Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
SVT Owners Association - Back On Track
The past three years have been tough for the SVT Owners Association. Originally created, supported, and operated by Ford, the club ran into turmoil in 2005 when Ford began to dismantle its dealer-funded SVT marketing operation. Since then, the SVTOA has struggled to remain intact as it was handed off to other entities, both inside and outside of Ford.
From 1993 to 2006, Ford's Special Vehicle Team designed and created some of the most powerful vehicles in Ford's illustrious high-performance history, including Mustang Cobra, Mustang Cobra R ('93, '95, and '00), Lightning F150, SVT Contour, and SVT Focus. The group was also responsible for the development and production of the '05-'06 Ford GT. Before SVT was finally assimilated into mainstream Ford during 2006, its engineers completed work on the '07 Shelby GT500. During those 13 years, Ford produced some 160,000 SVT vehicles, all sold through a limited number of performance-oriented Ford dealers.
In 2000, Ford created the SVTOA as a way to enhance the SVT ownership experience, offering club activities, SVT Enthusiast magazine, product discounts, and insider information. When SVT and its dealer program became the victims of Ford's corporate restructuring in 2005, SVTOA enthusiasts inside and outside of Ford tried to keep the program afloat. While the SVT marketing group was split up within Ford, plans were made to run the SVTOA through Team Ford Racing, which incorporated SVT content within its Inside the Oval magazine.
In 2007, Ford sought to get out of the club business entirely by licensing the SVTOA to the Shelby American Automobile Club, a seemingly good fit due to SAAC's 30 years of experience with high-performance Shelby vehicles. Ford even kick-started the new venture by funding a membership drive and sponsoring the joint SAAC-SVTOA national conventions at Utah's Miller Motorsports Park in August 2007. However, as one Ford insider told us, SAAC "did nothing else for the rest of the year." Complaints from SVTOA members and sponsors convinced Ford to end the licensing agreement with SAAC at the end of 2007 in order to search for a new "owner."
Realizing that the key to success was the involvement of SVT-passionate people, earlier this year Ford transferred the SVTOA license to a new leadership team, which includes longtime auto journalist and SVT supporter John Clor and new club director Marcie Cipriani. This new group will manage club operations while retaining the same name, goals, and organizational structure that Ford had so successfully built over the club's five-year development period. Still blessed by Ford but now run by SVT enthusiasts instead of an agency or third-party, the SVTOA is poised to overcome the trials and tribulations of the past three years.
We caught up with Marcie during the SVTOA-hosted SVT 15th Anniversary Reunion during the All-Ford Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, last June. After a long, hot day of manning the club tent, organizing Q&A sessions with former SVT engineers, and answering questions about the new SVTOA, Marcie was happy to sit down in the air-conditioned confines of a nearby Ford Expedition to talk about the re-energized SVTOA and its future.
Mustang Monthly: How Did You Get Involved With SVT Vehicles?
Marcie Cipriani: I've had Mustangs since 1990, starting when I got my first car at 18. It was an '84 Mustang L, not even an LX. I drove the heck out of it on my way back and forth from college. From that Mustang, I kept working my way back with an '83, then a '79 Pace Car. I love the '79 Pace Cars; I'm on my third one now.
In 1999 when I decided to join my local Mustang club, it just so happened that the president of the club, the late Tom Shriener, was working on the SVT Cobra Recognition Guide. I originally assisted with proofreading and graphic design, and I eventually helped finish the book-design work, editing, fact-checking, and some of the photography. We kind of finished the book together. That led me to all of the wonderful people at SVT who were so happy to see an enthusiast put together a book based on the car they were building at the time.
I got my first SVT vehicle, a '93 Cobra, in 2004. I still have it. I bought an '04 Cobra about a year and half later. I also own Tom's '95 Cobra R. He passed away in 2005.
MM: It sounds like your job background had something to do with graphics.
Cipriani: I'm a graphic designer by trade. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I worked at advertising agencies until last year when I became the graphic designer for the SVTOA. I helped put the magazines together and do any other necessary graphics and products.
MM: How did that lead into you becoming the director of the SVTOA?
Cipriani: After the management issues in 2007, Ford Racing decided it wanted to go in a different direction for the club. It put some feelers out to see who would be interested in running it, and I kind of threw my hat in the ring. I told Ford Racing I was already affiliated with a lot of SVT people and I had already done a lot for the club, such as helping with SVT's 10th anniversary in 2003 at Ford's 100th anniversary celebration in Detroit.
MM: How have SVTOA members reacted to the change?
Cipriani: I think they're happy that the club is back in the hands of true enthusiasts, people who love SVT and the club itself. I have a lot of making up to do for the members, sponsors, and everyone else who suffered through last year. I've had to answer a zillion questions this weekend (at Carlisle) about what happened and why Ford wanted out. I told everyone, "Ford doesn't want to run a car club, it wants to make cars." It was great when Ford had SVT and it was at its height. It was a great idea to have the club to boost sales of the vehicles. But Ford wanted out of the club business and to just work on building the cars. So the club went private in 2007. Ford gave that a year, and when it didn't work out, it decided to give someone else a shot, so that's where we are today.
MM: Do you have codirectors, board members, and other officers?
