The Mustang SVO

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1984 Mustang SVO -- Pre-Production Model

The Ford Mustang SVO

A Car in a Class of its Own


In the fall of 1980, Ford created Special Vehicle Operations to develop and oversee Ford's Motorsport program, representing a significant change in product philosophy at Ford Motor Company. SVO was established to enhance the image of Ford products through motorsports, and to apply race-derived technology and knowledge to exciting new production vehicles. SVO demonstrates clearly what then Ford president Donald E. Peterson meant when he said that Ford wants to be known for building "driver's cars,'' and that Ford will be known as the company moving the American automobile industry in a new direction.

Enough said. The men at SVO began their mission to build a driver's car -- to show the world that Americans could build a driver's car. And that is just what they did. The high-technology, high-performance, limited-production Ford Mustang SVO is not just another late-model Mustang with a cosmetic package or fancy gizmos -- it is a machine designed to be driven at high speeds on winding roads. It is a balanced, sophisticated, race-proven automobile for the knowledgeable enthusiast. The Mustang SVO has high-technology features that are simply not available on most competitive products -- regardless of price.

Racing Heritage
Ford's Special Vehicle Operations developed the Mustang SVO by applying track-tested technology from the IMSA Mustang race cars. Mustang SVO Prototypes were raced in the 24-hours at Nelson Ledges. Production SVOs are today still raced at tracks across the country in both "street" and "competition prep" models. Some day you will be sure to see Mustang SVOs in vintage races as well.

A Very Special Mustang
Being a sophisticated driver's car -- clearly a car that was ahead of its time -- it catered to a select group of serious drivers. It has been said that Ford salesmen rarely sold a Mustang SVO -- they were sold before the customer walked on the dealer's lot. The Mustang SVO was a perfect example of the advertising slogan: "The Machine speaks for itself."

Of the more than 400,000 Mustangs built from 1984-1986, a mere 9,844 Mustang SVOs were ever produced -- representing barely two-percent of production -- making this unquestionably the most collectible (and at the time perhaps the most expensive) Mustang that Ford had built since the Boss Mustangs of the '60s and '70s. The Mustang SVO is a car not understood by many. Fewer people even know of its existence even today.

Technological Innovations
Many revolutionary developments emerged as a result of the Mustang SVO and have since been carried over to other Ford and Lincoln-Mercury products.

The exterior incorporates functional aerodynamics. Its flush headlights (introduced in the 1985-1/2 model year and the first of the Ford product line to have them); a functional front air dam; a hood scoop to provide air to the turbocharger's intercooler; a unique dual-wing rear spoiler; and even the flush surfaces of its aluminum wheels all combine to improve high-speed handling and stability, while, at the same time, minimizing the penalty of increased aerodynamic drag. In fact, nothing has been added to the body of the Mustang SVO purely for styling purposes. Exterior changes are functional, designed to enhance performance.1984 SVO Top View

At its introduction in 1984, the Mustang SVO produced a whopping 175 horsepower from its small 2.3 litre, 4-cylinder engine with its EEC-IV engine management system. But the men at SVO didn't stop there. By 1985-1/2 and 1986, many changes were made throughout the vehicle, and the little port fuel-injected, turbocharged, and intercooled engine produced 200 bhp at 5000 rpm (205 bhp for 1985-1/2), and generated 240 lbs of torque at 3000 rpm. Now water-cooled, the turbo is more reliable, and provides variable boost up to 15 lbs with lag being virtually nonexistent. A center console-mounted fuel recalibration switch optimizes engine performance for regular or premium fuel.

Also later in production, the standard 5-speed overdrive transmission had revised gearing and was now linked with a short-throw Hurst-developed shifter -- not since the Boss Mustangs, was Hurst involved at this level in a Ford project. Factory equipment also included modified front geometry and 15:1 power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Rear suspension featured a limited slip, 3.73:1 Traction-Lok axle. The Mustang SVO's suspension included many firsts -- it was the first Mustang to have as standard equipment all of the following: Koni gas filled/adjustable struts, shocks, and horizontal dampers; 5-lug, 16 x 7 inch aluminum wheels; P225-16 Goodyear Eagle VR 50 "Gatorbacks''; and four-wheel ventilated disc brakes. (Finally, nearly ten years later, the very limited production 1993 SVT Cobra 'R' followed by all models of the 1994 Mustang featured four-wheel discs!)

