History of Ford SVT

History of Ford SVT

Last Updated June 13, 2023 | Meghan Drummond

At Ford, SVT stands for “Special Vehicle Team.” Through the years, SVT created some amazing vehicles. Though SVT was only operational from 1991-2014, they were responsible for the Mustang Cobra, the F-150 Lightning, and the Raptor.

Why Make a Special Vehicle Team?

SVT was the natural evolution of the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) team that launched in 1981. The goals of the SVO team were to oversee motorsports programs, expand Ford racing, and produce road cars. Through these ventures, Ford wanted to add a little polish to the Ford name.

This is the same strategy that made the Mustang so popular initially. When the Mustang launched, Ford approached Carroll Shelby and the Shelby-American team to make a performance edition. The result was the Shelby GT350R. This race-specced Mustang dominated SCCA racing and helped establish Mustang as the powerhouse it is today.

When Ford decided to create the Bronco as an off-roader, they followed a similar formula. Bill Stroppe helped Ford develop the Baja Bronco. Stroppe also raced the Bronco in the Baja 500, a respected off-road race held on the Baja California peninsula.

Bright red letters spelling SVT

With the SVO and SVT teams, Ford sought to move their performance divisions “in-house.” This allowed for more control of quality and quantity of the top performance editions. It also allowed Ford to develop the parts in-house and sell those parts. Being able to buy the parts from the top performance editions was important to enthusiasts. Today, Ford Performance continues to offer parts from Ford’s top-shelf vehicles to individuals looking to enhance the performance aspects of their own ride.

SVT Formation and History

The SVO team was originally founded by John Plant, Janine Bay, and Robert Burnham. As the SVO team, only one production car, the SVO Mustang, was ever released. This team turned into the SVT division. The SVT’s mission was to create high-performance vehicles in limited quantities for enthusiasts.

The SVT values were:

  • Performance
  • Substance
  • Exclusivity
  • Value

Four attributes that are hard to hit, but that certainly mark a great vehicle.

John Coletti

The SVT’s first director was John Coletti. Coletti is best remembered as “the man who saved the Mustang.”

In the early ‘90s, light, front-wheel-drive vehicles outsold rear-wheel-drive vehicles like the Mustang. As a cost-saving measure, Ford wanted to replace the Mustang we know and love with a FWD vehicle produced by Mazda.

There was an immediate public outcry, but it was John Colletti, an engineering manager, who led the opposition within Ford. Coletti later said that he would “rather have seen the Mustang name die than put the Mustang name on the Probe.”

Coletti’s alternate design became the SN95 Mustang, and the proposed-Mustang was renamed the Probe. Coletti’s dedication to performance, substance, exclusivity, and value made him the perfect candidate to lead the SVT division as they prepared their first vehicles for launch.

1993 SVT Projects

Though they were formed in 1991, the first SVT projects weren’t seen until the Chicago Auto Show in 1992. When they did debut their first projects, the SVT team highlighted their range with the SVT Mustang Cobra and the SVT F-150 Lightning.

These vehicles were the perfect choice for their first projects. People were excited to see the Mustang Cobra nameplate revitalized, and even more excited when they saw the spec sheet.

A bright red SVT Cobra Mustang

The Lightning was wholly new, but by debuting it alongside the Cobra it got plenty of attention. The SVT Lightning was a lowered, high-performance pickup designed to go fast. Both vehicles were highly regarded.

Bright Red SVT Lightning Pickup

A little more than 5,000 of both the 1993 SVT Lightning and the 1993 SVT Cobra were produced. Making both collectibles.

SVT Cobra Evolution

The SVT Cobra was produced every year from 1993 to 2004 except for two. In 2000 and 2002, the Cobra editions were canceled. Coletti and the SVT team refused to release a product they were less than excited about. When the 2000 and 2002 Cobras weren’t up to snuff, they canceled production.

Through the Fox Body, SN95, and New Edge generations, the Cobra set the standard for performance. This also meant there were significant engine developments. While the first Cobras were available in an overhead valve engine, they gradually evolved to an overhead cam. From there, the engines continued to develop from a single overhead cam to a dual overhead cam configuration.

Cobra vs Cobra R

The “R” designated Cobra was designed to be a race-edition, and was produced in even more limited quantities than the Cobra. The Cobra R was also produced less frequently. The first Cobra R was made in 1993. It only returned for the 1995 and 2000 model years.

After many 1993 Cobra Rs were bought by collectors, Ford began to require a racing license for the 1995 and 2000 editions.

The Terminator Cobra

The final two years of Cobra production are widely agreed upon as being their best. Dubbed the Terminator Cobra, these Mustangs featured the most powerful engine available at the time.

A bright yellow Terminator Cobra

Terminator Cobras were also among the most plentifully produced. They were also available as a 40th-anniversary special edition as well as Mystichrome, a color only available on the Cobra.

