Ford observers were concerned that the SVT group wouldn't be able to earn its keep. It was losing the support of the dealers, and if the team couldn't at least break even financially, Ford was likely to cut it loose.
Happily for Ford fans, that didn't happen. The SVT Contour, appearing on cue for 1998, was a fair commercial success with 11,445 sales through model-year 2000, after which Ford canceled the Contour itself.
The Lightning became even more popular once it got a specially built 5.4-liter supercharged V-8. The 360-horsepower 1999-2000 version attracted 8966 buyers; even happier were the 11,107 folks who bought the 380-horsepower 2001-02.
Meanwhile, the SVT Cobra became a permanent and, yes, profitable part of the Mustang line, a bread-and-butter model to rival the Lightning in yearly sales, monetary return, and publicity value. For 2002, the team stepped into the youthful, fast-growing "sport compact" market with the SVT Focus.
By that point, SVT was under the enthusiastic command of John Coletti, who had led the 1994 SN95 Mustang program. Assisting him were chief engineer Mike Zevalkink, who'd been powertrain manager for SN95, and marketing and sales manager Tom Scarpello.
When SVT marked its 10th birthday as part of Ford's 2003 centennial, it had built over 100,000 vehicles, no mean feat for what remained a small part of a big corporation. "Ten years and we're just picking up speed," Coletti said at the time. "You haven't seen half of what we can do."
Soon after unveiling the 2003-2004 supercharged Mustang Cobra and a sweet little SVT Focus, SVT and Ford Racing (née SVO) were rolled into a new Ford Performance Group.
But then the landscape changed once again. Given heavy responsibilities in the development of the midengine Ford GT, SVT's delivery of products to the showroom ground to a halt.
Ford's next high-performance headliner, the 2006 Mustang Shelby GT500 saw peripheral SVT involvement but, tellingly, was offered through all 3,900 Ford dealers, not just the old SVT-certified network.
For those keen enough to notice, Ford's de-emphasis of its SVT arm was evident as early as 2004, when the promised 500-horsepower SVT Lightning pickup was killed. Similarly, the Sport Trac Adrenalin shown in 2005 never came to pass.
Observers speculated that the strain of preparing the midengine Ford GT in time for Ford's centennial had diverted the small SVT staff's attention from developing other cars. Perhaps more significantly, the executives who oversaw and supported SVT had by early 2006 shifted to other responsibilities. Among them, Coletti had retired and Scarpello had moved to Jaguar.
But SVT wasn't dead. If not quite the fully independent in-house tuner that created specialized performance products for sale under the SVT banner, its spirit lived on in such entities as Ford Racing Performance Parts, which marketed speed equipment through dealers. In '06, none other than 2005 Mustang cheif engineer Hau Thai-Tang was named the new head of SVT, and while its car-guy-catering dealer network may have been stuck in neutral, if you looked closely, the proud SVT insignia was in evidence here and there on the mighty Shelby GT500.
Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:
- Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
- Ford's ageless pony car was rejuvenated one more time for 1999 with "New Edge" styling, more power, and many key refinements. Read 1999-2004 Ford Mustang to learn about the fastest, most roadable Mustangs yet.
- The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.