Tom Wilson
December 1, 2008
Photos By: E. John Thawley III

Horse Sense:
SMS happily mentions that at 720 hp, the 25th Anniversary car's Three-Valve is approaching the 750 hp output of the exotic Saleen 427 twin-turbo engine the same engineers developed. True, but the pushrod S7 engine makes its power on a bare 4.5 pounds of boost or a fantasy-fulfilling 1,012 hp at a mere 8 pounds. Both engines are emissions-legal, but we wager the 25th's Three-Valve costs less than the $50,000 price tag for the 427. Don't even think about comparing the two cars' performance; the S7 weighs at least 1,000 pounds less than the 25th car.

Saleen Autosport was Steve Saleen's first car company, and when it came time to celebrate five years in the business, the resulting anniversary car was called the SA5. Later, as the company morphed from Saleen Autosport to Saleen Enterprises to Saleen Performance and finally simply to Saleen, there were SA10s, SA15s, and SA20s. Today, there is the solitary SMS 25th Anniversary Mustang Concept as laid before you.

Packing 720 hp and a combination of traditional Saleen and new SMS features, Steve Saleen's one-off 25th Anniversary concept is designed to hold our interest until production SMS Mustangs hit the market. A new feature is the silver paint. Steve Saleen's commemorative SA specials have been some combination of black, yellow, and white, but since 25 is the "silver" anniversary, this fishing-lure flash called Chromosome was worked up. Saleen made a reputation for outstanding colors in the last decade, and SMS seems poised to continue the trend.

Tradition is no match for corporate lawyers, and now that Saleen the company is divorced from Saleen the man, the SA moniker is now SMS, in honor of Steve Saleen's new company.

Still, the 25th Anniversary car celebrates all of Steve Saleen's years as a specialty car maker, which is why this unique Mustang unashamedly wears the current Saleen Mustang body kit as well as a few crafty, never-before-seen items from SMS.

The Saleen-sourced 20-inch wheels shroud six-piston front brakes with cross-drilled rotors for looks. Slots work better, but on the street-and especially the show circuit-it really comes down to looks.

Starting with a fresh '08 Mustang, Steve and company at SMS began construction by purchasing a body kit from Saleen. "I couldn't improve on perfection," Steve coyly smiled, acknowledging that SMS is new and busy enough with multiple domestic performance projects that it couldn't create Mustang bodywork from scratch so soon. Besides, the current Saleen body kit is the product of Steve and SMS design chief Phil Frank, so the heritage is hardly borrowed.

Those looking closely will notice the carbon-fiber air splitters all the way around the lower edge of the car. These aren't Saleen parts, but new SMS pieces for the 25th Anniversary car. The rear diffuser is also unique; the better to accommodate the large, single-exit center exhaust outlet.

The glass roof is a current Saleen option, but we're sure you noticed that the hood and its integrated scoop and throttle blades are fresh. In fact, the hood is a composite carbon/fiberglass SMS part, newly tooled for the anniversary car, but you can bet your last lug nut we'll be seeing this engine lid again on future SMS-production Mustangs.

Those dragster-like "throttles" are a fun bit of trickery SMS calls the Red Butterfly Induction System. Yes, the red butterflies open and close in response to driver input; the command comes from an electronic controller and the power through a stepper motor in the hoodscoop. SMS engineers were sure to make the butterflies open when rapping the throttle at a stoplight, so they're a dead cinch to impress. The entire system is separate from the powertrain control module-there's a switch on the throttle pedal-so emissions legality isn't affected.

SMS engineer John Spruill developed the anniversary car's one-off Light Blade LED rear lighting. It's dual intensity for both running and brake functions, and yes, the seven banks flash sequentially for turn and hazard duty. This Light Blade system could see volume production; the LEDs aren't overly expensive, but the control mechanism is a little pricey, according to John. Like all LEDs, this system draws little current, is nearly unbreakable, and bulb life should outlast the car. It lights up like a fire truck and is a real attention-getter.

The more mechanically astute will realize that no, the red butterflies aren't the actual throttle body, but rather a nifty, operable cold-air intake. In practice, air passes through the butterflies, runs through a duct built into the hood, then through a separate duct forward to the cavity surrounding the open-element air filter in the usual spot behind the driver-side headlight. The air then passes through the air filter, an SMS 100mm mass air meter, and the throttle body atop the Saleen supercharger. SMS is already offering the air filter, air dam, and 100mm mass air as a cold-air kit. They're the start of what promises to be a full line of hot-rod and appearance parts.

Past the intake trickery awaits a standard Saleen supercharger, as used in the last few years of Saleen production and offered as a popular aftermarket kit. Below the blower is a stock bore, stroked, 4.6 Three-Valve engine. You're forgiven if you wondered whether this is one of the prepped 5.0 liters used in the Parnelli Jones and other Saleens. We wondered, but were assured by SMS chief engineer Billy Talley that the 25th Anniversary engine is a one-off, prepped Mustang GT plant.

"We started with a standard, aluminum-blocked Three-Valve engine, dropped in a forged 3.800-inch stroker crankshaft, Manley rods, and our own piston design," Billy says. "Compression is knocked down to 9.2:1."