Top-Of-The-Line Saleen Mustang S351 Smokes The Competition,
Blends Sleek Styling With Ultra-high Performance
“This is a car that does everything the way God intended it to.” AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE
IRVINE, Calif. – Faster than a speeding bullet, Saleen’s S351 Mustang is a combination of superior engineering and sleek styling, making it the quickest sports car on the road today. Besides speed, the S351 offers optimum handling and comfort.
“We’ve used our racing experience on the track and adapted this technology in the engineering of the 351 to create the ultimate performance vehicle,” said Steve Saleen, president and founder of Saleen Inc. and the Saleen/Allen “RRR” Speedlab. “The S351 goes from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and hits a quarter mile speed at more than 122 mph, making it the fastest sports car in America.”
The S351 is highlighted by Saleen’s 351 cu. in. Ford-based engine and six-speed transmission, producing 495 hp and 490 lbs of torque, 13” front brake rotors with four-piston calipers and a refined Saleen Racecraft suspension. Additional features include race inspired seats and a white instrument gauge cluster with a 200 mph speedometer.
The Saleen Mustang S351 boasts exterior aerodynamic refinements from the base Saleen Mustang S281 including a specially-designed composite hood, composite rear wing and rear fascia. The 351 also comes standard with 18” wheels and Pirelli tires.
The Saleen S351 is available as a coupe, convertible or ultra-exotic Speedster. The suggested retail price for the Saleen S351 Mustang starts at $55,990. Saleen vehicles are available at Saleen Certified Ford dealers nationwide. For: list of Saleen Certified Ford dealers, contact Saleen at 9 Whatney, Irvine, CA 92618, call 949-457-9100 or go to www.saleen.com.
Saleen facilities include total research, engineering, design and assembly capability. Saleen is certified by the federal government as a specialty vehicle manufacturer. Since the company’s inception in 1984, Saleen has produced nearly 7,000 vehicles, more than any other specialty manufacturer. The company’s line includes Saleen Mustangs, Saleen Explorers and Saleen Performance Parts, the latter a complete line of performance and appearance products for Mustangs and Explorers.
Contact: Michael F. Hollander, Pacific Communications Group 310.224.4981
9 Whatney Irvine, CA 92618
t 949 597 4900
f 949 597 0301
Sometimes when I get Steve Saleen’s press releases about his Team Saleen endeavors both on the race track and in the showroom, I get the feeling that he was born after his time. He should have been in the business of building specially-built sports cars in the ’60s when Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney and the other Southern California hot-rodders-turned-car-constructors were in their hey-days. They built cars for the SCCA Trans Am series for pony cars and became house-hold names to American road racing fans.
It’s not that Saleen has done badly. Quite the contrary. Starting in ’84 with the “Fox” platform Mustang, he’s built a successful business of modifying Ford Mustangs into Saleen Mustangs that are changed enough cosmetically so that buyers of his slick speedsters won’t have their mounts mistaken for the Dearborn version and souped-up enough so that the drivers of most other cars on the street will only get a view of Saleen tailpipes. And he’s done it with the approval of our federal government, a daunting task in itself.
But the promotional venue that Saleen shines in is his participation in racing. In his early years, Saleen himself drove sports car races in semi-pro SCCA events, branched out into driving Saleen-prepared Ford Rangers in the now defunct SCCA series for mini-pickups and even into an unsuccessful stab at the Indy 500, as I recall.
Saleen’s fortunes took a quantum leap a few years ago when he took in Tim Allen, star of the TV series “Home Improvement,” as a partner and formed Saleen/Allen “RRR” Speedlab to build and campaign Saleen SR351 Mustangs in various road races. Allen himself did some of the driving in these events but it quickly showed that simply enjoying cars and owning part of a racing team doesn’t qualify a person to strap himself into a racer and get into the thick of the action. When I saw Allen drive a Saleen/Mustang at Sears Point Raceway in Northern California a few years ago, he was nine seconds off the pace and the regular Saleen pilots had a task in hand to make up the time. I haven’t heard of Allen driving for a while and I suspect that it dawned on him and his TV producers that a guy can get hurt in professional racing if he’s not up to the pace. He did drive at Grand Rapids, Michigan this year where he placed 14th.
For 1998 Steve Saleen and his Saleen/Allen “RRR” Speedlab team pretty much concentrated on the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) World Challenge T1 series for more-or-less production-based sports cars (as opposed to the purpose-built SCCA Trans Am “tube frame” cars), and to say that Saleen was a big fish in the fairly small pond is an understatement. His star driver, Terry Boscheller, won five of the nine races outright and placed second enough times to win the Manufacturer’s Cup for the Southern California-based company as well as the Driver’s Championship for himself.
Although the World Challenge is considered a Saturday warmer-upper race for Trans Am and other more premium events, the Saleen team won against such classy car-and-driver combinations as Bobby Archer, a long-time Chrysler driver, piloting a Dodge Viper GTS and Peter Cunningham in a factory Acura NSX.
For ’98, Steve Saleen is branching out into other auto fields like videos, jackets and tee-shirts, club memberships and other booster merchandise. He also produces a line of special Saleen/Mustangs for a Budget rental fleet in the Los Angeles area.
On second thought, I think that Steve Saleen is in his correct time frame. He’s too much of a business man to have been able to acclimatize his organization to those wild and loose days of the ’60s.
August / September 1998
Original Article: Sports Car International Magazine
Take the traditional muscle car formula and turn it up to 11. Result: Saleen’s 495 horsepower S-351 Speedster.
It’s no wonder Tim Allen’s such a good comedian. You’d be laughing too if you got to drive a supercharged Saleen everyday, then race one on the weekends. Allen joined forces with Saleen in 1995 to form “RRR Speedlab,” the same year Saleen debuted his supercharged Mustang. In the intervening three years, this team has taken their trick pony to places unimagined until recently. In 1996, Saleen and Allen won the SCCA manufacturer’s championship for FoMoCo, and in 1997, they became the first American team to run a factory Ford at Le Mans since Carroll Shelby turned the trick 30 years ago.
Although Saleen builds a wide variety of Mustangs, and even Explorers for every pocketbook, the pride of the Irvine, California stable goes to the S-351, and its racing cousin, the 351SR. When Ford introduced the latest version of the Mustang in 1994, Saleen was already well into the development phase of his take on the new “modular” block 4.6-liter V8. But the 281 cubic inch engine, rated at 225 hp in Saleen trim, just didn’t have the grunt to capture the imagination of a populace weaned on big block Vettes and muscle cars.
What to do? Dropping a true big block into the Mustang would have caused insurmountable problems in the emissions department. As Bob Mink, Saleen’s Director of R&D says, “It’s extremely difficult for large block engines to meet cold-start emission standards.” A turbo was considered and dismissed because of its indifferent performance at low engine speeds. Mink again: “A turbo is counterproductive because it eliminates the low-end torque. It interferes with the exhaust path, and you lose the grunt. That grunt is why people buy these cars in the first place.”
