Marc Christ
Brand Manager, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 26, 2010
Photos By: Bill Erdman

Ron Larsen of West Milford, New Jersey, certainly has a grasp on what's cool.With an '851/2 Mustang SVO already in his garage, he found this clean '86 in near-new condition in 2004. It had only about 34,000 miles on the odometer, and was well preserved for an 18-year-old car. Like most silver cars of the late-'70s and '80s (especially Mustangs), the silver (1E) paint had begun to fade and peel. Still, Ron had big plans for the SVO, but because of the rarity, he decided to keep changes to a minimum.

Ford's Special Vehicle Operation (SVO) department was created in 1981 to engineer and test performance parts for Ford Motor Company's racing programs. Rising gas prices and stiffening emissions regulations forced manufacturers to move toward smaller displacement engines with better fuel economy. SVO concentrated its efforts on the 2.3L "Lima" engine and the Fox-body Mustang.

By 1982, Ford had outfitted Mustangs with a turbocharged version of the 2.3L four-cylinder engine for racing applications. In an effort to create a race-ready production Mustang and showcase its parts and accessories, SVO launched the Mustang SVO in 1984. With 175 hp, it was the most elite Mustang offered at the time. It also cost about $6,000 more than a Mustang GT, but was fitted with many new and innovative features not available on the GT.

By 1986, the last year of production for the Mustang SVO, power output was up to 200 hp. Standard features included a ram-air hood, bi-plane spoiler, dual exhaust, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fully tuned suspension with adjustable Konis, front and rear disc brakes, and five-lug 16x7-inch aluminum wheels. Wrapped in Goodyear Gatorback rubber, the 16-inch wheels were mostly a novelty item at the time.

Optional equipment included a sunroof or leather interior. Ron's '86 was, and still is, equipped with charcoal-gray leather upholstery. It also retained its original body, engine, and suspension components, which are often robbed to customize LX or GT models.

Though mostly original, Ron wanted to give his SVO a new life, but without ruining or disrespecting the originality. In 2005, he began by removing the engine and stripping the original paint. He enlisted Dave and John at Alex and Leo Auto Body in Montclair, New Jersey, to strip the original finish and apply the four coats of BASF Diamont in the original Silver Metallic.

While the bodywork and paint were being done, Ron delivered a spare 2.3L engine to A&A Engine Dynamics in Wharton, New Jersey. The team at A&A machined the block for the new stroker crankshaft, which was installed italong with a set of Crower Sportsman rods and forged Racer Walsh pistons.

Up top, Ron opted for a cylinder head from a naturally aspirated 2.3L engine. He looked to Larry Lempicki at Pro-Motion Engines in East Hanover, New Jersey, to port the cast iron head, which features 1.736-inch intake valves and 1.50-inch exhaust valves. The powerplant now features a Racer Walsh HR276 roller camshaft, a windage tray, and sports a boost-friendly 8:1 compression ratio.

In the boost department, Ron switched to a T3 machined by Evergreen Turbo. With the help of a 190-lph fuel pump and 55-lb/hr injectors, the combination pumps out an astounding 294 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque at a maximum of 20 pounds of boost. An EEC-IV computer controls the injection and ignition, and was tuned by Motion Dynamics in Austin, Texas.

Sticking with the original theme of the SVO, Ron made a few suspension and handling upgrades as well. He went with Koni struts with Maximum Motorsports A-arms and coilovers in the front, and FRPP springs, Koni shocks, and Maximum Motorsports lowers in the rear. He stiffened the chassis by installing Maximum Motorsports' subframe connectors and Panhard bar. In an effort to give the SVO a more modern look, Ron opted for 17-inch Bullitt wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot rubber. He also upgraded the front brakes to 13-inch Cobra status.

The interior remains mostly untouched. Ron has added boost and air/fuel gauges on the A-pillar, as well as an upgraded radio, but everything else has been left alone.

Though it was intended for road courses and track days, Ron has taken the SVO to the dragstrip. It has run a best of 13.52 at 105.19 mph with a 2.09 60-foot time.

Though not a V-8, the Mustang SVO has definitely stamped its place in the modern muscle-car anthology. With its unique look and technology way ahead of its time, the SVO will remain one of the coolest Fox-body Mustangs made.

With total production numbers from 1984 to 1986 less than 10,000, there's no doubt the value and pursuit of these fine machines will increase in coming years.

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