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1984-1986 Ford Mustang SVO

In this edition of Muscle Car Milestones, we’ll look back at the 1984-1986 Ford Mustang SVO. The Mustang SVO was the first car conceived by Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations team. The Mustang SVO was created at a time when government regulations on fuel economy and emissions forced automakers to get creative and sometimes do more with less. Turbocharging seemed the way to go to give smog pump era cars a little extra oomph under the hood.

Long before the turbocharged Mustang EcoBoost of today, there was the Mustang SVO. It wasn’t gunning to contend with the locals. It was built to compete with the chaps on the other side of the pond like the Toyota Supra, Porsche 944, and Nissan 300ZX. Its European-influenced design made it stand out from the LX and GT.


The Mustang SVO stood apart from the GT with distinguishing features such as an offset hood scoop, singular rectangular headlamps, and a black, functional dual-wing rear spoiler. A front air dam with integrated fog lights, 16 x 7 aerodynamic aluminum wheels with 225/50VR16 Goodyear tires, and rear wheel opening spats also complement the SVO’s aggressive posture. The Mustang SVO looked like no other Fox body Mustang before or after it.

The heart of the Mustang SVO is a turbocharged, intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. It features an air-to-air intercooler along with an AiResearch T-3 turbocharger that produces 175 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque. With fuel injection and EEC-IV computer technology, this engine also produced 14 pounds of boost. It was coupled to a Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed manual transmission with overdrive and Hurst shift linkage. With half the cylinders, this engine produced as much horsepower as the 5.0-liter V8 in the Mustang GT.

Ford took what it learned from racing in Europe and applied it to the Mustang SVO. The Mustang SVO received a unique suspension package that differed considerably from the Mustang GT. Up front, you’ll find adjustable, gas-filled Koni shocks, a 1.12-inch diameter anti-roll bar, and gas-pressure struts. On the back side, a 0.67-inch anti-roll bar, specially tuned springs and bushings, and gas-filled Koni shocks are standard equipment. In late January, Ford replaced the rear traction bars with an additional set of hydraulic dampers. These were created to improve the SVO’s cornering ability by reducing the axle’s fore and aft movement. All these features helped make the Mustang SVO one of the best handling Mustangs ever created.

Inside, the Mustang SVO features multi-adjustable cloth bucket seats with adjustable lumbar, side bolster, and under thigh support. Instrumentation includes an 85 mph speedometer, 8,000 rpm tachometer, turbo boost gauge, and oil pressure and coolant temperature gauges. Air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with cassette, power windows, and leather seats were optional.

Car and Driver tested the Mustang SVO for their October 1983 edition. They scored a 0 to 60 time of 7.5 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 15.5 seconds at 90 mph. Car and Driver stated “This latest Mustang, the SVO folks proudly point out, is the best GT car they could push, prod, and cajole the system into building. The first bit of good news is that this is more than just gratuitous chest beating. The Mustang SVO is shot through with the look and feel of a car built by car people for car people.”


What a difference a year makes. Mid-year improvements include a more powerful engine and subtle exterior changes. The Mustang SVO is now more poised to take on its European rivals.

The big news for 1985 was a significant boost in horsepower and torque. A new intake manifold, revised camshaft, and new turbocharger worked together to create an upsurge in horsepower. The Mustang SVO was now rated at 200 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque. This increase in horsepower also helped contribute to better performance times. In their May 1985 issue, Car and Driver put the SVO to the test and walked away with a 0 to 60 time of 6.8 seconds and a quarter mile time of 15.1 seconds at 90 mph. That’s comparable to the GT’s time of 7.08 seconds from 0 to 60 and 15.51 seconds in the quarter mile.

Those longing for a sleeker look for the SVO got their wish. The previous year’s conventional headlamps were replaced with flush, sweptback units. Out back, the SVO’s dual exhaust now exited at both sides below the bumper. Changes to the interior included dual illuminated visor mirrors, a low oil warning lamp, and a charcoal-colored dome lamp.

Drivers wanting a more performance-oriented Mustang SVO could check off option code 41C on the options list. The Competition Prep package eliminated unneeded items such as air conditioning, power windows, and the sound system. The gist behind the package was to get rid of dead weight not needed for a road racer. Even better news was this option actually reduced the price of the car. However, finding one today is challenging since so few were ordered with this option.


Very few changes were made to the Mustang SVO for the 1986 model year. SVO badging was added to the front fenders and a NHTSA-required third brake light was added to the rear spoiler. Power was also down slightly. The Mustang SVO now produced 200 horsepower, supposedly due to issues with fuel quality.

The Mustang SVO could still hold its own. It was capable of 15-second quarter mile runs which wasn’t bad for the time. Compared to the current Mustang EcoBoost, the SVO is only a little over a second slower in the quarter.

Ford’s goal was to sell 10,000 Mustang SVO’s during each year of production. That number fell far short with only around 9,800 created during its three-year model run. Price could have been a determining factor. The Mustang GT carried a sticker price close to $10,000, where the SVO’s sticker hovered around the $16,000 mark. Also, Ford and its dealers did little to promote the Mustang SVO. One thing is certain. The Mustang SVO was one of the best American sports cars you could buy in its day.

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