Saleen has more than a little experience in the art of persuasion, having induced 5000 buyers to purchase his Mustangs since 1984. So the R&D team settled on a Vortech supercharger as the best answer to the high performance/ low good emissions equation. Vortech makes the centrifugal V-1 blower at their facility in Moorpark, California. Erstwhile Trans-Am team sponsor AER manufactures the long-block 351 to Saleen specs in Dallas, Texas and test fires each engine before shipping it to Saleen’s Irvine factory for final assembly and chassis installation.
The goodies on this 500 horse motor include forged pistons and special cylinder heads designed by Saleen and cast from aluminum. The piping to and from the Vortec huffer is brightly polished alloy, while the aluminum valve covers are sedate-looking by comparison in flat silver. Upper and lower intake manifolds are specific to the Vortec’s induction requirements. Ceramic-coated headers dump exhaust gasses into a series of stainless four-way cats that empty into a melifluous Saleen/Borla mufflers with a 2.5 inch pipe orifice. A hydraulic-roller camshaft features roller rockers for improved valve actuation. An entire 65 mm worth of throttle body controls air flow to an 80 mm mass-air sensor. Once the tweaked engines arrive at Irvine from AER, Saleen technicians install special 36 lb/hr fuel injectors and a bright red Saleen wire loom to fire the NGK spark plugs.
While AER is busy building engines for this project, Saleen’s staff of 30 employees transform production V6 Mustangs into S-351s. They strip each base model ponycar of its drivetrain and suspension, then add the, 5.8 liter V8 that Bob Mink calls “the big block for today’s world.” The suspension is bound together like pages in the Saleen parts catalogue. There’s a quartet of progressive rate “”Racecraft”” springs which lower the chassis by over an inch. But as Saleen says, compared with an F355, we’re about ten feet higher than the Ferrari.” But that’s okay by Steve, because he wants to build real world cars that his customers can drive everyday.
Saleen worked closely with Bilstein to perfect the valving on the “”N2″” nitrogen gas shocks front and rear. The addition of a machined adjustable upper front camber plate allows Saleen to dial additional negative camber into the front end when performing his “performance alignment” on the tuned chassis. Strangely absent from the engine bay is a front strut tower crossbrace – probably the victim of supercharger-reduced hood clearance. A 1.38 inch Racecraft front sway bar pivots in urethane bushings. In the rear, Racecraft N2 axle dampeners try to keep the live axle four-bar rear suspension from acting out. But the Achilles heel of the car remains its solid rear axle. When reminded of its shortcomings, R&D guy Mink scowls, “You can get rid of it if you want to pay an extra $10,000. We’ll build you an independent rear with aluminum control arms, and dual four-arm lateral links.” Ford initially conceived this upgrade, but dismissed the technology as too expensive for the market to subsidize.
Some of the biggest changes to this Mustang are those you can’t see. Buried behind the 5-spoke front wheels are 4-piston calipers clamping 13-inch vented brake discs, grooved for water dispersion. Rear discs, also vented and grooved, are 10.5 inches in diameter. The upgraded brakes stop the S-351 in 110 feet from 60 mph. And instead of the conventional 5-speed manual gearbox , a 6-speed T-56 transmits 490 pound-feet of torque to the 8.8 inch rear end through 3.27:1 gears and a Torsen differential. A 3.55:1 rear gear set is optionally available for $812. That’s right, there’s a Borg-Warner gearbox lurking under the still-canted Mustang-style shift lever, and the reason you’ll find a (horrors) GM cog driving this ultimate Ford is the availability of that sixth gear.
From a technology standpoint, the toughest part of the entire S-351 project was getting the supercharged motor to meet emissions requirements and produce good top end horsepower. One goal or the other was easy to accomplish, but in order to achieve both, the drivetrain required a six-speed box, something Ford does not make. Mink explains: “Technologically, the most advanced thing about this car are its emissions numbers. Putting together the whole package was hard-getting the cats set, making it cold start properly.” Ford helped design catalysts with the proper thermal profiles that would last for 100,000 miles. Don’t forget that Saleen is not just a tuning outfit, but a certified manufacturer of proprietary models which must meet manufacturer requirements for emissions and longevity. In this case, the warranty on drivetrain parts is seven years or 70,000 miles. That’s a lot to ask of a small company, but they do it to the letter.
The S-351 is equipped as standard with 18-inch wheels made on Saleen-owned tools by Speedline in Italy. Standard issue for those five-spoke 18 inch rims (8.5″ front and rear) are BFG Comp T/As size 245/40 ZR 18. But a wise option for the 500 hp supercharged S-351 is the optional Michelin Pilot MXX3, which ups skidpad performance to .94g. Front tires remain bump up to 265/35s, while rears increase to 295/35s on wider-than-stock 10 inch wide rims. This option adds $1375 to the coupe’s base price of $54,355. The convertible, called the “Speedster,” costs an extra $4,000. When I asked Saleen if Porsche had any problems with him using the name “Speedster,” he replied “absolutely not,” continuing: “In fact we ourselves have all kinds of problems with people copying our names and products. Especially Racecraft parts.”
Steve Saleen stresses that his company makes and owns all their tools, dies and molds. They may subcontract companies like Speedline to fabricate parts, but the engineering and tooling belong to Saleen, insuring that the company maintains strict control over the design of every part on a project Mustang. The composite hood, for example, and all the dramatically revised bits (urethane front fascia, side skirts, rear fascia, wing and taillight panel) are the sole inspiration of Saleen, who has long been responsible for his idiosyncratic aero-look. Once the molds are prepared in the Saleen shops, the parts are farmed out to various concerns, mostly in Orange County and Southern California, for construction.
Whether or not the parts are self-made or not is irrelevant. There are, after all, more than 2000 changes in part specification from the Ford-built Mustang to the S-351, and one could hardly expect such a sea-change in design to be accomplished in house. Rather, Saleen’s strength seems to be in his ability to subcontract with exemplary vendors like AER and Speedline to get just what he wants, when he needs it, for his project cars. The efficiency of Saleen’s operation can be judged by the fact that construction of an S-351 takes only two weeks from start to finish. Saleen plans on building 40 or 50 this year, plus 75 of the less powerful S-281 modular block Mustangs. Add a few dozen Explorers into the mix, and you’ve got plenty to keep those 30 employees hopping annually.
So the question here is not so much who makes the parts but how well they work together in the S-351 to produce a memorable sports car. If my one-day test hop in a Saleen Speedster is any indication, you definitely get your money’s worth in the S-351. For about the price of a decently optioned Porsche Boxster or Corvette Convertible, you’ve got a Mustang that will run circles around either of those competitors. Saleen’s entire premise for this supercharged Mustang was to build the fastest accelerating car sold in America through normal dealer channels. Since the S-351 is available through a network of 70 separate dealers, you can buy this car almost anywhere in the USA. And since the S-351 will crank consistent 12.6s in the quarter mile at 120-125mph, you can also call it the fastest accelerating production car available through conventional dealer channels. The Viper comes close, but Saleen feels his Mustang owns the edge over the substantially more expensive, marginally slower Viper.
Finished in white with black graphics and interior, ’98 Saleen Speedster SN 98000 112 983 came off the assembly line in October 1997. The most noticeable aspect of the convertible package is the fluted slipstream-style Speedster hard-shell tonneau. This combing covers the area behind the front seats with a twin headrest nacelle that feeds into the cockpit via a Corvette-like waterfall between the front seats. The tonneau reduces interior wind noise to an entirely acceptable level for long periods of top-down driving.
