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Craig Gillis learned to love his turbo Fox flyer.
In 1999 Craig Gillis was a typical 15-year old teenager, full of spirit, cruising on his way to New England Dragway to watch some hot racing action with his dad. While riding along, he spotted a Mustang with a "For Sale" sign in the window and urged his father to pull over. The enthusiastic teenager had been working and saving since he was 12 years old, and he figured this could be his chance to get his hands on a project Stang.
Gillis' father, Paul, instantly recognized the '84 SVO grille and told his son it was a pretty uncommon Mustang with a turbo four-cylinder engine and hot-handling suspension. The younger Gillis had his mind on a 5.0 and wasn't jazzed about the four-pot mill, but he still moved in for a closer look. "My family is really into Mustangs and when it came time for me to get a car I went looking for an '87-93 5.0," stated Gillis, who is now 19. "At the time I was 15, not even old enough to drive, and I saw this SVO on the side of the road for sale. I didn't know what it was, but my dad told me it was pretty rare." Gillis proceeded to go home and research the funky Fox on the web and his interest in the hi-po four-bangers was piqued.
Gillis returned to the scene and scooped up the 78,000-mile SVO and it was in driveable condition. "The car sat in a garage for 10 years, but the owner put it back on the road for a few months so he could sell it. It had a new battery and new back tires, but the front tires were shot and it just needed some real attention."
There was no sense registering a car that he couldn't drive, so the Stang went directly to storage for a complete makeover. "I wanted to rebuild the car for the experience, and with the help of my father and my cousin, Paul Slaney, I was able to learn a lot." First, they stripped it down to the shell and then decided what to do with the engine and paint job.
The body of the 16-year-old Ford had surface rust that could have been repaired, but Gillis wanted his first ride to shine so he replaced the doors, fenders and the fenderwell panel near the battery because the battery had leaked and ruined the metal underneath. He then turned the Mustang over to Scott Lockhart, who smoothed the body and sprayed on the four coats of PPG Viper Red urethane paint along with four coats of clear. Next, their attention turned to the powertrain and the gutted interior.
Craig and his uncle, who operates Mid Cape Auto Machine (Plymouth, Massachusetts), disassembled, cleaned, and then machined the stock 140ci block .030-inch over. The stock crank and rods passed inspection so they were installed along with Wiseco 8.5:1 pistons, Grant Moly rings and Clevite 77 bearings. The iron cylinder head received a complete port and polish, and a five-angle valve job was done as well. Stock-sized (1.73/1.50-inch) valves were used and are activated by 1.84:1 roller followers. Slaney then set in a Ford Racing (PN# M-6250-A327) camshaft that features .420-inch lift and 274/282 degrees of advertised duration. Cam timing can be manipulated with the Race Engineering adjustable cam sprocket that peeks through the polished cam cover. Before air can pass the valves it must encounter the Turbonetics T3/T4 hybrid turbo that can pump out 18 psi in street trim and 22 psi on race gas. Pressurized air makes its way to a front-mounted intercooler that was seized from an Isuzu NPR truck. The intakes are ported models from an '86 SVO and the FRPP throttle-body measures 65mm.
The little in-line mill is fed fuel by a 255-lph in-tank pump, stock lines, and four 52-pound injectors. A Kirban regulator maintains 40 psi at idle. Ignition is from MSD and fuel and timing curves are tuned with a Simple Digital Systems plug-in EFI unit that they got from Western Motorsports. "We went with the SDS system because it is affordable, it plugs right into the factory harness and uses a keypad to make the changes so you don't need a laptop to tune it," explained Gillis.
All that turbo'd steam is transferred through a stock replacement clutch, a rebuilt T-5 that now has a Pro 5.0 Power Tower attached to it, and a 7.5 rear with 3.45 gearing. Gillis stated that the 2.3 turbo doesn't make the torque of a 302 or 351 so the 7.5 rear should be okay, but, if his lets go he'll replace it with a sturdier 8.8.
With the modified engine the SVO is a surprise on the street. It's a well-balanced package that gets up and can take a turn quite well. And believe it or not, the primo handling comes by way of a stock suspension, including the factory adjustable Koni shocks and struts. "I liked the handling from the start and since I don't road race or plan on drag racing too much I thought the handling was pretty good," stated Gillis.
The rice-eating SVO is certainly a road screamer, but that doesn't mean the 19-year-old has completed his project. Craig Gillis has lots of fire left in him and he plans to turn up the wick in the near future by adding an aftermarket header and more boost. And with that you can expect to see this SVO on the streets and at most of the hot New England Ford meets.