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Author Topic: U.S. Air Force 1988 Special Service Package Mustang LX 5.0L  (Read 6650 times)
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« on: March 09, 2008, 08:20:30 PM »

Chasing History in a U.S. Air Force 1988 Special Service Package Mustang LX 5.0L

Radio Flyer

Hemmings Muscle Machines - JULY 1, 2005 - BY MARK J. MCCOURT AND JEFF KOCH

As you patiently wait at the end of the long runway with the roof-mounted strobe lights ablaze, the midnight blue 1988 Mustang coupe's upright windshield pillars frame a slowly changing picture of leaden clouds rolling over the English countryside; you twitch from an involuntary shiver as the vinyl perch transmits the damp cold through your shirt. A deep V-8 rumble exits the long chrome tailpipes, chased by curling trails of vapor, and the onboard aircraft radio crackles-the U-2S spy plane is incoming.

In the blink of an eye, a massive shadow passes directly overhead. Your focus instantly sharpens, and you nail the gas; the tachometer needle jerks around the dial as the automatic transmission shifts sharply up through four gears, and you break 85 mph, keeping the fast-descending U-2S in close range. You carefully monitor the plane's altitude and landing gear, radioing the pilot-"You're at 10 feet... eight feet... six feet... four feet... two feet, two feet..." and bang, it's on the ground. The Mustang leans and the sidewalls scrub as you make a hard turn at 50 mph, following the U-2S from the runway onto the taxiway; you'll continue to monitor the plane's position and landing gear until you both roll to a stop by the hangar.

It's not any old vehicle that the United States Air Force uses to chase their single-seat TR-1 and U-2S high-altitude tactical reconnaissance planes. This Mustang LX 5.0L's direct predecessors were 1980s El Caminos stuffed full of 396 cu.in. big-block; the Air Force's main requirement, which the pony car delivered in spades, was immediate throttle response and rapid acceleration. U.S.A.F. pilots considered the Mustang's nimble handling and four-place seating a distinct improvement over the cramped, tail-happy truck/cars it replaced. When the notchback Mustang 5.0L was discontinued after 1993, the Air Force made the switch to 5.7-liter Camaro Z28s; the now-defunct Camaros are soon to be swapped for LS2-powered Pontiac GTOs.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics' long-lived U-2S/TR-1 spy planes could manage a 7,000-mile range and a 70,000-foot altitude ceiling; due to this altitude capability, pilots were required to wear bulky flight suits that limited their range of vision. "The Mobile Unit Mustangs were chase vehicles while the planes were coming back to land," recalls retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and U-2S pilot Bruce Jinneman. "Because the pilots had to wear full-pressure suits, landing the U-2 was extremely difficult. You had to bring it to about two feet above the runway and hold it there until it stalled. The chase car called the altitude, because it's very difficult to gauge altitude in the suit; the way you were physically seated, you couldn't turn your head to see. There were outriggers, or 'pogo gear' on each wing, and when it was windy, the plane's extremely wide turning radius got even wider. Your outboard gear may come very close to a runway light or other obstacle, and the Mobile Unit had to keep you informed. A pilot and a Mobile Unit were associated with each mission; it was more of a safety feature for takeoffs, and a pilot-assistance feature for landings."

Ford sired a winner when they debuted the Fox-platform Mustang in 1979; the wedge-styled new model offered enthusiasts a choice of turbocharged I-4 or two-barrel carbureted V-8 power. The notchback and hatchback coupes came into their own in 1982 when the famous "5.0" High Output V-8 became optional in non-GT Mustangs. This 157hp, 302-cu.in. engine, with its 4.0 x 3.0-inch bore and stroke and 8.3:1 compression ratio, received a boost to 175hp in 1983 courtesy of a four-barrel Holley carburetor. This allowed the unadorned L and GL models, both of which weighed substantially less than 3,000 pounds, to dash to 60 mph in just over 7 seconds.