Saleen has replaced the indifferent Mustang front seats with a pair of splendid sports seats that proved the perfect match for long distance driving. Finished in a nubby black fabric, and embroidered on the headrest “Saleen by Recaro,” these buckets support your thighs, lower back and shoulders. They enable you to remain planted during G-loaded maneuvers without resorting to a death grip on the steering wheel. Both the wheel and the shift-knob sport striking carbon fiber inserts. The upper and lower strand bands on the face of the wheel are a bit disconcerting at first, but feel better upon longer acquaintance. Both doors feature white plastic inserts beneath the window and door lock controls. These panels dovetail nicely with the design and color of the Speedster tonneau.
Proper instrumentation is a strong point of the S-351, with highly legible white faced gauges that include the expected (fuel, ammeter) and the unexpected (oil temp, 200 mph speedo recalibrated by Phillips). That redone speedo isn’t optimistic by much, as the S-351 will post 172 mph in top gear at redline of 5700 rpm. There’s also a fuel pressure gauge and a boost gauge contained in a central pod appended, Shelby-Mustang style, to the top of the dash surface. Unless you’re well into the vices of the Vortec, the boost dial reads in the negative (at about -15 HgPSI). Although Saleen says maximum boost will reach +8 on occasion, the most I saw on the gauge was +6 PSI. Fuel pressure to those 36 Ib/hr injectors ranged from 35 psi at idle to 45 psi at full boost. The redone dash presents a comforting rest stop on the information super highway.
Steering is rather heavily boosted for a sports car, but still offers good positional feedback. Compared to the in-your-ear communication level of the new Porsche 996’s steering, the yakety-yak Saleen rates about a seven on a ten-scale. Shifting the ergonomic Momo knob was usually a positive experience, with short, decisive throws between gears. Early in the game, though, I missed the fourth to third downshift and selected first (didn’t let the clutch out, Steve) then slid over to fifth (did let the clutch out). For awhile, that fluff appeared to be an anomaly until the incident repeated itself several more times during the course of the day. Either the slots for 1-2 and 5-6 are too close to the 3-4 gate, or I’m a ham-fist when it comes to the T-56 tranny. But be forewarned, this may happen to you, so tread lightly before you drop the clutch.
The level of adhesion in cornering is so high that when you finally lose control of this car, you’re bound to be in for a very serious incident. Surfing the apexes on Ortega Highway between San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore, I came to trust implicitly the instincts of this admittedly heavy cruiser. Despite its weight of 3378 pounds, the S-351 felt more nimble than a Corvette in turns. Certainly the ride of the Saleen has a leg up on the C5 Vette, and with the optional Michelin steamrollers, you have to do something really stupid to loop this car. The four-pot front binders snag the Speedster every bit as quick as the spec sheet promises they will. I never came close to smoking the pie-plate brakes in my enforced death march over Ortega summit. Structural rigidity proved surprisingly good with the top down, and I never once heard a squeak or groan from the dash or felt a shudder through the steering wheel. The wingfoil-shaped black padded roll bar behind your head gives an added boost to your confidence level when driving hard.
But let’s face it, nobody buys this car for the brakes, the seats, the roll bar, or even the outrageous looks. Well, maybe some do sucker for those looks, but the majority of customers willing to pay $60,000 for a car that started life at $30,000 do so for the promise of unbridled speed. And that’s just what they get with this one. So what’s it like to uncork 495 horses stabled under the composite hood of just one ponycar? It’s like spinning the rheostat to max revs on a Dremel MotoTool. Your ears buzz, your teeth chatter, and your head buries itself in the gilt embroidery of that Recaro headrest. Before I left the Irvine shop, I asked Saleenwhether the ignition system was equipped with an electronic cut-out at redline of 5700rpm. He confirmed that it was, but then mentioned that he hoped I wouldn’t go finding it very often.
Well, it’s just about impossible to squirt this car in any gear without slamming up against that rev-limiter instantaneously. That’s because the T-56’s gears are spaced relatively closely, and a blast on the throttle in any gear save sixth puts you into the red on the tech so fast you barely have time to slam the lever into the next slot. The Vortec supercharger harnesses and magnifies the already abundant torque of the 5.8 liter Mustang V8 so quickly that keeping up with its sprints to redline is like chasing mercury balls around a tile floor. This kind of performance in first or second gear might be expected, but what really sets you on your duff is the relentless surge in the upper gears. Be sure your cleared for takeoff before pinning back the ears of a supercharged Saleen.
If this isn’t a Boss Mustang, I don’t know what is. And if Steve Saleen isn’t the Mustang Boss, I don’t know who is. He’s covering so much of the same ground that Carroll Shelby tilled in the ’60s that comparisons between the two men are inevitable. Like Shelby in years past, Saleen is coming off a good showing (2nd place in GT2) at this year’s Sebring 12 hour endurance race. Like Shelby in his day, Saleen too went to Le Mans last year and acquitted himself well. And like Shelby, Saleen has had notable successes in winning manufacturer’s championships for himself and Ford. In fact, the pride-of-place podium in Saleen’s Irvine lobby currently displays an SCCA Manufacturer’s trophy won by Lou Gigliotti aboard a Saleen Mustang. And this year, Saleen, like Shelby before him, announced a rental car tie-in to make his Mustang available to the masses. For only $89 a day, you can rent a mod-block S-281 from Thrifty. When I asked Saleen whether his rent-a-racers would be black with gold stripes, a la Shelby’s Hertz GT350s, he just smiled impishly.
But the historical connection between Saleen and Shelby, both Ford loyalists to the end, bears further investigation. It’s rare to get a second chance to do anything you missed the first time around. So if you passed up that GT350 back in the ’60s, here’s your chance to rectify your mistake in the ’90s. Because the S-351 is nothing short of the same crazy horse, born again some 30 years down the road.
June / July 1998
Original Article: Sports Car International Magazine
He builds and races Mustangs, he has support of Ford Motor Co., his cars are becoming legendary. Sound familiar?
Call Steve Saleen anything you like, but don’t call him a “tuner”. He’s a small volume manufacturer, in every sense of the word. For more than a dozen years, Saleen and his cadre of engineers, assemblers, fabricators and hot-rodders have been turning garden variety Mustangs into Saleen Mustangs. And a Saleen Mustang is something different than just another “tuner car”. The net result may appear somewhat the same: A Mustang that’s received an array of performance, handling and appearance upgrades. Many a small shop has claimed to build “limited edition” Mustangs. This may be true, but more often than not, they’ve been very “limited”…to maybe one or two cars. Saleen has built more than 4000. Hence, the difference.
That difference starts with Steve himself. Saleen’s enthusiasm for Mustangs began like most people’s: “I was, at an early age, bitten by the racing and Mustang heritage bug … I was very Ford oriented in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I had a ’65 Shelby, a ’66 Shelby and my dad had a ’66 289 coupe. I also had a ’67 GT fastback that looked like Steve McQueen’s car from [the movie] ‘Bullitt’, except that mine had a 390 in it, and I put dual quads on it. I then went on to a ’69 Boss 302.” Saleen admits to being a “Ford guy” through and through; turning Camaros, Hondas or something elses into limited-production, high-performance specials was never in the cards.
