Back in the 80’s Carrol Shelby was working for Chrysler when Ford introduced the all-new Mustang. Steve Saleen stepped up and built his Saleen Mustang to fill the performance void.
When people talk about the most powerful Mustangs of all time, the Shelby versions come straight to mind. People forget that there was a time that Shelby licensed his name to Chrysler. They badged trucks and awful cars with the Shelby name in the 80’s.
When Ford reintroduced the Mustang in the 80’s, Steve Saleen started his company modifying and upgrading the new cars. Out of his Southern California shop helped bring back the muscle car from the ashes. The lightweight platform of the Mustang and its 5.0L engine was ripe for modification.
After seeing what Saleen was able to do, the executives at Ford made a trip to Corona California and a great partnership was formed. Some forget supercharging street cars was not very common at the time. Saleen started supercharging the 5.0L engines and laid the groundwork for what we see today. (Editor note: Saleen approached Ford Motor Company / Ford Motorsport for approval of the “Saleen Mustang” package before production began. The facility in Corona CA opened for the 2010 model year.)
As a southern California kid, I saw the growth of Saleen Mustang firsthand. He did not just build cars for dealerships, you could take yours to him and he would transform it to your specifications. He would take the 5.0L LX, not GT, Mustangs and turn them into beasts of the time. His road racing history helped him develop a road-friendly monster of the time. He developed his own supercharged 351 that powered his cars for years. (Editor note: Most of the serialized Saleen Mustangs from 1984-2009 were vehicles supplied through dealer inventory, pool vehicles or dropped ship units from the factory.)
It is easy to forget, the 80’s were not a great time for cars. We had come out of the fuel crisis age and there were land yachts and fuel savers. It was a hard time to be a car guy. The Saleen Mustang reminded us that cars could be fun. His cars were not sleepers, his name was in bright white letters on the windshield and graphics on the bottom of the doors. You knew it was a Saleen from a long way away.
Saleen kept on building Mustangs for Ford from the fox body era to through the early 2000’s. His impressive resume was written in three generations of the Mustang. He continues to build Mustangs long after his partnership with Ford ended.
Once Shelby returned to Ford, it was not long before Saleen was pushed out the door. He continued to build his cars, but they were not sold out of dealerships anymore. Without the factory support, Saleen Mustangs became a niche product. He expanded his aftermarket lines and even developed a supercar of his own, but has not found the popularity he had in the 90’s. (Editor note: Saleen vehicle production hit a zenith from 2005 through 2007 with over 1,500 units annually. Nearly a thousand units annually were produced in 2000 and 2001.)
The values of the Saleen Mustang’s have been slowly rising on the auction market. Hopefully, people will not forget what Steve Saleen did for the Mustang brand and street performance. I will always remember Saleen as the savior of the muscle car. In a time when nobody else would build it, he revived the market.
[Source: Art of Gears]