In 1980, Ford created Special Vehicle Operations to help develop a better image for the Mustang. Most importantly, SVO was responsible for applying race-derived technology to Ford production cars. Specifically, technology from the Ford IMSA and SVO prototype were transferred to the Mustang SVO which was released in 1983. The SVO was a different kind of Mustang as it retained the inline-4 found on the entry level models.
In order for the SVO to be an excellent all-round sports car the SVO team knew from early on that only a light weight engine would do in order to reduce front end weight and improve balance. This meant that using the 5.0-litre V8 would be out of the question; however they realized that the car would require similar power that was produced by the 5.0. Using the 2.3-litre turbo from the 1983 Mustang GT Turbo as a starting point the engineers went to work massaging more power from the little engine. An air-to-air intercooler was added to reduce intake air temperatures that had risen from being compressed by the turbocharger. Cooler air is denser and allows more volume to enter into the combustion chamber thus allowing the engine to produce more power.
This was the first use of air-to-air intercooler technology in an American production car. Boost pressure from the AiResearch turbocharger was controlled by the world’s first electronic adjustable boost-control system that could vary boost to a maximum induction pressure of 14 pounds per square inch when premium fuel was used. This is believed to the highest boost pressure of any production engine to that point. Another novel feature was a rocker switch on the console that would change the algorithm mapping of computer to enable the SVO to run on either regular (reducing performance) or premium fuel. With these changes the SVO produced an advertised 175 horsepower and 210 foot pounds of torque.
It wasn’t just about the engine either. The SVO had a modified suspension and Koni shocks, 4 wheel disc brakes and 16×7 inch aluminum wheels, a functional hood scoop and a dual plane rear spoiler. A 5-Speed Manual transmission was mated to the engine. Gear changes were made via a short-throw Hurst shifter. Not since the Boss Mustang was Hurst involved in the development of a high-performance Mustang.
For the first time in Mustang’s history stopping power was provided by a set of large four wheel disc brakes. These brakes were adapted from another Fox body vehicle, the Lincoln Continental. Front discs were 10.92-inches in diameter and the rear discs were even larger at 11.25-inches across. As a consequence of the brake upgrade the SVO had five bolt hubs and axles instead of the four pattern used on lesser Mustangs. These fade resistant brakes provided enough clamping force to bring the SVO to a halt from sixty miles an hour in a scant distance of 158-feet. Not until 1994 would Ford adopt such a setup on the standard Mustang.
A trick suspension and powerful braking system are nothing without proper tire grip. The SVO sat on meaty 225/50VR16 Goodyear NCT tires that were mounted on unique 16×7 inch five bolt pattern aluminum wheels. The NCT’s were good but SVO engineers really wanted to use Goodyear’s new revolutionary unidirectional Eagle GT50 “Gatorback” tires that were used on the 1984 Corvette. Later cars produced in 1984 did receive the “Gatorback” once Goodyear designed a set especially for the SVO.
The exterior of the SVO was given many distinctive features to set itself apart from other Mustangs. The nose of the car was completely restyled with a grille-less front end. A new front bumper was fashioned devoid of the integral turn signal lamps and now sported a 2 piece split wrap around molding rather than the continuous one piece molding of the regular Mustang. Stylists wanted to use new composite aerodynamic headlamps in place of the quad sealed beam units on standard Mustangs however the regulations that were to allow the use of these headlamps were not implemented in time for production and the SVO had the make due with dual sealed beam lamps. On the outer side of the headlamps were wraparound flush mounted turn signal/parking lamps and on the inboard side of the headlamps were flush mounted, forward facing parking lamps.
The hood was also a new piece that extended down stopping just short a few inches above the top of the bumper giving the SVO its unique grille-less appearance. To supply cooling air to the intercooler there was an integral forward facing hood scoop that was offset to the right. Thin body-side moldings ran along the flank of the car between the front and rear wheels and side splats were affixed to the quarter panel just below the body side molding just ahead of the rear wheels to help deflect air around the rear tires. Even the sail panels located just aft of the rear quarter windows were revised with a new sleeker look. At the rear was a very cool looking bi-plane spoiler and this was perhaps the most distinctive feature of the SVO. Not as obvious as the in your face spoiler were SVO specific dark gray tail lamps. With all its distinctive exterior elements no one could mistake the SVO for a standard issue Mustang.
The Mustang SVO was an epic performer in just about every aspect. Journalists heaped praise on the car glorifying it as a viable competitor against sports coupes from Japan and Europe. Comparisons were even made with Chevrolet’s more expensive and upscale Corvette. Through a corner the Mustang SVO not only had better grip than any Mustang before, it also possessed many qualities not normally associated with an American car such as crisp and responsive turn-in into a corner and communicative steering with excellent road feel. The large four-wheel disc brakes demonstrated short fade free stops that could never be achieved in the standard Mustang.
The SVO at the time was one of the best all-round American performance cars ever made. The problem was the price. Its base price was about $6,000 higher that the Standard Mustang GT. It was designed to provide good acceleration, quick handling, great braking, and a good ride. It did all that in spades, but alas, the price tag was too high and the engine was too small for true enthusiasts to mentally get over.
Of the 400 000 Mustangs produced between 1984-to 86, only 9000 received the SVO badge. Such limited numbers made the SVO one of the most sought after Mustangs. After 1986, the Ford kept the V8-powered GT as a more marketable top model. Ten years later, Ford finally revived the Mustang with the Cobra
Specifications & Performance
Detroit, Michigan, USA
$15 500 USD
Turbocharged & Intercooled
Bosch/Ford Fuel Injection
2300 cc / 140.4 in³
96 mm / 3.78 in
79.4 mm / 3.13 in
152.9 kw / 205 bhp @ 5000 rpm
89.13 bhp per litre
148.23 bhp per tonne
336.24 nm / 248.0 ft lbs @ 3000 rpm
body / frame
RWD w/Limited Slip
Vented Discs w/Vacuum Assist
f brake size
x 277 mm / x 10.9 in
Vented Discs w/Vacuum Assist
r brake size
x 287 mm / x 11.3 in
F 40.6 x 17.8 cm / 16.0 x 7.0 in
R 40.6 x 17.8 cm / 16.0 x 7.0 in
Rack & Pinion w/Power Assist
MacPherson Struts w/Lower A-Arms, Coil Springs, Koni Adjustable Tube Shocks, Anti-Roll bar