Tag Archives: Saleen


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.

1995 S351 in BASF Mystic

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.

1993 RRR built for actor Tim Allen

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.

Saleen production facility – Irvine, CA

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.”

Now Horizons
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.

Steve Saleen

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.


By: on MAY 4, 1998

Children’s Hospital Foundation of Orange County’s Padrinos will present the fourth annual Heroes of the Heart benefit at the Hyatt Regency Irvine on May 16. Tommy Lasorda, who retired as Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager last year, will be the public recipient and featured speaker. Other recipients include Jack Finnerty, Laguna Hills, Jon Rodberg, Irvine, Jason Purcell, Garden Grove and Caring K-9s of CHOC. For ticket information, call (714) 532-8690.

In addition, CHOC is searching for a director of marketing and public affairs and a public relations specialist. Anyone interested in these positions can submit a resume to the human relations department at CHOC, Mention the OCBJ sent you.

Concordia University, Irvine will host its 8th annual Eagle Golf Classic May 18 at the Strawberry Farms Golf Club. Proceeds will support the school’s athletic program. For registration information, call (949) 854-8002.

The city of Garden Grove Community Services Department will host its 19th annual Strawberry Ball May 21 at the Community Meeting Center. The ball will honor an outstanding senior man and woman who have done exceptional volunteer work in the City during the past year. For tickets, call (714) 741-5253.

Main Place Mali merchants will donate a day of primping and pampering this Wednesday to 12 mothers from the House of Hope in Orange, a shelter for homeless women and children.

“Eyewitness News” anchor Michelle Tuzee will serve as emcee for Saddleback Women’s Hospital’s 10th anniversary celebration May 30. Tickets to the event are $75 per person, with proceeds going to the Baby Alumni Club, a support group of Saddleback Memorial Foundation.

Comcast Online will maintain a website for Orangewood Children’s Foundation (www.inorangecounty.com/orangewood) that will include a schedule of Orangewood’s fundraising events such as this month’s child abuse prevention activities. and a sign-up form for interested individuals.

Marie Callender’s has launched a Partners in Education program through which its outlets will adopt area high schools. During last month. the schools received 50 cents for every slice of pie sold above the April 1997 sales level. A minimum donation of $100 per school was guaranteed.

Canyon Acres Children’s Services, an Anaheim Hills facility assisting abused and emotionally disturbed children, has received a $200,000 donation from the former and current owners of Pala Mesa Resort in Fallbrook. Former resort owner, Newport Beach-based Mark IV Capital Inc. and new owner Seattle, Wash,-based Triple Tree Corp. joined together to present the funds.

Mission Viejo-based Merit Property Management and Merit Association Services raised more than $36,000 for United Way charities through a week-long series of fundraising events that culminated in a company chili cook-off.

Arts International, a division of the Institute of International Education, has announced a grant of $2.15 million from the James Irvine Foundation to establish and support the California Presenters Initiative that would provide non-renewable grants of $75,000 each to 21 performing arts organizations.

Toshiba’s Electronic Imaging Division, Irvine has pledged to once again sponsor the Orange County Marine Institute’s Tallships Festival in Dana point, the second year it has provided such support. Toshiba has also donated matching funds to pay for repairs to the brig Pilgrim, a 52-year-old replica of the vessel that brought Richard Henry Dana to California in 1935.

Mimi’s Cafe last month debuted its new Second Chance program designed to support domestic abuse prevention and rehabilitation by donating a portion of the proceeds raised from the sale of Mimi’s French onion soup at all its locations to the program. Mimi’s will also host monthly lunches with women’s shelters, culminating in a yearly event at whiCh monetary grants will be presented to women who have successfully escaped domestic abuse.

Roger Johnson, former head of the U.S. General Services Administration and former CEO of Western Digital Corp., and his wife Janice, pledged $500,000 to UC Irvine’s School of Social Ecology to establish a chair they hope will assist in bringing improvements in the way government is managed and for increasing citizen involvement in the political process.

Lake Forest-based Professional Community Management raised over $38,000 in a week-long fundraiser for United Way. The contribution represents a combined effort of all four of PCMs offices, including the Lake Forest headquarters and a Laguna Hills branch.

The West County Family YMCA raised over $71,000 in its annual support campaign to help needy families join various YMCA programs. More than 100 volunteers contributed to the effort. For information about contributions to the West County Family YMCA, call (714)847-9622.

