Tag Archives: Ford GT

SEMA 2015

PHOTOS: EAGLE ONE, MIKE BERG, JIM DVORAK, SPECRACER

Eagle One booth, Saleen S7
Eagle One booth, Saleen S7
Eagle One booth, Saleen S7
Eagle One booth, Saleen S7
Cooper Tire booth, 2015 S302 Black Label
Cooper Tire booth, 2015 S302 Black Label
Mothers Polish booth, Jim Dvorak with Steve Saleen
Mothers Polish booth, Jim Dvorak with Steve Saleen

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[Source: Eagle One, Mike Berg, Jim Dvorak, Specracer]

ALL FORD NATIONALS, CARLISLE, PENNSYLVANIA JUNE 5-7, 2015

***** June 5-7, 2015 *****

All Ford Nationals, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Steve Saleen Signature Event

The Saleen Owners and Enthusiasts Club is pleased to announce that, for the 3rd year in a row, it will host the appearance of Steve Saleen at the 2015 All Ford Nationals, Carlisle, Pennsylvania on June 5-7, 2015. The Ford GT (made for Ford by Saleen) is the featured car. Carlisle Events will have all Saleen produced vehicles park together so that all owners can have time to spend with Steve Saleen. Last September 2014 Steve Saleen gave us a very early commitment to attend this event. This was reconfirmed in early April 2015.

http://carsatcarlisle.com/carlisle-events/carlisle-ford-nationals/

Saleen Registration
The Carlisle Showfield has Saleen Mustang classes 385, 386, 387, & 388. An all Saleen Powered Class # 389 for other Saleen powered vehicles has been added. (It is listed slightly out of order in the middle of the 390s on the Carlisle website.) Carlisle also has Black, Red, and Yellow Mustang registration. These separate Mustang groups will not be part of the Saleen display area.

All the Saleen classes will be parked near the Ford GT special feature car area to allow for Saleen owners to be near Steve Saleen’s activities with the Ford GT group. This is the first time that all Saleen built vehicles will be displayed together. (This will not be in our usual area in the Mustang section.)

Friday Afternoon, June 5, 2015
On Friday afternoon, June 5, 2015, the Saleen Owners and Enthusiasts Club will host an exclusive Saleen and Ford GT owners autograph session with Steve Saleen. This exclusive Friday Saleen and Ford GT session is being offered to allow time for Steve Saleen to personally greet owners, sign Saleen memorabilia, and Saleen built vehicles (including Ford GTs). For Saleen and Ford GT owners who are unable to attend on Friday, time to sign vehicles will be offered on Saturday. Please try to attend on Friday to avoid the long lines on Saturday and assure that there is enough time to get your autographs and photos with Steve Saleen.

Friday Evening, June 5, 2015
Steve Saleen will attend the Carlisle Events Friday evening dinner for Ford GT owners. To avoid conflicts with Carlisle activities, the Saleen Owners and Enthusiasts Club will not be arranging a Friday dinner as has been done in the past. Saleen Owners can stay and hang out at the club tent Friday evening, but only owners who purchase a Ford GT package will be able to attend the Ford GT dinner and exclusive Ford GT activities. Those who want to stay and hang out at the club tent can eat at the food vendor area under the Grand Stands. Most of the food vendors are open until 5:00. Most area restaurants will have long lines at 5:00.

Ford GT Celebration Packages
The Ford GT packages are $200 for the Friday Night Ford GT Party with no Ford GT registered or $250 for the Full Ford GT celebration package including a Ford GT registration and Saturday Night Parade for a Ford GT. These events are being arranged by Carlisle Events, so we don’t have additional information about the Ford GT package. Here is the link to Carlisle’s Ford GT page.

http://carsatcarlisle.com/carlisle-events/carlisle-ford-nationals/

Friday Night, June 5, 2015
The $200 Friday Night VIP GT Party gets you into the VIP party within Building T. Meet and chat with all the Ford GT celebrities in attendance, get them to sign your favorite GT model or your favorite GT book. Hear from the celebrities as the night goes on and see who they select as their special GT Celebrity Choice picks. After dinner and speeches the night will conclude with a special autograph signing opportunity with all the celebrities in attendance. Carlisle Events will be providing a limited edition poster for this celebration for you to have signed in addition to what you may have.

