All posts by Jim Dvorak

Managing Director of SOEC since 2005. Veteran of the Southern California automotive scene. Involvement with Saleen dates back to the mid 1990s.

HOLLYWOOD HORSEPOWER

IRVINE, Calif., June 6, 2003 — Okay, gang, here’s your quiz for the day. What has 12 wheels, 989 cubic inches, almost 1,300 horsepower and seats up to 8 consenting adults?

If you answered, “the all-new Saleen S989 double semi-dually competitor to the Porsche Turbo Cayenne and the M-B ML 55 AMG,” please move to clue #1.

#1 This 12-wheeled wonder will be seen by more than 43 million people at over 10,000 locations during the next month and have over $100 million spent on its advertising and promotion.

Figured it out yet?

Er, no . . . it’s not the long-rumored Saleen supercharged V-10 diesel powered combo Zamboni machine/wooden floor polisher that will allow the NBA and the NHL to schedule back-to-back doubleheader championship games with only a 30 minute intermission. Sorry, that vehicle isn’t scheduled to make its long-awaited debut before 2006 at the earliest.

So try clue #2.

#2 Every one of the 43 million viewers will be screened during the course of his or her exposure to this vehicle and many of them will be placed in stadium seating.

Still can’t figure it out?

Okay. One last clue: one of the drivers could easily be known as Mr. Indy, yet he’s never raced at the Memorial Day 500 Mile Classic. Another of the drivers’ fancies himself as God, but he’s never won a race. And lots of people consider him a real joker.

Give up? We admit it. We haven’t made this easy. But what sort of satisfaction would you derive from having the answer handed to you on a silver platter . . .unless, of course, we also served it up on the silver screen.

Okay. Is the light bulb glowing brighter? We’re talking movies here, three of them. And not one car, but three Saleens: an S7 supercar, a supercharged S281 Mustang convertible and a supercharged S281 Mustang coupe. We’re calling this trio of summer releases Hollywood Horsepower, a triple knockout punch of comedy, speed and murder.

Hollywood Horsepower premiered nationally on May 23 with Bruce Almighty, a Universal Pictures starring Jim Carrey as an average Joe who gets his wish when God, played by Morgan Freeman, agrees to change places with Carrey for a week to prove to Jim that being God ain’t all it’s made out to be. Two ladies co-star, Jennifer Aniston and a silver Saleen S7. Jennifer certainly has the softer curves, but the S7 is one fast lady and a real handler. Aniston is a heart breaker; The S7, what else, is the late braker. The Pope may occasionally be driven in a Ferrari, but Bruce Almighty confirms that God drives an S7!

Premiering June 6 is another Universal Pictures release, 2 Fast 2 Furious, starring Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson. A Lizstick Red Saleen S281 supercharged coupe joins the cast of this sequel to the original Fast and the Furious. Former cop Brian O’Connor (Walker) teams up with his ex-con pal Roman Pearce (Gibson) to transport a shipment of “dirty” money for shady Miami-based import-export dealer Carter Verone, while actually working with undercover agent Monica Clemente to bring Verone down.

And finally, Hollywood Homicide, a Sony Pictures/Revolution Studios film, opens June 13 and stars Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett as two LAPD homicide detectives who moonlight in other fields. Joe Gavilian (Ford), a real estate agent, and K.C. Calden (Hartnett), a yoga instructor and an aspiring actor, investigate the on-stage slaying of a rap group. The detectives drive around in none other than a silver Saleen S281 supercharged convertible. For fans of Bullitt, you’ve got to see the chase scene.

In recognition of its “starring” roles in Hollywood Horsepower, Saleen will produce special editions of its Hollywood starlets, as well as promotional material, for distribution through Saleen-certified Ford dealers throughout the nation. You can obtain a poster of Hollywood Horsepower by test driving a silver “Hollywood Homicide” convertible and/or a red “2 Fast 2 Furious” coupe at your local Saleen-certified Ford dealer.

