Photography by Jerry Heasley.
The Fox-bodied Mustang SVO lasted only three short years but during that time, it made an indelible mark on factory performance cars. It, along with others like the Corvette ZR1, was the right car at the wrong time. The Mustang SVO gave the public a package that unlike the 5.0 liter Mustang GT, was a well-balanced combination of performance and handling. It crossed the line of typical American performance cars that only went fast in a straight line but faltered when it came to road handling. Due to leading edge technology and superior handling the SVO was in a league of its own.
The original Ford SVO group included 32 engineers who were charged with improving the corporate image. Walter Hayes assembled the group known as the “Skunkworks” organization to focus on developing a vehicle that would stir up road racing enthusiasts. After growing out of their Oakwood Boulevard Facility, the SVO team, led by Michael Kranefuss, moved to a portion of the Whittaker Building in Allen Park, Michigan. Kranefuss handled the bureaucratic part of the business while his engineers did their job to bring the Mustang SVO into production.
You have to give Ford’s SVO department credit for trying to launch a world class performance and handling vehicle. They set out to develop a car that could compete with the entry-level European sports cars of the time and they certainly succeeded. To keep front end weight at a minimum, a much-massaged 2.3-Liter version of a Pinto motor was chosen for power. The computer control fuel-injection system was enhanced and a 15-pound boost AiReaserch T3 turbocharger upped the horsepower to 175 in 1984 and the early part of the 1985 model year. Horsepower jumped again to 205 in mid-year 1985. Because of changes in fuel octane requirements, the 1986 SVO lowered its horsepower to 200 but still provided more than adequate punch. The power was backed up with a BorgWarner T5 transmission.
Front suspension geometry was revised in 1986 for improved handling and a limited slip 3:73:1 ratio rear axle became standard equipment. The four-wheel disc brake system outperformed all other Mustangs in stopping power with the help of Goodyear P225/50VR16 Gatorback tires sitting on 16x7-inch aluminum wheels. In front, Koni shocks, recalibrated front coil springs and 1.12-inch sway bar did their part to make the SVO corner like a go-cart. The rear suspension included Koni Quadra shocks and a .67 inch sway bar.
Outside, the SVO was pure Mustang with a few exceptions. The hood included a functional hoodscoop providing cool air to the turbocharger. Chrome SVO emblems were located on each front fender. Typical Mustang side trim was reduced in width and quarter-window louvers were unique to the SVO. A new two-tier spoiler stretched across the decklid and for the first time included a high mounted stop lamp. Exterior colors were limited to shadow blue, silver metallic, medium gray metallic or red metallic. The only interior color available was charcoal with a leather option available. Even though it was a total performance package, many traditional Mustang buyers saw the SVO as an overpriced version of a 5.0-Liter Mustang.
In the end, word from Ford’s upper management was that they pulled the plug and 1987 Mustang was dead. With that in mind, SVO engineers stopped work on a new SVO Mustang and began working on an SVO T-Bird. The Probe was scheduled to take the place of the Mustang allowing Ford to get an edge on EPA mileage requirements. Later they would change directions and the Mustang would continue on. One can only imagine what a 1987 Mustang SVO would have been like.
Fuel For Thought
First year for 8.8-inch axle
Priced at $5,600 more than a Mustang GT
Console mounted switch calibrated the car for either regular or premium fuel
Over its three-year run 9,844 Mustang SVO vehicles were sold
Number built – 3,382
Construction – Unibody
Engine – 2.3 liter four-cylinder
Power/Torque – 200 horsepower/240 lb-ft torque
Transmission – 5-speed T-5 manual transmission
Suspension front – independent modified McPherson strut, coil springs with anti-roll bar
Suspension rear – Rigid axle located by four trailing links, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering – rack and pinion-power assisted
Brakes – four-wheel vented disc brakes - inch diameter (front), inch diameter (rear)
Length/width/height – 179.6/69.1/51.9 inches
Wheelbase – 100.5 inches
Weight – 2,987 lbs
0-60mph/quarter-mile – 7.5 seconds/15.2 seconds (no mph given-Ford Factory Information on a 1984 SVO)
Top speed – 134 mph (Ford Factory Information)
MPG – EPA Estimate: 18/24 MPG - city/highway
Price – MSRP $15,272 Today – $9,200
Insurance cost is $220/year for a $20,000 1986 Mustang SVO. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from
Heacock Classic Car Insurance
The 2.3-Liter engine is very hard to tear up. Forged pistons handled the added boost from the turbo. A weak point of the engine was a tendency for wearing out valve guide seals that caused the engine to smoke on startup. During the three-year run, it proved to be a workhorse.
Handling was the SVO’s best feature. It cornered like a go-cart and stopped on a dime. Between the combination of a lower center of gravity, Koni shocks, specially calibrated springs and sway bar the SVO was head and shoulders over any other production Mustang including the GT.
1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z
Number built – 17,595
0-60/quarter-mile – 9.25 seconds/16/7 seconds at 83 mph
Top speed – 118 mph Est. mph
Price – MSRP – $11,330 Today – $3,275 - $6,250
1986 Porsche 944 Turbo
Number built – 8,346 total 944 production
0-60/quarter-mile – 6.59 seconds/14.89 seconds at 94.2 mph
Top speed – 153 mph
Price – MSRP $29,500 Today – $7,900 - $11,800
Low production numbers
High technology car for its time
Great handling and excellent performance for a four-cylinder
Unique exterior features
Available at a reasonable price
Not as fast as a 5.0 liter Mustang
Parts are not easy to find
Many Mustang SVO’s are driven on a semi-regular basis and are shown at local and national Mustang meets. Very few are kept locked away in a garage.
What To Pay
MSRP – $15,272
Low – $4,325
Average – $6,575
High – $9,200
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Mustang & Ford magazines are sold.
SVO taillamp $74.99
SVO emblem $9.99
SVO seat covers $624.99
Door weatherstrip $16.99
SVO intercooler hood seal $$49.95
* FMR Fox Restoration Parts Inc.
Ford Mustang Buyers Guide 1979 to Present by Travis Thompson
Mustang Dynasty by John Clor
Mustang Buyer’s Guide 1979 to 2004 by Brad Bowling
Mustang Performance Handbook by William R. Mathis
The SVO is not as sought after as typical performance cars of the ’60s are. Then again, it’s not a typical performance car. Power is adequate and handling is superb. Those who own them truly enjoy this low production personal performance car. If you’re a Mustang collector, an unmolested SVO might just be the perfect fit for your collection.