A Visual History Of Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT)

Late Model Restoration takes a look at the history of the iconic Ford Special Vehicle Team (SVT) and other top Ford Performance vehicles.

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History Of Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT)

Since its birth in 1992, Ford’s Special Vehicle Team has been producing high-performance exclusive vehicles that add spice, variety, and horsepower to their standard lineup. Here at LMR we have always been a fan of Ford Performance’s limited production vehicles and have a few in our current stable. From the SVT Lightning to the 2000 Cobra R we have dedicated ourselves to the restoration and preservation of these top tier examples of Ford Engineering. Here we present you with a short visual history of Ford’s SVT Program from the early SVO days to the all new 2020 Shelby GT500!

A Visual History Of Ford

1984-1986 Mustang SVO

1984-86 Mustang SVO - 1984-86 Mustang SVO

The humble beginnings of Ford’s SVT Program started with the development of the “Special Vehicle Operations” Mustang. Outfitted with a Fuel Injection 2.3L Turbo engine, the 1984-86 Mustang SVO was equipped with specially designed TRW suspension and adjustable Koni Shocks. It had beefier sway bars and stiffer springs and was the first Fox Body Mustang outfitted with 5-lug hubs and many of the technologies used in this machine pushed Ford forward into its next projects and the development of the “Special Vehicle Team.”

1993 Mustang Cobra

1993 Mustang Cobra - 1993 Mustang Cobra

Unveiled alongside the 1993 F150 Lightning, the 1993 Mustang Cobra brought back the legendary “Cobra” name and changed the face of the Mustang as we know it. Equipped with a lightly massaged 5.0L V8 this Cobra came with 235hp and went 0-60 in 5.7 seconds offering an obvious step up from the standard Mustang GT. This Mustang ended the Fox Body’s 14 year run on a high point and created an iconic look that’s been mimicked by many since.

1993-1995 Ford Lightning

1993-95 Ford Lightning - 1993-95 Ford Lightning

What followed the thunder of the 1993 Cobra? The 1993 Ford Lightning of course! This high-performance F150 meant business with a 5.8L 240hp engine under the hood. Only available in a single cab shortbed it featured a unique front grille and lower fascia, side exhaust, and an exciting “Lightning” decal adorning the bed! With a 0-60 of 7.2 seconds, Ford built this truck to haul and we aren’t talking trailers. It was introduced in the height of the “Mini-Truck” craze of the ’90s and did well in its market paving the way for a second generation run and a performance truck scene to develop.

1993 Mustang Cobra R

1993 Mustang Cobra R - 1993 Mustang Cobra R

In the later portion of the 1993 Cobra production run, Ford introduced a 107 unit run of the track prepped 1993 Mustang Cobra R models. The Cobra R was race tuned and track ready off of the lot and made way for future iterations of corner carving SVT products. The R model came with no radio, no rear seat, no gimmicks, and no-frills, and was built specifically to see the apexes of racetracks across the world. All you had to do was pick it up from the lot and take it to the paddock!

1995 Mustang Cobra R

1995 Mustang Cobra R - 1995 Mustang Cobra R

The 1994 body style change brought about a new Cobra that gained 5 horsepower from its 5.0 equipped predecessor and also featured a run of Red Indy Pace Car convertibles. These, however, were nothing compared to their 1995 Mustang Cobra R counterparts. Equipped with a 351c.i. V8 and 300hp it was the most powerful Mustang of its day and that powerplant pushed it to a 14 second quarter mile in 1995. Replicas of the iconic wheels have been put on every Mustang imaginable displaying the lasting effect of this track legend!

1994-1998 Mustang Cobra

1994-98 Mustang Cobra - 1994-98 Mustang Cobra

The 1994 Mustang has a more contoured look thanks to the restyled body. The 1994-95 Cobra has 240 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of torque. This was due to the cylinder heads, roller rockers, valve springs, and upper intake manifold all being modified. Other changes included 17x9" wheels and 13" front brakes as well as improve handling, ride, and braking.

In 1996, a hand-assembled, all-aluminum dual overhead cam (DOHC) engine marked a significant advance in the performance category. This engine was rated at 305 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. This was a 65-horsepower gain over the previous year, resulting in a 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds. The 1998 Mustang Cobra, which used the same style wheels as the 1995 Cobra R, had a top speed of 152 mph right off the line. This model had the same body shape and appearance as the 1995 model, but with the twin scooped hood and vertical taillights, which were introduced in 1996. 1998 saw the last year of the "SN-95" platform and passed the torch on to the sharper, crisp lines of the New Edge Mustang for the new millennium.

1999-2004 Ford Lightning

1999-04 Ford Lightning - 1999-04 Ford Lightning

The SVT Lightning spans two generations of the Ford F150, but both have the same goal: Make a performance pickup that looks great and has the power to match. Here we see the Second Gen 1999-04 Lightning with its regular cab, stepside bed, and iconic side exhaust. These trucks were equipped with a supercharged 5.4L V8 producing 380hp in 2002 which allowed it to become the “World’s Fastest Production Pickup” in August 2003!