Saleen was also an avid racer, and displayed considerable talent. He began racing a Porsche originally owned by his father, then progressed to SCCA Formula Atlantic competition. In 1980, Steve finished a creditable third in that series championship; the competition must have been formidable, as Jacques Villenueve the elder won the title that year. Saleen then began competing in SCCA Trans Am in 1982, the year Ford came out with the revised Mustang 5.0-liter HO GT. Saleen formed his own company, originally called Saleen Autosport, in 1984, with the idea of building special Mustangs.
As noted, Steve owned several Shelby Mustangs, and it was not lost upon the USC business grad that something resembling the Shelby phenomenon could happen again, this time with the late model 5.0-liter Mustang. “As I progressed through my racing career, I saw an opportunity with Ford and the Mustang, to do something similar to what, during my teenage years, I fell in love with.” He set up shop in Long Beach, California, and the first three Saleen Mustangs were built off of 175 horsepower, 1984 models.
From the beginning, Saleen’s goal was to improve the car from all aspects; a show only looker would never do, and a fast car with no improvements to the handling would also be an imbalance. Saleen and buddy Paul Pfanner conceived and designed a comprehensive upgrade package, including rocker panels, a rear spoiler (“Porsches have wings, Saleens have spoilers” according to Steve) and a square-shouldered front air dam. He dubbed his suspension improvement system “Racecraft,” the name still used today for all Saleen suspension componentry. The package included Bilstein gas shocks and struts, special springs, urethane sway bar bushings and an additional chassis crossmember for added rigidity. Hayashi racing wheels mounted Goodyear Eagle GT tires.
Having been a marketing major, Saleen knew the value of brand identity, so there was a plethora of Saleen identification on the car: Specially screened gauges, badges on the dash, a Saleen Mustang decal at the top of the windshield, even Saleen ID on the chromed air cleaner cover. And again taking a note from the Shelby legend, Steve knew it was important that the cars be numbered in such a way as to commemorate their place in what he hoped would be a long production history. Curiously, the first three cars were numbered 32, 51 and 52. Smart move: Many a producer was sunk by the media for showing prototype #001….
Saleen then hit the marketing trail, both with Ford and with the media. In short, the magazines loved the Saleen machine, as people were still recovering from the pre1982 performance doldrums, and Steve’s car easily out handled the TRX-equipped factory Mustangs. It was too early in the development stage for any horsepower addons yet, but those would come in time.
A crucial turning point in the future of Saleen Autosport would be gaining factory recognition from Ford; the ability to buy new Mustangs factory-direct, and to sell his cars through Ford dealers. This would separate Saleen Mustangs from other “tuner cars.” For 1985, Saleen secured both.
The ’85 Saleens had more content than those first cars, and real larger-scale conversion began with these models. There were more interior upgrades, a 170 mph speedo, leather trim for the steering wheel and shifter, but more importantly, further development in the suspension area. The latest 225/60 Gatorback tires were used, along with even more exterior trim to differentiate a Saleen from a regular Mustang. Again there were no modifications to the engine, though recall that 1985 was the year that horsepower went from 175 to 210 anyway, so that increase was deemed enough … for now. Production increased from three to 128 cars, and Saleen appeared to be on his way.
The year 1986 brought a further-developed car, and a return to the race track. Saleen switched to Koni shocks, 16-inch wheels and began installing a strut tower brace. Steve has always, and remains to this day, heavily involved in the design and specifications for the cars, and the Saleen Autosport urethane body panel packages were constantly being updated for a smoother look and higher quality. The ’86s also had special racing-style front seats, upgraded stereos, a Hurst shifter .. Saleen knew that the more content he could engineer into the car, the better. The dealers received special training, and had specific ordering procedures on how to best tailor the car to meet the desires of the owners.
As noted, Saleen always kept one eye on his growing car business, and another trained on the race track. Steve felt the cars were ideally suited to SCCA’s Showroom Stock Endurance class, and entered a team of Saleen Mustangs in the series. Their first win came on a rainy day in the 24hour enduro at Mosport. It would be the first of many.
Ford redesigned the Mustang for 1987, and so the Saleen was updated as well. The exterior aerodynamics package was completely redesigned, with considerable attention being paid to the rear wing and lower rear valance area. The brake system really got some attention, in the form of 5lug SVO hubs, front and rear ventilated rotors, a heavy duty master cylinder and braided brake lines. It was expensive and labor-intensive, but worth it, given the base car’s marginal brake package. The interior upgrades were redesigned around Ford’s revised cabin, and with horsepower up to an all time high of 225, the Saleen Mustang represented a performance bargain at $19,900. Sales again increased, to 278 Saleen Mustangs, including the five SCCA race cars.
Win On Sunday…
Saleen re-entered the SCCA Showroom Stock Endurance series for ’87, and came out with guns blazing. An all-female win, with Desire Wilson and Lisa Cacares sharing the driver’s seat notched the team’s first victory of the season at Sears Point. Wins followed at Portland and again at Mosport, with a stunning 1,2,3,4 and 6th place performance for the three-car and two-truck team at Atlanta, running in two different classes. Saleen had begun to attract the attention and participation of a few of the more seasoned, but certainly most capable drivers; former Trans-Am.champs George Follmer and Pamelli Jones, to name just two. The team’s effort was rewarded with the 1987 SCCA SS Endurance series championships for Team, Manufacturer, Drivers and Tires.
Sales continued to increase, more dealers were added to the Saleen network, and all the while it’s important to remember that the cars could be financed through Ford, and remained fully warrantied by both Ford and Saleen; again not something that could be said about many aftermarket specials. Though the race team could not back up 1987’s championship-winning performance, 1988 was the year for a particularly sweet victory, a 1-2-3 finish at Mosport. This Canadian venue was the site of the team’s first win in 1986, and the ’88 win was their third consecutive victory at the track.
One of those “Best of times, worst of times” years for Saleen was 1989. Though the Saleen Mustangs had been universally praised for their handling performance, improved interiors and aggressive styling, people were crying for more horsepower. As the content level grew, the cost of a Saleen Mustang had escalated further and further above that of the LX and GT models, and the buyership was asking for more horsepower as part of the bargain. They got it, and a bit more, in the form of the 1989 Saleen SSC.
Nobody wanted more performance in his cars than Saleen and his people. But it wasn’t that easy; by this time there was lots of go-fast hardware already on the market for the fuel-injected 5.0, but not a lot of it was EPA legal. In order to deliver the type of product he wanted, and to be able to sell it as a new car through Ford dealers, the cars had to be smog legal and not void Ford’s warranty parameters at the same time. This made the job a little tougher than just sliding in a cam, bolting on some headers, and delivering them to dealer’s lots. Besides, emissions- certifying an engine is not an inexpensive proposition.
Saleen used car 87-01 (meaning car #01 of the 1987 model year; all Saleens are so numbered) as the development platform for the faster Saleen that would become the SSC. In typical hot-rodder fashion, the improvements were found by increasing the engine’s breathing capability. The final package ended up with an enlarged throttle body, an AirSensors TPI unit, polished and ported heads, revised rocker arm ratios and stainless-steel headers replacing the factory units. They were backed up by Walker Dynomax mufflers. For even more grunt, a 3.55 rear-end ratio was swapped in.
