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SPECIAL REPORT: DREAM MACHINES

Reinventing the Wheel

Steve Saleen: Affordable Dreams

October 29, 1998|JOHN O'DELL

Steve Saleen, 49, took a different road to achieve his dream. Though an accomplished racing driver working with the Pontiac factory team, he eschewed General Motors products and went to Ford's motor sports division with his vision: an ultra-fast, road-gripping Mustang that would rekindle the spirit of the famed Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s.

Ford bit, and the Saleen Mustang was born. It is not rebodied, but in his top-of-the-line S351 model, Saleen replaces more than 2,000 parts, many with racing-derived pieces engineered in his own shop and built to his specifications by leading automotive aftermarket manufacturers.

The flagship Saleen Mustang, with its 495-horsepower, 5.7-liter Ford V-8 engine, six-speed transmission, 18-inch wheels and custom interior, to list a few of the tweaks, runs $57,000 in the coupe version and $61,000 as a convertible. Other Saleens, in various stages of tune, start at $29,000, making them among the most pocketbook-friendly specialty cars available.

That's part of Saleen's dream.

"I felt that I could take the excitement of the racetrack and put it into something the average consumer could touch and feel and drive. That's what we've created."

Since beginning sales in 1986, Irvine-based Saleen has sold more than 6,000 of his Mustangs--cars, unlike almost any other independent builder's products, that are sold directly through an established dealership network and carry the full factory warranty.

"I approached this with the idea that we are not selling a custom-built car," he says, "but an additional model of the Mustang. It has allowed us to build a balanced performance street car that people can afford."

His dreams continue, aided by his relationship with Ford: Saleen launched the high-performance Saleen Explorer sport-utility vehicle last year and is beginning development of the Saleen Contour so he can grab a piece of the sedan market with a performance car for the four-door, front-wheel-drive set.

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