1983 Florida Highway Patrol SSP Mustang

Beginning of a tradition for the FHP!

 

Text and photos by Mike Riley

Owner: Mike Riley

    The Florida Highway Patrol was second only to California in the use of SSP Mustangs. Florida first put them into use in 1983, ordering the L series 4 speed 5.0 equipped car. The Mustang was really starting to take off in 1983; a 4 bbl Holley 4180 600 cfm carb atop a dual plane aluminum intake, coupled with dual snorkel cold air intake, bumped ratings to 175HP/245TQ, up from the previous year's 2 bbl HO powerplant. Exhaust was restrictive, with a Cast iron manifold/Y pipe setup(headers and true duals wouldn't appear on 5.0 cars until 1986). Although the 7.5 inch rear would continue for several more years, it was a Traction-Lok equipped unit, and when matched up to the 4 speed OD gearbox and 3.08 axle, it was a fairly potent combination...Remember, the 1982 Corvette (there was no 1983 model produced) only kicked out 200HP, and that with an automatic only and a heavier car! Top speed was somewhere around 125MPH, with 1/4 mile times in the 15 second range. All '83 HO cars came with power rack and pinion and power brakes, The early 80's marked a turnaround point in muscle, as cars equipped with fuel injection and other technical advances continued to make performance a reality again.

    The large size of the state, accompanied with the FHP patrolling large rural areas and highways reaching almost 80,000 square miles, made the Mustang a perfect replacement for some of the sedans being used at the time. The 1983 FHP Mustangs were unique in that they used a single blue 'bubble' light as opposed to the Jetsonic lightbar seen on all later models. The agency phased in more and more Mustangs peaking in the late 80's/early 90's before the SSP program was phased out by Ford.

    This car was purchased by me in December, 2001. It had been hit pretty hard in the front as the photos will indicate. I bought it from the fourth owner, who bought the car intending to restore it. The third owner had wrecked it pretty severely in front, taking out most of the sheet metal and engine (which was not original anyway). Fortunately, the fellow I bought it from knew how desirable this car was to restore (being a restorer himself). Tom had the presence of mind to store in under cover so the body is in remarkably rust free shape. Realizing this was going to be a bit more than he wanted to tackle, he posted an ad for it in one of the newsgroups, and I found out about the car. I happened to be about an hour south from where it was located in Citrus County, Florida, so I went up and took a look at it. After deciding that my new patron saint would become St. Jude, I purchased the car for $500, hitched it up to my Jeep and away I went. I got more than a couple of curious looks from other motorists on the way home wondering 'what the hell would someone want that heap for'..

    Tom had saved quite a few of the key parts, such as a fully restored steering column, rare dash cluster with 140 MPH certified speedo, restored clutch pedal assembly, and the all important bucktags. The dash had gotten broken in the front end collision, but the drivers fender was OK; front windshield was cracked, and all other front end stuff was gone. The 5.0 motor and tranny had been pulled by someone to use in another project, but I am working on locating those. The interior was original and in great shape considering the cars age and treatment, all dash panels and seats were good with no holes, and the headliner was excellent as well. The rear and front dash pads were missing but that's not too bad, and even the original map light was intact! Carpet also was in decent shape, but it will be replaced with something fresh.

    The dark brown plaid interior for this car is definitely an early 80's thing...FHP made a couple of transitions over the years with interior colors, starting with brown plaid, then moving on to tan 85-89, then finally to gray in 90-93.

    This particular unit had a relatively short service life, being used for less than 3 years. It was retired and sold in 1986 a complete car at state auction. It may have been painted the brown metallic color when it was sold by the state, since they had a practice of painting the cars before selling them at the time. It was driven for several years and encountered the front end damage that you see here. The vehicle will be undergoing a full restoration, as time and, of course, money allows.

Stay tuned!

--Mike

First Pics: December 2001:

Click on an image for a larger view:

Rear view of car. Front view, you can see the extensive damage.. Another view of the front, left side..this sustained most of the damage.

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Nice original interior, Walnut, trim code BE.

VC label, note 4 digit DSO on right.

140 Certified speedometer with buck tags.

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Update: July 10, 2002:

     Well, I've finally gotten sick of looking at this car in the warehouse...so instead of doing the logical thing like throwing a tarp over it :-) I decided to begin the restoration effort in earnest, starting with removing the entire interior, which was in remarkably good shape. I procured an '83 coupe parts vehicle for the front frame rail and sheet metal and removed everything needed. The car and pieces then went to the media blaster to have the hideous metallic brown paint removed (an '83 factory color BTW-awful!).

     Once stripped, the body was in remarkably good shape. One small dent in the drivers door, and a dent in the hood. It's amazing what the media blasting process does...it lets you take the car right down to factory primer without removing it and gives you bare metal if desired. The entire body as well as inside trunk, door jambs, both sides of fenders, hood, and decklid were stripped. It was interesting on this car because the original roof mounting holes for the revolving blue roof light were uncovered, along with the original wiring once the interior was stripped out (Florida didn't go to the Jetsonic lightbar until 1984). Also, the dual rear antenna holes were uncovered next to the decklid hinges. What was interesting was I did not find a spotlight hole in the usual location. While the car is in the body shop, all interior pieces have been resprayed and any cleaning of pieces done. For any of you restoring a car, a digital camera is a huge help, I took a lot of pics of brackets, wiring, etc before disassembling anything...It's a lot easier taking the stuff out than putting it back in!

