1988 Ford SSP Mustang - U-2 Chaser
Keith Suzuki’s ’88 SSP Mustang was originally used as a chase vehicle for U-2 spy planes
In 1982,Ford introduced the Special Service Package (SSP) Mustang LX coupe as a police interceptor engineered to catch traffic violators and dumb criminals trying to elude the police. Compared to larger Crown Vics, Caprice Classics, and Diplomats, the Mustang was small and economical, plus it out-handled and outperformed the big cruisers thanks to its 5.0L High Output V-8. They were equipped with features specific to police work—single key locking for doors, ignition, and trunk; calibrated speedometer; full-size spare; radio noise suppression; more durable silicone radiator and heater hoses, and a relocated decklid release.
These specially-equipped SSP Mustangs served with a wide variety of law enforcement agencies, starting with the California Highway Patrol in 1982. By the time SSP Mustang production ended in 1993, approximately 15,000 had been produced. They stood up to a lot of punishment and performed their jobs very well before they were sold at auction at the end of their service lives.
But not all SSP Mustangs ended up pursuing speeders and bad guys. Keith Suzuki's SSP was a chase car, only it chased U-2 spy planes for the United State Air Force.
Suzuki tells us that his LX Mustang was sold to the USAF in July of 1988 and delivered to Beale Air Force Base in Northern California as a fast mobile unit to aid with takeoff and landing operations for the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance spy plane. These Mustangs, driven by U-2 pilots, would roar down the runway behind the planes to provide feedback to the U-2 pilots about aircraft attitude during takeoff and landing.
The USAF previously used station wagons, sedans, and even Chevy El Caminos for this purpose. But when the CHP pressed SSP Mustangs into police service, it caught the attention of USAF officials who wanted to test them with the U-2. The USAF was so intrigued that it eventually ordered 19 of them for spy plane chasing between 1986 and 1991. Suzuki's SSP Mustang is one of eight ordered in 1988. Seven had been ordered in 1986, with two more in both 1990 and 1991. Each was fitted with the 5.0L High Output V-8 and AOD with 3.27:1 Traction Lok. Suzuki is confident he has the only restored USAF SSP Mustang in existence.
The USAF Mustangs came from Ford in Deep Shadow Blue Metallic but they were repainted in Air Force Strato Blue. Note the 10-hole wheels also trimmed in Strato Blue with P225/60VR15 Dunlops. Each car carried a DSO of 83 along with a four-digit special order number. A twist to the story is where this Mustang traveled throughout its military career. After its use at Beale Air Force Base, it was transported by air to England, France, and Italy for overseas U-2 operations. Seasoned U-2 pilots have told Suzuki that the Mustang could get mighty unwieldy on wet runways in England. One serviceman told Suzuki that he loved the attention this car got whenever it was driven off-base.
In October 1989, the USAF retired Suzuki's SSP Mustang, selling it to a serviceman who had it shipped from Italy to New York. He enjoyed the car for many years before selling it to SSP Mustang collector Charles Ricks, who performed a restoration to USAF specifications.
In 2004, Suzuki spotted a classified ad on the www.sspmustang.org website. He grabbed buddy Walt Lew and took a three-hour drive to Hanford, California, to take a spin in this unusual Mustang. A week later, it was parked in his San Francisco garage. Since the purchase, Suzuki has managed to find correct USAF appointments, including the light bar, microphone, and roof antenna that was used to communicate with the U-2 pilots. He uses magnetics to retain the wing-style antenna and USAF door markings. Keith tells us he's searching for the correct USAF radio to round out this restoration.
"The Mustang is basically a stock SSP," Keith comments, "right down to the manual door locks and roll-up windows. The only comforts are air conditioning and AM/FM radio."
Keith adds that his USAF SSP Mustang goes largely unnoticed by law enforcement despite its huge amber light bar. "The public, on the other hand, never knows what to think when I approach them from behind on the highway," Keith chuckles. "It gets annoying when they slow down and I have to move to another lane to pass them!"
In October 1989, the USAF retired Suzuki's SSP Mustang, selling it to a serviceman who had it shipped from Italy to New York.