SVT Cobra Specs
Cobra YearEngineHorsepowerTorqueTotal Produced
1993 Cobra 5.0L OHV V8 235 hp 280 lb-ft 4,993
1993 Cobra R 5.0L OHV V8 235 hp 280 lb-ft 107
1994 Cobra 5.0L OHV V8 240 hp 285 lb-ft 6,009
1995 Cobra 5.0L OHV V8 240 hp 285 lb-ft 5,008
1995 Cobra R 5.8L OHV V8 300 hp 365 lb-ft 250
1996 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 305 hp 300 lb-ft 10,002
1997 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 305 hp 300 lb-ft 10,049
1998 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 305 hp 300 lb-ft 8,654
1999 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 320 hp 317 lb-ft 8,095
2000 Cobra R 5.4L DOHC V8 385 hp 385 lb-ft 300
2001 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 320 hp 317 lb-ft 8,095
2003 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 390 hp 390 lb-ft 13,476
2004 Cobra 4.6L DOHC V8 390 hp 390 lb-ft 5,664

The SVT Lightning

The Ford SVT Lightning was a star in the pickup world from the moment it launched. Produced from 1993-1995 and then again from 1999-2004, the Lightning is still considered one of the most desirable pickups of all time.

The SVT Lightning used a Ford F-150 as its base and then added modifications to improve handling and speed.

Front of a blue second-gen SVT Lightning

Even the 1993 F-150 Lightning was a powerhouse, capable of a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds. The Lightning was geared towards high-speed applications, but it maintained an impressive tow capacity of 5,000 pounds.

When the Lightning returned for its second-gen in 1999, it came equipped with a supercharger, which reduced its 0-60 time to a mere 6.2 seconds.

The Lightning’s production run came to an end in 2004. “Hotrod” style trucks, like the Lightning and Lil’ Red Express, were no longer in high demand. However, the SVT Lightning remains a popular collector’s truck.

SVT Lightning Specs
YearEngineHorsepowerTorqueProduction Total
1993-1995 5.8L OHV V8 240 hp 340 lb-ft 1993- 5,276
1999-2000 5.4L SOHC V8 360 hp 440 lb-ft 1999-4,000
2001-2004 5.4L SOHC V8 380 hp 450 lb-ft 2001-6,381

The SVT Raptor

For the 2010 model year, the SVT team decided to take pickups in a different direction with the SVT Raptor. While both the Lightning and the Raptor are performance trucks, they’re outfitted very differently. The Raptor has speed, but it’s primarily focused on off-roading.

Bright orange SVT Raptor goes airborne over terrain

In addition to its high-powered engine, the SVT Raptor also has a suspension system designed to offer longer wheel travel. This is perfect for traversing off-road terrain. SVT also equipped their off-road monster with numerous traction-enhancing electronics.

The second-generation Ford Raptor launched in 2017, but this time it didn’t have the SVT name attached to it. Ford Performance has since taken over production of the Raptor. The Raptor’s performance doesn’t seem to have suffered any though, and is still very much in line with the SVT teams’ original vision. You can read our Raptor generation comparison here.

Blue 2012 SVT Raptor on a rock showing suspension travel

For 2010, two engines were offered for the Raptor. By 2011, the larger 6.2L had become standard. That wasn’t the only year to year change though. Between 2010 and 2014, SVT improved the Raptor’s equipment each year. In 2012, they added a front camera system and Torsen front differential. This elevated Raptor sales to an all-time high of 13,784 units.

SVT Raptor Specs
YearEngineHorsepowerTorqueProduction Total
2010 5.4L V8 310 hp 365 lb-ft 4,635
2010 6.2L V8 (optional) 411 hp 434 lb-ft 5,802
2011 6.2L V8 411 hp 434 lb-ft 8,821
2012 6.2L V8 411 hp 434 lb-ft 13,784
2013-2014 6.2L V8 411 hp 434 lb-ft Not Available

Other SVT Projects

The Cobra, Lightning, and Raptor are the SVT’s most remembered vehicles, but they also found time to work on several other vehicles.

This included the SVT Contour from 1998-2000. Though a mid-size sedan may seem out of place on the list, with SVT’s help the Contour was able to go from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds.

The SVT team also helped develop the SVT Focus, which was produced from 2002-2004. These Focus models were sportier, faster, and fun.

When Carroll Shelby returned to Ford in 2007, it was the Special Vehicle Team that helped put together a GT500 that Shelby was proud to put his name on.

Legacy of the Ford Special Vehicle Team

In 2014, SVT and Ford Racing joined together to form Ford Performance. Though you’ll no longer find a new Ford with the SVT logo, the team’s legacy lives on.

The SVT’s three most remembered vehicles are highly sought after collectors’ items. Many of the SVT’s projects have continued on without them. Ford Performance continues to make new GT350 and GT500 Mustangs. The Raptor continues to be one of the best off-roading trucks available today. And though the Focus ST and RS models are no more, they certainly owe their existence to the contributions of the SVT team.

The SVT’s 22-year run helped to establish many of the Ford vehicles we know and love today. And Ford Performance keeps their spirit alive and well.

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.