The SSC also got a revised graphics package, new 5-spoke 16-inch wheels and even more chassis stiffening via a roll bar and rear chassis support, in addition to all the normal Saleen suspension and braking upgrades. Saleen bolted in the best hardware he could muster, everything from Monroe driver adjustable shocks to special Saleen/Flowfit leather seats and a Kenwood CD player; remember, CD players in cars were still a bit of a novelty at the time. It all added up to an estimated 292-horsepower stormer that would easily top 150 mph. In all, 160 were built, and each of the white SSC fastbacks were sold in a heartbeat for their $36,500 asking price. One can only wonder why Ford didn’t jump on the package, and create a real 25th Anniversary Mustang once it became clear that the Roush twin-turbo car would never see the production light of day. Sales for ’89 were again the best in the company’s history.
Saleen’s racing efforts went big time for 1989, but it was an unfortunately short trip, and a rough one at that. Steve, like any American born and bred driver, wanted to race in the Indianapolis 500. Fortunately, his visibility, sponsor support and a certain level of success in the car business allowed him to assemble an IndyCar team. Though it was a competent enough effort, it was still decidedly shoestring when compared to the manpower and budgets displayed by powerhouses such as Newman-Haas and Penske. Steve’s month of May was riddled by crashes and blown engines; the team did not qualify for the race, and Saleen had little more than-a flattened checkbook to show for the effort.
Power Up, Sales Down
One of the keen advantages of being a small-volume producer such as Saleen is the ability to quickly redevelop the products, and to introduce special models as desired. This focus describes the procession of the model lineup from 1990 through the end of the Fox cars in 1993. For 1990, Saleen continued to offer Mustangs powered by the standard 5.0 liter, an uprated version first developed for the SSC. Now called the SC, the hot version quickly became popular as people got the power to match the handling, equipment levels and looks they were buying with the rest of the Saleen package. Throughout these model years, there were continuous upgrades and changes to the aero package, wheels and tires, interior trim and the like. For example, the ’91 cars got a 70 min mass air flow sensor to replace the 65 nun unit; a 77 mm unit came just a year later. The first “Spyder” package came in ’92, with a special hard tonneau covering up the convertible top and rear seats, giving the look of a two-seat roadster. The same year, a Vortech supercharged engine became optional, and soon 17-inch wheels began showing up. Saleen, his longtime production chief Jimmy Moore, his wife Liz and the entire crew were constantly busy developing new products for both the cars and the thriving aftermarket parts business that grew out of it.
The year 1993 capped Saleen’s 10th anniversary in the business, and they built ten special black-and-gold 10th Anniversary edition cars to commemorate he occasion. The cars kept getting better, further distancing themselves from the mainstream Mustangs. The only problem was, business, both in terms of sales and in terms of structure, got worse.
“From the tail end of 1989 to 1993, 1 would call those our ‘dark years’,” comments a thoughtful Steve Saleen. “That was not a very happy time in our endeavor, and 1992 was probably our darkest year in that we only produced 17 cars … however I think the key figure is that we actually produced 17 cars! What happened was that about half-way through 1989 (about the same time as the Indy qualifying effort), the economy went into a significant recession. The automobile industry was not excluded from that, and was also hard hit … a lot of (large and small) companies went out of business.”
“The company was fairly leveraged at that time in terms of capitalization, and as our [sales] volume shrunk, it was difficult to keep our doors open. What I did in trying to preserve the company was to take two alternatives. One was to take our parts division … and I sold it lock, stock and barrel to a couple friends. I took the car company portion … and settled on one particular group of investors that came in and said, basically, if I will sign over the assets and the company to them, they will then put in money, take the company public and they would be able to pay off the debts, and [we can] move on with our lives. I went ahead, took that option … and after I got into it a lot deeper, I found out that the individuals I got hooked up with misrepresented [their capability] and really had no intentions of doing what they indicated and said that they would. I found myself between a rock and a hard spot.”
It took years for Saleen to work out the financial recapture of his company and in fact his own name as it applies to Mustangs. He did prevail, but the company was in shambles. Steve freely admits that some employees lost their jobs, and many vendors had to wait for their money, but he worked diligently to support the customer base they had tried so hard to develop. In 1993, he formed a new company, Saleen Performance, built a new shop in Irvine California and started almost from scratch. A humbling experience, to be sure.
The new SN-95 Mustang could not have come along at a better time, and in 1994 things began a swift turnaround for Saleen. “I started calling on dealers to rebuild our network, took a partner named Tony Johnson who could bring some financial backing and astute business knowledge … and concentrated on building cars again.”
Saleen designed an all-new car based on the new-for-’94 Mustang, and it centered around what Mustangers had wanted for ages: A 351 Windsor V8. The Saleen S-351 capitalized upon all that was good about SN-95 Mustang, and then delivered what Ford didn’t. A new aero package cured the Mustang’s somewhat clumsy “bladed” rocker panel treatment, and the front and rear facsias were the most aggressive yet. The new car’s generous fenderwell room meant optional 18-inch Saleen Speedline genuine magnesium wheels with the latest 35 series Z-rated rubber.
But the heart of the S-351 matter lay beneath the composite hood in the form of a 351 cubic-inch Windsor “crate motor” that Saleen converted to roller tappet form. Aluminum Edelbrock heads were fitted along with a heavily reworked SVO GT40 upper and lower intake. Developing this engine meant a lot of R & D work, and considerable certification cost: the cam was custom ground, the ignition specially recurved, and it had ceramic-coated headers and a new Borla exhaust system. The specs go way beyond the scope of this article, but the numbers don’t: The Saleen-breathed upon 5.8 was rated at 370 horsepower at 5 100 rpm, and 422 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3500. Zero-to-60 times were in the low to upper fives depending upon who was doing the testing, and though those times suggest that the horsepower figure may have been a little bit optimistic it’s clear that the S-351 was something completely different than your everyday 5.0. Perhaps more impressive was the handling performance: Road & Track tested an early S-351, and the combination generated .97g on the skid pad; as good or better than many a Porsche or Ferrari.
Another interesting event may have helped spark the turnaround for Saleen. Someone mentioned to Steve Saleen that actor/comedian Tim Allen was quite a car buff, and happened to be performing at a Hermosa Beach, California night club. Saleen caught the act, and later had the chance to show his cars to Allen. Allen drove the cars, and was immediately hooked. He asked Saleen to build him a special Mustang, and that was the birth of a pearl-white ’93 fastback dubbed “R-R-R” after the grunting noises Allen makes as his TV character, Tim “the tool man” Taylor on his show, Home Improvement.
That particular car was a one-off, Vortech- supercharged 302-powered Saleen perhaps better suited to the track than the street. It also had a hand-fabricated front end section using slimmer Ford Thunderbird headlights, several custom carbon fiber panels such as the hood and front fenders, and aerodynamic wheel discs somewhat reminiscent of those used by IndyCars at the time. There are custom touches everywhere: Racing pedals, an extremely high tech sound system, a rollcage … the budget and the imagination were just about unlimited in the creation of what may be the ultimate Fox-bodied Saleen Mustang. Said to be good for 575 horsepower twisting through the Tremec 5-speed transmission, the car has been clocked to a tractionlimited 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds.
