We’ve been a fan of the Mustang SVO all the way back: we personally witnessed Ford race them in the 24 hour endurance races in 1982 and 1983 at Nelson Ledges (read our extensive write-up here, with unique pictures from the events), and soon thereafter we bought our own off the lot. We had an event coming up in two weeks at Watkins Glen, needed a better ride than our miserable 1983 Mustang GT, and bought the SVO. At 17 thousand US dollars, it was a lot more expensive than our GT, but was track-ready with big 5-bolt disc brakes all around, good sprint rates, and adjustable Konis straight from the factory. As well as better aerodynamics, improved ergonomics, and seats with large bolsters for excellent support. It had far better brakes for track work, and didn’t require a complete rebuild before, during, and after each day of the event – as the lowly GT did with its tiny brakes. And it was faster than any V-8 Mustang thru the 1986 model year, and easily out-handled them. It was a truly modern car, and well ahead of its time. We’ve been looking for a good example to add to our collection.
So we always watch carefully for SVOs on the road and in shows. This example was being shown at the January 2013 Cars and Coffee. It was very clean and well-preserved – although unfortunately not 100% stock.
The SVO had several styling changes over pedestrian Mustangs, including the signature – and very functional – biplane rear spoiler (originally designed by Ford aerodynamicists for the Probe series of research cars). Funny story: we once had an old couple follow us into a parking lot when we were driving our original SVO in 1985 - they asked what the spoiler was and had thought it was some sort of picnic table.
Also note the side sail panel – functional, clean. The SVO engineers and stylists used the motto “form follows function” and the entire car means just that. Everything had to be functional, and function was far more important than styling.
The Mustang engine was a 200 horsepower (this in the days of 220 horsepower Corvettes!) iron and block and head 2.3 liter port fuel-injected inline 4 with vane-type airflow measurement (state-of-the-art then, before mass air became available) turbocharger and air-to-air intercooler. With architectural roots going back to the famed 2 liter 4 cylinder from Ford of Europe, and a special stronger block and internals unique to the SVO, this was a very well-built engine. If the SVO had stayed in production – meaning if Ford dealers knew how to sell it – then we would have seen a factory DOHC aluminum head in the 1987 model year. Prototypes had been built and tested!
This is an interesting car… the owner bought it just recently – with 5000 miles on it. Five Thousand. It came as shown here, with a couple of minor changes under the hood as shown. One that is difficult to see is the aluminum head. The owner hasn’t pulled the valve cover yet to see if the head also has a roller cam, but it’s likely.
The factory airbox is missing: it’s normally on the left fenderwall and draws cold air from inside the fenderwell. This example has an aftermarket filter to suck hot air from the engine compartment.
The intercooler was effective, although at certain speeds the aerodynamics sucked in air from the hood scoop and at other speeds it flowed in reverse. The improved version of this same engine used in the 1987-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe used a larger and more effective intercooler. That part is a bolt-on mod for SVOs, and is a popular update. You’ll notice that this car is missing the front “Y” bracket.
The SVO front end was designed for aerodynamics. Government regulations didn’t allow Ford to use the intended ”aero” headlamps on the 1984 and early 1985 models… the late 1985 and 1986 models were the first to use them. The hood, fenders, and front cap were unique to the SVO, as was the entire driveline and the interior.
The 16×7 (the largest wheels available on any Mustang then) wheels were also designed for aerodynamics. 16″ inch wheels were exotic stuff back then, only the Corvette used them among American cars. That would change a year later, but was state-of-the-art then. The SVO also used state-of -the-art Goodyear tires, first sourced solely from Europe and later from America (this in contrast to the miserable Michelin TRX tires used on the Mustang GT).
The back of the SVO received unique badging and taillights. Similar taillights - but not identical – were seen several years later on the 1993 SVT Cobra Mustang. The SVO lights were handsome, functional, and restrained. As was the entire car - it was a Mustang for more mature and sophisticated owners.
30 years ago, June 18-20 1982, Ford debuted the Mustang SVO to the world in the form of two engineering prototypes competing in a 24-hour endurance race: the Quaker State Oil Longest Day of Nelson. This SCCA-sanctioned race, held at the well-known (and very humble) club race track Nelson Ledges in Ohio, isn’t with us anymore but was well-known and beloved in its time. The event offered classes for what at the time was known as Showroom Stock cars, as well as future production prototypes, to race.
The SCCA Showroom Stock class in those days was just that: cars that were literally straight from the showroom, with only safety equipment added. Race tires were not available in those days, so whatever street tire came in the stock size would have to be used. Ford Pintos were very popular then because of their crisp handling and easy availability of replacement parts. We personally knew one racer who leased his from a local dealer and had several crashes over the years.
