Probably the first question I get asked by folks when they used to see my car (or hear it drive by), if they've never seen a Saleen before, is "What makes a Saleen a Saleen?"
How it got started
The first Saleen was built in 1984 by Steve Saleen, following on concepts, ideas, and experiences he had obtained during his racing career. In a way, the Saleen is to the modern day Mustang what the Shelby was to the Mustang in the 60s.....a Mustang on steroids. In the case of the Saleen, the "steroids" on the early models were the suspension, as Steve Saleen used his experience racing Mustangs to vastly improve the handling characteristics of the Mustang over what was available from Ford. To further spice up the car, a custom package of aerodynamic enhancements. the "Saleen Look" if you will...was drawn up to further distinguish this car from the ordinary Mustang from Ford. The interior received a Saleen instrument cluster, custom floor mats, upgraded seats, and a custom stereo. The cars quickly took off, with Saleen building 128 cars in 1985, 199 in 1986, and 278 in 1987. Production grew further in the late 80s, but then tapered off in the early 1990s as the company restructured and went through some growing pains. The low point was 1992 when a mere 17 cars were built. The 92s are very rare and quite valuable. Now Saleens are in the mainstream, you can see a late-model in the movie "2 Fast 2 Furious".
What makes a Saleen a Saleen?
Saleens have always been about handling first and foremost. The earlier cars were major improvements over the stock handling offered by Ford, but at a price in ride quality. You got race car handling, but you got the race car ride to go with it! More recent examples produce very acceptable ride quality but still hang onto to the knife-edge handling that the car is known for. While stiff, people are almost surprised when the go for a ride in my 97. I've done 900 miles in one sitting in that car! It's stiff, but it isn't punishing.
Earlier models of Saleens were ordered as Mustang LX hatchbacks or LX convertibles. A few LX Coupes have been built over the years, but are very rare (including a few that were built from Special Service equipped cars). SN95s (i.e. 94 and up cars) are ordered as either Mustang GTs or as SVT Cobras for the S281s. S351s start life as a V6 (with some rare exceptions)!
The cars are dropped-shipped from Ford straight to Saleen, and converted. Springs, struts, and shocks all go, replaced with Saleen's trademark "Racecraft" suspension. Bigger wheels and tires are added. The 87-93 cars used either 16" or 17" combos, the SN95s use 18" with tire as large as P265ZR18 in the front and P295ZR18 in the rear! Serious rubber!
Body work is also added, consisting of ground-effects, front/rear bumpers, and spoiler. A windshield banner is standard. Interior options vary over the years, and have included anything from Flofits to leather Recaros (many cars retain the Ford factory interior). The pre-94 cars also received a stereo upgrade, mostly Pioneer and Kenwood equipment.
The big gorilla, of course, is the S351. Introduced with the SN95 body style in 1994, this is the car many Mustang freaks think Ford should have produced all along. Of course it isn't cheap. S351s start life usually as V6 cars, with exceptions. In addition to the usual suspension, cosmetic, and interior mod's, the entire drive train is trashed. In its place goes a 5.8 Liter, 351-cubic inch with all the performance bells and goodies you could wish for. Rated from to 484 to 507HP, depending on the year, the S351 is a tire-shredding, Viper-eating monster. Not a car you'd want to pick a fight with lightly!
Jesse in Australia: "Saleen never used the 351c in his mustangs. ford stopped making the 351c in 1974. if a saleen has a 351 in it ,it is a 351w. if you find one with a 351c ,someone put it there and it was not saleen. even the aussie 302c and 351c were done in 1982."
John in Georgia: "THE ORIGINAL S-351'S IN the early years WERE BUILT WITH A 351 CLEVELAND ENGINE, NOT A 351 WINDSOR. EVENTUALLY SALEEN HAD EXHAUSTED THE SUPPLY OF REMAINING CLEVELANDS AND SWITCHED TO WINDSORS."
Tom from the USA: "Both my S351s were from a GT not A V6, it is a myth that S351s were all V6 cars. Also, ALL were 351 windsors, 351 Clevelands had not been made for 20 years when the S351 came out!!"
Thomas A. Kirk "..not all S-351's were supercharged cars, contrary to popular belief. I have #95-099, N/A car, authenticated by Saleen as 1 of 2 so equipped, in Laser Red"
How do you tell a real Saleen from a fake?
Saleen parts, especially the body work, are very popular in the aftermarket, so just because a Mustang *looks* like a Saleen, doesn't mean it is one. There are a few key ways to tell, should you run across a Mustang that you want to buy and it claims to be one. Be wary, there are a lot of VERY good fakes out there, and unfortunately some people will try and sell a fake one as a real one (which is highly illegal, but still doesn't mean they won't try). So if you want to buy one, do your homework.
Some key things to look for:
Bumper Number: The first thing to look for is the bumper number. All Saleens have their serial number on the left front bumper. This is a common and easy thing to duplicate, so don't stop here. One note: No Saleen has every been produced with a serial number of "06". If you see "06" it is a sure fire fake. I bet you think they didn't use "666" either, don't you! Wrong! 666 is a legitimate bumper number, it was used in both 1988 and 1989.
Dash Plaque: All Saleen's have a dash plaque with its Saleen Serial number on the center console. This plague should match the number of the bumper and the number on the plate under the hood.
Under-hood Plate: Saleens also have a metal plate under the hood with the Saleen serial number, and the date of production riveted under the hood. On early cars, it was on the left fender. On later cars (post 1987) it is on the firewall. Modern ones are always on the left, but some of the older ones have it on the right. These are hard (but not impossible) to duplicate.
"Hidden": Saleen has also hidden the serial number in a secret location on the car. The exact location varies over the years. A common place to find it, is stamped on the K-member.
