One of my regular reads, Car Lust, covered the Mustang SVO in a long review a few days ago that I somehow missed. It was a good article, covering all the basics of the car. But it wasn’t written by somebody who actually owned one – someone who was there at the time, spent the money, and put the miles on the car (in my case, on both the street and on roadrace tracks). So while the article was well-intentioned, the writer didn’t have the necessary perspective of having been there and done that.
I shouldn’t even mention the comments to that article, where a couple of armchair quarterbacks commented on the SVO from the perspective of today – not the period perspective that led to the creation of the car by Ford in the early 80s, or the ownership experiences some of us had back then. And never mind the straight-liners, with their tired old claim that the V-8 GTs of that age were “faster” than the SVO. Couldn’t be more wrong, and all too typical of people who live their lives 14 seconds or less at a time (no doubt their driving lives parallel their sex lives). These were the same people who were duped by Ford into believing the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” marketing propaganda that led to essentially the same car being sold for 15 model years (Ford has only done worse with the Model T, the E-series van, and the Crown ‘Vic).
The FOX-platform Mustangs were inherently bedeviled with deficiencies and issues (thru the model year ’93). The SVO was a serious engineering attempt to fix them. Braking was improved by an order of magnitude, with large 5-lug 4-wheel discs replacing tiny 4-lug front discs and antiquated rear drums. Handling was considerably improved by using a lighter engine and improving the weight balance. The drivers “workplace” was improved by placing the shifter in the right place, and providing bolstering in the drivers seat. Attention was given to things like a baffled fuel tank, brake pad material, suspension bushings, engine cooling, pedal placement, and aerodynamics which together resulted in far better dynamics on the street and track. The interior was improved with up-market materials. The budget was limited, Ford wanted a new dashboard but couldn’t justify it just for this. Nevertheless it was a complete package of improvements, not piecemeal or a series of band-aids. The car was much better than a GT in it’s first iteration, and improved even more in it’s second.
I was an original owner of an SVO: I bought it new, paid the big sticker price, and broke it in with a track event immediately after purchase. And I can say from putting hundreds of thousands of miles on 12 FOX Mustangs (all purchased new, all used for auto-x and track), that the SVO was far superior to the rest of them.
Back in those days I was regularly doing track events at Nelson Ledges, Watkins Glen, and other tracks in that general part of the country. Every Mustang of that age – except the SVO – required new front rotors with every track weekend at the Glen, with calipers and bearings at least every other event. After the sessions on Saturday, I’d be forced to spend my dinner time swapping parts to get ready for the Sunday sessions. And late Sunday I’d be driving home with very marginal brakes, beat to pieces because the inferior engineering of the Mustang couldn’t hold up. Miserable.
I’d had more than enough of this lousy situation, and buying the SVO solved the issue once and for all. I could enjoy driving the car down to the “Glen, where just a touch of gas while rocketing down route 14 next to Seneca Lake got me past anything in the way, without even shifting. I could actually enjoy a track weekend without bringing along a replacement set of brake pads, rotors, calipers, and bearings. And this wasn’t just putt-putting around the track in a car club lead-and-follow: this was wide open, flat out, anything the car could do with the only limit being driver experience. At the ‘Glen this meant foot to the floor thru turns 2, 3, 4 and down the back straight. And note that the back straight in those days didn’t suffer from the restricting jog it has now – you either had the brakes to slow down enough to make the right turn down to the boot, or you crashed, or you just drove slow. This type of event separates the men from the boys: my previous (and since) FOX-bodied Mustang GTs fell on their faces while the SVO stood up to one of the toughest tracks in the country.
But there is more to my praise of the SVO than just that: I also worked as a pit marshall at these same tracks during SCCA and IMSA race weekends. I was there for two 24-hour endurance race weekends at Nelson Ledges when Ford brought development prototypes of the SVO to the track for real-world testing by competing in the race! I spent both years as a pit marshall responsible for their section of the pits, so I got to see the cars in intimate detail and spend some considerable time with the Ford engineers. The SVO engineering team was made up of real enthusiasts and they were as sick of the problems as I was and more – many of them held SCCA licenses and wanted to campaign their own products. So the SVO was born in battle in endurance racing… and did very very well. Other Ford engineers who brought GTs to the event broke all the usual parts, garked their fluids out on the track, and lost their brakes repeatedly. I would have hated to have been one of them.
So understanding how and why the SVO was built, and then testing it myself in the environment it was meant to be driven in, makes the difference.
I’ve written up the entire story of those two events – with photos. To my knowledge, this is the only insider write-up of the SVO team at those two events.
- SVO blog: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?cat=931
- SVO blog RSS feed: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?feed=rss2&cat=931