The Prototype class was something new to the SCCA, and it was controversial both inside the SCCA as well as outside. The intent was to generate excitement by allowing manufacturers to bring a prototype of a car that would be built within the next two years. It wasn’t intended for high-end or exotica, but for future versions of cars already racing in Showroom Stock. The Corvette wasn’t allowed into the event until 1985, and even then only under pressure from GM, but the Mustang was the perfect fit since it has already been racing in Showroom Stock since 1979. Racing would indeed improve the breed.
Ford brought two prototypes to the event with the idea of fast-tracking their development under the stress of racing, as well as to show the public the direction that the Mustang was taking. And to ensure that good publicity was spread far and wide, Ford arranged for Car and Driver and Road & Track to each have their own identical car. The magazines selected their drivers from amongst their own staff, which resulted in a mixed bag of skillsets. Road & Track had Innes Ireland, for example, and there was no question of the skill there. Each magazine also brought nearly their entire staff to crew their pits, cook for everyone, and cheer on their (hopefully) winning team.
And we were there ourselves, working as an SCCA-licensed Pit Marshall. That meant that we were working in the pits, right in front of the Mustang SVOs, and saw everything. We also got to meet our favorite writers from both magazines. What an incredible weekend! Read more
And 4 of the top ten are Ford Motor Company products. While we might agree on the obese MKT, we take strong issue with the idea that the SVO was ugly at all, much less a top ten.
Mustang SVO owners and enthusiasts: time to stand up for our favorite Mustang. Go to the USA Today article and make your comments heard: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2012/02/top-10-ugly-cars-ford-mustang-taurus-accord-lincoln-mkt/1
We ask our readers: is this an ugly machine? Was Ford’s “Form follows Function” methodology ahead of its time or did it just not work?
Our opinion (as an original Mustang owner): this is the best looking Mustang from the Fox years. And the machines does indeed speak for itself.
For the sake of posterity, and fans of the car (we were an orignial owner oursleves!), here are two nicely preserved commercials form Ford:
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.
DrivingEnthusiast network references:
- SVO blog: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?cat=931
- SVO blog RSS feed: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?feed=rss2&cat=931
The complete story of this event is hosted on our main website here: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-ford/special-report-svo/index.html.
It is updated whenever new facts come in, so please check that page frequently.
If you were at Nelson Ledges for these events, I want to hear from use. Please use the Comments form to contact us.
... it’d be done tastefully and with a view towards what the Mustang SVO was scheduled to become had it remained in production. Ford was testing a DOHC cylinder head for a future SVO in the mid-eighties (three were known to be built for testing), as well as an independent rear suspension. Yes, it’s almost unbelievable (and very frustrating) that in the 1987 timeframe we could have had a state-of-the-art Mustang!
That never-to-be-seen SVO is what we’d model a ”resto-mod” SVO after. We would not be interested in trashing one with modifications that would take it away from Ford’s original philosophy in building the SVO in the first place. That has been done too often to SVOs, and there are too few left to waste on foolishness.
So if we were to proceed, cautiously, there are examples to look at and decisions to be made. The IRS is a no-brainer, and an easy bolt-in. It’s purpose is entirely in keeping with the SVO mantra. The bigger question is the engine. Ford has several DOHC 4 cylinders to consider using, including the state-of-the-art MazdaSpeed3 engine (which is basically, after all, an engine design straight from Ford). In fact, if we’d care to wait until 2015, we could use a next-gen Ford EcoBoost 2.3 liter DOHC 4 cylinder straight from the base 2015 Mustang. But that would probably be cheating. Instead we could take the route of using the original 2.3 liter engine as a base, as Ford was planning with their own mid-eighties DOHC engine update.
Here is one example we’d examine closely: a 1984 Mustang SVO, with a Volvo DOHC cylinder head and a 2003 Cobra IRS, amongst other mods. It was originally offered for sale via Craigslist in Madison Heights (outside of Roanoke, Virginia) in January 2010. Incredibly, a Volvo DOHC cylinder head is very nearly a bolt-on. We’d sure like to know the unwritten history and technology sharing agreements that resulted in this capability! A complete list of mods, and pictures, after the jump:
The complete list of modifications are:
- B234F Volvo twin cam head, flows about 30-40% more than a stock head.
- Polyurethane motor and trans mounts
- Adjustable Esslinger cam pullies
- Earl’s fittings and lines for oil and water plumbing. The only rubber lines are the lower and elbows for the upper radiator hoses and the conectors to the heater core.
