History of the Special Service Mustang
Special Service Mustangs: 1982-1993
By Jim Dingell
A Camaro owner's worst nightmare--to be pulled over for speeding by a police officer driving a Special Service Mustang! Talk about hurt pride! What are these cars and why are they "Special?" Hopefully by the end of this article, many questions will be answered about this, one of the most interesting, and at the same time, misunderstood Mustang models in the marque's 38-plus year history.
The Mustang Severe Service Package, as it was originally known, was originally released in 1982 for limited use by the California Highway Patrol to test in high speed pursuit conditions. You may remember, the CHP used 1979 Camaros until 1981 with little success due to powertrain problems. In actuality, there were very few differences between these 406 early 5.0L, 4-speed manual transmission equipped Severe Service sedans and their standard assembly line counterparts.
What really sold the car to the CHP was the Mustang's outstanding mechanical reliability, incredible all around performance and best of all, a low purchase price of approximately $6800.00 per unit. In 1983, due to the rave reviews of the early Severe Service Mustangs, Ford went ahead with a limited law enforcement option based exclusively on the 5.0L Mustang sedan (only) platform and called it the Special Service Package. During it's production run from 1982-1993, more than 60 local, state, provincial and federal agencies used the Special Service Mustang in some sort of administrative or law enforcement role.
Through the 1985 model year, the Special Service Mustang, as stated above, varied little from it's assembly line kin. Items related to extended durability and convenience such as relocated remote decklid release to the driver's side, 14" X 6" then in 1985, larger 15" X 7" steel wheels with plain center caps, conventional spare tire and wheel, performance tires, 140 mph certified calibration speedometer and a few other items were installed be it standard or optionally. Steadily, law enforcement agencies started taking notice. Orders either commenced or were increased from states like Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, Oregon and from the US Government for use with the DEA, FBI, GSA and the US Air Force.
The most notable Special Service equipment for the Mustang has evolved since 1986. The following sampling of standard and optional features along with the items listed above could be combined to make a "complete" Special Service package as available from 1986-1993: silicone radiator, by-pass hoses with "aircraft-style" hose clamps, engine oil cooler, external automatic transmission cooler, heater hose inlet restrictor, VASCAR 2-piece speedometer cables, radio noise suppression package, air conditioning, 135 amp Lestek alternator with transistorized voltage regulator and from 1992-1993, 130 amp Motorcraft internally regulated alternator, door body-side molding deleted, recalibrated cooling fan clutch, 140 mph and from mid 1989-1993, 160 mph certified calibration speedometers, relocated remote decklid release, inoperative door courtesy lamp switches, single key locking system, coding for weight adjustment, paint stripe deleted, heavy-duty low-back front bucket seats, aluminum "LX" wheels from 1987-1993, underhood sound insulation deleted, conventional spare tire and wheel, reinforced floor pan and more.
The evolution of these items were a direct result of the continued interest in the Mustang for high speed law enforcement purposes. These parts are not merely Crown Victoria carry-overs, but unique parts produced by Ford and it's subcontractors specifically for the Special Service Mustang. It is interesting to note that some of these parts or derivatives of them have carried over to other vehicle applications due to their durable nature. It is also due to the heavy-duty nature of this equipment that helps to bolster the continued private civilian support of these vehicles even after 80,000 to 100,000-plus miles put on them by the end of their public tour of duty. It also doesn't hurt that some examples produced for use come with a full complement of creature comforts like AM/FM cassette stereo radios and power windows and door locks!
With interest in the Special Service Mustang growing, it is very easy to replicate one starting with a standard LX 5.0 sedan and purchasing the many necessary components. The one thing that is impossible to copy is the Special Service Mustang's DSO code. This DSO code, short for Domestic Special Order, is found on a credit card-sized plate affixed to the driver's side of the Special Service Mustang's radiator core support, right behind the headlight or on the vehicle identification decal on the driver's door. This two digit hyphen four digit code is unique to that particular Mustang or a series of Mustangs that were ordered under that DSO. That DSO can be tracked back to Ford to find out the original jurisdictional customer along with all of the unique "cop stuff" that were factory installed. Sure you can install a speedometer, silicone hoses and an engine oil cooler on a Mustang, but those will not make it a real Special Service Mustang! Beware too, of the myriad of phoney parts that are on the market purported to be "Police" or "Special Service" as they are that in name only and vastly inferior in quality! Unscrupulous vendors realize that the buying public is very naive when it come to police parts. Without the aforementioned DSO code, genuine Special Service parts purchases are impossible.
With the differences, it is important to note that there are similarities. The Special Service Mustang shared the same engine, transmission options, rear axle and suspension as the standard 5.0L sedan. In fact, the only suspension difference came in 1992-1993 when the upper rear control arms were changed to utilize a different durometer bushing. Unfortunately for many, and contrary to the farcical information conveyed in the September 1990 issue of Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords, there are no over inflated horsepower ratings, no four wheel disc brakes, no 351s, no ram air systems, no hi-po engine processor chips or any other modifications that could wreak havoc on Ford's warranty and liability exposure. This also says a lot for the standard 5.0L package equipment as far as strength, performance and reliability.
Thanks to the large number of orders placed in the past by law enforcement agencies, purportedly almost 15,000 units though Ford will not confirm nor deny, the Special Service Mustang has been available to the public through state and federal auctions throughout the country. You can usually look over the service records and on some occasions actually get the vehicle history documentation if you are selective and persistent. Some states even repaint and service the cars before they are released. For the most part though, they are sold "as-is" and this includes, on occasion, roll bars and/or spotlights and almost always gaping holes in the interior and in the body from the removal of police "paraphernalia." Check your state's Department of Transportation for auction dates, policies and vehicle availability throughout the year. Keep in mind though, since it's demise in August 1993, future auction availability is really dwindling.
Incidentally, the success numbers are low, but some folks were able to coerce their Ford dealers into ordering a new Special Service Mustang for them! This writer was able to buy a new 1993 Special Service Mustang through a Texas Ford dealer that was "stuck" with two of them by a local jurisdiction that declined delivery. I was contacted through one of my numerous Mustang police parts-related advertisements in national magazines regarding the purchase of one of the Mustangs. Coincidentally, I had just sold my 1988 ex-FHP Mustang to a Mustang Special Service Registry (MSSR) member, so the time was right to buy another one.
Speaking of the MSSR, this is a national registry that I started in 1991 with the mission to promote interest in the 1982-1993 Special Service Mustang. In the Fall of 1996, I melded the MSSR and it's membership in with the EVOOA. Information regarding the Registry and the EVOOA can be obtained by sending a large, self-addressed double-stamped envelope to:
Mustang Special Service Registry
14311 West Lincoln Road
Spokane, WA 99224-9398
or you may reach me at Performance Parts, Inc. at (703) 742-6207 or feel free to email me.
Finally, Ford ceased production of the Special Service Mustang during the month of August 1993 and to date, has no plans to revive it in the current body style. The feeling at Ford is that the high speed traffic intercepter niche is better filled by the Crown Victoria. There is still a great opportunity to check out a Special Service Mustang before they are less plentiful which translates to more expensive. They make a great cost effective, yet collectible, performance alternative to the standard, run-of-the-mill LX 5.0 and GT and even a Cobra!
Copyright © 1995-2002 Jim Dingell, Jr. and EVOOA All Rights Reserved.
The Mustang Special Service Registry
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Comments to: Jim Dingell
Revised: May 23, 2002