their history.

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Chapter Twelve: Aftermath

The Terminator was a huge hit, and soon after the Ford GT – Camilo Pardo's redesign of the GT40, largely engineered by SVT – brought more acclaim. But there were ill winds blowing through Ford, and they swept through the very office of John Coletti. A regime change was in full effect, and suddenly much of the willing support that had enabled Coletti to act upon impulse and belief had been replaced. A rigid corporate hierarchy was imposed, and though the press releases saw Coletti saying all the right things, it was no surprise to observers when the great performance prophet announced in 2005 that his days at Ford Motor Company had come to an end. In many ways, it was also the end of an "anything goes" era of American automotive performance the likes of which will never be seen again.

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The aftermath of the introduction of the Terminator should have found SVT cherished within Ford Motor Company for the automotive world focus that was fixed upon this supercharged Mustang. Instead, the team lost its leader and soon lost its way, absorbed into the corporate mainstream even as other manufacturers learned valuable lessons through analysis of SVT in how to create and market unique, high-performance niche vehicles.

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An extensive collection of Terminator production figures and vehicle specifications, along with unique marketing and production materials including instructional assembly signage from within Dearborn Assembly Plant.

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Birth of a Cobra

Step behind the scenes to witness the building of an SVT Mustang Cobra Terminator. First, walk the Niche Line at Romeo Engine Plant as a supercharged engine is assembled by an elite two-man team. Then travel miles within the legendary Dearborn Assembly Plant as a Terminator makes the transformation from raw body and skeletal frame to ready-to-roar completion.

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