Ford SVO Image Gallery
Ford SVO Image Gallery

The exotic Mustang GTP prototype racer of 1983-84 extracted an amazing 600-700 horses from small four-cylinder turbo engines. See more pictures of Ford SVOs.

Ford SVO: Special Vehicle Operations was the source of some of the quickest and best-balanced American performance cars of the 1980s and '90s. Of course, high-speed machinery was nothing new to the Blue Oval gang.

"Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday" is a Detroit adage, and no one knew the truth of it better than Ford. Even before founding Ford Motor Company, old Henry made turn-of-the-century headlines driving stripped-down flyers like the "999" to record speeds.

Sixty years later, his grandson decided to pump up the company's image and sales with an all-out assault on most every major form of motorsports. This "Total Performance" initiative netted a pile of trophies and taught lessons that showed up in fast, flashy street cars like the Boss Mustangs. Indeed, many of those cars were in response to competition requirements, underscoring another industry truism: "Racing Improves the Breed."

By 1970, however, "Total Performance" was out of step with radically changed conditions, and Ford abruptly got out of racing. Over the next 10 years, fading public memory of the glory days and a procession of dull showroom models left the Blue Oval with a ho-hum image and sagging sales prospects.

For Henry Ford II, there was only one thing to do: Get back into racing. Thus, before stepping down as chairman in 1980, he personally authorized the formation of Special Vehicle Operations.

It was patterned on the small, hush-hush Lockheed "skunkworks" now famous for creating amazing aircraft such as the 3000-mph SR-71 Blackbird. Unlike "Total Performance" days, when outsiders like Carroll Shelby were typically recruited for specific projects, SVO was Ford's own "speed shop," with a separate budget and lots of freedom from top brass meddling.

Production-based Mustangs were always serious contenders in

SVO had three assignments: develop and manage various motorsports programs, from NASCAR to Formula 1; expand Ford racing and high-performance parts business; and develop hot limited-edition street cars.

Within a few months, a select group of some 30 designers, engineers, and experienced racing hands was assembled under German-born Michael Kranefuss (kranna-fus), the successful competition manager for Ford Europe in the early 1970s. Later dubbed "Rommel of the Racetrack" by Car and Driver, Kranefuss set the team to work on a variety of projects, many straightforward, a few very exotic.

The focus quickly turned to the racetrack, where Mustang buyers might identify with Mustang winners. But first, the SVO cars had to win. To find out if they did, go to the next page.

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