Saleen owners who register a car in their class and want to purchase the $200 Friday night VIP GT package will need to upgrade to the VIP package and get details by contacting Ken Appell at Carlisle Events: 717-243-7855.

Saturday, June 6, 2015
Attend the show and check the Carlisle Events program booklet to get the times of Steve Saleen’s seminars and activities. There will be Saturday autograph sessions and Saleen vehicle signings. Ford GTs will be at the front of the Saturday evening parade to downtown Carlisle.

Registration for Showfield $55 – 10% discount prior to May 4, 2015
Registration includes weekend admission for two people. To qualify for the 10% Gate-N-Go pre-registration discount and have your entry window sticker mailed to you, please pre-register prior to May 4th, 2015 at midnight EST. Discount will be applied at checkout. After registering, a receipt will be emailed to you. Please take this receipt to the event. If you belong to a club, enter the full club name. Please do not abbreviate the club name. All Saleens are encouraged to register with the “Saleen Owners and Enthusiasts Club”.

http://store.carlisleevents.com/

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MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN FORD GT’s COMING TO THE CARLISLE FORD NATIONALS

For Immediate Release:

Celebrate the GT and GT40 with Special Displays, Guests and Rare Rides in 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Carlisle Ford Nationals are months from actuality, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t already a buzz surrounding the 2015 show. The event, which runs June 5-7 at the Carlisle PA Fairgrounds, not only honors the past, present and future of all aspects of the Ford brand, but in 2015, will welcome millions of dollars in Ford GTs packed into a special anniversary celebration dedicated to THE Ford Supercar, the Ford GT. The celebration will include rare 1 of 1 cars, concepts, race cars, historically significant cars and maybe, just maybe a new GT model too. It’s rare to see more than one of these cars at a time, let alone the hundreds slated for display. GT prices have skyrocketed in recent years, too, due to the popularity of the car and while the celebration plans are ongoing, many guests and activities have been announced. This makes Ford weekend in June of 2015 a must-attend for Ford lovers, GT lovers and history lovers of the Ford brand. Owners and lovers of the GT and GT40 will see hundreds of cars, meet special guests, shop GT-specific vendors, sit in on special seminars and more. Names confirmed include GT designer Camilo Pardo, Steve Saleen, “GT” Joey Limongelli, Marcie Cipriani, the Robertson Race Team and many more. Ford Nationals weekend will also be a hot spot for local, regional, national and international media, all vying to capture the atmosphere of the event.

As guests at Carlisle go, each has a unique association with the GT. Camilo, who is a very talented artist, recently won a competition on the TruTV program Motor City Masters. He also had a hand in past GT designs and not only will his art will be on display, it’ll also be for sale. Further, in another example of Camilo’s art on display, guests can see GTs that bare his design pattern and can meet him to talk shop and find out about his projects, past present and future.

Joining Camilo will be Steve Saleen. As a designer, Saleen’s name adorns many a Ford Mustang, but he also had a hand in the early Ford GT cars. At Carlisle and for the first time in front of a large audience, Saleen tells his story and version of the GT. Over time, Ford has spun the history of the GT in their words and in June, Saleen will take this time to set the record straight in his words.

Along with Saleen and Camilo, show goers can meet the Robertson Race Team. The team, based in Buford, Georgia, was one of the driving forces behind the GTs return to the tracks of Europe. The Robertsons, David and Andrea, helped bring a car that had faded into racing obscurity back to the limelight by 2005. Not long after in 2011, the Robertsons fielded a GT in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and found a podium finish 45 years after Ford’s first win at the track. The significance of the team and the stories they are bringing to Carlisle is unmatched and is a “must experience” aspect of the weekend. Other Le Mans Ford GT race cars will be on display as well such as the Matech Ford GT1 cars that were unveiled for the first time in the United States at the Carlisle Ford Nationals in ’14.

