10 June 2016

The Mustang SVO was born out of track testing

Car companies like claiming that their products are racing inspired. Usually that means that contrasting gauges and a spoiler have been added. However, before launching production, the SVO team ran racecars based on “regular” Mustangs. They then took the lessons learned at the track and built the production Mustang SVO with the same tested and proven components and set-ups. Something as mundane as a power steering pump can fail spectacularly under racing conditions, but the only way to find out is to go racing.

The SVO prototypes were torture tested at the 24-Hours Longest Day of Nelson, an amateur endurance race sanctioned by the SCCA. Intercooling and turbocharging configurations were sorted. Four-wheel disc brakes carried over from the Lincoln division withstood the punishment and proved a good match for the road course Mustang. The three pedal setup for these manual-transmission equipped-cars was designed specifically for the SVO model, optimized for heel-and-toe footwork, which the factory pedal configuration made awkward.

The SVO team proved that a light, yet powerful, turbocharged four-cylinder engine in a Fox-body Mustang with a track-refined suspension could take on the best showroom stock automobiles the world could muster. For 1984, the team produced a road-legal turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang that wore the SVO badge. It matched the V-8 equipped Mustang GT’s horsepower – at 175 – with half the cylinders and less than half the displacement (2.3-liters vs. 5.0).

An earlier turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang had arrived as a 1979 model, but the carbureted setup had drivability and maintenance issues. The arrival of modern electronic fuel injection changed everything, first on the track and then in the showroom. The SVO team hit the trifecta of performance, drivability, and emissions control.

The 1984 Mustang SVO made its impressive power by pushing 14-psi of turbo boost into the intercooled SOHC four-cylinder. Subsequent engine refinements and a bump to 15-psi brought that figure up to 205 horsepower. The model’s final year was 1986.

Ford established the Special Vehicle Operations, or SVO, in 1980. Michael Kranefuss and John Plant of Ford’s motorsports division were assigned to create limited-edition performance vehicles with a focus on racing. With the performance connection between manufacturer and consumer now established, the green flag dropped for in-house teams not only at Ford, with its follow-up to SVO known as the Special Vehicle Team or SVT, but also at Chrysler and General Motors.

The SVO team produced a pivotal low-volume performance car; 30 years later, and in the midst of a horsepower war to rival that of the 1960s, a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine once again powers a Ford Mustang, now with 310 horsepower.

7 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Larry Demers Merrimack NH June 24, 2016 at 14:33
    I am the proud owner of an 85 1/2, built July '85 . I have been doing autocross with it for the last 2 years and had a blast. It has 125k and runs great. Thinking of selling , If there is any interest email me tx Larry
  • 2
    Jim Shanahan Frankfort, IL June 24, 2016 at 11:39
    Know the story well. I have an 84 & 86 SVO (purchased new) and a 2015 Mustang with the 2.3 turbo. The 86, one of the last manufactured - only had single rear wing; had 18 lbs of boost - definitely had more than 205 hp. Ford has fixed the initial acceleration issue that was a problem for the 84-86 models. Enjoy the vehicles!
  • 3
    Ken Sousa Lincoln, CA June 24, 2016 at 12:30
    I had one of those early, carbureted turbocharged Fox bodies in 1980. I was a young executive at a subsidiary of FoMoCo and, as such, was eligible for an executive lease car. In 1980 mine was a bright yellow hatchback Mustang with a turbocharged 2.3L I4 and a 4 speed manual transmission. My recollection of the car, which I only had for one year, was that the turbo spooling up boost was a great sound and the performance was about like a V6 or maybe a small V8. Lots of fun, but it looked too much like a taxi cab and I was glad to see it go back to the company at the end of the year.
  • 4
    ANDY MELDERIS ON June 25, 2016 at 17:30
    A car built way ahead of its time and only appreciated by a priviliged few. Today people are realizing that they could have had the stang of the future 30 plus years ago.
  • 5
    Marc Vakassian Westerly, RI June 25, 2016 at 07:48
    I still have a 1985 1/2 Mustang SVO. It was 406 out of 439 built, bright red, and purchased from a dealer having been used as a Ford company car.
  • 6
    Richard J. Abbate Cheshire, CT June 25, 2016 at 21:23
    I would like to shed some additional light on the early days of the Mustang SVO project, in particular the racing history at the 1983 Nelson Ledges "Longest Day" 24 Hour Endurance race. At the time I was the owner, manager and lead driver for the American Spirit Racing Team (ASRT), which had competed in previous "Longest Day" events, in 1981 and 1982. We were using the Mazda RX-7 GSL's and had finished 2nd in class SSA in '81 and 3rd in '82. For 1983 we fielded two cars, in white and blue American racing colors, and while passing through the Tech Shed I encountered Michael Kranefuss who was shepherding his SVO's through at the same time. As we looked over each others cars, we exchanged introductions, handshakes and pleasantries, until Mike made some humorously intended, but disparaging comments on our "little RX-7's" and observed (mit hiss tick [sic] German accent) that his SVO's where going to "kick the ...." out of us! My equally "humorous" reply was "Thank you Mike, but we shall see who is still around on Sunday at 3 o'clock" (ending time of the 24 hour race). The "torture test" of the race certainly prove a torture for the SVO's (and many other makes as well) for long before the checker fell on Sunday the Ford guys had loaded up their SVO's in their 18 wheel transporters and headed home. Our "little RX-7's" not only finished the race, but came home 1st in class, and third overall, and by a margin of over 50 mile to the second place class finisher. I'm a Ford guy at heart (remember Mazda was substantially owned by Ford in those days), and still own the 1969 Mustang I purchase brand new in January of 1969, and admired the production version of the SVO's. Still, I took great delight in besting them at that race in 1983. I could add even more details and interesting side-lights on this long ago contest, but will leave those stories for another day. If requested! RJA
  • 7
    Paul Oickle Halifax NSCanada May 10, 2017 at 20:30
    Just acquired an 85 SVO last summer with 97,000 Km on it, one of 17 of the 85's ordered for Canada. The car has been garage kept, the body has no rust and is in beautiful condition. What a blast to drive just got an Autometer boost gauge and a manual boost control so I can run it at 19-20 pounds once In a while. Taking the stock breather off and going with a K&N cone filter. I keep all the original parts just so it can be put back to stock shape. I have always wanted on of these cars ever since I drove my brother in laws 84. I love taking it to local car cruise nights it's great to see people's reaction when they hear about these cars,

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