Having introduced the four-cylinder engine in 1974 with the oil crisis-bred Mustang II, Ford continued to offer the small, fuel-efficient unit with the third-generation model, which arrived in 1979, too. However, the redesigned Mustang also received a turbocharged four-banger. Not only a novelty for the nameplate, the turbocharged, 2.3-liter engine was also a pretty big deal output-wise, generating more horsepower than any other available unit except the 5.0-liter V8.
In its first year on the market, the turbo-four was rated at 117 horsepower, 29 more than the base four-cylinder and eight horses more than the 2.8-liter V6. The V8 offered an additional 23 ponies, but returned significantly less fuel economy. However, the 2.3-liter turbo was plagued with reliability issues and due to inadequate lubrication that led to premature turbo failure and overheating, it was dropped from the lineup in 1982.
But Ford wasn’t yet ready to give up. While the unit returned in 1983 in the new Mustang Turbo GT, and higher performance version that rivaled the 5.0-liter V8 arrived in 1984 as the Mustang SVO.
Developed of the car began in 1980 when Ford created the SVO division and Michael Kranefuss, previously competition direct for Ford of Europe, was brought across the Atlantic to turn the pony car into a competitive race car. Kranefuss immediately prepared the Mustang for IMSA and SCCA road racing, followed by a limited-production, high-performance street car for the 1984 model year.
Unlike its turbocharged predecessors, the SVO’s 2.3-liter four-pot was tweaked to generate 175 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. It may not sound like a lot today, but it was a big deal back then. More importantly, horsepower was identical to the 5.0-liter V8, while torque was down by only 35 pound-feet.
The SVO’s impressive performance came from many new drivetrain components, including a Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger producing 14 psi and fuel injection. It also featured Ford’s EEC IV, which made sure the port injectors delivered fuel as efficiently as possible and worked the turbocharger’s wastegate (which was mechanically controlled on other turbo Mustangs).
Also incorporated in the electronic control system was a switch on the dash that changed air/fuel metering calibrations depending on which grade of fuel was used. The switch limited boost to 10 psi when regular unleaded was chosen.
The drivetrain was rounded off by an air-to-air intercooler that lowered the temperature of the compressed atmosphere heading into the intake manifold. The denser, cooler air provided more efficient combustion, which in turn helped the engine become as powerful as the V8. On the flipside, drivers had to cope with turbo lag as the exhaust pressures built up to drive the rotor that spins up to compress the incoming air.
Performance-wise, the SVO needed 7.5 seconds to hit 60 mph from a standing start, which made it a tad quicker than the V8 model. The SVO’s quarter-mile time was also a bit quicker at 15.5 ticks, versus the GT’s 16 seconds.
While performance was only marginally better, the SVO returned far better fuel economy than the V8. The turbocharged four-cylinder was rated at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, while the GT couldn’t do better than 14 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. In an era where gas prices were still high, the SVO was definitely the better alternative.
Halfway through the 1985 model year, the engine was upgraded to 205 horsepower, while 1986 saw output drop to 200 horses. To go with the new engine and help the SVO stand out, Ford also offered a few extras.
The five-speed manual came with a Hurst shifter, while Koni gas-charged shocks, quick-ratio steering, and four-wheel disc brakes replaced the standard features of the base model. The SVO was also recognizable due to its offset hood intake duct, 16-inch aluminum wheels, unique, bi-plane rear spoiler, and revised side skirts.
Unfortunately, the SVO wasn’t as popular as Ford hoped, with sales reaching only 9,844 units before the model was retired in 1986. Often dubbed “America’s most misunderstood sports car,” the Mustang SVO is now recognized as one of the best all-around performers of its era.
What are your thoughts on the SVO Mustang? Was it a miss-step in Ford history or a crucial design that paved the way for the current EcoBoost Mustang. Comment your thoughts below!
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