By 1988, the Mustang's 5.0-liter V-8 featured electronic fuel injection and 9.0-compression to make 225hp at 4,200 rpm and 300-lbs.ft. of torque at 3,200 rpm; this engine was standard in the premium GT, and optional in the inexpensive LX to create the formidable LX 5.0L. The LX 5.0L was built to withstand the abuse that its often youthful buyers threw at it, and the uprated standard equipment that was packaged with the V-8 engine included an 8.8-inch Traction-Lok rear-axle, dual exhaust system, a "handling suspension" with nitrogen gas-pressure struts and rear quadra-shocks, 1.3-inch front and .79-inch rear anti-roll bars, and P225/60-VR15 Goodyear Eagle GT performance tires on 15 x 7-inch alloy wheels.

When the Mustang's hot engine-with-basic-trim setup became available in 1982, police and government agencies that wanted to use the Mustang for high-speed highway traffic law enforcement could now special-order a Special Service Package; it was available with a manual or automatic transmission. To help the cars withstand sustained high-speed running, the package included an engine oil cooler, aircraft-type radiator and heater hose clamps, a heater hose inlet restrictor, a calibrated 140mph speedometer, and on automatic transmission-equipped versions, an external front-mounted oil cooler. A single-key locking system and a relocated remote trunklid release simplified access, and deleted under-hood sound absorption pads "added lightness." Reliability was bolstered via front-disc brake rotor shields, reinforcing floor-pan seat brackets, hard-wearing vinyl-upholstered low-back reclining front bucket seats and a full-sized spare tire.

Our feature car, the 1988 Mustang LX 5.0L SSP owned by Keith Suzuki of Pittsburg, California, is one of eight SSP Mustangs ordered by the U.S. Air Force that year. Prior to its delivery to Beale Air Force Base in northeastern California, this Dark Shadow Blue metallic, AOD automatic transmission-equipped LX 5.0L SSP was re-sprayed with non-metallic U.S.A.F. "Strato Blue" paint (including the alloy wheels) and fitted with a two-way aircraft radio, an aircraft-type wedge antenna and a Whelen Edge amber light bar. This SSP Mustang's factory-optional, heavy-duty 130-amp alternator and additional grounding straps ensured that the necessary radio and light equipment wouldn't overtax the standard charging system.

Once the Mustang was readied for U-2S-chasing duty, it was tagged "United States Air Force Mobile Unit One," and its identification number was stenciled under the hood: "88B 9971, AFE RAF A," translating to its U.S.A.F. license number, Air Force Europe, Royal Air Force-Alconbury. It and an identical 1988 LX 5.0L, tagged Mobile Unit 70, were then transported to the largest U-2S base outside the United States, the Royal Air Force's Alconbury Station in England, to serve the 17th Reconnaissance Wing and 95th Reconnaissance Squadron.

"I was a major at Alconbury in 1988, flying TR-1s," Bruce recalls. "I remember the first day this Mustang was used as a Mobile-remember, the Mustang was faster than the 396-powered El Camino we were used to, and the El Camino was much lighter in the rear end. Those run-ins were very interesting... the taxiway was at a 45-degree turn-in angle from the runway, sometimes it was at 90 degrees. I was sitting on the taxiway, watching the scene as another pilot in the Mustang chased the plane around a corner at about 80 mph-despite the car's better traction, he went into a howling four-wheel slide," he laughs. "On a wet day, you'd sometimes end up doing 360s down the runway-it was very exciting!"

Bruce put many miles on Mobile Unit One. "The weather in England can be so bad it wasn't unusual to have a plane be forced to land on the other side of the country, and we'd have to drive to it," he says. "That was a lot of fun, because this was a hot car over there." He also recalled a special trip the car made while stationed at Alconbury. "We took an airplane from England to Scotland for an air show, and took the Mustang along to park it in front of the plane. Its hood was up, and because that size engine is very uncommon in the U.K., I think there were more people looking at the car than at the plane," he chuckles.

In 1995, Unit One was transferred to the English RAF-Fairford Station before further traveling to serve at Istres Air Force Base in France, and the Aviano and Sigonella Air Force Bases in Italy. Bruce also drove the LX 5.0L at Istres, and during the Bosnian war both he and the car were stationed at Aviano. He noted that the constant hard run-ins that the Mustang endured meant it chewed through tires in 10,000-15,000 miles, and that the chase cars were basically knackered after 30,000-40,000 miles. Mobile One was taken out of service in 1999, and was sold to an American serviceman who brought the car back to the United States. The Mustang was restored to its original appearance by subsequent owner Charles Ricks; after he purchased it from Ricks in 2003, Keith located the missing light bar switches and wiring, microphone and radio antenna, and had facsimile RAF license plates and door decals made to complete the look.

