Jim Smart
August 1, 2009

On a June afternoon in 1983 during my first trip to Ford Motor Company, we were cruising Dearborn's Oakwood Boulevard when a white Mustang hatchback pulled alongside. Unlike any Mustang we had seen, with a dual rear spoiler and single-set headlights, we assumed it was an '85 or '86 Mustang prototype. But we couldn't have been any more mistaken.

What we saw at that traffic light 26 years ago was a Mustang SVO engineering mule. We didn't know it then, but we were looking at one of the most unique Mustangs Ford would ever build. When the SVO was introduced for '84, some called it the Shelby Mustang of the 1980s, but that thinking was convoluted because the SVO wasn't about brute muscle or V-8 power. It was more sophisticated with a turbocharged four-cylinder and balanced handling and braking, a limited-production Mustang born for the racetrack while perfectly at home on the street. It was a real driver's Mustang.

Mike Fleming had a front row seat for the SVO's introduction and its '84-'86 production run. He bought this one new in February 1984 and has refused to give it up. "I've got a mechanical engineering background," Mike tells us. "I worked in the Los Angeles automotive industry for 20 years, from wrench turner to shop owner to field engineer, so I've been around performance cars for as long as I can remember."

As Mike worked with industry insiders, he couldn't help but notice the Mustang SVO program, which Ford was developing at the time. "I was very interested in new automotive technologies and the SVO fit in perfectly," Mike says. That's when he bought his SVO, the most sophisticated Mustang ever with computerized electronic engine controls at a time when the Mustang GT was still using a Holley carburetor.

In the late 1980s, Mike headed for Arizona as his employment changed from automobiles to rockets and computer science. Once settled, he went to work for Bob Bondurant as a driving instructor. "That was an enjoyable experience," Mike laughs. "I was getting paid to drive Roush-prepared Mustangs and Taurus SHOs at 100 mph every day."

Restorations used to be about classic Mustangs, but times have changed. What we used to call late-model Mustangs have become modern classics. Mike took a step back and looked at his 20-year-old SVO with 170,000 miles and more than its share of road-course time. Mike decided to do a complete restoration, stripping his SVO down to the bare shell with an objective to build something better than he had in 1984. We're not comfortable calling it a restomod; Mike calls it a clean sheet of paper.

"I decided to update it to a modern SVO using current parts and technologies," Mike tells us. He wanted a stronger body, which meant welding seams and adding reinforcements to the body structure, including subframe connectors. A full rollcage was fabricated and installed for both safety and performance.

Beneath the HO Fibertrends fiberglass hood is a specially prepared 2.5L OHC intercooled turbo four-cylinder. Built around an '86 SVO block, the engine is equipped with a 2.5L stroker crankshaft, ARP main studs with main bearing straps, Race Engineering forged pistons, Crower connecting rods, and Esslinger roller camshaft. The turbocharger is a Garrett Stage 3 T3/T4 with a Spearco air charge cooler. The first dyno session netted 319 horsepower and 367 ft/lbs of torque.

Mike built the Tremec T5 transmission using a 3.35:1 gear set with 0.82:1 overdrive. In back is a Bill Nelson-built Ford 8.8-inch rear end with 4.10:1 gears, Torsen T2 differential, and Moser SVO-length axle shafts.

While improving the power, handling, and braking, Mike also kept his eye on the scales. The SVO's factory weight was around 3,024 pounds. Mike's objective was 2,824 pounds. "Because the Mustang is nose heavy, most of the weight needed to be removed from the front axles," he added. "Going to 13-inch front disc brakes was a serious weight concern because stock Cobra rotors weigh 22 pounds each. Then I found Baer's Eradispeed rotors at 16 pounds each." The Cobra aluminum brake calipers were then machined with "SVO" and powdercoated in red. The lightweight 17x8-inch 5-Zigen aluminum wheels took three months to arrive from Japan because they're not available in the U.S. Final completed vehicle weight was 2,804 pounds.

Paint is DuPont Chromabase basecoat/clearcoat in Rosso Corsa Red (a Ferrari color) applied by The Shop in Tucson. Inside, the Recaro Rally seats, circa 1995, are covered in dark gray material from Recaro. The rear seats have been removed and entire interior carpeted by P&L Auto Upholstery. Instruments are Mustang SVO with white faces, plus the console has a custom aluminum plate cut for 21/16-inch AutoMeter clock and exhaust gas temperature gauges. A 25/8-inch vacuum/boost gauge includes digital output for data logging.

The biggest challenge for Mike was finding SVO-specific parts. Because the SVO was produced in such limited numbers, Ford didn't offer much in the way of replacement parts. "There are lots of Fox-body parts out there," Mike says, "but not the SVO-specific parts."

Regardless, Mike feels good about what he achieved, plus just how close he was able to stick to his original plan of building yesterday's sophisticated SVO with today's modern technology.

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