Jim Smart
December 30, 2004

The Mustang SVO is 20 years old. Hard to believe, right? Even harder for some of us to remember. But I remember. I was brand new to automotive journalism as this magazine's third editor. One of my first duties was to testdrive the new high-tech '84 Mustang SVO. I took it for a spin to Miami, about 250 miles away, for a photo shoot on the Gold Coast.

The '84 SVO was the most exotic Mustang you could buy at the time. The package included an intercooled and turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder engine, a five-speed transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, Quadra-Shock traction control, forged 16-inch wheels, high-back leather bucket seats with adjustable side bolsters and an inflatable lumbar support, driving lamps in the unique front fascia, SVO-specific taillights, and a dual-wing rear spoiler. It was an exciting car and great fun to drive.

The '84-'86 Mustang SVO was the right car at the wrong time. It handled like it was on rails. And when you leaned on the throttle and exercised patience, it came on strong, delivering a good balance of torque and great handling. Trouble was, drivers in the '80s were short on patience. They wanted power quickly, so they ordered Mustang GTs and LXs with the 5.0L H.O. instead of the SVO. By the end of the '86 model year, the Mustang SVO faded into corporate oblivion.

Tom Leslie fondly remembers the '80s. He snapped up this low-mileage '86 Mustang SVO in 1989 and made it an ongoing project. It gets raced and it gets driven. But mostly, it gets raced.

The Mustang SVO is about racing, mainly road racing. That's what Ford's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) designed it to do. But Tom's SVO has done its share of dragstrip duty, just to prove what he could do with a hot four-banger on the 1,320. He was surprised by how quickly it moved, and there was a reason. On the dyno, the modified 2.3 made 330 hp and 328 lb-ft of torque. We're talking V-8 territory with half the cylinders.

Tom began his quest for power with common sense. He opted for a TO4E turbocharger from Turbonetics, a Spearco intercooler, a Cry02 chiller, a larger 63mm throttle body, a polished intake manifold, a hotter cam profile on a Lunati shaft, an Esslinger Engineering cylinder head with larger valves, an MSD 6A ignition, ATR headers with a 3-inch down pipe, 21/2-inch pipes and mufflers, a fabricated ram-air system, and a 3/8-inch fuel line with a Walbro fuel pump. For a quarter-mile advantage, Tom fitted the 8.8-inch rearend with 5.14:1 Traction-Lok gears.

In search of a wider footprint, he went with 17-inch Cobra wheels and wrapped them with 245/45-17 BFGoodrich Comp T/As. Koni adjustable struts and shocks help provide unbeatable handling.

Tom's tastefully executed Mustang SVO restomod demonstrates where imagination can take you with one of these limited-edition Mustangs. There are plenty of low-mileage, original museum pieces out there for those of us who want to remember the SVO the way it was new. Tom's SVO is the thrilling drive of a lifetime.