By: DALE JEWETT and BOB GRITZINGER on May 26, 2008
Original Article: AUTOWEEK, VOL. 58 ISSUE 22

700-hp Dodge Challenger Is Steve Saleen’s Latest Project

Steve Saleen, whose name has been synonymous with go-fast Ford Mustangs for nearly two decades, is launching a new customizing business with the reborn Dodge Challenger.

His new company is SMS, of Anaheim, California, which plans to start limited production of the SMS 570 Challenger and the SMS 570X Challenger in the fourth quarter of this year. Both are based on the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T.

The difference between the 570 and the 570X is engine output. For the 570 Challenger, SMS bolts its own-design supercharger onto the 5.7-liter V8 to produce about 500 hp. Output of the 570X Challenger is expected to hit 700 hp. In that case, SMS will keep the 5.7-liter V8’s block but will completely rework the rest of the powertrain, including the SMS supercharger.

Chassis, wheel and interior upgrades are also part of the makeover. Each will be signed by Saleen.

Pricing is expected to start in the mid-to-high-$50,000s range for the SMS 570 Challenger.

SMS sees its products as an alternative for a buyer who can’t wait for — or can’t get his hands on — a Dodge Challenger SRT8. Although SMS has sent ordering information to Dodge dealers, the automaker is not working with SMS, a Chrysler spokesperson said.

Chrysler is “always flattered when a customizer chooses one of our cars to work with,” the Chrysler official said. The company makes engineers available to talk with customizers who work on Chrysler products.

SMS officials say that the choice of the Challenger for Saleen’s first product after leaving his eponymous company, Saleen Inc., of Troy, Michigan, makes a point: He aims to work with more than one automaker. Steve Saleen says that SMS enables him “to do what could not be done at Saleen Inc. due to their heritage with the Ford dealer network and Ford vehicles.”

Another reason to move from Mustang-based products: to avoid confusion with the high-performance Saleen Mustangs being built by Saleen Inc., his former company. That company owns the brand name for automotive applications; the trademarked name cannot be used on any other vehicles (even by Saleen himself), said Marques McCammon, general manager of Saleen Inc.

Steve Saleen resigned from Saleen Inc. in mid-2007, about three and a half years after it was purchased by investment firm Hancock Park Associates. After adding Michigan-based American Specialty Cars, HPA merged the two specialty manufacturers. Saleen Inc. now produces Saleen Mustangs, Saleen F-150 pickups and other automotive products.

Steve Saleen’s first post-Saleen Inc. foray back into the car business was with the ill-fated Chamco Auto, a firm that planned to build Chinese cars and trucks in Mexico. That company is mired in a legal tangle as all involved try to determine who owns what and who may or may not have defrauded whom.