- 4-1 steel tubular header
- T3/T4 50 Trim Hybrid Turbo
- 255 lph in-tank Walbro pump, 255 lph inline pump
- ECU: Megasquirt v3.0 Board w/ latest MS1-Extra firmware and a very drivable tune and decent but rich WOT tuning. Setup with MSD box currently, using PIP for ignition input to ECU. PWM Injector noise fix has been done on this unit.
- Steeda Tri-Ax shifter
- Fidanza aluminum flywheel
- Clutchnet Pressure Plate and 6 puck ceramic-metallic disc, ARP flywheel bolts
- 3.5″ downpipe and midpipe, Dual 3″ tailpipes, Dynomax Bullet muffler
- AutoMeter Nexus gauges: fuel pressure, boost, oil pressure, oil temp, water temp, EGT & data logging function
- Autometer 5″ Pro-Comp speedo (0-160mph) and 5″ tach (10,000rpm)
- Western Motorsports Wideband O2 sensor
- Cobra IRS rear suspension
- H&R springs (maybe 1.5-2″ drop?)
- Cobra 13″ front brake rotors, 11.6″ rear
- Brakes 4-piston calipers: F88i fronts and F33i rears with Hawk street pads (NO e-brake whatsoever)
- Stainless braided lines and Wilwood adjustable prop valve
- MB Motoring “Competition” wheels 17×9″ in custom gold paint w/ BFG G-sport 245s front, BFG KDW 275s rear, extended rear wheel studs, wheel locks
The question from the list above is whether an entire Volvo engine is used, or as the list implies, only the cylinder head. And if so, how was the head mated to the SVO engine block? We think it might be the cylinder head only, as the SVO forums have some reference to this but – unfortunately – no details.
Lets examine the pictures of the car above. This is the engine – and we are intrigued. If we wanted to stay with a 4-cylinder turbo, a DOHC head would be exactly what’s needed. A V-6 SHO engine might be a better all-around choice, an even easier swap, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the original car. A Duratec 4 would be a good choice if the original spirit of the car was to be preserved, and there are no shortage of parts for that engine.
The SVO is a handsome car, as we’re reminded once again looking thru these pictures. In this example, we can see that the upper half of the decklid spoiler is missing – this is a common problem. And that the Cobra IRS exhaust has been adapted to this car. You can always tell an IRS car from the rear by the exhaust system that it requires. We’ve wrenched a Cobra IRS transplant ourselves, and it’s an easy conversion (except for the brake line connections, which need to be fabricated in anything earlier than 1998).
The base car is a 1984 Mustang, so it doesn’t have the aero headlamps that were used from 1985 1/2 thru 1986. But it also means that it original had a single exhaust, and that the fuel pump was mounted under the rear passenger seat area where a second muffler would be located on a dual-exhaust car. It’s be easier to start with a 1985.5 car so that the fuel plumbing is already in place and so that dual exhaust can be used.
You can also see in this picture the wheel offset which was used. It is very difficult to get the wheel offset right in Fox cars since different offsets have to be used front/rear. And it’s worse in this example, since SVOs used a unique front suspension which had its own offset questions. There is also the Cobra IRS, which again had its own offset requirements in the SN95 cars it was designed for… transplanting one into a Fox chassis requires an even more extreme offset. That’s something the builder didn’t do right here, IMHO.
Our own Mustang SVO looked similar to this: for a short period of time we had Recaro seats in ours. The standard SVO seats are really excellent, although they don’t provide as much lateral support as these do. The builder here used a set of sport seats and a replacement steering wheel from unknown vendors.
There is no doubt that the SVO needs a modern DOHC cylinder head.. the original head was a cast iron SOHC design, and even worse it used a unique splayed intake manifold where each runner was a different length and entered the head at a different angle.
Adding a MAF and coil-packs to replace the distributor would also be a good idea… that’s a known science with Mustang SVOs.
Should we have just bought this SVO from the builder? We’re been wondering about that… the cylinder head conversion really intrigues us, and the Cobra IRS is always a favorite route for us. But it’s too late now… this car has disappeared back into the ‘net. Also, the owner honestly reported some issues, including a slight oil leak into the coolant, but perhaps better understanding this cylinder head would help resolve that issue. We really want to find out more about this cylinder head swap.
