By: MARK VAUGHN on January 22, 2007
Original Article: AUTOWEEK, VOL. 57 ISSUE 4
Parnelli just wanted a paint job for his ’70 ‘Stang, instead he got 500 new ones with his name on the side
You could count the American racers with the credentials of Parnelli Jones on one hand (assuming no band saw accidents): Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Carroll Shelby. They are an elite bunch, with championships in diverse arenas as well as enough engineering smarts to start their own car companies, which a couple of them did.
It’s not necessary to review Jones’ accomplishments, but just in case you were born in the video-game age, here we go: He won the Indy 500 in 1963 in a car called “Old Calhoun” and almost won it again in 1967 in that whooshing-cool turbine car; won the Trans-Am championship back in 1970 when it was a bigger deal than NASCAR, by only a single point over the formidable Mark Donohue; won the Baja 1000 twice in that wild “Big Oly” Bronco with the huge wing on top; and took a class win at Pikes Peak in 1963 driving a Mercury stock car. That’s in addition to numerous sprint car titles, USAC championships and a career begun as a jalopy driver on the dirt tracks of Southern California.
He was even more successful as a team owner with business partner Vel Miletich, winning 53 Indy car races and the Indy 500 twice with Al Unser driving. He ran his own Formula One team from 1974 to 1976.
His business sense, with that of Miletich, meant most of Southern California at one point drove around on the Firestone tires he sold. (“Get Your ‘Stones From Parnelli Jones,” the bumper stickers said.)
So last year, when Jones inquired at Saleen about getting his personal 1970 Mustang repainted, it wasn’t like just your average 5.0 reader had wandered into Saleen Inc.
Steve Saleen, meanwhile, is no slouch, with a long racing resume of his own that includes nine championships and an even longer carbuilding CV, first as a “tuner” (a word Saleen now abhors), then as an increasingly bigger manufacturer of everything from S281 Saleen Mustangs to Ford GTs and the all-conquering street-blaster twin-turbo S7.
So when these two automotive forces came together, they almost had to produce more than just paint.
“At first I just wanted a paint job,” said Jones. “Then we got to talking.”
Long story short, since we only have two pages, they made the Mustang you see here, a car inspired by Jones’ Trans-Am championship-winning Boss 302 of 1970.
“The whole purpose is really a tribute to Parnelli,” Saleen said. “We tried to capture all the things that were memorable in that period of time.”
Those memorable things come in cues both subtle and obvious from front to rear on the car, including, Saleen said, “…the stylized headlights with that ’70s slant, the chrome detail that was so popular at the time, the sports slats on the rear glass, the wing, and the big number 15 on the side.”
The cosmetics are just the beginning.
“To be authentic, it had to have an honest-to-goodness 302 motor.”
That motor starts as a 4.6-liter modular three-valve sohc V8. Saleen strokes and bores it to 5.0 liters, adds 24 pounds/hour injectors, ported aluminum heads, performance camshafts and dual exhausts. The engine management is recalibrated to make the most of those improvements, and then the stock internal parts are replaced with forged-aluminum pistons, forged-steel con rods and a forged-steel crank so the whole thing doesn’t blow up.
“That’s an honest blueprinted engine with 400 hp and 390 lb-ft,” Jones added.
The transmission is a five-speed manual with a short-throw shifter routed to an 8.8-inch differential with a 3.73 final drive.
To get all the power to the ground and be able to drive around a corner with it, the Saleen crew went to work on the suspension. The heart of the setup is the Watts linkage in the rear, which replaces the Panhard rod found in the stock ‘Stang.
“A Panhard rod works well for NASCAR where you’re always going left, but it’s not real good for going over bumps and transitioning,” said Bill Tally, vp of engineering at Saleen.
While the Parnelli/Saleen rear is still built around a solid-beam axle (an IRS would have been too complicated and expensive), it is kept on the ground by two cleverly placed Watts links on each side, swiveling from outboard body mounts directly onto the back plate of the diff.
It allowed a stiffer rear antiroll bar and a generally stiffer setup without any great compromise to ride quality.
The rest of the setup includes RaceCraft Suspension pieces like stiffer springs, shocks and bushings front and rear, none of which is shared with any other Saleen Mustang.
We drove a short route with Jones himself over the twisting hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula where he lives.
The car is smoothly improved over the stock ‘Stang in every department. You feel the extra power and torque, naturally, but you also get much better steering feel and quicker cornering. The whole thing works together well; it’s not like a crude aftermarket setup with a monster blower and no brakes.
“I call the car ‘happy,'” said Jones. “It’s a lot of fun to drive, it’s a real balanced car, exceptionally balanced.”
Your checkbook better be exceptionally balanced if you want to buy one, though, since the price is $59,015. There will be only 500 made, and more than half of those are already ordered. If you want one, you’d better log onto www.saleen.com pronto.
Or maybe there’s no rush. Saleen points out that Jones’ teammate on that 1970 Trans-Am team was George Follmer, who drove an almost identical Boss 302 Mustang and has indicated he is not averse to a commemorative Mustang of his own. So you never know.
SALEEN/PARNELLI JONES LIMITED EDITION MUSTANG
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $59,015 (plus $1,300 gas-guzzler tax and $1,550 transportation)
DRIVETRAIN: 5.0-liter, 400-hp, 390-lb-ft V8; rwd, five-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3550 pounds
FUEL MILEAGE: n/a
0 to 60 MPH: 4.5 seconds (est.)