Carlisle and the Carlisle Ford Nationals will also be the launching point for a new GT-themed TV program slated to debut on the Velocity Channel in 2015. The show is called the Ford GT – An American Icon and some aspects of it were filmed at the Carlisle Fairgrounds with Limongelli and Cipriani in August. In addition, there will be GT-themed installations via the GT Guys and Carlisle Events has even confirmed the inclusion of GT owners from around the world. These owners will be the center of attention, too, as Building T hosts a special indoor display while an area just outside of the building plays host to a special GT- themed hospitality tent. Speaking of GT owners, the aforementioned “GT” Joey has even taken a GT around the world and chronicled his journey via a book entitled “Around the World in a Ford GT.” One of Joey’s GTs, dubbed CP1 will be at the show plus guests can pick up a copy of his book and even have it signed.

This all sounds good, right? Well, for Carlisle Events and the 2015 Carlisle Ford Nationals, this is only the beginning. Complete and specific details about the GT celebration can be found at www.CarlisleEvents.com. Registration information is online too or enthusiasts can call 717-243-7855. In the meanwhile, additional aspects of the event will be announced via future releases, online and via the Carlisle Ford Nationals Facebook page @FordNationals.

Journalist note: Information about Carlisle Events, its event listings, auction offerings and the Carlisle Expo Center is available to journalists by phone:

Michael Garland
Media Specialist
717-243-7855 ext. 133
michaelg@carlisleevents.com

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FORD REDEFINES INNOVATION IN AERODYNAMICS, ECOBOOST AND LIGHT-WEIGHTING WITH ALL-NEW FORD GT CARBON FIBER SUPERCAR

  • All-new Ford GT supercar sets new standards for Ford innovation through performance with advances in light-weighting, aerodynamics and ultra-efficient EcoBoost® engine
  • Ford GT features the most powerful EcoBoost production engine ever – a new twin-turbocharged Ford EcoBoost V6 producing more than 600 horsepower
  • Ultra-high-performance supercar is Ford’s most extreme offering, infused with race-proven technology engineered to keep company with exotics when it goes into production in 2016

Jan 12, 2015 | Detroit

Ford today unveiled the all-new GT, an ultra-high-performance supercar that serves as a technology showcase for top EcoBoost® performance, aerodynamics and lightweight carbon fiber construction.

The GT is one of more than 12 new Ford Performance vehicles coming by 2020. It joins Focus RS, F-150 Raptor, Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT350R in the growing Ford Performance lineup.

Beginning production late next year, the GT hits the road in select global markets to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford GT race cars placing 1-2-3 at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“As we at Ford drive innovation into every part of our business, it’s worth remembering that our first innovation as a company was not in a laboratory, but on the racetrack,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and chief executive officer, referring to Henry Ford’s win of a 1901 car race that inspired financial backers to invest in his company. “We are passionate about innovation through performance and creating vehicles that make people’s hearts pound.”

The all-new GT supercar features rear-wheel drive, a mid-mounted engine, and a sleek, aerodynamic, two-door coupe body shell. It is propelled by the most powerful EcoBoost production engine ever – a next-generation twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 producing more than 600 horsepower.

The GT makes extensive use of lightweight materials, including carbon fiber and aluminum – enabling outstanding acceleration and handling with improved efficiency.

Ford’s commitment to and capability in delivering technologies typically offered only in elite vehicles is evident in the GT. These include advanced active aerodynamics, such as a deployable rear spoiler, and a host of material and technology innovations to help better serve the driver, such as SYNC® 3 – the latest version of Ford’s advanced connectivity system.

“The GT is the ultimate execution of an enthusiast supercar,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “GT includes innovations and technologies that can be applied broadly across Ford’s future product portfolio – another proof point that Ford continues raising the performance bar while ultimately improving vehicles for all of our customers.”

Carbon fiber innovation
Few innovations provide a more wide-ranging performance and efficiency advantage than reducing weight. All factors of a vehicle’s capabilities – acceleration, handling, braking, safety, efficiency – can improve through the use of advanced, lighter materials.

The all-new GT features advanced lightweight composites, which will help serve Ford’s entire product lineup moving forward. With the broad application of structural carbon fiber elements, the GT will exhibit one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any production car.

Anchored by a carbon fiber passenger cell, the GT features aluminum front and rear subframes encapsulated in structural carbon fiber body panels. Carbon fiber is one of the world’s strongest materials for its mass – enabling an ultra-stiff foundation for chassis components, while creating a lighter overall package for increased dynamic performance and efficiency.

Most powerful production EcoBoost ever
Ford EcoBoost technology is available in every new Ford car, utility and light-duty pickup in North America beginning this year.