Celebrating its 20 th anniversary this year, Saleen is widely recognized as a niche manufacturer of high-performance vehicles for the American enthusiast. Its Saleen Extremes are the most powerful (445 hp) production Mustangs in the world; while its new S7 is recognized as the only American supercar (see Road & Track’s June cover story where the S7 was the fastest production car ever tested by Road & Track). The Saleen S7 has demonstrated its speed on the track as well, winning eight GTS championships in its first two years of competition. Saleen has been commissioned to assemble Ford’s legendary GT beginning this summer.

IRVINE, CALIF., CAR COMPANY TO OFFER FORD-AUTHORIZED THUNDERBIRD

By: DANIELLE HERUBIN on November 29, 2002
Original Article: ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, THE (SANTA ANA, CA)

Nov. 29–IRVINE, Calif.–Ford Thunderbird.

The name conjures up an image of sporty cool, a powder blue two-seater with a porthole window.

Now Saleen Inc., the Irvine company best known for taking stock Mustangs and transforming them into very hot cars, is branching out to Thunderbirds. It’s producing a Ford- authorized model that will be sold in dealerships across the country.

“It’s intriguing,” said Jim Campisano, an editor for Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, a monthly magazine. “The regular Thunderbird is a nice car but lacks any pretension of high performance. Saleen injects enough steroids to make it interesting.”

Ford first brought out the Thunderbird in 1954 to compete with Chevrolet’s Corvette. The first cars sold for $2,695; convertibles were $2,765. The 198-horsepower model came in five colors: Thunderbird Blue, Raven Black, Snowshoe White, Goldenrod Yellow and Torch Red.

Nicknamed the T-Bird, the cars were an instant success. But, over the years, Ford began changing the styling, size and concept of the car until it no longer resembled the classic two-seat roadster. In 1997, Ford pulled the plug on the Thunderbird altogether.

Recently, Ford decided to bring back updated designs from the company’s heyday in order to reignite some of the old spark. Bill Ford Jr., grandson of Ford’s founder, is touting the “Living Legends” series with remakes of the Thunderbird, GT40 racer and others.

Ford Jr. himself drives a T-Bird.

Ford asked independent design houses to take a crack at its legends series.

Competition for the Saleen version of the Thunderbird was won by Bonspeed, an Anaheim- based design and engineering group that specializes in performance wheels, precision gauges and accessories. Brad Fanshaw, president of Bonspeed, said his company competed with about 30 other firms to come up with a custom version of the T-Bird.

Bonspeed extended the car’s nose by three inches and replaced the T-Bird’s stock egg-crate grill with a sleek aluminum one. They added twin roll bars and restyled parts of the exterior.

Bonspeed’s design beat out show Thunderbirds, hot-rod Thunderbirds and even more retro-looking models. It’s the first car Bonspeed has designed that will be produced in any quantity. “We’re really excited,” Fanshaw said.

Bonspeed hooked up with Saleen after Steve Saleen, a race-car-driver-turned-carmaker, saw the drawings. The resulting Ford-Bonspeed-Saleen partnership plans to have its first cars available by spring.

Saleen started making cars in Orange County in 1984. Saleen has built or modified more than 8,000 vehicles, including the exotic Saleen S7 supercar and the Saleen Mustang.

Ford’s stock T-Birds sells for about $36,000. A Saleen Thunderbird-Bonspeed Edition may fetch $50,000 and up, although the final cost hasn’t been set yet.

The Saleen version will feature a 365-horsepower V-8 engine, beefed up from Ford’s stock 256-horsepower engine. It has lost the white-sidewall tires and fins associated with the early classics. Instead, it’s aerodynamic and low to the ground. And fast. The stock version can do at least 145 mph and go 0 to 60 in 7 seconds; the Saleen version will top that.

Saleen, which starts with stock models, then tears the them down and rebuilds them with custom parts and add- ons, will offer an optional 6-speed manual gearbox. Saleen adds a supercharger, modifies the intake and exhaust systems and installs special seats and instruments. Saleen has beefed up the braking system.

“I think for the niche they serve, their prices are right in line,” Campisano said. “While it may seem high to some people, you’re giving yourself an awful lot of performance.”

Only one Saleen Thunderbird exists — it was unveiled at a car show in Las Vegas earlier this month. The concept car was so well received that it won a top award and orders began to arrive.

