The 2021 SSP Mustang Reunion at Ponies In The Smokies

Special Service Package Mustangs, more commonly known by the abbreviation “SSP,” were Ford Mustangs ordered for some form or fashion of police or government service. The cars were cheaper, lighter, faster and better handling that most sedans of the era, making them very attractive alternatives to most agencies. In all , over 15,000 SSP Mustangs were ordered between 1982 and 1993. Most of which were returned to stock form after their service, often times, made into race cars. However there were a few lucky ones that either remained intact or have been restored to “in service” condition.

Photo Credit:(Stephanie Phillippi)

Way back in 2018 after a few “in service” SSP Mustangs showed up at the annual Tennessee Mustang show, Ponies In The Smokies (PITS for short), the event promoters decided some sort of special display was needed in the future to highlight the special Mustangs. Most of the PITS crew had attended the 50th Mustang Anniversary in Charlotte some years prior and remember the large display of SSP Mustangs there and wanted to create something similar. From there the idea was born and it soon became known simply as “The SSP Reunion.” A teaser display was planned and executed in 2019 followed by the reunion in 2020. However, the global pandemic Covid-19 had other plans and forced the cancellation of the entire 2020 event, leaving the PITS crew to postpone the reunion until the 2021 edition of Ponies In The Smokies.

From stock appearing to raced, four eyed to aero nose, there was an SSP of all shapes and sizes at the event. The idea of the display was to show the important and different rolls these cars played in the overall popularity of the Fox-body. If you grew up in the era, you probably wanted a "Highway Patrol Mustang" in hopes of experiencing their legendary speed and handling capabilities yourself. Or maybe you first met one lights on in your rear view mirror? Either way, these cars have been collected and sought after since the minute they retired from service.

In the end, 28 SSP Mustangs and one 1985 LTD Florida Highway Patrol Car (while not officially an SSP Mustang, the LTD’s shared the same “Fox” chassis as the SSP’s) showed up for the event. Creating the largest number of SSP’s in one place since the previously mentioned 50th anniversary show! The display was one of the highlights of the event for spectators and participants alike all weekend. The awards ceremony on Saturday was kicked off by an SSP Lights display. The convention center overhead lights were dimmed as “Bad Boys” played over the dj’s speakers. Dozens of lights and sirens went off to the delight of the crowd.

Awards were given out to the top five SSP cars in the show. Coming in 5th was Chris Nelson's 1985 Kentucky State Police Car. 4th was Mike & Susan Weaver's 1992 North Carolina Highway Patrol Car.

Coming in on the more modified side of the spectrum, Ben O' Brien's 1989 Georiga State Patrol Car. Ben's highly modified wide body Mustang caught the attention of Gateway Classic Mustang and took home their vendor's choice award.

3rd place went to arguably he most significant Mustang in the display, the one that started it all. Robert McGowen's 1982 California Highway Patrol Prototype. Successful testing of this car by the CHP lead to them ordering 406 more identical Mustangs in 1982 and the rest is history! After initial testing, this car remained at the CHP Training Acadamy where it trained future patrolmen in the Emergency Vehicle Operators Course, better known simply as EVOC Training.

The 2nd place SSP Mustang belongs to Bobby Edwards, a well known name in the SSP having owned and/or played a hand in restoring multiple SSP Cars. This particular 1988, nick named "Mojo Rising" had a very unique history and is one of the most documented of all the Georgia State Patrol cars and the lowest mileage car in existence. The car was a member of the "Aggressive Criminal Enforcement" unit and earned 17 Lighting Bolts on the door which were given for DUI's, recovered stolen vehicles and various other felony stops.

The 1st place award went to what was certainly the most unique of all the SSP Mustangs in attendance. Jonathon Powell's "U2 Chase Car" was ordered by the US Air Force to help assist in the landing of the famous U2 Spy Plane. The chase cars, usually driven by other U2 pilots , would race down the runway at speeds of over 100 miles per hour to provide on ground visual assistance to the pilots in the planes due to its visibility issues among other things that made it very difficult to land.

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About the author

Jeff Southard

Growing up with a dad who loved Corvettes, I was destined to be a gearhead from day one. Beyond that, my dad owned an auto parts business for over 25 years. There, I learned the automotive basics as a child, then began my professional career working there after high school. From Corvettes and Superbirds to Hemis and Cobra Jets, my dad has owned a little of everything over the years, so I've had my chance to get some quality seat time behind the wheel of some rare, unique, and sometimes, just odd automobiles. I have owned my share of toys, including over 20 Mustangs. I guess to make a long story short, if you look up "car crazy" you will probably find my photo listed pretty close to it!
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