James Mackintosh 11 years ago 2

Retrospective: 1984-86 Ford Mustang SVO

Remind me later
With all the talk of Ford's new EcoBoost engine lineup, (at least on this site), one might be lead to believe that this is the first time Ford of America has dabbled with turbocharging.  It's sort of how they're portraying it, anyway.  This isn't the case, though.  EcoBoost is Ford's solution to providing performance in a time when efficiency is also important.  Downsized engines, advanced technology, and turbocharging are Ford's response now - and it was Ford's response in the early 80's as well. 1986 SVO Mustang After weathering two fuel crises, Ford decided to try it's hand at turbocharging to offer an alternative to the venerable 302 to those who wanted something more efficient or a bit different - or by the time the Mustang SVO debuted in 1984, to offer an American alternative to those who had grown to like the sophisticated foreign sports cars of the time (280ZX Turbo, RX7, Supra, Starion, etc.) I'm getting ahead of myself, though.  The SVO was not the first turbo car that Ford of America popped out; it was just the best one.  When the Fox Body Mustang (1979-1993) debuted, it was available with a few engines - including a 302ci V8 (like always), and a 2.3L turbocharged four cylinder. These original turbo Mustangs, called GT Turbos, have been largely forgotten by gearheads and even automotive history buffs such as myself.  Why?  Well, they were awful.  The first 2.3 turbos came out with the Fox Body Mustang in 1979, and it was a carbureted draw-through type design, not intercooled.  These engines had numerous severe reliability issues - overheating (obviously), seized turbos, transmission-related issues, that sort of thing.  They were very laggy and only made 131 horsepower; no one was impressed and the option (along with the also awful German V6) was dropped for 1980. The 2.3 Turbo returned to the Mustang briefly in 1983, in the form of a fuel injected but non-intercooled 145 horsepower.  Still, no one was impressed and sales were slow.  The first hint that the Ford 2.3 Turbo really had potential was the very limited production 1980-1981 McLaren M88 Mustang.  These were basically IMSA production race cars for the street, with a stripped interior and racing seats with a roll cage, adjustable suspension, and a fancy variable boost controller, which increased the boost range from 5-12 psi. 1981 Mclaren Turbo Mustang These were barely legal street race cars, but they were still 90% Mustang, and 10% aftermarket - and they were much faster than the 302 powered Mustangs, which still sported a carb.  And thanks to the reduced weight over the front end and the improved suspension, they handled a lot better as well. People noticed.  This was during the period when Ford was forming the Special Vehicle Operations team, known as SVO.  This team was meant to influence both Ford's racing programs as well as bring some of that flavor to Ford's street cars, to bolster the corporate image.  When picking a platform for their first production car, the only obvious choice was the Mustang. The primary concern of the car was handling.  The SVO received a specially designed steering rack from TRW with a quicker 20:1 ratio and less power assistance for better feel.  The suspension had lower, stiffer springs and adjustable Koni shocks.  Front and rear sway bars were thicker, all of the suspension bushings were stiffer and allowed less play, and stiffer control arms rounded out the suspension package. The SVO was the first Fox-body Mustang to use a 5-lug hub, and the advantage was this allowed the fitment of disc brakes in the rear, cribbed from the Lincoln MkVII LSC. 1984 Mustang SVO Engine The engine was a further evolution of the 2.3L Turbo.  It was fuel injected, controlled by Ford's sophisticated new EEC-IV system.  It featured an air-to-air intercooler, a crossflow 8 valve head, and a Garrett T03 Turbocharger.  The interior had a "fuel grade" switch; this changed the level of timing retardation according to what octane was in the tank to avoid pinging.  Simple, but effective.  On the "Premium" setting, the motor boosted to 14psi - the highest of any production car back then - and the car made 175 horsepower, and 210 lb-ft of torque.  The horsepower was identical, and the SVO only made 35 lb-ft less torque than the 302 - with less than half the displacement. The transmission was the bulletproof Tremec T-5, fitted with a Hurst shift mechanism for betting shift quality (also used on the 302's... the normal 2.3 cars, as well as the Merkur XR4Ti used the weaker Tremec T-9 box).  