ASSEMBLER OF FORD GT SUPERCAR CONSIDERS TROY SITE

By: ANDREW DIETDERICH on November 11, 2002
Original Article: CRAIN’S DETROIT BUSINESS, VOL. 18, ISSUE 45

A California company contracted to assemble the much-anticipated Ford GT is eying a former door manufacturing plant in Troy to build the speedster.

So said Jack Gerken, director of public relations for Saleen Inc., the Irvine, Calif.-based company in charge of final assembly and painting of the Ford GT.

Gerken said the company, which specializes in manufacturing high-powered sports cars such as the Saleen S7 Supercar, Saleen Mustang and Saleen Thunderbird, is considering several sites in metro Detroit to assemble the Ford GT.

One site in the running is the former location of Stanley Door Systems on 15 Mile Road near I-75. Saleen would invest at least $10 million in the site and eventually employ 100, according to documents filed with the city of Troy.

“We are going to build a factory in the Detroit area, and we’re down to the last laps,” Gerken said. “We are very close to finalizing where exactly the plant will be built.” Gerken would not reveal other possible sites.

The Troy City Council approved the site as a brownfield Oct. 14 after the property owner, Southfield’s Real Estate Development and Investment Corp., applied for the brownfield status on behalf of Saleen. That means Saleen could recoup cleanup expenses associated with setting up shop at the site.

Troy officials, who voted 5-0 to approve the site as a brownfield, favor Saleen taking over the plant, vacant since Stanley closed it in 1997.

“It’s a great project,” said council member David Lambert. “It would definitely be an asset to the community and the taxpayers of Troy.”

The next step? Filing for state tax breaks.

Troy City Manager John Szerlag and Doug Smith, real estate and development director, said in a letter last month to the council that Saleen could file for a 10 percent tax credit on development costs and a single-business tax credit.

“Turning the old Stanley Door building into an assembly plant for high-performance automobiles, that would provide office, museum and demonstration area in the front of the building, would create an exceptional new image for this building and this area of Maple Road,” the letter reads.

The building is 180,000 square feet located on 15 acres. It had been a unit of Stanley Works until October 1997, when the company shut it down and moved 250 employees to a new plant in Charlotte, N.C.

As Automotive News reported Nov. 4, Ford said it would build about 1,000 GTs annually starting in 2004, at “substantially less” than $150,000 each.

And as AutoWeek reported Oct. 21, Ford wants to make sure it builds at least a few GTs to commemorate its 100th anniversary next year. However, just three will be built in 2003 for the anniversary. Automotive News and AutoWeek are sister publications of Crain’s.

According to AutoWeek, the GT’s aluminum body and chassis will be constructed by United Kingdom-based Mayflower Vehicle Systems.

Also, a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 engine modified by Livonia-based Roush Industries Inc. will produce about 500 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. Lear Corp. will work on interiors while Saleen will put the car together with direction from the Ford Performance Group.

Saleen has a history of building sports cars such as the Ford GT. Steve Saleen, a member of the Mustang Hall of Fame, founded the company in 1984, the same year he built the first Saleen Mustang.

To date, the company has made more than 7,000 cars.

SALEEN THUNDERBIRD-BONSPEED EDITION

MAKES ITS WORLD DEBUT AT THE SEMA SHOW

IRVINE, Calif., Nov. 5 — Steve Saleen announced today that the Saleen Thunderbird-Bonspeed Edition concept car that makes its world debut on the Ford display at the 2002 SEMA Show will be going into limited production.

Initially,” Saleen president, Steve Saleen says, “our plan was to build the T-Bird to showcase the growth and diversity of Saleen, Inc., and to celebrate the hot rod spirit of the SEMA show. But as we started thinking about the flavor and character of the Thunderbird,” Saleen continued, “we decided to join forces with a company that is immersed in the hot rod industry. And we picked Bonspeed, a manufacturer of automotive aftermarket products and a design and engineering firm specializing in wheels, gauges and accessory products.

This car was only planned as a one-off concept. But the reaction to the T-Bird has been so positive that we have decided to move from concept to prototype and then to production at our manufacturing facilities in Irvine, Calif.”

