Tom Wilson
June 1, 2007

Horse Sense: Parnelli Jones may be "trying to slow my life down at this point," but that hasn't stopped him from enjoying fast cars. In addition to the Saleen PJ, he has also commissioned a restored '70 SportsRoof in Grabber Orange for his personal pleasure.

The worst thing we can say about the Saleen/Parnelli Jones Mustang is that by the time you read this, you'll have a tough time finding one for sale at any price, especially at the $59,015 list. Saleen [(949) 597-4900; www.saleen.com] is only building 500 of these special editions, and half were sold before production began in late 2006. If the other half hasn't already sold out, it will quickly.

We're not surprised. This car is more Parnelli than the GT 500 is a Shelby, and it's a great drive with plenty of personality. The tie-ins between Parnelli and Steve Saleen are real and go back 20 years. The styling is a dead ringer for one of the best-looking Mustangs of all time: Parnelli's '70 Trans-Am championship-winning Boss 302.

Hot handling and ripping naturally aspirated power are the standout Saleen/Parnelli Jones attractions. It's the best combination of power and handling we've seen in production S197 Mustangs.

But what clinches the historical linkage for us is the car's slightly high-strung, revvy personality. The 302 soprano in this Saleen is a sweetie that had us rowing the vintage Boss 302 of our memories. Even better, it's one handling Mustang with a lightness and precision to the frontend we wish all Mustangs had.

It began when Parnelli came to Steve asking for a nice late-model Mustang. Parnelli wanted a fun car to drive. After racing with Saleen in the '80s, and with Saleen's headquarters close to Parnelli's Southern California stomping grounds, Steve's company was a logical place to go. Recognizing an opportunity when it came knocking, Steve answered with the 500-example run of the limited edition we see here. The car is wholly a Saleen production-it was designed, engineered, and produced in-house at Saleen, but Parnelli instigated the idea, gave the prototype a good thrashing during development, approved the car, and has taken a pair for his own use.

Mechanically, the PJ, as the Saleen/Parnelli Jones is known around Saleen digs, is well-developed. The heart of the matter is the engine. Saleen begins with a new Mustang GT, removes and disassembles its Three-Valve engine, and then rebuilds it using a forged-steel stroker crankshaft and connecting rods, as well as forged pistons. The cylinder heads are ported and fitted with more rpm-oriented camshafts, better valve springs, retainers, and such. Supporting pieces are underdrive pulleys, a more boisterous 211/42-inch stainless steel exhaust system, 24-lb/hr injectors, a 98mm mass airflow meter, and a more functional version of the late Mach 1 Shaker hoodscoop.

To achieve the maximum early Trans-Am effect, Saleen generated unique fascias and other bodywork for the PJ. When the numbered roundel is affixed, the result is especially racy.

Some machining takes place along the way. The cylinders are lightly bored, "to get them round," according to Saleen's Vice-President of Engineering Bill Tally. Combined with the stroke increase, the result is a true performance engine with an increase in displacement to an honest 302 ci, along with 400 hp at 6,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. These power numbers may sound tame compared to the massive thrust generated by the current crop of supercharged 'Stangs, but in reality, it's plenty of power for a real-world road car.

Downstream, an aluminum flywheel sharpens the throttle response and the stock five-speed manual and 8.8-inch live axle are retained. Final gearing is 3.73 in a Traction-Lok differential. Suspension duties are the expected upgraded gas shocks, springs, and sway bars. Saleen has also replaced the Panhard bar with its own Watts link. Front braking is upgraded with 14-inch slotted and vented front disks; the rears remain stock.

With a Shaker scoop, funny cams, high compression, and 302 ci, the 400hp Saleen/Parnelli Jones engine stands out in a sea of supercharged modular Mustangs.

As for those Minilite-inspired wheels, they're Saleen's. They measure 19x9 inches in front and 19x10 inches in back. To say they make the car is an understatement-the multispoke design, similar to the American Racing Torque Thrust D, is one of the timeless classics born in the '60s. It will always be associated with-among other cars-the early Trans-Am Mustangs. It's simply the wheel for the PJ. We'll bet Saleen sells a few sets through its aftermarket channel as well.

Parnelli once again got the nod by Saleen for tires. The P-Zero Rossas are monitored by an onboard pressure system.

While Saleen has earned a reputation for robust powertrains, its stock-in-trade has always been appearance. The Saleen/Parnelli Jones makes no missteps in painting a contemporary Parnelli picture using a vintage brush. Not a cue is missed, starting with the exclusive-and mandatory-Grabber Orange paint along with the black hood stripe, 302 stripe, and black decklid. Just as vital are rear-window sport slats, rear wing, and hood pins. Saleen has freely adapted other vintage cues, such as the bar across the headlights. The front air dam is a welcome reminder of the way it was to those of us who were there the first time around, as is the Shaker hoodscoop.