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The Five-O’s 5.0: 1991 Ford Mustang SSP Police Car Rewind Review

The Five-O’s 5.0: 1991 Ford Mustang SSP Police Car Rewind Review

In the annals of Fox Body Mustang history, the SSP police models—that’s for Special Service Package—certainly stood out as notable when new but now, some three decades later, they’re positively legendary. They’ve taken on mythical status, with whispers of how they’d been modified from the factory with performance engines and gearboxes with specific calibrations, but this was often not the case. And while the rumor mill also said each were hand-built by a skunkworks team in Ford’s plant, this is also untrue. In reality, these were built alongside all other Fox Body Mustangs on the exact same assembly line, with the vast majority having the same components as the street-spec, regular cars normal folks plucked from showroom floors.

As one of the quickest cars on the road, these SSP Mustangs ably served on the fast-moving and expansive highway system of America. These might be pressed into duty year round in warmer states such as Florida, whose police departments ordered the second largest portion of total SSP production behind California.

It’s true that most SSPs did receive silicone hoses and an engine oil cooler, but there were no true performance enhancements as we all once believed. (As an aside, contemporary Mustang owners might remember leafing through the printed Ford Motorsport catalog and ordering the aforementioned silicone hose kit, as well as the 140+mph certified-calibrated cop speedometer.) There’s a decent handle on the most states that ordered the most SSP Mustangs—California and Florida—thanks to forums and enthusiasts making best-guess extrapolations, but no one is exactly sure how many were made in total, nor how many of those were distributed to where, as Ford never kept exact documentation. So the true production is truly anyone’s guess.

The original roof numbers are still present; while slightly cracked and faded, the vinyl has stood the test of time.

But let’s talk about the specific car you see here. This is a 1991 SSP Mustang LX assigned to the Florida Highway Patrol in late 1991. It was given roof number 1125 and served actively; without GPS monitoring and the like, it’s unclear if it served in multiple locales or just a few, but the car was decommissioned and sold in late 1996 at a state-run auction among hundreds of other government-owned cars. It was purchased by an independent dealership for less than $5,000 with only 78,000 miles on the clock. Usually, the fleet managers normally remove or paint over unit numbers and police graphics, but must have taken the day off—this car is intact right down to the reflective “STATE TROOPER” decals on the front fenders. An amazing and all original purchase, the first owner proceeded to drive it for several years, adding about 30,000 miles before relegating it to occasional car-show while storing it for nearly 20 years. It was put back on the road with a light mechanical restoration and is now in the hands of this author.

JetSonic was a light-bar provider at the time, and its JS1 unit used chain-driven reflectors that would throw the super-bright halogen-fed light in all directions. The outer lenses are actually clear; removable filters allowed jurisdictions to customize the colors. Florida chose to use blue filters all around.

As you approach, you’re greeted by the familiar profile of the Fox Body’s tall greenhouse and skinny A-pillars. Without a factory rear defroster, this notchback coupe’s angular roofline is emphasized even more by the expanse of clear, unblemished glass overlooking a tan parcel shelf. Once inside, it’s like any airbag-equipped 1991 LX Coupe, with great visibility but where the unsupportive LX sets and tight quarters make getting comfortable a bit of a chore for anyone who’s enjoyed a decent meal or five in their day. Only one key is used for both door and ignition duties, which is unique, but everything else remains familiar—excepting the CB radio, siren controls, and police-specific dash switches, of course.

The stock 5.0 cranks over quickly and makes all the right noises, down to the buzzy air pump and slight rumble from the factory stainless-steel tailpipes. It’s a pleasure to drive this stock 5.0 and to row the relatively smooth-shifting factory T5 transmission factory through all five gears. The Fox Body’s well-known lack of torsional stiffness is present and accounted for, but being as the LX notchback was the lightest of all Fox Body trims, acceleration is crisp enough, especially considering the car’s age.

Still, this car was fitted with factory 3.08 gears and 215/65-15 tires; the combo seems to have muted performance a bit, as the rubber is a smidge taller overall versus the more common 225/60-15s. The 215/65s are believed to be an FHP-spec tire, selected perhaps to provide a little extra cushion for curb jumping as well as additional clearance over dry Florida grass while parked. Body control and steering are sporty for the era, but vague against modern standard. Still, who cares? This SSP is a time warp to the raddest era, and it’s easy to imagine the awe a state trooper experienced when they first banged through the gears of one of the quickest cars of 1991.