There are many ergonomic design features incorporated in the interior of the Mustang SVO. Luxury comforts include multi-adjustable articulated sport seats with adjustable lumbar supports; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, shift lever, and emergency brake handle. Power windows, door locks, A/C, and Premium Sound stereo are also standard (although deleted with the Competition Prep option). A special brake pedal was designed to accommodate heel-and-toe shifting. A foot rest was provided for added support for the driver under hard cornering. Car and Driver magazine said "Its excellent driving position was praised by all our testers. Much of the credit goes to the seats . . . The smoothly operating controls, ranging from the slickest shifter . . . to the heel and toe layout of the pedals . . . ''

Flying SVO -- Road & Track CoverMustang SVO Wins Praise
The Mustang SVO, is without a doubt, the most dramatic and completely-equipped Mustang ever built by Ford. When asked to summarize the Mustang SVO in a single word, John Clinard, then Marketing Manager of Special Vehicle Operations, said: " 'Uncompromised.' It is designed to be driven and enjoyed every day, yet it can be taken to the track virtually as it leaves the showroom. Everything added to create this car is there because it is functional. There are 'no gimmicks.' ''

When the 28 men of Special Vehicle Operations were done, they had created what Road & Track magazine (October, 1983) had called " . . . perhaps the best all-around car for the enthusiast driver ever produced by the U.S. Industry.''


The End of an Era
Unfortunately, all of this sophistication came at a price -- a price much more than an equally-powerful V8-equipped Mustang GT, and thus lackluster sales contributed highly to the end of production of the Mustang SVO in 1986. It was (and still is) an often mis-understood, under-appreciated machine. Its small, high-technology powerplant was not favored by those who prefer raw cubic inches to highly-refined cubic centimeters; and don't know heel-and-toe shifting was a technique that race drivers often take years to master.

Its innovative suspension with adjustable Konis that brought "Quad" shocks (SVOs built in December 1983 and later) and four wheel disc brakes to the Mustang line-up 10 years before they finally became standard on all new 1994 (and later) Mustangs. Konis were finally again standard on one other Mustang -- the very limited production 1995 SVT Mustang Cobra 'R' -- not since then has Koni been standard equipment on any other Ford offered for sale in the U.S.

There would be a few short years that a true performance Mustang would be in the dealer showrooms. And then...


1993 SVT Mustang Cobra - StillNew Generations
Demand proved that there would eventually be a new breed of performance Mustang -- one where again simple understatement would be the approach -- if it doesn't have a function, it doesn't belong. These are concepts that came about again when Ford's Special Vehicle Team (some say a "rebirth" of the SVO team) introduced the 5,000 SVT Mustang Cobras in 1993.

1994 SVT Mustang Cobra - Still

Some Mustang SVO owners bought these SVT Cobras -- intrigued by the high-output 5.0L V8 powerplant and 17-inch wheels only to be overly disappointed by its inadequate seating, small disc brakes (borrowed from the Turbo Coupe), and poor handling. Some sold them soon after in favor of their original love -- the Mustang SVO -- which is still considered by many to be the best handling Mustang that Ford ever built.

1995 SVT Mustang Cobra - Action

This new generation of the Mustang SVO -- the SVT Mustang Cobra -- is developing into a "driver's car" -- but at the same time making just a few compromises so as to cater to a broader market. (When talking to the layperson, some Mustang SVO enthusiasts now refer to their cars as "an early SVT Cobra.") Sales of the SVT Cobra are good, and have been maintained at 10,000 units per year since the introduction of the SN95 body style in 1994.

1997 SVT Mustang Cobra - Bondurant

The SVT Cobra has matured considerably in a few short years -- especially after trading-in its antiquated 5.0L pushrod engine for a sophisticated, high-revving 4.6L DOHC powerplant introduced in the 1996 model year. Also sporting a pair of stylish "nostrils" in its new hood give it an even more agressive look to the new 305 HP package.

A fleet of Roush-prepared 1997 SVT Mustang Cobras are now the "car of choice" at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Arizona where the cars are truly being put to the test.


1998 SVT Mustang Cobra - Action1998 SVT Mustang Cobra - WheelThe 1998 SVT Cobra (left) is showing-off its new 1995 Cobra 'R'-style wheels, but otherwise is virtually identical to the 1996-97 models except for a slight dashpad and center console revision.

The SVT Mustang Cobra, from Ford Special Vehicle Team, continues to maintain its status as a refined, high-performance, touring coupe with many modern luxuries. It is designed to live up to the SVT hallmarks of performance, substance, exclusivity and value.

Ford SVT Logo



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