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts

Starting under the hood, the Saleen T-Bird’s 3.9-liter V8 has undergone a now typical and well-proven Saleen route to increased power and torque. A Saleen Series IV twin-screw supercharger is added, fed by a specially designed Saleen 80-mm cast aluminum inlet tube, a Saleen cast aluminum intake manifold, and a water-to-air intercooler. Sequential electronic fuel injectors flowing 30 lb/hr and a Saleen PowerFlash™ performance calibration computer handle engine management. Exhaust gases in the concept car are routed through a Borla stainless steel exhaust system.

Initial dyno runs indicate an output of around 365 bhp and 390 lb-ft of torque for the 3.9-liter V8.

The engine is mated to a 5-speed automatic, but the production version will also offer an optional Saleen 6-speed manual gearbox.

Vehicle Dynamics Are Equally Important

The concept T-Bird has an Air Ride Technology suspension all around, but production versions will feature Saleen Racecraft suspension at every corner, including racing-developed shocks and springs and a rear end assembly featuring the Saleen MaxGrip speed-sensitive limited-slip differential.

A Saleen braking system, including slotted 2-piece, 14-inch Brembo front brake rotors and calipers, handles stopping power on the show car.

The Saleen-Bonspeed T-Bird rides on Bonspeed forged alloy wheels, 18 x 8 inches up front and 19 x 10 inches at the rear, fitted with Pirelli’s legendary ultra-high-performance P Zero radials: 245/40ZR18 and 285/35ZR19, front and rear, respectively.

Head-Turning Styling

Saleen and Bonspeed designers jointly created the concept T-Bird’s hot rod-inspired exterior styling. The nose has been extended three inches and reshaped, and the stock Thunderbird’s egg crate grille has been replaced by a sporty billet aluminum grille fabricated by Lil’ John Buttera, a hot rodding icon.

Every T-Bird is a convertible, but the Saleen-Bonspeed concept ’Bird is more than that: It’s a Speedster. A special rear deck has been crafted, incorporating a hard-shell Speedster cover that features a split-wing rear spoiler, evoking the flavor of hot rods and prototype sports racing cars of the ’60s. At its forward edge, the Speedster cover mates with twin rollover hoops positioned behind each seat.

Along the sides, the lower rocker panels have been extended and reshaped, while at the rear, the bumper has been re-contoured with an aerodynamic rear diffuser panel integrated into the underbody. Exhaust pipes are conspicuous by their absence: They are hidden in the diffuser panel.

The stunning silver paint that covers the Thunderbird’s contours is a special Saleen color provided by BASF. This paint has also been applied to the sheet metal surrounding the sharply raked windshield and to the front fender vents.

Inside: Hot Rod Inspired!

We wanted to create a hot rod flavor for the car, inside and out,” says Brad Fanshaw, president of Bonspeed. That flavor starts with an interior swathed in luscious leather. Pearlescent black and charcoal gray tones predominate with accent areas covered in pearl black and brushed metal-tone leather. Door panels have been re-covered in these accent tones with metal door surfaces featuring metal-tone leather.

The body-hugging seats incorporate head rests re-sculptured to mimic the design of the dual roll bars. And if you look closely, you’ll note that the stitching used on the seats is a unique design and is a slightly lighter gray tone.

Other interior modifications include the armrest portion of the center console, which has been reshaped to make it sleeker and lower. Also, the console has been wrapped in leather as have the lower dash and the panels behind the seats. Luxurious, deep-pile, black carpeting offers a dramatic contrast and highlight to the rich leather used throughout the Saleen Thunderbird–Bonspeed Edition.

We’d bet there weren’t many hot rods running around with eye-popping three-tone leather interiors like the one on this Saleen–Bonspeed Thunderbird, but you must admit, it fits this car to a “T”.

It’s For Sale

Saleen will take orders on the production version of the Saleen Thunderbird– Bonspeed Edition starting in November 2002 with first deliveries scheduled for spring of 2003.

Niche Manufacturing, A Saleen Specialty

During the past 20 years, Saleen, Inc. has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to design, engineer, manufacturer and market high-performance specialty vehicles working closely with Tier 1 suppliers around the world.