SSP Mustangs are often seen with black steel wheels but later models like this 1991 received the regular silver machine-finish aluminum pieces at the factory. Most police cars of the time stuck with steelies, but we can only presume the 10-hole 15×7 aluminum wheel proved both strong and affordable enough to leave on the SSP spec sheet.

As you might expect, lights and sirens vary among SSPs due to the post-factory fitment of each department’s preferred equipment. Most cars received a mix of new and used pieces; JetSonic’s JS1 chain-driven lightbars—as seen here—were popular, and were activated via a simple JSS single-action switch. (Some departments, such as the Michigan State Police, spec’d no roof lights.) The siren was mounted on the roof as well, and strobe lights were also often added to the rear decklid. This car has the correct JS1 lightbar and MPH K-Band radar system, but its other lighting and gear (or lack thereof) are probably incorrect versus what it ran in-period, but I can live with that.

Owning this SSP is not like owning any other Fox Mustang—it’s more like owning a cop car that happens to be a Fox Mustang. Most folks are clueless as to why such a small car would say “STATE TROOPER” on it, much less why an average Joe in a sweatshirt and jeans is driving what appears to be a full-on active law-enforcement vehicle. Since acquiring the car, I’ve made custom magnetic covers for the decals, but the spotlight and light bar are still an odd sight even when covered, and they cause everyone slow to the speed limit—or below. I always see full and complete stops at intersections, and turn signals are used everywhere. I get it, but I’m just trying to get to a car show!

When Fox production ended, so did FHP’s orders of America’s most iconic pony car. There were no subsequent orders when the SN95 chassis debuted and Ford concentrated heavily on its Panther-platform police business, supplying nearly every law-enforcement agency in the land with Crown Victoria sedans. While the SSP Mustangs are becoming a distant memory, there are many enthusiasts keeping the passion alive for this interesting part of the Fox Body story.

SSP Mustang Expert Jim Dingall

Much discussion has occurred over the years as to what made these cars special, but not much has been set in stone, so we asked a subject-matter expert, Jim Dingell of Performance Parts, Inc., also known in Fox Body and SSP circles as PPI.

Jim Dingell has positioned PPI as the go-to shop for SSP Mustang replacement parts. It started with a trip in 1984 to see a friend in Dearborn, Michigan, where he visited the plant. “I went to the factory, which back then, you could walk right in and follow each car as they went from each work station to the next. While there, I saw many 1985 prototypes running around and in the back corner, I saw a 1985 SSP Florida Highway Patrol Mustang sitting there, painted in the black and tan paint scheme. It had the specific steel black wheels, a manual transmission, and a tan interior. At that very moment, I fell in love with the car and over the years had made friends at Ford. Soon enough, I was visiting regularly to see each new model year, and I watched the SSPs in particular.”

Excited by the annual progression in performance and styling during the Fox’s four-headlamp generation, he continued to follow the model into the aero era. “Many of these [SSP] cars were not special editions as we know them, such as the ASC McLarens or Saleens of the day. Instead, these were simply an option-code variant with minor modifications to enhance cooling and electrical loads that police cars at the time needed. The FHP cars were usually painted all tan and then masked off around the trunk and roof, and the black paint was then applied. A simple vinyl tape stripe was then applied over the line where the colors met along the rear quarter panels. Quite a simple solution but remember, this was just an assembly-line variant [not something requiring utmost care].”

As the only early specialist in SSP parts, Dingell has seen his business transition to servicing the restoration of these cars. No matter the model, interest the restoring Fox-Body Mustangs is on the rise. As he elaborates, “In 1993, I had the opportunity to buy all of the remaining SSP parts from Ford like the oil coolers, wheels, decals, etc. That’s how we served that niche, and we continued on to the SVOs, Cobras, Cobra R, and Shelby models. Today, SSP component supply is quite scarce, with NOS parts commanding most of money; true collectors see the value in a proper restoration.” When we asked him about the future of the SSP Mustangs, “It’s hard to say where these cars will land as far as being more or less valuable than a similar LX coupe, but values for all Foxes continue to rise. I believe only 25 to 35 percent of the SSPs in particular are still roadworthy, as most were turned into race cars [because of the lightweight notchback LX base] or just fell apart from neglect.”

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