It was during a R-R-R test session at Willow Springs Raceway that Steve Saleen began to notice Allen’s natural driving talent. “I would tell him to put the car ‘over here’ on the next lap [referring to an apex or cornering point] and he would hit it perfectly,” comments Saleen. “He listened, and learned quickly.” It wasn’t long before the two formed the Saleen/Allen Speedlab RRR race team, the goal being SCCAs World Challenge class. World Challenge cars somewhat resemble what a modern day Trans-Am car might look like if it were built from a production Mustang and had to retain certain stock body parts, chassis layout and suspension design elements. They typically compete against Porsches, Loti, Corvettes, Carnaros and other Mustangs.
Allen progressed quickly as a driver, and the team hit the trail for the 1995 season. Several guest drivers also participated depending upon need and schedule, including Price Cobb and Cobra-meister Bob Bondurant. There were victories that season, but the effort really paid off the following year, when the sophomore team won the SCCA World Challenge Manufacturer Championship. Saleen notes that Allen is a non-stop gallows humor machine around the pits or during team meetings, but that he’s “all business once he puts on that helmet.”
Hot on the heels, literally, of the S-351 came a supercharged version. The blown Saleen S-351 R is rated at around 500 horsepower, fully smog and OBD 11 legal, and warrantied by Saleen. The supercharger is a Vortech unit, and AER again participated in the development and does some of the assembly. The only problem was that all this horsepower costs money, so beginning in 1996 Saleen developed a more cost-effective car based on the new 4.6-liter Mustangs, the S-281. The 281 moniker of course refers to the engine’s corresponding cubic inch rating. The S-281 still features all the suspension, interior and exterior upgrades as the blown 351 cars, but at a much more affordable price: $29,500 for an S-281 coupe, as opposed to $53,900 for the S-351R. As the old saying goes “Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?” Most S-281s are based on the 2-valve 4.6 cars, though some have been built using the 305 horsepower SVT Cobra as a base. What an unusual combination, having a car that is both a limited-production SVT Mustang with a hand-assembled engine and a numbered, limited-edition Saleen at the same time.
As noted, Saleen’s education was in marketing, and it shows. The company goes out of its way to court its dealers and its customers, and constantly reinforces the company’s position as a genuine manufacturer (they are recognized as such by the DOT). The Saleen showrooms are outstandingly presented with aftermarket parts, accessories and clothing; there is the Team Saleen club, a web site, a newsletter and club open houses at the factory. Steve Saleen makes many guest appearances … clearly an effort to stay in touch with his customers. In business school, they call it “relationship marketing,” and Saleen does it well.
SCI has already covered Saleen’s first ever effort at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he admits to being so far the ultimate experience of his racing career. Though the effort didn’t produce class-winning results, it offered valuable lessons, and solid plans to return this year for another crack at the Sarthe.
What’s next? You need only look at the unusually-colored Saleen SR prototype pictured herein. With both a widened body and an independent rear suspension developed in concert with the racing effort, this may be the “Ultimate Saleen”…at least so far (we can’t wait to run one against a Viper GTS). And 1998 brings a new venture: The Saleen Explorer. Steve and company have designed a performance and appearance enhancement package for the wildly popular Ford Explorer, replete with supercharged V8, magnesium wheels, Recaro seats and a dropped suspension for better handling.
Is Saleen the Shelby of the 1980s, 1990s and beyond? It’s hard to say, because that was then, and this is now. But some of the ingredients are certainly in place: tatted up Mustangs, a home-grown race team, marketing savvy and a bit of controversy now and again. Saleen, the man and company, have had their ups and downs. But they continue to build cars that stretch beyond the mainstream. And the Mustang loyals are loving it.
Almost every major auto racing event has one or two of what’s called for lack of a better name, “warm-up” races. They are events that fill in time before the major race of the day, and are designed to maintain spectator interest before the main event.
In the case of the Sports Car Club of America Trans Am races, the “warm-up” is the SCCA World Challenge race for Touring 1 and Touring 2 cars and might well be called “Trans Am Jr.” While the Trans Am cars are specially-constructed racers that pretty much look like domestic pony cars and carry V8 carbureted engines, the World Challenge is open to both foreign and domestic machinery. These races are also different from the Trans Am events in that there are actually two races in one.
Touring 1 (the fastest cars in the race) are large displacement, specially-built cars that have to remain fairly “stock.” As of today, the dominant car in this class is the Saleen Ford Mustang 351 SR. It won the manufacturer’s cup, though it was aided by sheer numbers. There were half a dozen of them running and points earned by any Ford car count towards that maker’s championship. By contrast, Acura is represented in Touring 1 by a pair of NSX coupes and it took second by virtue of four wins, three second place finishes and one fourth by Honda ace Peter Cunningham. It also celebrated a third place finish about mid-season by the very versatile Boris Said.
Other sportsters allowed to compete in SCCA World Challenge Touring 1 events are the Corvette, Camaro, Firebird, BMW M3, Mazda RX-7 Turbo, Porsche RSR and several others. All the cars have to be production- based, and while they are allowed a liberal amount of modification to make them go fast and handle well, the rules aren’t totally open. As an example, they are required to run on street-legal Department of Transportation (DOT) tires rather than special racing slicks.
Touring 2 World Challenge cars run in the same events as the Touring 1 racers but they’re less modified and carry lots less horsepower. Cars that qualify for the Touring 2 category are the Acura Integra, Honda Prelude, Olds Achieva, a couple of BMW models and the Saturn SC coupe. As if to prove how egalitarian Touring 2 racing is, Paul Boorher took second place in the Touring 2 driver’s championship piloting a Saturn SC, which helped that company capture the maker’s championship by having its drivers win points in all 11 races.
Over the years, the SCCA World Challenge championship has underwent many changes since its inception 25 years ago. The beginning can be traced back to a concept that the Sports Car Club of America developed in 1972 to provide a class for its members to race cars right off the showroom floor. It was labeled “Showroom Stock,” and was an instant success. But by the mid-’80s, the original idea of amateur drivers racing unprepared cars grew out of favor and the class developed into another program wherein the auto makers could showcase their products to non-participating spectators.
And now that the ailing SCCA Trans Am series has had a monetary steroid injection from the new-found major sponsorship of the National Tire & Battery stores (a Sears, Roebuck freestanding retail format), and BF Goodrich, the tag-along World Challenge races will no doubt profit as well. Brian Richards, a good friend who is a podium finisher in the Touring 1 class in his Mostly-Mazda Mazda RX-7 Turbo is elated. He could hardly keep the excitement out of his voice when he exclaimed that next year would be “…. very, very interesting..” for the SCCA World Challenge “warm-up.”
By: N.A. on February 17, 1997
Original Article: AUTOWEEK, VOL. 47, ISSUE 7
First lady. Desire Wilson, whose credits include stints in F1, Indy cars, prototypes and Trans-Am, will be the first woman to compete in the North American Touring Car Championship. She’ll drive a Mazda Xedos campaigned by Schader Motorsports.