“Our expertise has been primarily focused on high performance,” Steve Saleen explained, “but it’s been diverse as far as the types of vehicles we have produced — everything from Mustangs to Explorers to our S7 supercar.” And the Saleen Thunderbird-Bonspeed Edition is just another example of our expanding product capabilities.

“Saleen has experienced rapid growth recently,” he continued. “Last year we introduced the S281E, the Extreme, the fastest, most powerful production Mustang on the planet. And this year Saleen engineers have found ways to increase the output of its supercharged 4.6-liter engine to 445 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.

“We also have a much improved base supercharged Saleen model for 2003, featuring a new Lysholm twin-screw supercharged engine pumping out 375 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque.

“In addition,” Saleen explained, “starting in June we began our first deliveries of the production version of the exotic, mid-engine Saleen S7 supercar.

“And if that’s not enough, we are also immensely pleased and proud to have been selected by Ford as one of the four core suppliers to the Ford GT project, a reflection of Ford’s confidence in our niche manufacturing capabilities.”

Since the company’s inception in 1984, Saleen has produced over 8,000 vehicles, more than any other specialty manufacturer. An eight-time Manufacturers’ Champion in GT sports car racing, Saleen’s facilities include research, design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities. The company’s line of products and services also includes the Saleen S281 and S281-E, the exotic, mid-engine Saleen S7 supercar, Saleen Competition, Saleen Performance Parts, and Saleen Engineering and Certification.

Contributed by Doug Nagy, Saleen Motorsports

Monday, October 28, 2002

This last weekend only had one Saleen competing.

John Young and Apex Racing were at VIR in Virginia for the Speed World Challenge final round.

John qualified on the front row only .025 seconds off of the pole due to a slight miscue on his qualifying lap. He traded the lead several times and finally took the lead for good on the second to last lap. He won the race by a margin of .44 seconds over second place. This win, combined with some poor results by other competitors, moved John to fourth in the final points standings. This is an excellent result for a driver in this series in his rookie year. John had already clinched the Rookie of the Year award at the previous round at Road Atlanta.

Contributed by Doug Nagy, Saleen Motorsports

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

The last two weekends have been busy for teams racing Saleens.

Over the October 4-6 weekend in Miami, Graham Nash Motorsports S7R qualified sixth and finished sixth after brake problems caused by a sticking throttle cable during the race. The second GNM S7R crashed during practice and could not make repairs in time for the race. Konrad Motorsports S7Rs qualified on the pole with the #26 car and did not make qualifying with the #25 car as it was damaged during practice when it hit the wall. The #26 car finished 8th in the race with a failed clutch while the #25 car finished sixth.

The October 9-12 weekend at Petit Le Mans took place at the Road Atlanta circuit. Konrad Motorsports qualified third with #26, and ninth with #25. The #26 car led early and for most of the first hour before having mechanical problems that cost considerable time in the pits, finishing sixth in class. The #25 car also had lots of small mechanical problems and several off-course incidents that dropped it back to fifth in class.

Graham Nash Motorsports qualified fifth with #84 and tenth with #83. The #84 suffered with engine problems in the warm-up and was not able to take the green flag. The #83 car suffered from several small problems that kept it from running to its full potential and only finished eighth in class.

The same weekend at Atlanta the Speed World Challenge ran with Apex racing qualified in eighth on a set of inconsistent tires. During the start of the race John was caught up in an incident between two other cars and was put in the gravel trap. He lost a lap while being extracted and finished the race in 13th one lap down. John has now clinched the rookie of the year title with one race remaining. With a good finish and some luck he may be able to edge back into the top five in points championship.

The Spanish GT championship was awarded this weekend in the next to last round in Jerez, Spain. The pole was set in the Graham Nash Motorsports Saleen S7R with Pedro Chaves and Miguel Ramos driving. They won the race and set fast lap on their way to the podium. This gives them the driver’s championship and Miguel has won the Amateur Standings championship for their efforts this year.

The next race is the World Challenge finale in Alton, VA the weekend of October 25-27.

Contributed by Doug Nagy, Saleen Motorsports

Monday, September 23, 2002

This weekend was busy for Saleens around the world.