With all the excitement over the 2005 Mustang, it's high time we took one of the now-legendary 5.0L models for a spin. The LX coupe was the lightest, stiffest bodystyle: Its lack of frills plus the optional 3.27 gearing means this is one of the quickest, tightest 5.0L Mustangs you can get, period. Only going crazy and slapping a set of 3.73 gears in the 8.8-inch rear axle will get you there quicker.

The full-framed door, as you pull it open, seems extraordinarily large-almost disproportionately so-for the body. It certainly makes ingress and egress easier, and as a bonus, it doesn't weigh much at all. Don't bother with the faux-aero door mirrors-they're teeny and pointless. Pity the tin-tops didn't have the properly sized, pedestal-mounted mirrors that the convertibles got. Inside, it's a bit of a shock to sit on all-vinyl seats-most Mustangs of the era were equipped with cloth chairs-and while their stripper nature is appealing, cloth might have been a better option for long hauls. The contours feel the same-comfortable, not aggressively bolstered-but you'll get sticky on a hot day behind the wheel. Of course, this was a purpose-built military car, so long hauls and cloth seats weren't an option.

How unusual to see a radio that doesn't have a tape deck in this day and age! How odd to see crank windows when so many were equipped with power winders! We can't recall seeing a 5.0L without power locks either; the blank squib of black plastic on the driver's door handle really seems alien in this environment. Such is the brusque manner that the Special Service Package brings to the table: it really is all business. The cheapish plastics used throughout the cabin-shape, color, and action suggest assembling bits of Lego-suddenly seem to make a little more sense in this context. Maximum durability, minimum comfort was the SSP's stock in trade.

Twist the key; the little 302 shivers to life with no stomping on the gas needed thanks to the fuel injection, and it settles in at a burbly 900-rpm idle. Idle quality is as docile as can be, although the exhaust is having quite a party beneath us, all rumbly and agitated. Keith verified that the restrictive stock Ford silencers had previously been exchanged for a blatty set of Flowmasters-this was the car's only deviation from stock.

Slide the AOD transmission into D, and ease on the throttle. Or, just stomp on it, and get a reminder of what it was that everyone went crazy over. In a modern context, a stock, tuned 5.0L has been surpassed in performance, but considering the doldrums of 20 years ago, the fuel-injected 5.0L Mustang was a revolution shaped like the box it was shipped in.

What surprised us more was the steering. The wheel, a two-spoker from the days before compulsory airbags, is deceptively fat at hand and feels good to squeeze. Turn-in is immediate, though feel is still lacking slightly. The downside to the equation is the ride-crashy, even at moderate speeds, around town. Whether the blame can be attributed to the SSP suspension or we've just gotten old and fat remains unanswered, but we don't remember civilian-issue LX or GT models being this unforgiving. Things may smooth out on the interstates, but for brief A-to-B jaunts, you'll wish you brought protection for your tender bits. Then again, some would rightly argue that if these are serious deterrents from owning such a car, you're not the right person to own it anyway.

Nineteen SSP Mustang LX 5.0L coupes were built for U.S. Air Force use between 1986 and 1991; this was a mere fraction of a fraction of the 273,792 notchbacks (1,031,475 total Mustang production) built during that period. According to Jim Dingell Jr., historian of the Mustang Special Service Registry, marked and unmarked SSP Mustang LX 5.0Ls were used by more than 60 federal, state, provincial and local agencies during their 1982-1993 run, and approximately 15,000 units were built. Ford's perennial pony car has played an important role on the boulevard and even the runway, both as the chaser and the chased, giving it a resume that few American performance cars can match.


