You seldom see a Mustang SVO these days. Come to think of it, even when new they were as scarce as Republicans in Hollywood. In retrospect, Ford's product planners practically guaranteed such rarity for the four-cylinder SVO when they rolled it out with the same horsepower rating as a concurrent V8 GT, but at a price point nearly two-thirds higher. But we doubt that lofty SVO production numbers were ever truly on FoMoCo's radar anyway. This wasn't a bean-counter volume car; instead, the high-tech hatchback was a halo product meant to tempt up-market buyers out of their usual European/Asian imports and into the Ford fold, much as Mercury would attempt with the similarly turbocharged Merkur.
There were good reasons for its lofty asking price. The SVO was engineered and equipped like no other Mustang of its day, with disc brakes at all four corners (something no V8 Mustang would get until the '93 Cobra) behind unique 5-lug, 16-inch rims wearing 50-series rubber, while adjustable Konis damped its suspension. The SVO's exclusive T-code turbocharged 2.3-liter four-banger was fed by multipoint electronic fuel injection overseen by one of the first applications of the EEC-IV processor. Boost and spark were electronically controlled via a knock sensor, and the SVO's turbo was intercooled (fed by the offset hoodscoop) for greater power and efficiency. All this at a time when the V8 GT still relied on a dumb old carburetor. Plus air conditioning, power windows and locks, a rear defroster, and Premium Sound were all standard SVO inclusions, making a flip-up sunroof and leather upholstery about the only options.
Though highly capable and extremely well-reviewed by the motoring press, the SVO was ultimately doomed by a combination of its price tag, the easing of our second oil crisis, and quite likely the fact that North America simply loves its V8s. Less than 10,000 were sold over three production years, and, as with anything that is both good and rare, a cult following subsequently developed for the Euro-style ponycar.
You may surely count Brighton, Michigan's Mark Haas among that cult, as he has a garage full of low-mileage and/or significant SVOs, including the two we photographed for this feature (not to mention the one-off '84 Oxford White Mac Tools SVO road racer). He is a true, dyed-in-the-wool SVO enthusiast and refers to his collection as "The SVO Trust," a name that suggests he assumes some responsibility for preserving the integrity of the breed.
Mark's black '86 is an unrestored survivor with only 2,225 miles on the odometer and which still wears its original Goodyear Gatorbacks. (This isn't a low-mileage record for Mark: he used to own a 7-mile SVO, as featured in our September 2006 issue). Mark kindly gave us the chance to drive it, and the historic hatchback feels, and smells, like a new car. Aside from its originality, this is a prime example of an SVO having one of the more sought-after options-the Competition Prep (41C) package. Whereas most vehicle options add content, checking the Comp Prep order box took stuff away, including all A/C-related hardware, power actuators for the windows, door locks and hatch, as well as the complete sound system and antenna, obviously shedding considerable weight in the process. Though clearly targeted at would-be racers seeking the most power and least mass in their SVO, the Comp Prep package also knocked the list price back more than a little, which one might think would add to its popularity, yet reportedly, of 3,382 SVOs constructed in 1986, just over 80 were Comp Preps like Mark's (and even fewer in 1984 and 1985). By the way, all of our engine and interior shots (except for the sidebar) are of this car.
The other car shown here is Mark's '85 1/2 Dark Sage SVO. It is not a Comp Prep car, but is even more rare than his black SVO, if only because of its color. Of the 436 '85 1/2 SVOs made, we're told that only four were of this distinctive hue. Incidentally, the "1985 1/2" designation reflects the fact that Ford made many significant changes in the middle of the '85 production run (around May of 1985), changes that include the flush "aero" headlamps and bumping the SVO's output from 175 to 205 hp, with torque going from 210 to 248 lb. ft. These are considered as the beginning of the SVO's second generation.
Dark Sage initially became available at the beginning of the '85 model year. Ford was building some SVOs for the Hertz rental fleet, and it's been suggested that the rental giant specifically wanted the color among its allotment. Despite the Hertz order, this turned out to be the least popular SVO hue-from the start of '85 to the end of SVO production in 1986, only 47 SVOs were sprayed in code 4E Dark Sage, and, as we said, only four of those (two with cloth interior, two with leather) were of '85 1/2 production (build data courtesy SVOCA.com). That's why this one is such a prized member of the Haas collection.
As previously mentioned, original press reviews of the SVO were almost universally complimentary. For instance, Road & Track raved: "This may be the best all-around car for the enthusiast driver ever produced by the U.S. Industry." With such critical acclaim, and with such low production numbers, we can't help but think the collectibility-and monetary value-of these oft-overlooked Mustangs can only be on the upswing. Don't say we didn't warn you.
We mentioned that...
We mentioned that the Comp Prep option deleted many weighty amenities that would be of no use to anyone planning to assault the track with his SVO. In fact, sufficient mass was removed that spring rates were slightly altered on the Comp Prep cars to compensate for the weight loss. But the other differences were more visually obvious, particularly in the engine bay and interior. Compare the following photos of one of Mark's "regular" (and as yet unrestored) SVOs to the interior and underhood shots of his black Comp Prep car seen elsewhere in the article.
Unusual for a Mustang of its...
Unusual for a Mustang of its day, A/C was standard on regular SVOs, and removing the mass of this compressor, condenser, and other associated hardware not only lightened the Comp Prep's nose, but also freed up some horsepower.
If you look at the shots of...
If you look at the shots of the door panels (page 68) on the black Comp Prep car, you'll notice the absence of this power actuator hardware for the windows and door locks.
Also, in place of the Premium...
Also, in place of the Premium Sound system and A/C controls seen here, the Comp Prep stack has much more basic heater controls and a plastic block-off plate over the radio hole.
A "regular" SVO like this...
A "regular" SVO like this one has a power hatch release button inside the glovebox. A Comp Prep SVO like Mark's black example has only the orange fuel-door release.