EcoBoost engines power a growing number of Ford performance models, including the new Mustang, just-announced F-150 Raptor, as well as Fiesta ST and Focus ST.

Based on the same race-proven engine architecture serving Ford’s IMSA Daytona Prototype endurance racing efforts, the next-generation twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 in the GT features a wide powerband with impressive time-to-torque characteristics.

The engine demonstrates remarkable efficiency – a key attribute of its endurance racing-derived powertrain, where exceptional performance combined with efficiency is a critical competitive advantage.

Ford’s twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 raced to three wins in its first season of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014, including a win in the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring, along with seven podiums over more than 15,000 endurance racing miles.

The GT features an all-new, port/direct dual fuel-injection setup to improve engine response, plus a low-friction roller-finger-follower valvetrain. The twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 will be paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle for near-instantaneous gear changes and exceptional driver control.

Aero innovation gets active
Aerodynamic efficiency is at the heart of the GT design, actively reducing drag while aiding downforce and stability.

From its optimum tear-drop shape to its aircraft-inspired fuselage and visibility-enhancing curved windshield, every slope and shape is designed to minimize drag and optimize downforce.

Although each surface on the GT is functionally crafted to manage airflow, it also features fully active aerodynamic components to improve braking, handling and stability.

An active rear spoiler is keyed to both speed and driver input, reactively deploying and adjusting its height and/or pitch angle depending on conditions.

Designed for purpose
While it shares a legacy with classic Ford racing and performance cars, GT is a fully contemporary and functional shape that communicates modernity and pure beauty.

The state-of-the-art chassis is suspended by an active racing-style torsion bar and pushrod suspension, with adjustable ride height. The 20-inch wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires featuring a unique compound and structure designed specifically for the Ford GT. Multi-spoke wheels encircle carbon-ceramic brake discs at all four corners.

The narrow-profile canopy reduces frontal area and caps a purposeful interior that provides state-of-the-art technology to ensure control, comfort and safety. The two-seat cockpit is accessed by upward-swinging doors, and features driver and passenger seats integrated directly into the carbon fiber passenger cell.

This configuration significantly reduces seating hardware and weight, and provides a consistent and direct sensory connection to the chassis. The fixed seating is combined with adjustable pedals and steering column to accommodate a very wide range of driver statures.

An F1-style steering wheel integrates all necessary driver controls, creating a stalkless steering column that allows uncluttered access to the transmission paddle-shift controls. A fully digital and configurable instrument cluster provides a wealth of driver-focused data. The display is configurable for multiple driving environments and different driving modes.

“While we hope enthusiasts rejoice about this all-new GT, all Ford customers will benefit from the ultimate performance Ford and its new-generation innovations,” said Nair.

About Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Michigan, manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 189,000 employees and 65 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford and its products worldwide, please visit corporate.ford.com.

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STEVE SALEEN TO OFFER HIS PERSONAL, UNIQUE FORD GT PROTOTYPE AT RUSSO AND STEELE AUCTION IN MONTEREY ON AUGUST 14, 2010

Orange County, California (August 9, 2010) The Ford GT in itself is a rare car with just a little over 4,000 units built between 2005 and the end of production in 2007, all of which were built in a purpose-built facility by Saleen Special Vehicles in Troy, Michigan. Now Steve Saleen, legendary racer, entrepreneur and in 2005 the man behind Saleen Special Vehicles, is bringing his even rarer, personal 2005 pre-production Ford GT to auction. Russo and Steele are offering this car at their Monterey auction on August 14, 2010.

steve_saleen_ford_gt_article_001
Steve Saleen’s Ford GT brought out of The Vault

Number 5 of only 9 prototypes ever built

Not only is this car, VIN# 1FAFP90825Y400040, number 5 of only 9 prototypes built, it is also the only one using a hand-built twin-screw supercharger which would later become part of the regular production model. Never titled, this car now has only 3,830 miles on the odometer and remains in as-new condition

Rich movie history – Rocky IV, Fast and Furious 4, XXX: State of the Union

steve_saleen_ford_gt_article_002
Steve Saleen’s Ford GT in the Movies

Originally yellow with black stripes, it was first used by the Ford Motor Company for engineering as well as PR and was showcased in numerous books including “The Supercar – An Evolution of Speed, and Velocity” by well known author and photographer John Lamm. Steve Saleen then had it repainted to its current white with blue stripes and unique Saleen decals for various movie productions that had requested his personal vehicle. It appeared in the movies Rocky VI, Fast and Furious 4, and XXX: State of the Union as well as numerous TV appearances and exhibits. This vehicle comes personally autographed by Steve Saleen and is sure to increase in value over the years.

