In the 40+ year history of the Mustang, there have been plenty of special edition models. From the High Country Special (1966-68) to the many incarnations of the Mach I, factory-modified Mustangs have always generated excitement, not to mention additional sales for the company. Over the years, the content of the various specials has ranged from cosmetic-only, stripe and scoop packages (think 1976 Mustang II MPG Edition), to those minimally-produced, homologation specials such as the ground-pounding BOSS 429. As it happens, all other special editions don't necessarily sit somewhere along a straight line that connects these two examples.
A couple of cars, at least, followed a road less travelled. One of those is the SVO Mustang, which was produced for the 1984 through 1986 model years and managed to record sales of less than 10,000 units over the three years. Those production numbers, by themselves, are enough to lay a certain exclusivity on the SVO model, but there was a whole lot more about the car that was unique.
That is exactly what 14-year old Craig Gillis discovered when he got the idea of buying an SVO that he'd seen for sale. Both Craig and his father routinely travelled the road to New England Dragway, in Epping, NH, on weekends to see the racing. Mustangs have a habit of running in the family, so it wasn't too surprising that young Mr. Gillis might start researching just what this SVO Mustang business was all about. That research eventually led to his purchase of the car for the princely sum of $1,400 and the investment of a couple of years in restoring the car before he could even drive it.
The newest SVO Mustang is now more than 20 years old. When new, it is said that a dealership salesperson never sold an SVO model - instead, the customer had already bought it before arriving on the lot. That customer, though, was a different one from the typical Mustang buyer. Recall that 1982-1983 saw the real rebirth of Mustang performance, following the mid-70's oil crisis difficulties.
From 1983, the 5.0-liter engine sported a 4-barrel carb, when mated with a manual transmission, to which it passed on 175 horsepower. This was a significant improvement from the previous year's 2-barrel version, at 157, or the dreaded 4.2-liter's paltry 118 hp rating. The return to the 5.0-liter engine was believed to be a stopgap measure by Ford, and that a turbocharged 4-cylnder mill would dominate the future. Late in 1983, that engine became available, pushing out 145 hp.
Regardless, Mustang GTs , GLs and GLXs with the 5.0-liter engine were flying off the dealership lots, with their power numbers almost 50 percent greater than two years before. In 1984, Ford released what they intended to be a BMW-fighter. With far more focus on handling and poise, the SVO Mustang featured a 175 HP fuel injected, intercooled and turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, Koni gas-pressurized shock absorbers, 4-wheel disc brakes, a Hurst shifter, Recaro seats and 16-inch wheels, just like the Corvette of that year.
All of the SVO's beauty wasn't just under the skin. These specialty cars were immediately recognizable as different from a production Mustang, even if you didn't know exactly what you were looking at. Starting from the single rectangular sealed beam headlamps, the front end of the SVO differed markedly from its siblings. A functional hood scoop, offset from the centerline of the car, was used to force air through the intercooler, while a wrap around front fascia panel adds a distinctive look without sacrificing cooling air flow. Fender flares, often referred to as 'spats' suggested a more aggressive stance, while different sail panels behind the quarter windows sloped back to a signature SVO dual wing rear spoiler. The SVO's unique tail lights would reappear almost a decade later to distinguish the first SVT Cobra, in 1993.