The other day I saw this going south on the I-17. Now to most people, this is just another shitbox from the 80’s. If we refine that scope a little more and target your average car enthusiast, he’ll tell you it’s a Mustang or maybe a “five point-oh” (if he wears black socks) Now let’s zoom in a little more. To your Mustang fanatic, or even 80’s car fanatic, he’ll tell you that this is the euro-stomping, SVO Ford Mustang. Not to be confused with the SVO Aftermarket parts operation ran through Ford, this SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) was pretty much the precursor to what was later to be SVT cars and trucks.
This car was unlike any American car in 1983 (model year 1984). It had a SOHC 16v 2.3L Inline four cylinder, turbocharged and sporting an intercooler. This mill cranked out 170hp at 4500 rpm and 210ft lbs at 3000 rpm. To compare that to the 1984 Mustang GT (4bbl/5-speed models, as the CFI/4-speed autos were much slower) you’d find that 5.0L V8 cranking out an identical 170hp at 4200 rpm but a comparably earth-moving 245 ft lbs at 2400 rpm. The 1984 SVO was equipped with a 3.45:1 final drive ratio compared to the GT’s standard 2.73:1. With it’s lighter weight, it’s no surprise it generally found itself cranking away 1/4 mile runs that were five-tenths faster than it’s big v8 brother! Pretty much an eternity in drag racing.
The SVO wasn’t done there though. With a nose that was 150lbs lighter, 4 wheel disc brakes (standard), optional adjustable Koni Shocks and Optional 16″ TRX wheels equipped with 225/50VR16 Goodyear NCT tires, a Hurst-equipped T5 manual, repositioned pedals for easier heel/toe shifting, front and rear sway bars, pump-up support Lear Siegler seats (that could also be found in at least one Turbocoupe that fellow editor Mike owned at one point in time) and 14 pounds of boost feeding it, it’s easy to see with the SVO Mustang spanked it’s larger displacement sibling when it came to the twisties as well. On paper and on the track, the Mustang SVO was unstoppable.
Did I mention that it was in 1983? The first year of the C4 Corvette? The year that same anemic 205hp crossfire 5.7L V8 demolished a Porsche 928S, a Ferrari 308GTSi and a Jaguar XJ-S around Laguna Seca. The year the Grand National only made 200hp. The year the Caravan started slowly driving wagons to extinction. The year when the Testarossa came out and could rip off a 0-60 that could rival today’s base model Mustang. It was grim.
The SVO Mustang was only made from 1984-1986 and failed to sell as many units in it’s three year run as Ford expected to sell in the first year alone. What went wrong? Well, to begin, it’s price started at $15,585, which was about the average asking price for a brand new 280ZX. The torquier, menacing-sounding 5.0L V8 GT started at $9,774. You could almost buy two GT Mustangs for the price of one SVO, and the SVO definitely wasn’t twice as fast. Also the car was designed (aesthetically and mechanically) to appeal to the person who wanted something sporty and upscale, now commonly known as the sport luxury market. The SVO was upscale for a Mustang, but was still a lowly Mustang. It wasn’t a 944, a 535 or even a C4 Corvette. A fancier interior, redesigned front and rear clip and turbo four cylinder power unfortunately didn’t sway the public from the competition.
Halfway through the 1985 model year (a trait you’ll see common in Ford’s design and production) the SVO gained a 3.73 final drive ratio, and a 30hp boost. Not to mention newly legal flush headlights and dual exhaust earlier at the beginning of the 1985 model year. With 200hp and an even deeper gear ratio, the SVO was a performance monster in it’s category, but unfortunately never made it long enough to see some of the things coming down the pipeline for it, notably a DOHC head.
If you’re interested in spotting a SVO, look for the grill-less front clip with it’s slant nose and offset hood scoop, designed to feed air into the intercooler. It also has unique single-louver sail panels and every SVO (except some rare ones that opted for the credit in 86) got a bi-plane wing. The same one you’d see on a Merkur XR4ti, which shared the same power plant.
Like I said earlier, this car was a monster for it’s time, but how does the SVO’s performance numbers stack up to a modern car? Let’s compare it to the 2012 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T model, a relatively new car, and Hyundai’s first foray into the RWD sport coupe market. The Genesis’ 2.0L DOHC mill (which shares common parts with the Mitsubishi Lancer and sports a Mitsubishi turbo) makes 210hp at 6000 rpm and 223 ft lbs at 2000 rpm with the same 14 psi as the SVO. It has a 4.10 final drive ratio. It is however a much heavier car and as a result posts nearly identical 0-60 and 1/4 mile times as the SVO. Even more amazing, it stops in nearly the same amount of feet (Genesis 70-0 in 161 ft compared to SVO 60-0 in 155 ft) It also clears the traps within 2mph of the SVO, which is a good indicator that they’re evenly matched in straight line performance. Pretty impressive for a car that was designed on a 1970’s sedan platform and had a turbocharged Pinto engine.
Some other cool facts about the 1984 Mustang SVO:
- 0-60 7.4 seconds.
- 1/4 mile 15.3 seconds @ 90 mph.
- 1 of 4508 produced in 1984.
- The speedometer numerals stopped at 85mph (due to being designed under the time of this law) but hash marks on the speedometer continued to 140mph.
- Featured the first dead pedal in a manual fox body.
- Had a fuel control switch on the dash to adjust for octane rating of fuel.