A new horse at le Sarthe. Steve Saleen and comedian Tim Allen will enter the first Mustangs ever at Le Mans next June. Saleen plans a world tour with GT-2 Mustang Cobras to promote his street cars. Scheduled stops include FIA GT races at Suzuka, Silverstone and Laguna Seca, with Price Cobb and Rob Rizzo in one car, and Dave Warnock and Phil Smith, winners of the 1996 British GT Championship, in another. Considering that Allen was just about the slowest driver at Daytona (and that’s saying something), let’s hope that he’s smart enough to stay out of the car at Le Mans.
Leader of the pack. Robert “Buster” Auton has replaced Elmo Langley as the Winston Cup pace car driver. Langley died happy, of a heart attack while practicing for the NASCAR exhibition at Suzuka last November. Auton was previously a NASCAR inspector and support truck driver.
Oui, oui. Former Indy Lights champion Eric Bachelart has signed Frenchman Christophe Tinseau to drive for his new Indy Lights team. Tinseau raced in European F3000 last season; Bachelart may drive a second car.
Academic success. Jeff Shafer, 21, and Matt Sielsky, 18, former karting champions, have won the scholarships from CART owner Barry Green’s Team Green Academy. The two were chosen from 25 drivers after a series of tests They’ll get a fitness program, an Indy Lights rest and unspecified financial help for the 1997 season.
Black boxes return. Ford has stepped in to continue the black-box crash data program for CART. GM initiated the program several years ago, but switched its technical support to the. Indy Racing League last season. Ford’s boxes are an evolution of the units used by GM, and are made by the same company, Impact Sensor Technologies.
By: DAVE BURNETT on November 1, 1996
Original Article: AFTERMARKET BUSINESS, VOL. 106, ISSUE 11
Saleen Performance is offering its own fully serialized Saleen S281 Mustangs through Team Budget Rent A Car franchises. Like the collectible Shelby GT-350H cars, each S281 will have its own serial number beginning at 01B, with the “B” designating it as a vehicle from the Budget Rent A Car fleet.
Team Budget will rent Saleen S281 Mustangs at selected locations. Thirty 1996 models will be available beginning in August at selected Team Budget’s Southern California, Arizona and Nevada offices. The program will be expanded in October 1996 with an additional 100 Saleen S281 Mustangs to be dispersed throughout the country. By Spring 1998, Saleen Performance expects to have a total of 300 Saleen Mustangs available for rent at Team Budget locations nationwide.
“We first tested the rental car market by providing several cars to Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car earlier this year. These cars were so popular with Mustang enthusiasts and tourists, that the cars were always on rent,” says Steve Saleen, president of Saleen Performance. “We then decided to pursue rentals further and reached an exclusive agreement with Team Budget as the official rent-a-car company for Saleen Performance.”
Like the Shelby/Hertz deal, the Team Budget program will allow buyers the opportunity to test drive a Saleen Mustang before purchasing one. Saleen Mustangs are sold only through selected certified Saleen Ford dealerships across the country.
“Having Saleen Mustangs at rental car agencies is a great opportunity to reach new consumers,” adds Saleen.
The Saleen S281-B Mustang sports its own 18-in. magnesium alloy wheels and tires, complete Racecraft suspension, Saleen designed air management and extensive features such as a Saleen Performance air filter, spark plug wires, close ratio shifter, and a Saleen exhaust system. The S281 features Ford’s newest 4.6 liter, 215 HP modular engine. The cars will be available primarily as a convertible with sport bar and coupes at some locations.
Team Budget owns and operates numerous Budget Rent a Car franchises with a total of 161 locations engaged in car, truck and passenger van rentals in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The company also operates airport parking facilities at certain locations, leases vans for pooling operations in 22 states and markets retail used vehicles in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Richmond, three locations in Southern California, four locations in Indianapolis and two locations in Dayton.
Saleen Performance, the internationally-known specialty vehicle manufacturer of high-performance Mustangs, is based in Irvine, California. Since the company’s inception in 1984, Saleen has produced more than 4,000 vehicles, more than any other specialty manufacturer. The company’s line includes Saleen Mustangs and Saleen Performance Parts, the latter a complete line of performance and appearance products for 5.0 liter Mustangs.
By: MICHAEL J. AGOVINO on October 1996
Original Article: ESQUIRE, VOL. 126 ISSUE 4
Steve Saleen takes garden-variety Ford Mustangs and turns I them into street rods. But not very many of them. His motto is unabashed: “Power in the hands of a few.” Not long ago, we decided to join those few behind the wheel.
Since 1984, the former race-car driver has produced only thirty-five hundred of these babies. Saleen’s current offerings begin at a remarkably low $28,000 for a six. cylinder and range up to $50,000 for a supercharged eight. The supercharger of the new Speedster convertible boosts the output of the 351-cubic-inch Saleen engine to 480 horses.
Saleen takes most of the Mustangs’ innards out, along with significant weight. He adds superchargers, specially rebuilt engines, and new suspensions and transmissions; reshapes the bodies; and adds instrument panels with speedometers that reach two hundred miles per hour.
Limited-edition manufacturers, such as Saleen on the West Coast and Reeves Callaway on the East, are reclaiming a piece of American auto turf once thought long gone: that of the street-legal race car. Callaway’s demurely titled “SuperNatural” Corvettes and gussied-up Impala SS’s are rare and impressive beasts.
That there is little that’s socially redeeming about these vehicles is argued by the stiff gas-guzzler tax they carry; that there is much that’s personally redeeming is suggested by time in a Saleen’s Recaro driver’s seat, as we discovered when we drove it.
The g forces induced during the five brief seconds it took me to reach sixty miles per hour were only the most obvious of the sensations the car produced. On the quiet back road where we drove the Saleen, we learned that muscle today in cars, as in the NFL, means not just speed but quickness and moves. These the Saleen provided aplenty, thanks to suspension built around race-car struts, which let you dip and doodle, juke and jag happily. On the country blacktop, curve succeeded curve, and the Saleen settled into a rhythm at once aggressive and controlled.
Saleen’s cars look different, too, with blacked-out taillights and headlights that lend the vehicles a face like the Charlotte Hornet mascot’s. And they have the refinement of racers, not muscle cars: The brakes behind the body-colored eighteen-inch wheels are fully a match for the engine–sure in their grip, steady in their modulation.
The only danger is of ostentation: Saleens have become so well-known that six were offered as prizes in a recent McDonald’s sweepstakes.
It sounds apocryphal. Jasper Johns heard what Willem de Kooning said about art dealer Leo Castelli: “You can give that son of a bitch two beer cans and he could sell them.” Ah, Johns thought, and with that sculptured Painted Bronze (left)–two years before Warhol’s soup cans. When you visit the Johns retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art this fall-his first in nearly twenty years–put the headset down and savor his immortalization of the prosaic. Notice, too, John’s paradoxes: how one can is open, the other closed, and, look closely, is one a hair taller? De Kooning, of course, was right. Castelli did sell the cans–for $1,000.
