Ford SVO: Special Vehicle Operations

SVO Goes Racing

Despite the GTP's stunning horsepower, it was less reliable and less successful than rival Porsches and Corvettes.

Organized in the early 1980s, SVO, under team leader Michael Kranefuss, gave priority to road-racing Mustangs for the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) GT series. This was partly because the public could easily link those racers with showroom Mustangs -- all the better for sales.

As Kranefuss explained to Motor Trend's Gary Witzenburg in 1984: "If you want to get your technical message across, where you're headed in the future, it's road racing more than anything else.... This is something that very clearly talks about the new Ford Motor Company, which is very much technologically oriented and dedicated to product integrity. It's a combined corporate effort, with some budget from Ford Design, some from Aerospace [division], and quite a bit from SVO to build the first four cars and about 15 engines."

Kranefuss was speaking of the new Mustang GTP prototype racer, for which Ford ponied up about $1 million in 1983 alone. A Mustang in name only, it had a long, low aerodynamic body. A very high-tech four-cylinder engine produced an astounding 600 horsepower in initial 1.7-liter form, around 700 when bumped to 2.1 liters for '84. Unfortunately for SVO, the GTP Mustang was outclassed by more-durable Porsches and Corvettes, though Ford did score one win in '83.

SVO had greater success with production-based Mustangs. In 1981, Tom Gloy won at Sears Point, Mustang's first Trans-Am victory in 11 years. By '84, SVO chassis specialist Bob Riley had teamed with engine magician and car builder Jack Roush and factory-backed Mustangs soon dominated Trans-Am, winning 17 of 34 contests in 1985-86 alone.

The 1985 production SVO made a midseason debut with thanks to a hotter cam, new exhaust system, higher boost turbo, and other "hot-rodding tricks."

Between 1984 and '89, Ford notched 46 Trans-Am victories, more than all other manufacturers combined. Driving talent helped, including Lyn St. James and especially Dorsey Schroeder, who won half the 14 Trans-Am events in 1989, a great way to celebrate Mustang's 25th birthday.

SVO was no less a less a power in other forms of motorsports, thanks to a talented team, the determined drive of Kranefuss, and deepening corporate pockets. C/D noted that in 1992, "Ford was the most diversely successful manufacturer in racing in the world. Ford drivers...finished 1-2-3 in NASCAR's final Winston Cup standings, and Ford broke a nine-year Chevrolet stranglehold on the NASCAR manufacturer's championship.

Out of the box, Ford's new turbo Cosworth engine dominated the Indycar series, overpower the long-dominant Chevy Indy V-8.... And Ford, while spending only half the money Honda and Renault poured into Formula 1, finished third in the Driving Championship." And that was just one year in the life of SVO. Too bad it missed the mark with its sole production car, the arguably too-European Mustang SVO. But nobody's perfect.

Though Ford remains a motorsports power, SVO was reorganized in the early Nineties and its street-machine charge handed to a new Special Vehicle Team. SVT generated all manner of Mustang Cobras and other hot Fords, setting the standard for whatever would next carry the flag at Dearborn's skunkworks.

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.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough go racing -- or so said the new hard chargers who took command at Ford in the early '80s. Learn more in 1982-1986 Ford Mustang.
  • The 1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351 was Ford's final high-performance Mustang of the classic muscle car era. Here's a profile, photos, and specifications.