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Five-oh with a 5.0: Test drive and review of a legendary SSP Mustang that served the Florida Highway Patrol
As we fondly reflect upon all the various Fox Mustangs that have been built over the years, the SSPs truly stood out when new and now, some two decades later, the fabled SSPs continue to be notorious for many reasons. Yes, several of us here were probably pulled over by one or even unknowingly tried to race one back in the day, but there’s a lot more to these cars that what you’d expect. During their years of service throughout the US, the SSPs brought about odd boyhood fantasies that continue to this day.
For years, legend was that these SSPs were often modified from the factory with performance engines, gearboxes and specific calibrations throughout, but this was often not the case. Legend also said that these were each hand-built and made by a skunkworks team of mad scientists in the Ford plant but sadly, this was also untrue. In reality, these were built alongside all other Fox Mustangs on the exact same assembly line, with the vast majority of them having the same components as the regular cars we regular folks bought off of the showroom floors.
Mechanically, silicone hoses and an engine oil cooler were added, but there were no performance enhancements as we all thought (remember going through the Ford Motorsport catalog and ordering the police speedometer and silicone hose kits for $100 each?) Even more pedestrian is the fact that these were often not properly documented, so while forums and enthusiasts may be able to extrapolate how many were built for each year and to which government agency they were sent to, the truth is, Ford never kept exact track, so how many went where is truly anyone’s guess.
But rather than dive into the numbers, let’s talk about what we have here in front of our peepers. This is a 1991 SSP Mustang that was assigned to the Florida Highway Patrol in late 1991. It was assigned roof number 1125 and served actively. Where it went is not exactly known, but since Florida is such a large state, we’re sure this LX was well traveled in the Sunshine State. The car was then decommissioned and sold in late 1996 at the state-run auction among hundreds of other cars as simply unit 1125. It was purchased by an independent dealership for under $5,000 with only 78,000 miles on the clock. Interestingly, the fleet managers who normally remove or paint over the numbers and police graphics (which is common practice) must have taken the day off as they actually left this car intact, right down to the roof number and reflective “STATE TROOPER” decals on the front fenders. An amazing and all-original find, the first owner then proceeded to drive it for several years, adding about 30,000 miles to it and shortly thereafter, stored for nearly 20 years with a few car shows in between until it was put back on the road with a light mechanical restoration.
As you approach the driver’s door, the side profile is a welcome sight with the tall greenhouse and skinny A-pillars staring back at you. Without a factory rear defroster, the coupe’s angular roofline stands out even more as all you see is an expanse of clear glass and a tan parcel shelf hovering below. Once inside, it is literally like jumping behind any airbag-equipped 1991 LX Coupe, where you have a great all-around view, but a huge and oddly-angled steering wheel jumping at your man boobs while the cushy an unsupportive LX seats try to make due with your overflowing love handles and beer-engorged spare tire. Aside from having only one key that handled both door and ignition duties, everything is very familiar, if you can look past all of the CB radio, siren and control switches on the dash.
The stock 5.0 still cranks over and makes all the right noises, down to the buzzy air pump and slight rumble from the factory stainless steel tailpipes. Once underway, it is a pleasure to drive this stock 5.0 and to row the factory shifter and T5 through all five gears. This car had factory 3.08 gears, but the performance is a bit muted because it has the correct 215/65/15 tires, which are a smidge taller in overall height compared to the usual 225/60/15s. This is believed to be an FHP tire spec to allow for what we presume to be curb jumping and additional clearance over dry Florida grass while parked. Either way, you can imagine the awe that each state trooper experienced when banging through the gears in one of the quickest cars of 1991 on the road. Makes me wonder how many T5s they blew up. I have 8 to my name. How about you?
As for light and sirens, this is a discussion area, which can also go on for eons. Because records are scarce, most cars had a mix of new and used equipment installed on them when the cars arrived for upfit. For the most part, Jetsonic JS1 chain-driven lightbars were used with a simple JSS single action light switch to activate them. They were all blue for the FHP. The siren was mounted on the roof as well, and strobe lights were also often added on top of the rear decklid. This car has the correct lightbar, and MPH K-Band radar system, but as for the decklights and other gear, they are probably incorrect, but I’m willing to live with it. Besides, less lights also means less reasons to be pulled over when driving.
Speaking of driving, owning this car is not like owning a Fox Mustang SSP—it’s more like owning a cop car that happens to be a Fox Mustang. Most regular people have no idea what such a “small” car says “STATE TROOPER” on it and why an average Joe in a sweatshirt and jeans is driving what appears to be a full-on law enforcement vehicle. I’ve since made custom magnetic covers to go over all of the decals, but it’s still an odd sight as the spotlight and roof-mounted lightbar (even when covered) makes everyone slow to 55 MPH. Full and complete stops at all intersections, turn signals everywhere. Seriously, I’m just trying to go to a car show people!
When Fox production ended, so did the FHP’s orders of America’s most iconic ponycar. There were no subsequent orders when the SN95 chassis came and as history would later show, Ford got into the Panther business by supplying nearly every law enforcement agency with Crown Victorias and Mercury (RIP) Grand Marquis sedans. While the SSP Mustangs are now becoming a distant memory, there are many enthusiasts still out there that keep the legend alive. They are truly a highlight of Fox Mustang history.
SP Mustang Expert Jim Dingall
Many things have been said over the years as to what made these cars special and/or unique, but not much has been set in stone, so to find out more, we asked a subject-matter expert, Jim Dingell of Performance Parts, Inc, also known in our circles as PPI.
Jim Dingell has operated PPI to become the go-to for replacement parts for SSP Mustangs. It all started with a trip in 1984 to see a friend in Dearborn, Michigan where things really picked up. As he related, “I went to the factory which back then, you could walk right in and follow each car as they went from each work station to the next. While there, I saw many 1985 prototypes running around and in the back corner, I saw a 1985 SSP Florida Highway Patrol Mustang painted in the famous black and tan paint scheme sitting there. It had the specific steel black wheels, a manual transmission and a tan interior. At that very moment, I fell in love with the car and over the years, made friends at Ford. Soon enough, I was visiting regularly, seeing each model year car and watched the SSPs in particular.”
Excited each year by the progression in performance and styling improvements during the four-eyed years, he continued to follow the Fox-Bodies into the aero era. As Dingell continued to relate, “Many of these cars were not special editions as we know them, such as the ASC McLarens or Saleens of the day. Instead, these were simply an option code variant with minor modifications to enhance cooling and electrical loads that police cars at the time needed. The FHP cars were usually painted all tan and then masked off around the trunk and roof, and the black paint was then applied. A simple vinyl tape stripe was then applied over the line where the colors met along the rear quarter panels. Quite a simple solution but remember, this was just an assembly line variant.”
As he was the only one to specialize in the parts early on, he has seen the business transition to the restoration of these cars. Across the board, the Fox Mustang restoration trade has certainly risen in recent years. As he elaborated, “In 1993, I had the opportunity to buy all of the remaining SSP parts from Ford like the oil coolers, wheels, decals, etc. That’s how we hit the niche and we continued to the SVOs, Cobras, Cobra R and SHELBY models over the years. Today, SSP component supply is quite scarce and with NOS parts commanding most of money, the true collectors see the value in a proper restoration.” When we asked him about the future of the SSP Mustangs, “It is hard to say where these cars will land as far as being more or less valuable than a similar LX Coupe, but the overall values for all Foxes continue to rise. I believe only 25%-35% of these are still roadworthy as most were turned into race cars or just fell apart from neglect over the years.”