Jim Smart
March 12, 2013

By 1970, Ford had won Le Mans against the world's toughest competition. Domestically, it had spanked Corvettes and Camaros in SCCA competition. There was nothing left to prove. But there was also a new political climate in Detroit. Heat from insurance companies and Washington had turned Ford's attentions from Woodward Avenue to Capitol Hill with an intense focus on fuel economy, cleaner emissions, and safer automobiles. Muscle vanished as quickly as it had arrived. Ford's hottest seller for 1970 was the new Maverick. The Pinto would come a year later.

Though the '74-‘78 Mustang II was the right car at the right time, in no way could it be mistaken for a performance car, even with racy paint and tape graphics. The all-new Fox-body Mustang for '79 sold well, but didn't impress anyone with its 2.3L turbo four or 302ci two-barrel. In 1980, the Mustang became even harder to take seriously with the largest engine on its option sheet displacing but 255 cubic-inches.

As Henry Ford II's last big hurrah before he retired, Ford's Special Vehicle Operations was founded in 1980 to help get Ford get back into racing and performance. A low-key operation conducted mostly out of sight from Ford brass, SVO had an upper-level ally in Donald Peterson, who would ultimately run Ford Motor Company and bring performance back to Dearborn.

Because the production Mustang SVO had to be priced within reach of the most discriminating Mustang buyer, it used off-the-shelf components from the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and Cougar XR-7 Turbo. An intercooler was added to the 2.3L turbo four for 175hp, which was backed by a Hurst-shifted five-speed and 3.73:1 Traction-Lok rear axle. Other amenities included bolstered leather or cloth bucket seats with adjustable lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, Premium Sound, Quadra-Shock rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, 16x7-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear Gatorback tires, handling suspension, a front air dam, dual rear spoilers, and Koni gas-filled shocks and struts.

When the '84 Mustang SVO hit showrooms, it was promoted as the daily commuter you could race on weekends. In theory, the SVO should have been a hot seller. It wasn't because fuel prices were down and there was plenty of it to go around. Not to mention the fact that the Mustang GT was available for less money with 5.0L power, which made the SVO a tough sell.

Jack de Boer is the original owner of one of the rarest Mustang SVOs, just 439 produced at mid-year '85½ with a horsepower increase to 205 thanks to improvements like revised camshaft specifications, redesigned turbocharger, higher capacity 35 pound-per-hour fuel injectors, improved EEC-IV calibration, and dual exhaust. The updated model, which continued into '86, also incorporated composite aero headlamps, illuminated mirrors on both sun visors, oil pressure warning lamp in addition to the gauge, color-keyed dome lamp, upgraded clutch, and a new fuel system with in-tank pump.

"I ordered my SVO from Sunnyvale Ford just outside of San Jose in May 1985," de Boer says. "They told me it was an '85½ model with a lot of nice upgrades. It was my first Mustang."

When Jack picked up his new SVO in August of 1985, he was working for Ford Aerospace and managed to get an employee discount, paying $12,733, including optional pop-up sunroof, for a car that typically stickered for $15,000.

Aside from replacement items like tires, brake pads, and a battery, de Boer's Jalapeno Red '85½ SVO is factory original with 99,000 miles. Jack has meticulously cared for this SVO since he brought it home nearly three decades ago. For many years, he drove it daily and took it on vacations. Three kids went to high school proms in this car. Now in retirement, the SVO has been campaigned in concours restored competition throughout the Bay Area, driving away with two MCA Gold awards in the Concours Driven class.

The Mustang SVO is easily one of the most exotic American production cars ever made. It was an extraordinary chapter in Ford performance history due to the engineering that went into this car 30 years ago. Jack de Boer's '85½ represents the pinnacle of Mustang SVO development, a "better machine" that is still a great performer today.

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