This unique Ford GT will be auctioned off on Saturday, August 14, 2010 (Run #S666) at 9.30pm in the presence of Steve Saleen himself. More images can be found at: http://www.russoandsteele.com/collector-car/2005-Ford-GT-Pre-Production/5909

Technical Data
2005 Ford GT Prototype
Vehicle Type: 2-door coupe, pre-production car
No 5 of 9 ever built
VIN# 1FAFP90825Y400040
Never titled, sold on MFO
3,830 miles since new

Drivetrain
Configuration: Mid Engine/RWD
Engine: Supercharged V8
Displacement: 5409 cc
Horsepower: 550 bhp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 500 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Max RPM: 6500 rpm
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual

Dimensions
Weight: 3,390 lbs
Height: 44.3 in Length: 182.8 in
Width: 76.9 in
Wheelbase: 106.7 in

Performance
0-60 mph: 3.3 sec
0-100 mph: 8.6 sec
Quarter Mile: 11.6 sec @ 128 mph
Top Speed: 205 mph
Lateral Acceleration: 1.00g Braking, 60-0 mph: 117 ft

About Steve Saleen’s SMS Supercars – Speed, Science and Style

SMS Supercars, a company founded by renowned race driver and automotive icon Steve Saleen, is a manufacturer of high-end lifestyle performance vehicles, technical performance parts, lifestyle accessories and apparel. SMS Supercars designs, engineers, tests, certifies, manufactures and assembles all of its own products and vehicles. SMS Supercars vehicles include the SMS 570 and 570X Challenger and the SMS 302 4V, 302SC and 351X Mustang models. The SMS 620 and 620X Camaro models will complete the trio of SMS American Supercars in 2010.

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$150,000 CAR ON DISPLAY

By: RONALD LEDERMAN JR. on August 31, 2005
Original Article: LIMA NEWS, THE (OH)

Aug. 31–LIMA — The sleek white car with blue racing stripes might not be one of a kind, but it is as close as most local car shoppers are likely to see.

Mike Pruitt Ford took delivery last week of a 2005 Ford GT. The high-performance two-seater is the reintroduction of a car the company dominated endurance racing with in the late 1960s, including a first-, second- and third-place sweep at the 24 Hours at Le Mans race in 1966.

Mike Pruitt Ford is the only dealer in Northwest Ohio with a Ford GT, General Sales Manager Ryan Swaney said. Ford will make only 3,000 of the GTs between the 2005 and 2006 model years. The Ford GT in the Pruitt showroom is No. 1,630.

Combine the scarcity of the car with its performance, and you get a car with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $156,945. Cars with similar performance capabilities sell for between $400,000 and $500,000, Swaney said. The names on those cars are Porsche, Ferrari and Saleen.

Swaney said he expects the car to sell by the weekend. By Tuesday, the dealership had heard from a potential buyer as far away as Cincinnati.

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries,” Swaney said. “We’re just now getting onto eBay, which is where most of them are sold.” Thirteen Ford GTs were listed Tuesday evening on eBay, with asking prices ranging from $160,000 to $190,000.

The Ford GT is a driver’s car: The 5.4-liter, 32-valve V8 puts out 550 horsepower and 500 pounds of torque. The GT goes from zero to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds. In a quarter mile, it gets up to 127 mph.

“The car just goes,” Swaney said. “The torque is what makes the car get up and go. Horsepower is good, but torque makes it do it now.” The Ford Mustang GT, by comparison, puts out 300 horsepower and 315 pounds of torque.

SALEEN MAKES CHANGES IN GT TEAM

By: AMY WILSON on March 7, 2005
Original Article: AUTOMOTIVE NEWS., VOL. 79 ISSUE 6137

Dateline: DETROIT —

A management upheaval is unfolding at the supplier that operates the Ford GT assembly plant.

