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.