Jim Smart
October 1, 2003

In today's age of fuel-injected, high-performance, overhead-cam Mustang GTs and Cobras, it's hard to imagine we were once bogged down in an era of low-performance vanilla pudding rides. When Ford withdrew from factory-backed racing and pulled the plug on performance cars in 1971, we entered a lame period of two-barrel low-po performance for more than a decade-a period inspired by escalating fuel prices, rising insurance rates, and tougher governmental standards. By 1981, we were convinced we'd never see factory high-performance cars again.

But in 1982, Ford brought back the Mustang GT with a warmed-over 5.0-liter. It was a nice departure from the '70s, but things improved with each subsequent model year as the Mustang became a better example of the breed with four-barrel carburetion, roller tappets, true dual exhausts, port-fuel injection, and more.

In the midst of all this excitement came the '84-'86 Mustang SVO, which was introduced alongside the '84 Mustang GT. During 1982-'83, we heard rumors of a limited-production, high-performance Mustang coming from Ford's new Special Vehicle Operations, a division that was to 1984 what SVT (Special Vehicle Team) is today-a factory skunkworks program for producing mass-production high-performance cars. The rumored Mustang SVO seemed too good to be true, but Ford's Special Vehicle Operations wasn't kidding when it introduced the most sophisticated Mustang ever in the fall of 1983.

Equipped with a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter overhead-cam four cylinder, the '84 Mustang SVO was a radically different factory high-performance Mustang designed to compete with the Nissan 280-ZX, the Toyota Supra and Celica GT, the Isuzu Impulse, and the most obvious competitor-the Camaro Z-28.

Other SVO equipment included a five-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter, 16-inch aluminum wheels, specially tuned steering, four-wheel disc brakes, traction bars, Koni adjustable shocks and struts, and heavy-duty front suspension borrowed from the Lincoln Continental Mark VII.

Also on the SVO was unique exhaust tuning, 3.45:1 Traction-Lok differential, unique front fascia with driving lamps, ground effects, multi-adjustable front bucket seats, driver's foot rest, revised pedal positioning-and that's not all. The list of equipment goes on to include a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, suede dashboard treatment, an eight-grand tachometer, a 0-140-mph speedometer, a turbo boost gauge-and more.

At the SVO Mustang's introduction nearly 20 years ago, northern California's Kevin Kylmer was so enchanted he bought one immediately, sidestepping the V-8-powered Mustang GT for a more upscale experience. What made the SVO more uptown was its high-tech demeanor. Kevin enjoyed the feel of the turbo boost under acceleration. On those canyon roads of the American West, he found the SVO refreshing, able to handle those apexes and twists with ease. The high-back bucket seats felt good, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter were new Mustang experiences for him.

Kevin's Medium Canyon Red Mustang SVO is an outstanding, low-mileage, unrestored original we discovered at the Fall Display at Mustangs Plus in Stockton, California. When we spotted Kevin's SVO, we were swiftly convinced it was a factory original, 21,000-mile example. Kevin enjoyed the car a lot when it was new. Then, in view of its rare status, he parked it, driving it only occasionally today. He has maintained the SVO's original appearance, giving us something special to remember on the 20th anniversary of the dawning of a new, exciting age of hot Mustang performance.

What surprises us today is the Mustang SVO's widely unknown status. Even the most die-hard Mustang enthusiasts look at Kevin and ask, "What is it?" Kevin is only too happy to educate and enlighten, sharing an extraordinary time in Mustang history.