Rich Rinke, the 43-year-old COO at Saleen Inc., is out. CEO Steve Saleen fired Rinke in late January and several other employees in late February.

Saleen Inc. is best known as a West Coast Mustang tuner. But with its experience building the Saleen S7 supercar, the company was tapped by Ford Motor Co. to assemble the GT sports car.

Steve Saleen and Ford say the management changes are not related to the GT program or any of the quality glitches that the sports car has experienced. They also say the changes have not affected GT production, which is rolling again after a seven-week shutdown because of a recalled part.

In an interview last week, Steve Saleen downplayed the significance of the shakeup. “The facts are we made some management changes,” he said. “None of them affected the GT.”

But the terminations did involve employees who had been involved with the GT project.

GT players
Saleen hired Rinke, who is part of a Detroit-area car dealership family, in 2002 after Ford executives recommended him.

Rinke supervised Saleen’s conversion of a former door factory in Troy, Mich., into a mini-assembly plant. The 180,000-square-foot plant paints and assembles every GT, a five-day process. The plant recently began building the Saleen Mustang. Saleen ships the GTs to Ford’s Wixom, Mich., assembly plant for installation of the engine, transmission, seats and interior trim.

Steve Saleen acknowledges that Rinke did a good job setting up the Troy plant. Early in the program, Rinke even worked on prototype GT body panels in his home workshop.

Rinke said that he was fired in part because he requested a medical leave to deal with a family illness. Rinke also said Steve Saleen was punishing him for a dispute over business practices.

Steve Saleen declined to explain why he fired Rinke and several other employees. On Feb. 23, Saleen fired Joe Tori, the general manager of his GT assembly plant.

Tori, 47, worked for Saleen for a year and took over supervision of the assembly plant last fall. Ford executive Hau Thai-Tang called Tori “one of the key guys” at the plant.

Tori said that Steve Saleen told him he was fired in part for failure to meet financial and production goals on the GT project. Tori said his team had hit all of those targets.

New manager
In the wake of the firings, Saleen promoted Brian Walsh, general manager of its Irvine, Calif., plant, to oversee the Troy plant. Walsh started at Saleen less than a year ago.

Before joining Saleen, Walsh had no automotive manufacturing experience. But Walsh has managed production lines in other industries, most recently at appliance maker Thermador, Saleen said.

Thai-Tang, director of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team with oversight of the GT program, said Ford is comfortable with Steve Saleen’s management abilities and the team still in Troy.

“I’m interested in the results and not so much who’s back there in the kitchen stirring the pot,” Thai-Tang said. “That’s Steve’s call.”

Ford has some employees in the plant to monitor Saleen’s daily GT production. After its recall-related shutdown, the plant resumed maximum production capacity during the week of Feb. 28 — ahead of schedule. The plant produces nine GTs a day.

Tori said Saleen’s future with Ford’s niche car projects depends on its management of the GT program.

He said: “Opportunities like the GT don’t come along that often.”

SPEED DEMON

By: LAWRENCE S. DIETZ on July 2003
Original Article: LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE, VOL. 48, ISSUE 7

Entrepreneur And Designer Steve Saleen
Has Made Irvine America’s Capital Of High-end Sports Cars

No one will mistake modern, master-planned Irvine for the ancient town of Maranello, Italy Nor will anyone confuse Orange County’s SUV-clogged stretch of the 405 freeway for the AI autostrada, prowled by the Ferraris that are Maranello’s most famous products.

Yet unassuming entrepreneur Steve Saleen has turned equally unassuming Irvine into Maranello West, the capital of high-end American sports cars. For nearly two decades he has rebuilt Ford Mustangs into hot performance vehicles. Three years ago his company launched the S7, which Road & Track has declared the fastest production car ever made. The 550-horsepower, carbon fiber-bodied speedster can hit 220 mph and go 0 to 60 in 3.3 seconds. And now Saleen Inc. is helping to manufacture a new version of Ford’s legendary GT40 race car, a vital part of the ailing giant’s recovery program.

At first glance the 53-year-old Saleen seems to be an unlikely architect of high rollers’ automotive dreams. About five feet seven, mustachioed, and balding, he looks like a middle-aged everyman, the sort of guy you’d expect to see selling insurance or riding around in a Camry.

