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Ford Mustang’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations)
Everyone has heard of SVT – whether you’re a Blue Oval fan or not, you know that any Ford wearing these three letters should not be taken lightly.
But before SVT’s launch in 1992, there was SVO: Special Vehicle Operations (Ford’s racing division). SVO’s ambitions for the best performance was quite different from that of SVT’s … hence the 1984 Mustang SVO.
Times were different in the late ‘70s. With buyer interest shifting toward economical Japanese cars, and with new CAFE mpg mandates being implemented, SVO chose to go the route of a small turbo 4 cylinder powerplant.
They started with the OHC 2.3L from the Pinto/Mustang II, and added forged aluminum pistons, high temperature valves, an oil cooler, a tuned intake manifold, and most importantly: a computer controlled turbocharger with variable boost control and an air-to-air intercooler.
Most turbo systems of the time would mechanically reach boost immediately (like an on/off switch). This forced carmakers to limit boost to around 10 psi in attempt to avoid engine damage at low RPM. The SVO’s system, however, limits boost at low RPM and provides infinitely variable boost as the RPM’s rise. This is an early form of variable boost control.
Early cars saw up to 14 lbs of boost, while later cars saw 15 lbs. This was the highest amount of boost you could find on a production engine at the time. For safety, Ford even included an overboost warning buzzer in the dash.
The result is that the four cylinder SVO put out identical power numbers to the 5.0 V8 GT of the same year. However, SVO’s development goals put emphasis on handling, not horsepower. This meant the lighter 4 cyl engine sat behind the front axle, allowing the SVO to have a superior weight distribution than the 5.0 GT. Factory curb weight (no options) was quoted under 3,000 lbs, and a bi-plane polycarbonate rear wing provided the required downforce.
Also, if you were to compare the pedals in an SVO to those of a 5.0 GT, you’ll notice the brake pedal is much larger in the SVO. In an effort to make heel-toe downshifts easier at the racetrack, Ford made the smart move of fitting the larger brake pedal (with greater contact area) from automatic transmission Foxbody Mustangs into the SVO. The brake system is upgraded as well, with Ford swapping in the brakes from the bigger Lincolns of the time.
With such a ridiculous amount of development work going into the electronic turbo system, the ECU’s advanced EEC-IV microprocessor, and the handling R&D, you’d expect it to reflect in the price. And it did! At over $16k, the SVO retailed for nearly $6,000 over the 5.0L GT!
Thankfully, that price hasn’t changed much today for used examples. While shopping for the best condition should be your no.1 priority, buyers should note that the later models are the best performers.
For example, SVO cars built after Dec ’83 came with 6 shock absorbers from the factory. 4 of them (Koni) are at each corner, while two additional shocks act as traction bars mounted horizontally between the ends of the rear axle and the frame to keep the rear planted during aggressive acceleration/deceleration. Prior to December ’83, steel traction bars were used instead of shocks.
Pictured above is a 1985.5 model, which was the most powerful year of the SVO (and the lowest production run). Ford boosted power from 175hp to 205hp, and torque from 210 to 248 ft lbs. The 1985.5 cars are slightly more high-strung, with horsepower now peaking @ 5000 RPM instead of 4400 RPM on the earlier cars. In 1986, the power rating was reduced to 200HP/240 ft lbs to comply with lower octane fuel.
1985.5 is also the first year of the “aero” headlights (flush mounted to the body). These headlights were originally meant for the ’84 model, but federal regulations postponed them until the mid-1985 update.
The SVO ended production in 1986 for a short 3 year run, as it was thought the Fox body would be replaced by what we now know as the Probe!
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