In Spanish GT, the Graham Nash Saleen S7R qualified on the pole for both races, and with 65 second success penalties in each race finished Second in both races. The drivers Miguel Ramos and Pedro Chaves have increased their lead in the driver’s championship points. The next race is October 11 in Jerez, Spain.

In ALMS at Laguna Seca, Terry Borcheller qualified second in the Konrad Saleen S7R. They finished second in the race and Terry was short of the fast lap of the race by only one tenth of a second. This should move Terry to 5th in Driver’s points in GTS. The next race is in Miami the first weekend of October. There will be four Saleen S7Rs at this race.

In the Speed World Challenge at Laguna Seca John Young Jr. qualified 10th with an engine problem in his Saleen SR, and battled his way to sixth in the race with a less powerful back up engine. John was awarded the Rogaine Hair Raising Pass of the Race award, and extended his lead in the rookie of the year points standings. There are two races left in the season with the next one being at Road Atlanta in three weeks.

In the British GT Championship, Tommy Erdos won the Top Gun Championship for most pole positions of the year and Graham Nash Motorsports won the Team Championship. The Driver’s Championship was clinched last weekend by Tommy Erdos and Ian McKellar. Saleen S7Rs qualified 1st and 3rd and Tommy and Ian finished second after an unscheduled stop for a damaged tire. The second Saleen S7R had an incident on the first lap and did not finish the race.

Contributed by Doug Nagy, Saleen Motorsports

Monday, September 16, 2002

This weekend Graham Nash Motorsports ran in the British GT with 2 Saleen S7Rs at Thruxton in England.

Tommy Erdos and Ian McKellar qualified second and won the race clinching the Driver’s Championship for Tommy and Ian as Co-Champions. Robin Liddell and Justin Law qualified third and finished second to give Graham Nash a 1-2 finish with S7Rs this weekend. The last race of the year for British GT is next weekend at Donington and the team will be trying to win the Team and Top Gun Championship for most pole positions this year.

In Mont Tremblant, Canada this weekend the TF Racing team qualified third after working all night to rebuild their car after a fire. They retired the car after 5 of the 6 hours of the race in third place. Saleen currently leads the manufacturer’s points in GTS and Chris Bingham has clinched the Driver’s Championship in GTS. Chris won the championship driving an S7R this year. He is also 2001 Driver’s Champion, making this a back to back championship for Chris and Saleen.

Contributed by Doug Nagy, Saleen Motorsports

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

This weekend Graham Nash Motorsports raced at Snetterton in the British GT series. Tommy Erdos and Ian McKellar qualified the Saleen S7R in second position and finished the race in second spot. Robin Liddell and Nathan Kinch qualified in fourth and finished in First, and Robin Liddell set fast lap and a new lap record on the way to the front.

The TF Racing/ Zippo Saleen SR qualified sixth and finished eight in a rain soaked weekend at VIR in the Grand Am Cup series.

WILD HORSES: SALEEN S7S, MODIFIED MUSTANGS

By: GERRY MALLOY on August 31, 2002
Original Article: TORONTO STAR (CANADA)

Supercar, Muscle Car Combo Drives Early Racing Success

Steve Saleen stunned the automotive press at the Monterey Historic Races at Laguna Seca when he not only announced that he was going into the supercar business, but unveiled a sleek prototype.

That was two years ago. Much has happened since.

The high-performance, mid-engined supercar is the purest form of the modern automobile.

Exemplified by such exotica as the Ferrari F50, Lamborghini Murcielago and McLaren F1, it is a barely tamed race-car, adapted for use on the street.

Predominantly a product of Europe, the genre has been the subject of numerous North American concept cars. The few attempts that have been made to build and market such cars on this continent have ended in ignominy.

Saleen aims to break that pattern. If anyone outside the Big Three can do it, he is probably the one.

He is already well on his way. When I visited the Saleen assembly plant in Irvine, Calif., his fabricators were working on chassis number 19 in the company’s S7 lineage.

Not only does he have the facilities and expertise to achieve his production goal of 15 to 20 vehicles a year, he has the critical mass to support it; he is also building 20 Saleen Mustangs a week in the same plant.