Hardly Saleen is a USC business major turned race car driver who recognized a demand for very fast yet relatively affordable cars that were at home both on the track and on the street. Saleen’s vehicles have won titles for eight straight years and made their creator a hero among auto buffs–as well as a wealthy man. (Sales of the S7 have already hit $24 million.) Saleen Inc. also is making a splash on the big screen, its Mustangs appearing in summer releases including 2 Fast 2 Furious and Hollywood Homicide. (Saleen himself drives a Beryllium Saleen Extreme Speedster, the top of his Mustang line.)

As he sees it, the reason for his success is simple: “I have a tremendous passion for cars, for racing cars, and for driving.”

Saleen was first seduced by fast cars when his father, a manufacturing executive from Whittier, bought a Porsche while he was in college. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Saleen started racing and was good enough to turn pro. He set 13 Sports Car Club of America records and finished third for the 1980 SCCA championship.

In the 1960s, racer Carroll Shelby had parlayed his track reputation into big money by modifying stock Mustangs. In 1984, Saleen started giving them better engines, suspensions, transmissions, and brakes, transforming cars that sell in the mid $20,000s into growlers that go for $36,000 to $70,000.

Saleen’s Mustangs outperform their rivals–the Porsche Boxster, Corvette hardtop, and SVT Mustang Cobra R–in terms of speed, lateral acceleration through turns, and braking. They carry a lower retail price, and just as important, they have a history of holding their resale value.

The cars quickly became winners on the SCCA circuit, capturing awards for driver, team, manufacturer, and tire in 1987. The Saleen Mustang has won the SCCA Manufacturer’s Championship six times, most recently in 2000.

During the late 1980s, Saleen moved his company into Indy car racing, hoping that victories at an event like the Indianapolis 500 would translate into a huge spike in his Mustang sales. “Looking back, it was the right thing to do at the wrong time,” he says. “From a marketing perspective, the concept was to expand our sphere of influence to new Saleen buyers. But we didn’t have the resources to race at that level, and a bad month of May [1989] in Indy killed us. The recession hit, and we had dealers going broke and not paying us for their cars. It was a lethal combination.”

His firm might have gone under if not for Tony Johnson, whose company owns many of the country’s largest (and most profitable) makers of original equipment for auto manufacturers. Johnson, president and CEO of Hidden Creek Industries in Minnesota, saw the marketplace value of Saleen’s brand identity.

“Steve is a great creative thinker, car person, and marketer,” says Johnson. “We needed to add just an additional touch of professionalism and business savvy” He gave Saleen financial backing (no one will say how much). Johnson, who became a partner and chairman of Saleen Inc., and Saleen, who retained the title of president, focused their efforts on the Mustang. When business picked up in i995, Saleen formed the Saleen/Allen “RRR” Speedlab racing team with Home Improvement star Time Allen.

Saleen now had the resources to realize a dream he’d harbored from the day he started manufacturing: He wanted to build and sell a supercar–a two-seat exotic that could cruise at 150 mph or more and win at the highest levels. In November 1999, he was ready to try. Johnson said yes. A year later the first S7 appeared.

Saleen managed to get from concept to finished vehicle so quickly because there was no bureaucracy no massive corporate infrastructure, no focus group. The only eyes that counted were his. Computers did most of the design work, an advance now used by most automotive manufacturers to shave months, even years, off development cycles and to trim costs. In the world of supercars, where a McLaren FI goes for a million dollars, the $395,000 S7 is something of a bargain.

The first seven S7s were snapped up by racing teams and outfitted for competition. An S7 won the 12 Hours of Sebring road race, and another placed a respectable third in class during June 2001’s rain- and crash-plagued 24 Hours of Le Mans. By that September S7s had competed in 25 races and won 17 of them, a stunning achievement for a newcomer.

Deposits were coming in from private buyers, including celebrities like Allen, Sylvester Stallone, and Jay Leno. By last December it was time to prove the S7’s advertised street readiness. The car passed its government tests, including a “coast down,” in which it was shifted into neutral at a speed of 120 mph and allowed to freewheel for a mile. How fast was it going after that? One hundred mph.