Cipriani: Honestly, it's only been since April 17, so we still have a lot of organization to do. We're trying to repair relationships with sponsors and get the members taken care of. There are about five of us doing the job that used to be done by Ford employees and an agency, so it's pretty much a full-time job. I couldn't be happier to be able to take the love I've always had for Mustangs and evolve it into a career with performance Fords. It's an absolute dream come true.
MM: How many members are in the SVTOA at this point?
Cipriani: Right now we're starting a national campaign to win back the nearly 2,000 people who joined last year but let their memberships expire. Don't forget that Ford had given away SVTOA memberships every year to each new SVT vehicle owner-which meant in the latter years of Ford ownership, the SVTOA had some 25,000 members. Paid renewals were never much of a priority with so many new members automatically coming in with each new SVT sold. At its height I think the club had between 5,000 and 7,500 paid members, but things got so quiet with SVT and the club during the last three years of transition that a lot of people dropped off.
MM: You have a lot of regional groups. It appears that many of them are track oriented.
Cipriani: One of the great things about this club is that we host on-track events where people are encouraged to actually do something with their high-performance cars. A lot of members are die-hard; they're like, "That's what it's built for, get it out there and run it!" Then you also have people like me; I'm more of a car-show girl. But the more I hang out with these track guys, the more I can see myself in a track car some day.
I recently attended my first SVTOA On-Track event. I went down to Summit Point where our eastern regional director, Brian Shafranek, put on a great event. It was a real eye-opener because I had never really been in contact with the on-track contingent of the club. To see the enthusiasm of the track guys is incredible. Even with the price of gas, they're still out there having a blast.
We also have a lot of online clubs, with forums where people chit-chat, and that's wonderful, too. It brings people of like minds together. I recently read a forum post from a guy after his first time on the track. He said, "This is the most addictive thing ever and I will be back." I love to hear stuff like that.
We have regions and chapters all over the country, and each one puts on events suited to its contingent. Wherever you live there's something within driving distance so you can go play with your car.
MM: We noticed that you had a number of former SVT engineers here at Carlisle. Do you get a lot of participation from them?
Cipriani: John Clor and Jason Demchak, who are now with Ford Racing and the Ford Performance Group, are good buddies with those guys because they all used to work at SVT. They're still good friends with former SVT engineers and they help make stuff happen for the club. We have the inside line because we're still connected with Ford, including the current SVT engineering group, and we have Ford's legal blessing.
The former SVT engineers here came on their own time, and they're happy to be here. Dave Dempster was here answering questions about the SVT Contour. Greg Peet was answering questions about the SVT Focus. Greg Goodnow was the Ford GT guy and Nick Terzes was on the Cobra and GT500 programs for a couple of years. Jeff Grauer was here talking about the Lightning program. They're all working on different Ford programs now but they came because SVT was such a large part of their lives. They're happy to see all of these people enjoying the products they worked on. It's a major coup for the SVTOA to have these guys and have them be so excited about coming out.
MM: Are current SVT engineers involved with the club?
Cipriani: Absolutely. For Carlisle, SVT communications manager Patrick Hespen brought Bill Woebkenberg, one of the engineers on the GT500KR. They drove all the way from Detroit in one of their new preproduction GT500KRs for a walk-around. A lot of people got the chance to sit in the car and ask questions. It's great to have contact with the new engineers and staff at SVT.
MM: What do SVTOA members get as part of their membership?
Cipriani: There will be at least a quarterly SVT Enthusiast magazine. Our first one will be an event wrap-up of Carlisle; that's why I'm running around taking photos. We'll go to press with that later on this month, coming out in July. New members will get a membership kit that includes a membership card, a window decal, a membership certificate, a Ford Racing CD catalog, and discounts from our sponsors and Ford Performance Group. This year we're giving them a free gift for joining-an SVTOA wall calendar. Returning members get a gift, too-our own SVT 15th Anniversary commemorative poster.
We also have the online SVT store with SVT-licensed products, which I don't think anyone else is producing. I went through the whole Ford licensing process so I could put real SVT-branded products out there, which is keeping us really busy today. A lot of people say, "What about this? They used to make this shirt." And I'm saying, "Just bear with us." My job is to take care of the members to get them what they want and make them happy. I'm up to the task.
MM: We know it's early, but are there any other ideas for the future?
Cipriani: There are some other things we'd like to do. We're not just a Cobra club and we're not just an SVT club. You don't have to own an SVT vehicle to join. There are other clubs out there that we would like to partner with for events, so there could be some teaming up in the future. We definitely want to make sure people know about our events. We need to have more, including car shows. Just having people coming together, like these guys sitting here just talking. It's what they want to do. It's an awfully hot day here for people to be walking around and looking at SVT vehicles, but they're doing it. I want to make more opportunities for them to do that.
MM: You have a website, right?
Cipriani: Absolutely, at www.svtoa.com. We have our own forum where we try to answer questions. Even technical questions. We'll try to get to the bottom of it, even if we have to call one of the original Ford SVT engineers. We're not afraid to do that. At least we have the ability to do that, which sets us apart from all the other clubs out there.
MM: We noticed that you're already being treated as a celebrity.
Cipriani: Well, one guy had the award plaque that I designed for the SVT 10th Anniversary and he wanted me to sign it. I told him, "You don't want me to sign. I'm just a graphic designer."