2000 Mustang Cobra R

2000 Cobra R - 2000 Cobra R

The third, and final, iteration of the 2000 Mustang Cobra Rcame in 2000 with this wild, track slaying, icon. This car was made to go straight from the lot to your nearest road course sporting an aggressive front splitter, side exhaust, and a large, adjustable, rear wing. Powered by a hand-built 5.4L DOHC V8 this Cobra made just shy of 400hp and coupled with full racing suspension, 13” Brembo brakes, and 18” aluminum wheels made this one of the best handling Mustangs of all time.

1999-2001 Mustang Cobra

1999-01 Mustang Cobra - 1999-01 Mustang Cobra

The last of the Naturally Aspirated Cobras rolled off of the lot in 2001 with the widely loved 2001 Mustang Cobra! The first Mustang equipped with Independent rear suspension, was no slouch, making 320 horsepower! Mixing the best styling from the GT and some unique touches of its own this car has become an iconic look amongst New Edge Mustang lovers. Ford used the Canadian “Amber” Taillights as well as the snarling front bumper to separate this Cobra from the rest and both parts are extremely rare and highly desirable in today’s modification market.

2003-2004 Mustang Cobra Terminator

2003-04 Terminator Cobra - 2003-04 Terminator Cobra

The 2003-04 “Terminator” Cobra Mustang, with its 4V DOHC 4.6L Supercharged Modular Motor is the pinnacle of SVT Performance to many of its die hard fans and it most definitely solidified its place at the top during its two year run. Equipped with Independent Rear Suspension, this mustang handled like no other and had menacing exterior upgrades that improved its appearance from the previous models. This has become one of the most widely cloned SVT Models and seeing a real specimen on the streets is still an experience that will get your heart pumping!

2007-2009 Mustang Shelby GT500

2007-09 Mustang GT500 - 2007-09 Mustang GT500

In 2007 Ford renewed its partnership with the American motorsports icon, Carroll Shelby, to produce a whole new generation of Shelby Mustangs. This happens to be the 2008 GT500 Super Snake, named after the 427 Shelby Cobra of the 1960s. With only 1,000 specimens made of this model, it kept with the SVT’s tradition of rarity and the 725hp under the hood made it highly desirable. Carroll Shelby called it “One of the most balanced, fastest, fearsome muscle cars in the world.”

2010-2012 Mustang Shelby GT500

2010-12 Mustang Shelby GT500 - 2010-12 Mustang Shelby GT500

There was a significant overhaul for the 2010 Mustang models, and the GT500 was no exception. Unique front and rear fascias, a unique rear spoiler, and a hood with functional vents were all included. The 5.4L engine now produced 540 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. This was largely due to the installation of a comparable cold air intake to the GT500KR versions from 2008-2009. SVT also tweaked the suspension and collaborated with Goodyear Tires on a new 19-inch tire with new construction, compound, and tread patterns. On coupes, 19-inch wheels were standard, while convertibles had 18-inch wheels. For the 2010 GT500, 3,545 coupes and 913 convertibles were produced.

The all-new 5.4L aluminum engine was installed in the 2011-12 GT500 Mustang. This engine weighed over 100 pounds less than the old cast-iron engine and employed Ford's unique plasma-coating process. The 2011 Shelby GT500 had a total production of 5,100 units (4,150 coupes and 950 convertibles) while the 2012 GT500 had a total production of 4,879 units (3,929 Coupes & 950 Convertibles). A 3.73 rear axle ratio, performance-tuned front and rear shocks with stronger springs, Goodyear EagleF1 SuperCar G2 Tires, and lightweight 19" forged aluminum wheels in the front and 20" in the rear were all part of the SVT Performance Package.

2013-2014 Mustang Shelby GT500

2013-14 Mustang Shelby GT500 - 2013-14 Mustang Shelby GT500

The DOHC 4 valves per cylinder supercharged and intercooled V8 engine produced 662 HP and 631 ft-lbs of torque, making it the most powerful Mustang at the time. This claimed a top speed of 202 mph! New front end sheet metal with standard HID headlamps and LED tail light assemblies were among the further enhancements made in 2013. Due to the large amount of cooling required for the car, the 2013 GT500 does not have a grille. Twin fuel pumps, larger fuel injectors, a larger-diameter clutch, a larger fan, a 3-row intercooler, a Tremec TR-6060 with an internal oil pump, and a single-piece carbon-fiber driveshaft were among the performance upgrades. Larger Brembo front disc brakes with six-piston calipers, strengthened axle tubes, and more aerodynamic modifications were also added to assist it to hit the 200 mph mark.

The End Of SVT

Starting in 2015, both SVT and the European RS division merged which formed Ford Performance. This was a result of Ford's plan to globalize their vehicles and thus aligning all European and American performance vehicle activity together. The SVT name still lives on through the most current GT350 and GT500 Mustang models even though Ford Performance has taken the reins.