Sprint PCS, Irvine, donated 36 phones with unlimited local service for the current school year to the Cox Elementary School of the Fountain Valley School District. The program is designed to introduce 100% digital PCS communications to the classroom and improve parent/teacher communication.

St. John Knits raised more than $30,000 for breast cancer research at USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital through a recent private showing of its spring 1998 collection. The event featured the fashion show, tours of the St. John factory and a luncheon.

United Parcel Service donated $50,000 to the Saddleback Memorial Foundation’s Partnership for the Future campaign to assist in raising funds for Saddleback Memorial Medical Center’s new Critical Care Pavilion. The new facility will house a new emergency care center and critical care unit. Partnership for the Future has raised $12 million of the $15 million needed to construct the pavilion

Irvine-based Saleen Performance donated its services to Make-A-Wish Foundation of Orange County by granting a Huntington Beach boy’s wish to have his Mustang customized. The teen’s customized car was unveiled after a special luncheon at Hard Rock Cafe and limo service to Saleen’s facility.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco Laguna Beach recently presented a $1,600 donation to Brandy’s Friends, a Laguna Beach-based family and youth drug counseling and intervention center.

The Southern California Frozen Food Council, Huntington Beach, served ice cream and held an ice cream decorating contest for children and their families at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in recognition of National Frozen Food Month.

Santa Ana-based NEXTLINK, a telecommunications provider, is participating in a joint program with the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Ana School District and city businesses called “Linking Schools to Business.” The program will culminate in 30 internships at Santa Ana businesses this summer.

Jeep Jeepster: Truck Trends

By: MATT STONE on April, 1998
Original Article: Motor Trend

Future Trucks

A Street Rod For The Rubicon Trail

Think of it as a V-8 Plymouth Prowler (with a back seat) that can also tackle a challenging trail with the best of the Jeep family. With its new-for-’99 4.7-liter/275-horse SOHC V-8, which will debut in the Grand Cherokee, and its unique, electronic four-wheel, independent adjustable suspension, you really could go anywhere with confidence-street or stream, boulevard or boulder-strewn trail.

The Jeepster’s dashboard-adjustable suspension switch allows the rod/ute a 4-inch range of travel, from a ground-hugging 5.75 inches to a rock-climbing 9.75 inches of clearance. The two-plus-two Jeepster, which takes its name from the now rare and collectible ’50 Willys Convertible, has a roster of useful features like water-resistant leather seats, a global positioning system, altimeter, grade and roll indicator, and exterior temperature gauge. Its full-time 4WD system is viscous coupled to a four-speed automatic that rotates huge 19-inch “Hot-Wheels”-inspired wheels equipped with “run-flat” Goodyear Extended Mobility Tires, eliminating the need for a spare.

The cool “what if” exercise certainly raises the possibility of eating your Rocky Road ice cream at the drive-in diner or at the top of the nearest mesa. It seems multiple personalities could pay dividends, after all.-Chris Walton

Performance Test

Saleen Explorer: A Performance/Utility Vehicle

Saleen Explorer XP8
Saleen Explorer XP8

The sport/utility vehicle market continues to subdivide itself. There are now full-size luxury SUVs, convertibles, and others. To this, add the newest trend: the PUV, or Performance Utility Vehicle. Everywhere we look, someone is slamming, supercharging, brake-equipping, and killer-suspending SUVs to perform like-believe it or not-cars.

Saleen Performance has been manufacturing steroid-injected Mustangs for more than a dozen years, and decided the top-selling Ford Explorer was an ideal canvas for its brand of performance redo. Steve Saleen and his band of designers, engineers, and assemblers have taken their customary approach to enhancing the Explorer; upgrading not only the engine, but (if desired) the braking, suspension, appearance, and interior accommodations.

The Saleen Explorer comes in two- or four-wheel-drive four-door configurations, packing either a SOHC 4.0-liter V-6, a 5.0-liter V-8, or a Saleen-developed supercharged 5.0-liter/286-horsepower V-8. Packing a dealer-installed Powerdyne blower, this top-of-the-line model is the subject of our test.

Saleen lowers the Explorer about 2 inches, for both improved handling and appearance. Springs and shocks are swapped for the company’s Racecraft components, and rolling stock is upgraded to Saleen’s own 18-inch genuine magnesium wheels wrapped by Pirelli 255/55SR18 Scorpion S/T radials.