In the spring, Saleen produced three cars earmarked for press trials. The auto magazines were rapturous, starting with the design. “From every angle and from any distance, the Saleen S7 looks like a supercar,” wrote Joe DeMatio in Automobile. “Every pedestrian strolling along Santa Barbara’s State Street on a spring evening notices it. The gill-streaked body is very long, very wide, and very low… When the winglike doors are open, the S7 looks like something Martians would off-load from a spaceship.”

But the true measure of a car like the S7 is the driving. An hour spent behind the wheel of one is an extraordinary experience. The S7 is fast–I accelerated on an empty toll road and then “loafed” along at what I thought was an extremely comfortable 100, perhaps 110 mph. It felt as though the car could maintain that speed all day long. Then I looked more closely at the small speedometer; the needle was hovering over 140.

The S7 also can maneuver, hugging the road far better than anything most of us will ever drive. Move the wheel a tiny amount, and the S7 goes exactly where you want, no fuss. You find yourself smiling in pure pleasure.

The S7 gives Saleen Inc. a very profitable, if narrow, specialty. (With 62 sold, it has a planned production run of 300 to 400.) Working on the Ford GT, however, could offer the little company entree into the automotive big leagues.

The GT (it was nicknamed the GT40 because it was only 40 inches high) recalls Ford’s glory days in racing, as well as Henry Ford II’s hubris. In the early 1960s, he tried to get Enzo Ferrari to join him in developing a race car. When he was rebuffed by the patrician Italian, he decided to create his own. Once the GT’s engine and other specs were set, Carroll Shelby said, “Next year, Ferrari’s ass is mine.” And it was. Shelby raced and won in the GT40, as did Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt.

These days Bill Ford Jr., Ford’s chairman, knows he needs a “halo-effect” car–one few in number but great in reputation–to help propel the company out of the misery caused by the Explorer/Firestone debacle in the late ’90s and quality problems typified by multiple recalls. The revived GT, which unlike its predecessor will be street legal, is supposed to be an icon of the new Ford Motor Company, crowning a rollout of ten models and vehicles in the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln divisions in the next two years (and a total of 65 in the next five).

Saleen’s involvement with the GT started with a college connection. He had always kidded his public relations rep, Jack Gerken, about Gerken’s rabid partisanship for his alma mater, Notre Dame. In 2001, as it turned out, being a member of the Fighting Irish became as valuable in the car business as being a Harvard grad was in other corporate circles.

As part of a Ford management shakeup, several executives with Notre Dame ties came to power. Nick Scheele, the new group vice president in North America, was an alumnus whose son was attending the school, and Jim O’Connor, head of the Ford division, sat on the board of trustees.

Along with practically everyone else who did (or wanted to do) business with Ford, Saleen sought a way to meet Scheele. At the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the annual million-dollar antique car show where industry nabobs gather, Saleen joshed Gerken about playing the Notre Dame card with Scheele. Gerken took it seriously; especially since he had known Scheele since 1990, and his son and Scheele’s son were in the same dorm.

Introductions were made. Saleen, Gerken, and Tony Johnson later flew to Detroit to remind Scheele that Saleen Inc. was a good customer and to update him on the progress of the S7. They also had one crucial question: How can we be a better part of the Ford family?

The answer–Saleen should help build the GT–became clear at a meeting between Johnson and Scheele, held as Ford rushed to ready its prototype for introduction at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, 2002.

After the car generated the intended buzz at the show, Ford went to builders and designers around the world, including Italy’s renowned Pininfarina. Saleen’s track record with the Mustang and the S7 earned it a spot as one of Ford’s four partners on the project. It will make the rolling chassis, frame, and suspension and will paint the body panels. The vehicles will be assembled at a Ford plant near Detroit, with major production scheduled to begin next year. The deal could cover as many as 5,000 cars. (Only 133 original GTs were built.)

“This is a process of producing a handful of cars each day;” says Neil Hannemann, Ford’s chief program engineer for the GT. “Ford didn’t want to learn how to do that, and Saleen does it.”

Besides providing such expertise, Saleen hopes to prove to the mainstream auto world that he can help to produce a special vehicle at a relatively reasonable price–according to industry, speculation, the GT will sell for about $125,000.

After all, Saleen already has the ultimate testimonial when it comes to his ability to fill a niche for a supreme power car. In the recent movie Bruce Almighty, he notes, God drives an S7.