Total production of those highly modified Mustangs has approached 10,000 units over the 19 years since he began the business.

Saleen himself is a racer at heart. He competed in everything from autocross and Formula Atlantic to Trans-Am and Indy cars.

He is a businessman, with a degree from USC and a flair for promotion. He is the most successful private North American auto manufacturer in modern history.

Because most of his creations are Mustang-based, many regard Saleen as little more than a tuner. But the changes he makes to the Mustangs are such that the cars must be individually certified for both emissions and crash-test performance.

So Saleen’s operations are afforded full-fledged manufacturer status.

Everything about his 14,000-square-metre plant, located in the heart of California’s aerospace and automotive community, supports that designation.

The Mustangs are disassembled as they arrive from Ford, then they go on dollies through a 13-station assembly line, each with its own team and tasks, for reconstruction.

Saleen supplies three body styles: coupe, roadster and speedster for each of three models, designated S281, S281 Supercharged and S281-E.

The number 281 derives from the displacement, in cubic inches, of the Ford 4.6-litre SOHC V8 that serves as a base for modification.

In S281 trim, the Saleen engine is rated at 285 hp. Adding a supercharger bumps that figure to 365, and the E-model raises it again, to 425 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque – which is delivered through a six-speed, quick-ratio manual gearbox.

Suspension, drivetrain, brakes, interior, wiring, front and rear fascias, hoods, and, in some cases, even external body panels, are replaced by Saleen-designed and, in many cases, Saleen-produced components.

Many of the cars are fitted with full roll cages.

A separate finishes-and-composites division, soon to be integrated into the main plant, is responsible for manufacturing many of those parts, and for finishing them and the cars themselves in a range of exclusive and evocatively-named Saleen colours, including Lizstick red, named for his wife.

The combined operations employ more than 150 people, including a support team for Saleen-owners’ many racing efforts.

The success of Saleen’s Mustangs on the track have pushed him and his cars into the limelight, and supported the success of the manufacturing business..

The real excitement these days lies on the other side of the shop in the eight race-car bays where the exotic S7s and S7Rs (the racing versions) are assembled.

Developed with Ray Mallock, a British race- and specialty-car builder of considerable repute, the original protype supercar was as stunning as its Laguna Seca announcement.

Long and low, with the engine amidships and air vents everywhere (every one with a purpose, Saleen says), its silhouette showed the influence of cars such as the Jaguar XK 220 and Lamborghinis and Bugattis.

But it had its own distinctive form.

It remains powered by a 7.0-litre, OHV V8, which had its genesis as a Ford service-parts aluminum racing block, but is now all-Saleen.

The engine is rated at 550 hp at 6400 rpm, and 525 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm – more in racing trim, and more than enough to make it a supercar.

Just as impressive are the rest of its credentials, which resonate pure race car: lightweight tubular-steel space frame with aluminum honeycomb structural panels; carbon-fibre body panels; double-wishbone front-and-rear suspensions; six-speed transaxle; and gigantic Brembo brakes.

Some members of the automotive press, who had seen such hopes raised and dashed before, dismissed the idea as a publicity stunt or a dream.

Saleen made believers by fielding a racing version of the prototype – which showed considerable promise – before the end of the year.

In 2001, an S7R won the 12-hours of Sebring, beating GM’s Corvette C5-Rs, qualified on the GTS class pole and finished on the GTS podium at Le Mans, and propelled lead driver Terry Borcheller to the ALMS GTS driver’s championship, beating out Ron Fellows (who’s dominating this season).

Saleen S7Rs won four separate championships in Europe and North America in their first full year.

Some people, Saleen says, have suggested that he is in the production car business just to support his racing habit – a motivation Enzo Ferrari openly admitted. But he claims it is the other way around; he races to support his production car business.

The production cars reflect this. They have high quality materials throughout, impeccable workmanship and a host of premium features, including a custom-fitted driving seat, an integrated DVD/GPS/TV/NAV-system, and custom-fitted luggage by Mulholland Brothers.

Would you expect less for US$395,000? Automobiles Bugatti of Montreal has been appointed Canadian distributor for the S7, which, Saleen says, will comply with all Canadian regulations, but price and delivery details have yet to be determined.