By: PARNELLI JONES on September 23, 1996
Original Article: FORBES FYI, VOL. 158, ISSUE 7
The Saleen Mustang may be street legal, but it feels every inch a race car
I HAD BEEN AT INDIANAPOLIS FOR THE 500. It’s always a great week down on pit row, or sitting up there in the stands watching time trials. But if you’re an old racer like me, you start to get the itch to be out on the track yourself. People still ask me how it feels tearing down that straightaway and into Turn One at Indy, and I always tell them the most apt description I ever heard: it’s like driving down the street at 200 miles an hour and turning left into your driveway. Not for everybody,! suppose. But, for me, a great feeling.
The itch was still pretty bad when! got home to Los Angeles. And that’s when I got a call asking if I’d like to drive up to the Willow Springs race track out near Mojave and try out the new Saleen Mustang on a closed course. It’s a pretty safe track since there’s not much to hit in the desert except sagebrush if you go off the asphalt. Sounded like just the cure to me.
The Saleen Mustang is named after Steve Saleen, himself a former race driver who went on to become a team owner and builder. So he knows something about the serious driver. The car he builds is so tough and fast, even George Foreman has one.
So, what’s a Saleen? Well, basically Steve’s company orders a select number of stock Mustang GT 5.0s each year from the Dearborn plant where they’re made. Then a team of technicians takes each car apart, throwing a lot of the factory parts away and installing custom replacements. Changing one of these Ponies over from top to bottom takes about 120 hours. They’ll add a new camshaft, cylinder heads and intake manifold to the engine, for example. And by the time they’re done, it’s about 75% more powerful than the car that left the Ford factory. (Since they upped the power to about 150 hp, they had to add a new speedometer as well; the new one goes up to 200 mph.)
It was about 103 degrees the day I got out to Willow Springs, two hours north of L.A. I used to run the course years ago, and I also used to scramble trucks and dirt bikes up in the hills around the track, so I know the area pretty well. It’s real scrub country out that way, but I love it.
When I got behind the wheel of the Saleen, the car sure didn’t look or feel like your basic Five-Oh anymore. They’ve added Recaro racing seats–real buckets–that are comfortable and come up high along your butt so you really feel supported in the car. The gear shift has a closer ratio, and the gauge cluster on the dash has a white background that is easier to read than the usual black.
Now, whenever you test a new car it’s always a good idea to inch your way up to speed little by little. So I hit the track at about 100 mph, and then started concentrating on going fast.
Saleen has changed a lot more on this car than just the engine. (Each car is so altered from the machines that come out of the factory, in fact, that Saleen is legally registered as a manufacturer.) The chassis has been pretty well tuned up, and they’ve replaced the springs and struts. They’ve added a sway bar, side skirts, and a rear wing and front spoiler, so at 120 to 130 the ground effects combine to provide good stability on the track. None of the slipping and sliding you’d expect from a street vehicle.
The Willow Springs track has got one long high-speed corner just before you pass the pit area on the straightaway, and it’s in high-speed corners that a car’s true colors will come out (and this car comes in quite a few crazy colors). A lot of people don’t know that handling high-speed curves is the toughest job a race driver has. In fact, they think driving an oval course is just “going around in Circles.” But nothing could be more wrong. Tight, slow curves might look more dramatic because the driver is throwing the car all over the place, but in a high-speed curve you’ve got to hold the car out there on the edge. You make any mistakes and you won’t be easily forgiven. And that’s where the Saleen came through. The model I drove was a 35I, so it had a lot of torque to begin with, and the supercharger gave it even more top end. The harder! got on it, the better it handled.
Coming to the end of that high-speed turn at 110 mph, I down-shifted into third. The gear was a little hard to find–my one complaint about the car–but when I tapped the brakes I knew right away that they were better than anything that came with the Ford stock package. Much better. Saleen will install four-piston calipers with 13-inch disks. Plus, they’ve added big 18-inch wheels and ram-air intakes, which means you get much-needed cooling on each wheel.
All in all, Saleen has put a lot of thought into the car, and it’s really fun to drive. You look at the price range it falls into and, well, it may sound high, but considering what you get it’s not out of sight. There are two basic packages: the 281 engine that starts at about ,29,000, and the 351 engine, the one I drove, for about $43,000. Add-ons here and there can put the price up over *50,000, but to a lot of folks it’ll be worth it, and they’re the same folks who won’t mind putting premium fuel in every trip to the gas station.
You know, race cars are built strictly for that: racing. They’re too ugly to run on the street. The beauty of the Saleen is that it feels like a race car, but once you throttle back it becomes a street car again, smartly laid out and quiet inside. In fact, when I came off the track at Willow Springs, I cranked up the radio and the air conditioning and was ready to head home on the freeway.
But then I decided that I wasn’t quite ready.! had spent the afternoon going clockwise around the track, and since there was plenty of daylight left, I thought I’d spend a little time doing counterclockwise laps. Driving backwards; it’s just another one of those itches some old racers get from time to time.
For dealers: 800-SALEEN-4; or hook up on the ‘Net at www. saleen.com.
480 Horsepower, High-Performance Vehicle Is Latest Edition to Expanding Line of High-performance Mustangs
IRVINE, CA – Saleen Performance, a specialty vehicle manufacturer, has announced the introduction of the Saleen Speedster, one of the latest edition of its expanding line of limited production performance Mustangs. Capable of generating up to 480 HP, the Speedster is the most powerful U.S.-produced automobile.
Speedster standard features include a 351 cubic-inch, 371 HP, Saleen engine with aluminum cylinder heads, Saleen intake manifold, Saleen headers, and a Saleen/Boria stainless steel exhaust system. A Tremec 5-speed transmission, and a custom-balanced drive-shaft upgrade the drive-line, and 18 inch magnesium wheels and tires, 4-piston competition style Saleen/Alcon disc brakes with 13 inch front rotors, a four core radiator, and dual electric fuel
pumps round out the performance enhancements. A Vortech supercharger boosts output to 480 HP, lowering zero to 60 times to 4.7 seconds, and 12.9 seconds in the quarter-mile.
“The Saleen Speedster is our answer to transforming a convertible into a sophisticated high-performance two-seater,” said Steve Saleen, president of Saleen Performance. “We wanted to incorporate certain racing aerodynamics of the Saleen Mustang such as the carbon fiber hood and the Speedster tonneau cover for the convertible model. In addition, we wanted it to be more of an exclusive body style for us.”
Extensive Saleen exterior aerodynamic refinements and a Saleen restyled interior, complete with Saleen sports seating, a white instrument gauge cluster with a 200 mph speedometer, Saleen leather wrapped steering wheel and leather gear shift knob are complemented by the convertible‘s hard cover Speedster tonneau, specially-designed carbon fiber hood and a light bar that attaches from side to side.
Suggested retail price for Saleen’s Speedster is $48,500, available through selected Team Saleen Ford dealerships across the country. For a list of Team Saleen Ford Dealers, contact Saleen Performance at 9 Whatney, Irvine, CA 92718, or call (800) SALEEN-4.
Since the company’s inception in 1984, Saleen has produced nearly 3,500 vehicles, more than any other specialty manufacturer. The company’s line includes Saleen Mustangs and Saleen Performance Parts, the latter a complete line of performance and appearance products for 5.0 liter Mustangs.