The rear axle was a corporate 7.5" with a 3.45 final drive and a limited slip function. This engine was also used in non-intercooled form in the Merkur XR4Ti, the Cougar XR7 Turbo, and early build Thunderbird TurboCoupes.  If you really like the 2.3 turbo but can't find an SVO (or the money for an SVO; they command a serious premium over the regular Fox bodies these days due to their specialist nature and limited production), later build TurboCoupes had a 190-horsepower intercooled 2.3 Turbo, a Tremec T-5, and independent rear suspension.  Just sayin'... 1985 Ford Mustang SVO Thanks to the lighter weight and shorter final drive, the first SVO's were quicker than their 302-powered brothers: 0-60 mph came up in 7.7 seconds, as opposed to just under 9 for the GT.  7.7 seconds was quite fast in 1984, remember! The SVO had a few cosmetic and interior changes to distinguish it from regular Mustangs.  The rear sported dark-colored taillights, later used on the 1993 Cobra.  Fender flares, wheel spats, a hood scoop, and a smoothed out, wraparoud front bumper gave the Mustang a more refined appearance. The interior also had changes to differentiate it.  The SVO got a leather wrapped steering wheel, specially bolstered sports seats made by Lear-Siglar, a suede dash cover (classy!), an 18-psi boost gauge, and a 140 mph speedometer (of course, only marked up to 85.) Mustang SVO The only experienced minor changes during it's lifetime.  The rear axle ratio changed to 3.73 in 1985, and the steering ratio was dropped to 15:1 to quicken the steering up more. Midway through 1985 the engine received a few modifications that boosted power up.  The A/R ratio on the turbo was dropped from .63 to .48 to facilitate faster spool-up, the fuel injectors were bumped from 30lbs to 35lbs, a better-flowing intake manifold was installed, and boost was bumped up to 15psi.  Power rose to 205 horsepower and torque rose to 248 lb-ft. Production ceased at the end of 1986, with a total of 9844 SVO's sold.  Sales peaked in the first year at 4,508 units, and gradually curtailed downward from there.  The problem was that while the straight-line performance of the SVO was identical - or slightly better than - the 302-powered Mustangs, the price tag on an SVO in 1984 - $15,970 - was nearly $6,000 more than the 302-powered Mustang GT. But really, it wasn't a question of economics, or that the SVO was a bad car.  In fact, I'd say short of the very limited-production 1993 Cobra R, the SVO was definitely the most well-rounded factory Fox Body.  It offered performance that was a match for later fuel-injected 302's with nimble handling they could never even approach.  It had a surprisingly competent suspension setup, a much nicer interior, and a far more refined driving experience. But by that time, gas was cheap, and people didn't associate "Mustang" with "refinement" and "technology."  Quite the opposite.  The Mustang GT, back then and much like today, was a piece of Americana: a nasty, howling V8, copious wheelspin, and a "if you don't like it, you can shove it" sort of attitude.  The SVO sliced and diced, sauteed and pureed.  The GT just smashed like a sledgehammer.  America didn't want a scalpel, they wanted TNT. 1986 SVO Mustang So what then, of EcoBoost?  I, personally would be the first in line for a new SVO Mustang - a 350 horsepower twin turbo V6, independent rear suspension, and a six-speed manual?  The difference is that Ford has realized where to put the technology this time - in sophisticated cars like the Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex.  It may be 24 years later, but when average Joe thinks of a Mustang, the staccato throb of a small-block V8 is what's in his head - not diverter valve whistle and compressor whine.  While that's one thing that will never change, perhaps there's room now in today's more... advanced marketplace for an alternative? By 1986, the SVO was pretty pointless.  It was down 20 horsepower on the newly refreshed, fuel-injected 302, but the price tag was still considerably higher.  This time arond though, there's a stronger case for Turbos than V8's, at least at Ford.  Proof: EcoBoost V6, 355 horsepower, 350 torque.  Mustang GT: 315 Horsepower, 325 torque. I think Ford's turbos may be around to stay this time; the performance gap is now a negative one, the fuel economy is better, and the market demands it.  Only time will tell, of course.