We’re getting interested in obtaining a Mustang SVO again – we were an original owner and have a unique history with the original car. Before the car came onto the market, we worked in the pits at the 24 hour endurance race at Nelson Ledges were Ford tested the prototypes for two years before production began. We have the inside story of that event here: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-ford/special-report-svo/index.html. Then we bought our own when they came onto the market. It was a great car, far more sophisticated and capable than the lowly Mustang GT of its time. Hence the interest in obtaining one.
- Yahoo group named “2300-16v”
- Several members of “TurboFord.org” that have done the swap: search for “Folvo” or “Volvo swap”.
Here’s one more car we found at Cars and Coffee today: a 1986 Ford Mustang SVO.
This one hit home since we are an original Mustang SVO owner and attended the classic 24 hour endurance races at Nelson Ledges where Ford engineers went up against the best of GM and Porsche . The link contains our personal account of our attendance at that event, where we spent two years as workers helping put on the event, posted right at the SVO pits. We were in the middle of all the action, met the Ford engineers, saw the middle of the night engine swap, the damage when Porsche decided to run the Mustang off the track, and much more. For us, this resulted in our buying an SVO as soon as they were avaialble, and soon thereafter we made our own debut on the track. That track was Watkins Glen, the most awesome track in the country.
This was a very nice example, with a well preserved cloth interior. We’re on the market for a clean example of one of these (85.5 or 86), and of course it has to be black.
We noticed that the aftermarket is making a few original SVO parts, including new foam for the seats as well as original cloth and leather covers. That’s good, since the originals had very soft foam that didn’t last long.
The next question is what to do with it when we do get it. For example, do we move to a late-model braking system with multi-pistons calipers, and perhaps even retro-fit an SN95 anti-lock braking system along with an IRS? That’d be ideal… but a 200-205 HP 3000 pound car doesn’t cut it these days for track events. Nope, this is a car we’d have to love for what it is. We’d restore it and keep it stock.
24 years after I bought my original Mustang SVO, I’m still a big fan, and I’ve put several items on my website explaining that.
My involvement with Ford started during college, when I had an old Mustang that was all but literally rusted in half. My Mustang hobby took a turn for the better when I bought a brand new (original) 1979 Mustang and took up road rallies, autocross, and then Open Track events.
That led me to a gig helping with a race event at Nelson Ledges for several years, and over the course of three years Ford brought it’s own development cars to race. The cars in two of those years were pre-production prototypes of the Mustang SVO. I worked directly in the pits with the Ford crew ands got to see everything and talk to everyone. I’ve written it up here, and it includes pictures and other information which are unique to the web.
The great race results of the SVOs and my talks with their engineers at the event led directly to my purchase of a new SVO shortly after they came out. The price was a then-astronomical $17,000. I used that car for several Open Track events for a couple of years. It was very nicely balanced, and it was the only Mustang that came from the factory with decent brakes and handling… the GT of it’s age being embarrassingly bad in both areas. I had an early model SVO, and it while it wasn’t perfect it was far ahead of the Mustang GTs of the same years.
Now, over 20 years later, I’ve been playing around with adding an original Mustang SVO to my “fleet”. The car wouldn’t cut it anymore as a track car, but it would be a nice project to work on. Finding a clean model isn’t impossible, especially with some patience. But my time is very limited, and my automotive hobby doesn’t get much of a time slice anymore. If I do find one, I want it to be in near-perfect condition.
There are also a couple of very active Mustang SVO groups, such as the SVO Club of America (SVOCA): http://www.svoca.com/ The following picture is from an autocross at their yearly convention, which for the second straight year in a row other responsibilities have prevented me from attending. Looking thru the pictures it’s clear that there are very clean and well-maintained SVOs to be had. The following gorgeous blue example would be perfect.
So we’ll see if I can find the time to do one of these someday soon. Meanwhile, there’s a lot more from Nelson Ledges to write up and get into my site, and I’ve even located a few of the original folks that were involved in that event.
I’ve been working on my Mustang SVO @ Nelson Ledges article and have updated the entire SVO section. Lots more details as I drive myself to remember the details… which is tough – it was 25 years ago!
Revising the section will allow me to straighten out the article, separate SVO from non-SVO facts, and make it easier overall to read.
I’ve also added some new materials about the Watkins Glen Mustang SVO pace cars, some info on driving my own SVO at the Glen, my follow-up to the SVO in 1991, and a link to my existing article about the RS1600I I discovered parked outside my tent at Nelson Ledges one morning during the race.
It’s great to see interest in preserving and restoring Mustang SVOs going very strong. The SVO was a unique chapter in Ford’s history – given the current calamity at Ford (of their own doing), we probably won’t see anything like this ever again.