Owner's View
"I have been a citizen volunteer for the Concord (California) Police Department's Neighborhood Patrol Division for the past seven years, as well as a member of the Diablo Valley Mustang Club-I own a 1996 Saleen convertible-and I wanted a car that involved both interests. I have always been interested in Police Package vehicles, and going with an SSP Mustang seemed an obvious choice over grocery-getter Crown Victorias and Impalas. I found this USAF Mustang on the sspmustang.org website; two weeks later, after a six-hour round-trip, the car was mine. What sealed the deal was that this car was almost completely restored, had great documentation, was one of only 19 used by the USAF, and could be legally driven sporting an amber light bar; in California, it is typically illegal to have red and blue emergency lights, as well as a black and white paint scheme, on privately owned vehicles. I have noticed only one problem: The car attracts too much attention from the public who, at times, refuse to pass me up as I'm waiting to get by slower traffic! A word of advice... buy one that's been restored, as vintage police equipment is becoming harder to find."
-Keith Suzuki


+ How many 1988 Mustangs are this steeped in international espionage?
+ Strong 5.0-Liter V-8 performance and cheap parts
+ Police car appearance inspires lane discipline

- Under the flashing lights, it's a stripper of taxicab proportions
- Utilitarian vinyl interior looks and feels low-rent
- Light bar means subtle speed is out the window


Club Scene

Mustang Special Service Registry: Emergency Vehicle Owners & Operators Association
Online registry features historical information and literature

Special Service Mustang Owners Association
Dues: $25 one-time fee; Membership: 45

Mustang Club of America
Dues: $30/year; Membership: 9,000



Year: 1988
Make: Ford
Model: Mustang LX 5.0L Special Service Package
Redline: 5,900 rpm


Base price: $8,726
Options on car profiled
Special Service Package
Automatic transmission
3.27:1 axle ratio
Air conditioning
AM/FM stereo

Type: OHV V-8, cast-iron block and heads
Displacement: 302 cubic inches
Bore x Stroke: 4.00 x 3.00
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 225 @ 4,200
Torque @ rpm: 300-lbs.ft @ 3,000
Valvetrain: Hydraulic valve lifters, roller cam and tappets
Main bearings: 5
Fuel system: Sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection
Lubrication system: Pressure
Electrical system: 12-volt
Exhaust system: Dual, Flowmaster mufflers

Type: Ford AOD three-speed automatic with overdrive
Ratios 1st: 2.40:1
2nd: 1.47:1
3rd: 1.00:1
4th: 0.67:1
Reverse: 2.00:1

Type: Hypoid 8.8-inch, Traction-Lok limited-slip
Ratio: 3.27:1

Type: Rack and pinion, power assist
Ratio: 15.97:1
Turns, lock-to-lock: 3.1
Turning circle: 37.1 feet

Type: Hydraulic, front disc/rear drum with power assist
Front: 10.84-inch rotors
Rear: 9-inch drums

Chassis & Body
Construction: Steel unibody with isolated front sub-frame
Body style: 2-door, 4-passenger coupe
Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive

Front: Independent, modified MacPherson struts, lower A-arms, coil springs
Rear: Live axle, four-bar links, coil springs, Quad-Shocks with two horizontal and two vertical tubular shocks, anti-tramp bars

Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Cast aluminum
Front: 15 x 7 inches
Rear: 15 x 7 inches
Tires: Dunlop SP Sport 5000
Front: 225/60ZR15
Rear: 225/60ZR15

Weights & Measures
Wheelbase: 100.5 inches
Overall length: 179.6 inches
Overall width: 69.1 inches
Overall height: 52.1 inches
Front track: 56.6 inches
Rear track: 57.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,037 pounds

Crankcase: 5 quarts
Cooling system: 14.2 quarts
Fuel tank: 15.4 gallons
Transmission: 22 pints, including torque converter
Rear axle: 4.75 pints

Calculated Data
Bhp per c.i.d.: 0.75
Weight per bhp: 13.50 pounds
Weight per c.i.d.: 10.06 pounds

0-60 mph: 6.2 seconds
0-80 mph: 10.7 seconds
1/4-mile ET: 14.8 @ 96.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph: 145 feet
Lateral acceleration: 0.88G

*Performance figures for a 5-speed manual 1990 Mustang LX 5.0L, courtesy of Motor Trend magazine, July 1990.


* Radio Flyer 1.jpg (21.99 KB, 500x269 - viewed 325 times.)

* Radio Flyer 2.jpg (20.45 KB, 500x312 - viewed 333 times.)

* Radio Flyer 3.jpg (36.92 KB, 500x420 - viewed 312 times.)

PS. You don't have enough cam. Grin

...Summit has a kit for $99.... Shocked
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