     I hope to have the car back and complete as a rolling shell within a month, painted with a fresh interior. Then the driveline stuff next, starting with the rear rebuild, then the motor and 4 speed tranny. It will be a lot of work, but I hope it's worth it the end. Of course, maybe next time I'll be smart enough not to tackle this in the middle of a Florida summer.

     Stay tuned!

     --Mike

Trunk contains some items which may be used including a couple of the original hubcaps, tire cover. Taillights were in decent shape.

Getting ready for strip act..start by removing everything from the interior!

Interior-bare to the bone! This was a lot of fun in the Florida summer!

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Here's something you have to on any resto like this...Take photos of all brackets BEFORE you remove them! It saves a lot of time(and swearing) later. I also had all the small items like the bracket blasted as well.

Blasted and back from the shop. Body in pretty good shape once uncovered, no real rust and some minor damage other than the front.

Freshly blasted and ready for some body work! I had to get primer on this bare metal fast to keep it from forming rust in the FL summer humidity!

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Update: August 8, 2002:

     Making progress--finally! The frame has been cut off the old car and welded on to the '83. Looks good but the welds need to be cleaned up and the paint cut-in. I junked the parts car after removing most everything worthwhile. Once the paint is cut-in, the front end can be rehung and the rest of the car painted. I'm not in a rush at this point, which is good, since any who's ever dealt with body shops knows that have their own schedule. It will probably take 3-4 months to get the car back after the works done and the paint is applied...

More to come!

--Mike

Front end welded in place. This was no small job. Donor car was another '83.

Side view after lots of labor!

Front end smoothed and sanded.

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Passenger side view.

Roof smoothed. You see the mounting hole for the FS rotator. There were 2 small holes also on either side.

Front fender from other '83..Looks a little better than above!

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Trunk was rust free and solid! Body primed and ready for paint!

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Update: December 2, 2002:

     Alright! Well, it took about a year, but I once again have a 'complete' car...at least on the outside. It was a long wait but at least I can finish the most of the work myself now...the kind of body work needed was a little too much out of my realm. The paint was difficult to match, since the FHP cream is not a stock color. We were able to get a nice match based using DuPont Chromabase #4491 K, alt 1; a 1964 Ford color of Phoenician Yellow, code 1633, makes a very nice match! The cream was painted first, with the black over it. Trunk and inside are black. Later FHP cars did the opposite.

    I cleaned the old window tint off, which was quite a job, but it made the glass look much better. It's amazing what effect something simple like that can have on the appearance of a car.

    Next step will be to get the interior put back in with the dash, add the trim, and finish any cosmetics.

Getting there!

--Mike

Drivers side.

Front view.

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Inside the '83.

Rear view with trunk cut in.

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Update: August 3, 2003:

    What's that saying about 'patience is a virtue'? The car is coming together; finally got the correct right 14" wheels. The tires look a little better than the raised white letter deals that came off. Managed to find a set of the correct 'dog dish' wheel covers, and although they're far from perfect, at least I have 4 for now.

    I just kind of test fit some of the interior pieces including the dash...I am going to put a new heater core in before I put the dash back in permanently....I got concerned about remembering where everything would go after all this time! A new windshield was installed, a sorely needed improvement, and it makes the car look 100% better. Also, I've got a genuine FHP surplus Federal Signal beacon for the roof. 1983 was the only year they used these on the Mustang, and if figures...I mean this thing is HUGE! I think on a foggy night it could double as a lighthouse if I parked close enough to the water. I would have preferred a Jetsonic, but it's the correct one for this car, so on it goes. If you want to see what these looked like on some other FHP cars, including a TransAm, click here:

    I hope to get the outside of the car done within the next couple of months, including all emblems, weatherstrip, have the trim repolished, get new side moldings and have those sprayed. Next, the interior will get finished, steering wheel reinstalled, and dash permanently mounted, new carpet. After that, it will be time to tackle the drive train starting from the rear, which would include a fresh 3.08 posi, shocks, brakes, and onto the front steering, struts and springs. I'll save the best for last, i.e. the motor and tranny, since I hope to find a donor car with a 5.0 installed. This will make moving all brackets, wiring, etc a lot easier..

    I'd love to have this done for Nashville 2004, but we'll see..!

Keeping busy!

--Mike

Side view. Note the correct rims and 'dog dish' hubcaps for '83. These are just regular rims, unlike the specific Police rims used later.

Moldings still need to be installed, along with rear antenna and spotlight. I don't think this car actually had a spotlight, but it just wouldn't look right without it!

From the rear..check out the size of the beacon! I've got it placed temporarily on top.

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Here's the Fed Sig beacon, which still has the original state property tag affixed. FHP used these on everything, including the Mustang. Brand new spare rim, correct size and type with stickers, needs a full size tire, but it was a find for $6. Interior shot, pieces mounted only for fit at this point.
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Update: December 2, 2004:

     Alright! Well, it took about a year, but I once again have a 'complete' car...at least on the outside. It was a long wait but at least I can

Interior is back together, but still needs work-and a drivetrain!   Nice side view, still need to letter the fender and decklid.   Check out the Beacon in full swing-who needs strobes?!
   

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