The exterior appearance package includes special front and rear fascia, side skirts, door cladding, roof-mounted rear wing, and faux carbon fiber trim. The cabin is treated to either a real wood or carbon fiber appearance package, depending upon color choice, as well as Saleen gauge faces and floor mats. A particularly nice, though pricey, option is Saleen/Recaro leather seating ($3950), offering 10-way power adjustment up front and hip-hugging support.

According to Saleen, the goal is to enhance the Explorer’s on-road handling and performance with a minimum reduction in its off-road capability. Many SUV users will never leave the asphalt, so max ground clearance is seldom an issue to these folks. On the pavement, the Saleen corners much more confidently than just about any standard sport/ute. There’s a bit of a ride penalty, but the reduction in body roll will be worth it to many drivers.

Our test showed a 0-60-mph time of 7.4 seconds (an improvement of 3.3 seconds over a stock V-8 Explorer). Also significant: 60-0 braking distances are reduced by 26 feet. A big portion of the 0.09 g jump in max cornering forces (0.76 for the Saleen, 0.67 for the stocker) goes to the serious wheel and tire package. Though we did not test its towing capability, we suspect the Saleen Explorer will be popular among those sporty, active lifestyle folks who haul a boat or trailer full of personal watercraft. Increasing supercharger boost would add even more horsepower, but punchy midrange power and long-term dependability were judged more important than Top Fueler acceleration. And you’ve gotta love the tunes issued by the rumbling Saleen/Borla exhaust system.

The MSRP for a V-6 Saleen Explorer is $41,990, and a fully loaded supercharged V-8 model with all available options will run around $56,000. Both Ford’s and Saleen’s own warranties apply. See your Saleen-qualified Ford Dealer.

What’s next, the Swiss Army knife SUV?


By: SUE ZESIGER on March 2, 1998
Original Article: FORTUNE, VOL. 137, ISSUE 4

Unless you’re a racing-team owner like Roger Penske, chances are you don’t keep a few hand-tweaked, high-powered Chevy Suburbans in your stable, good for bigtime hauling as well as for sinful joy rides. For the rest of us 4×4 plebes, real high performance has been out of reach. But now, car companies are catching on that there’s a huge segment of urban and suburban sport-ute buyers who never go off-road and who see these hulks simply as status symbols, the automotive equivalent of a Gucci bag. (Now that we have bigger, what do we want? Faster!) Mercedes-Benz is planning a high-performance version of its M-Class SUV for model year 2000, with a bigger V-8 and sportier handling. And Porsche is looking into building a 4×4–which would be genetically incapable of sluggishness.

In the meantime, racer and vehicle-visionary Steve Saleen of Saleen Performance–a Ford-sanctioned small-volume manufacturer, based in Irvine, Calif.–is betting on the appeal of “performance utility vehicles.” He’s hot-rodded a Ford Explorer to prove his point and hopes to sell 500 this year. The Saleen Explorer has a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 that produces 286 hp and 333 ft-lb of torque. Plus Recaro seats, 13-inch four-piston racing-style brakes, lowered suspension, 18-inch Pirelli Scorpions…. It all adds up to lots of throaty burble, lots of torque, lots of opportunities to take corners at an alarming clip–and not heel over. “SUVs have been practical; now they need to be appealing,” says Saleen. For about $50,000 you can own this very distinctive beast (note extreme body flares)–and no one will mess with your kids when you pick them up after school.


By: LARRY ROBERTS on November 07, 1997
Original Article: www.theautochannel.com

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.

Pop’s Hops
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.


For Immediate Release

IRVINE, CA – Saleen Performance, the new company formed to oversee the production of new Saleen automobiles, has moved their headquarters to 9 Whatney in Irvine, California.

The company has moved to a new facility at the high-tech “lrvine Spectrum” complex. The new building encompasses 28,000 square feet and provides separate modules for corporate headquarters including space for the Saleen race team, a full production wing dedicated solely to the construction of Saleen automobiles and Saleen Performance Parts.

Since the company’s inception in 1984, Saleen has produced nearly 3,500 vehicles, more than any other specialty manufacturer. This year, production is expected to exceed 500 vehicles. 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. For more information contact (714) 597-4900.

Contact: Kim Seguin
JMPR: (818) 992-4353

741-597-0201 FAX