Rob Reaser
April 1, 2001

While four-cylinder cars rarely blip the excitement meter for most automotive enthusiasts, one exception is the Mustang SVO. Built during the early '80s, these turbo-charged four-bangers were spicy little numbers that proved intelligent engineering could deliver high-performance from conservative cubic-inch displacement engines. The SVOs, with their race suspension, turbo-charged engine, electronic fuel injection, and unique scooped hood and dual rear wing, were welcome limited-production models at a time when American V-8 performance had hit the bottom of its malaise. Today they represent a special niche in Mustang history, but due to their limited numbers, they are a restorer's nightmare. Parts are scarce and often expensive, if they can be found at all.

Bud Morton of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, knows all too well these pitfalls of SVO ownership. He owns four of these scrappy Ponies in addition to the Dark Sage '85 model seen here. Given that this car required a complete restoration and massive parts replacement to be brought to show condition, it kind of makes you wonder why he bothered in the first place. Well, he bothered because the car was first acquired by Hertz.

Bud located the car in the auction section of a late-model Web site. And after reading the description and deciding it was worth a look, he headed to Atlanta to see the SVO firsthand.

"The car was all there," says Bud. "None of the SVO-specific parts were missing. It was a running, driving car. All the paint was cracked, and it was completely sun-fried. The seats were almost white from the bleaching effects of the sun. The gray trim all over the car was bleached out too. The interior was, for the lack of a better word, nasty. The leather was torn completely off the shifter knob and the top of the steering wheel. The interior panels were sunburnt."

For Bud, this was a project he simply couldn't resist.

"But with all these faults," says Bud, "I still drove the car home-225 miles one way. Two days later I pulled the car into my warehouse and gutted the entire interior."

It turned out that the SVO was indeed part of the Hertz fleet. Hertz had purchased the car new from Bankston Ford in Houston, Texas, and kept it in service from February 1985 to January 1987. Bud says Hertz had even etched the VIN number in all the glass and the wheels. The second owner was about to sell it to a dealership when the third owner bought it just to keep it in the enthusiast realm. It was this gentleman from whom Bud purchased the car in May 1997.

For the next five months Bud searched for someone who could expertly apply a new coat of Dark Sage to the SVO. Finally, Charles and Jason Calloway of Calloway's Paint and Body agreed to the job. In November Bud sent the car to Delk Performance in Murfreesboro to pull the drivetrain before shipping the shell off to Calloway's. In the interim Bud turned his attention to detailing the engine and acquiring the parts needed to put it all back together.

"All this time, from the day I purchased the car...and still now, I'm buying SVO-specific parts. I needed an entire interior. I bought an SVO leather kit from E&G Classics in Maryland. [The car] had cloth originally, but that stuff is long gone and impossible to find...and the car looked like it needed leather anyway. I had Ray's Upholstery in Scranton, Pennsylvania, rewrap my steering wheel. Auto Custom Carpets in Alabama [supplied] the carpet, and I found the N.O.S. dashpad at the PFCA Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. Wheel Worx from Maryland reconditioned the wheels, and anything and everything that could still be found at Ford was bought."

With his eye set on entering the SVO in the '98 MCA Grand National in Franklin, Tennessee, Bud realized that he was in a bit of a time crunch to complete the restoration.

"I got the car back from Calloway's in June or July 1998, set the motor in, and found myself with no time to reassemble the car prior to the Grand National on Labor Day. I made a deal with a friend and carried the car to Anthony Davidson of Georgetown, Ohio. He reassembled the complete car (I took it to him completely disassembled) in nine days! I mean everything! The car had nothing on it from the cowl forward, and the interior was still bare. Nine days...back together!

"[When it was completed], I drove the car home from Ohio. That was 400 miles one way. I finished some of the detailing and made it to the Grand National, where I took First place in the Occasionally Driven '79-'88 class.

"The hard thing about restoring one of these cars is that everything is obsolete. No one is making reproduction parts for them. If you find parts, they're double the price (sometimes more) than a regular Mustang part. Then there's the question of the condition of the part. Is it worthy of being put on a restored car?"

Yes, SVOs are tough customers when it comes to restoring them. Little wonder that we see so few on the roads and show fields in factory-fresh condition. But for those enthusiasts with the grit to tangle with such a project, the result usually justifies the means-at least it did with Bud Morton's ex-Hertz Pony.