The best way: Call Saleen Performance. They can verify a cars authenticity if you give them the last 6 digits of the car's VIN. They can also verify for you the options/equipment that the car was original built with, so you can tell if the car is original or has been modified.
Thinking about buying one?
Saleens are available new through select "Team Saleen" Ford Dealers. You can check out Saleen's web site for a list of dealers. (Too bad such a great car company has such a horrible web site). I got mine from the San Diego Auto Trader. Also, consult MustangForums.com
Where are Saleen's ORIGINAL headquarters, where were the first ~20 years' cars made?
Saleen's original location is in Irvine, California, at 76 Fairbanks, Irvine, CA 92618. (Yahoo Map)
Some of the special Saleens over the years
All Saleens are special in my book, but some of the really nice ones include (see more at consult MustangForums.com):
- 1984-31, 51, 52 - The very first one(s). In 1984, the three numbers of the mustang were 31, 51, and 52. Saleen wanted to make it look like he had created a lot more mustangs than he actually did. Bet you thought it would be 84-01 didn't you!
- 1989-422. This was the only Saleen ever built especially for Police use. Also known as the "Seal Beach" police car, as that was where the car saw service as a police vehicle. It has since been retired.
- All 1989 SSC's. There were 160 SSC Saleens produced in 1989. The SSC was both Saleen's 5 year anniversary car, and a tribute to the 25th anniversary of the Mustang. The SSC marked the first time Saleen modified the engine for more horsepower, with the cars being rated at 292HP. Probably the rarest one of all the SSC's. is #159, the only one that had a back seat.
- Any 1990-1993 SC. The SC's were the continuation of what the SSC's. in 1989 started, and are very rare. Later models were rating at 304HP, up slightly from the 1989 SSC.
- All 1992s. Only 17 of 'em made.
- All SA10s. These were the 10th anniversary models, and only 9 were built. All were black with yellow stripes on the hoods. They were all pretty much custom cars, and no two are alike.
- 1993-07 - The last (and only) Fox-body coupe built in 1993. I have missed out on an opportunity to buy this car twice.
- 1995-0010 - BASF S351R Mystic Edition” Speedster. See below.
- 1994. From Robert L. Robaldo - in 1994 Steve Saleen tried an experiment. A very few V6 Saleens were produced in 1994.
They did not get the bumper #'s or the dash plaque that their big brothers got. But they did get the full suspension upgrade as well as 17" Saleen wheels and a Saleen/Hurst shifter. There's a gentleman named Chris Hoffman (the guy who ran the Saleen Website a few years ago.) who owns the only other one I have ever seen.
- 1995-0118 - Mustang Illustrated give-away car. This car was a black SVT Cobra convertible with the really rare hardtop option. The only one ever made.
- 1996-0189 - One of only 10 S281 Cobras made in 1996, and the only one painted in Mystic other than the 1995-0118.
- 1997-173 - The S281-C “Extreme Rainbow” Supercharged Cobra Speedster. It is one of the few cars that Saleen pulled the motor and painted the interior of the engine compartment. See below.
- Any S281 Cobra. For every year Saleen has built cars off the SVT Cobra, they've been the rarest. Rarer than the S351.
Sources: Sources for information imparted on this page include:
- The History and Development of the Saleen Mustang, by Patty Redeker.
- The Saleen Owner's Registry, 1984-1996. (Both of the above books are available from Saleen Performance.)
- Fellow Saleen owners.
Rare Saleens: The Mystic and Rainbow Speedsters
The Mystic Saleen, Provided by Richard L. Dmytryshyn
- The car was the first car ever to wear the real Mystic paint, because the Ford Cobra Mystic paint is a variation of my Mystic paint as Ford cut the original Mystic color with black reduce costs. Within the circles of BASF, it is referred to as the “Horse of a Different Color” paint or “Extreme Mystic” for short. It reflects over 17 different colors (including all of the Ford Mystic ones) and BASF will create a batch for fixing things as required. Thus, Richard has a direct line at BASF for support and they have sent him letters affirming the support for this particular color and car.
- It was the National Show car for BASF/Saleen/Ford to promote the Mystic paint technology and the upcoming 1996 Mystic Cobras at that time. It is also the only convertible to wear the Mystic paint. It is in fact that last number to make it to 2000 Mystics. 1999 Cobras and this car.
- You already know the car was won by Lew Huffman in the 1996 BASF “Horse of Different Color” Sweepstakes. From there, it’s official first owner was David Kriegel, who was the first person to register the car after he bought it from Lew Huffman. It stayed in David’s possession for many years. David sold it briefly to Mark LaMaskin of Performance Autosport and then Richard bought it from Mark back in August last year.
- This particular Saleen is built off of the GT convertible platform which is rare because most all S351’s are built off of the V6 platform. Thus it has the MACH 460 stereo and some other GT items that were simply not available on other S351s.
- The car had to be returned to street legal condition before delivery to Lew Huffman so the “Show Car’s” special one off Recaro seats, front and rear fascias, rear 12” brakes and the 19” magnesium’s with knock off hubs were taken off and replaced with standard Saleen S351 fare. Richard currently only has the front and rear “Show” facia’s in his possession and may try to re-create the show car in years down the road, monetary funds permitting.
- The car now has a 408 stroker in it, as it had piston failure at 1100 miles. The last dyno was 526 RWHP. It is pretty insane to drive.
- He has a 4” binder right full of everything on the BASF “Mystic Edition” Saleen. All documentation except 1995 SEMA and NACE programs and some literature on the actual sweepstakes (entry forms, magazine articles in trade publications, etc.) The car has a very well documented history. He has all the letters from Saleen and BASF documenting everything.
- Photos of the car now:
The Extreme Rainbow Supercharged Cobra Speedster Saleen, Provided by Richard L. Dmytryshyn
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