Frank H. Cicerale
December 1, 2008
Photos By: Peter S. Linney, Michael Ficacci
Model: Lisa

Championship driver, race car manufacturer, and team owner are three occupations that define Dan Gurney's career. There are many more words that can describe the Long Island, New York born wheelman. Gurney started racing in 1955, and after he retired following the 1970 Trans Am race in Riverside, California, he went on to buy and continue to own All American Racers, a company started by Carroll Shelby's Shelby America.

Gurney's name carries with it a long and distinguished resume, both on road courses and oval tracks. For starters, only Gurney and Mario Andretti have won races in NASCAR, Indy Car, Grand Prix, and Sports Car, which in the '60s, were the four major categories of motorsports. He was a runner-up in the Indy 500 twice, and was the only United States driver to win a Grand Prix race in a car he built. During his 15-year racing career, Gurney amassed 51 wins, including victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Still, the one machine Mustang enthusiasts remember the most is Gurney's blue number 2 '69 Boss 302 Trans Am Mustang. Gurney took over the driving duties of the Shelby America-owned ponycar at the August 1969 Trans Am event in Laguna Seca from Horst Kwech. He went on to finish Third in that event. Following the '69 season, Gurney moved on and Shelby America stopped receiving factory support from Ford, but the image of Gurney slinging that Blue Boss 302 through the twisties lives on in the minds of many.

Fast forward to 2008, and once again, a Gurney car is on the road. No, it's not a total reincarnation of the original Trans Am Mustang, but one that bears the Saleen moniker and a close resemblance to the '69 racer. We are talking about the '08 Saleen Dan Gurney Edition H281SC Mustang.

To learn more about the special edition, we chatted with the man himself, Dan Gurney. We had the chance to talk about the car, how it compares to his old Trans Am, and more.

"It is a great feeling to have something like this, especially in an era where this car catches people's fancy," Gurney says. "Older people will really enjoy the nostalgia of the car, as it has a great deal of it."

With the Gurney car following on the heels of the '07 Parnelli Jones special edition Saleen, the company went a different route with the Gurney car, mostly due to the fact that Gurney himself had input on how the car would be setup in terms of the powerplant and the suspension. Unlike the Saleen PJ's supersized 302 naturally aspirated engine, the Gurney Saleen showcases a stock dimension 4.6L Three-Valve topped with a Saleen Series VI integrated twin-screw blower pumping in 5 psi of boost. Helping the engine breathe and create the 465 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque is a 98mm mass air meter, high-flow inlet tube, and airbox cover and filter. A set of 39-pound injectors increases the fuel volume, while the ECM has been reprogrammed with a Saleen-developed PowerFlash performance calibration. The mod mill exhales through a 2 1/2-inch stainless steel dual-exhaust system with nifty-looking charcoal dual aluminum tips that match up nicely to the color choices for the car, as well as the look given to the rims. The power is transferred to the 8.8-inch rear stocked with 3.73 gears.

"Many have asked why [we went with] the 281 supercharged motor and not the 302," says Carlos Duran, Saleen's Aftermarket Sales Manager. "First, Mr. Gurney wanted a car that was faster than Parnelli's. Second, he wanted a car that was affordable to the market, so the combination forced us to narrow things down to the 281. We ended up with a configuration that Mr. Gurney was happy with. I would say the buyer of this car is any real car enthusiast. We have had everyone in our company, from 20-something car designers to 40-something executives, raise their hands to get in line. Besides, you can never ignore Mr. Gurney's huge list of loyal fans."

Unlike his competitor's car, the Gurney Saleen utilizes the stock 4.6-liter Three-Valve's bore and stroke dimensions. For added umph, the mod motor relies on a Saleen blower that, according to Gurney himself, makes the car just as powerful as his '69 Boss 302 Trans Am Mustang.

"I had some input with the car, and we came up with something that, once the blower was on, was doggone good," Gurney agrees. "The 465 horsepower with this 281 is really close to what the Trans Am car had. As soon as I heard that the supercharger was an option, that was the way I went."

But where the car shines mechanically is within the suspension, where Gurney himself had a lot of input into the end design and feel. The car features sport-tuned front and rear coil springs, 1.38-inch front and 0.79-inch rear sway bars, revised front and rear struts, and a Watt's link rear suspension. "From a mechanical standpoint, the suspension tune is of Dan's own design," Duran explains. "He worked closely with our engineers to get a ride to fit his tastes. It is a setup that is unique to the Saleen lineup."

During our own testing on a hot mid-summer day, the Gurney Mustang dipped in the 12s nearing 109 mph and performed well on our test track. "The Mustang is bold, everyone looks at it, and it has the performance to match," states MM&FF editor, Evan J. Smith. "It has a nice balance of power and handling, and it has amazing styling."

A set of 19-inch Heritage Edition 5-spoke rims dressed in charcoal with a gray lip and a Gurney center cap are found on all four points of the Gurney Saleen. The rims are surrounded in Pirelli Corsa sneakers.

"Dan was very particular when it came to setting up the suspension on this car," says Derk Hartland, one of the Saleen engineers who worked in the development of the Gurney Saleen. "Dan wanted a better ride, but also a car that when you push it, can still handle well in a corner. The car, as compared to the Parnelli car, has different components, different shock rates, different tires, and an overall different setup."

Assisting in the handling of the Gurney Saleen is the braking system, as well as the chosen wheel and tire combination. Up front, 14-inch slotted and vented rotors are clamped down by four-piston calipers, while 11.8-inch vented rotors and single piston calipers can be found. High performance Pirelli Corsa tires sized 285/30/ZR19 front and 285/35ZR19 aft wrap around Heritage Edition 5-spoke charcoal aluminum wheels that are accented with a gray lip and a Gurney center cap. The rims measure out to be 19x9 front and 19x10 rear.

While the drivetrain is something Dan had a hand in, the inner and outer looks of the car are heavily influenced by his '69 Boss 302 car. The exterior comes with a Gurney Edition windshield banner, side stripes, fender badges, and a decal package, as well as a different style hood, mesh driving light covers, and rear spoiler. Throw in the Heritage Edition front and rear fascias, air dam, hoodpins, front and rear chrome trim, and side skirts, and it replicates Gurney's Trans Am racer. Only 300 will be built, and while we had the chance to put a Vista Blue model through its paces, the Mustang is also available in Torch Red and Performance White.

Duran comments, "The car's primary color is blue because that is the color of Gurney's Boss 302 Mustang. The white chin spoiler and Anthracite 5-spoke wheels are a throwback as well. Many people have said that Dan's car had a black front spoiler and Mini-Lite wheels, but that was not true of his original Boss race car. Additionally, the red, white, and blue color pallet is to celebrate his heritage as the All-American Racer.

We have to admit, we can't wait for the day Gurney lines up his '08 Dan Gurney H281SC Signature Edition Mustang on a road course against the '07 Parnelli Jones Mustang piloted by Parnelli himself. Hopefully that day comes soon!

"The interior is a model of one of his race jackets from when he ran in Indy." The interior revolves around a blue and black color combination, with the seats and door panels featuring blue Alcatera inserts (with white stripes on the seats). The stitching on the seats is also blue, as well as having the Gurney eagle embroidered on the headrests. A Heritage 6-gauge instrument cluster and gauge pod clue in the driver to the happenings underhood. The looks of the interior are enhanced even further with the addition of chrome dash vent bezels, a leather trimmed billet shifter knob and attending short-throw shifter, Gurney Edition graphics and badging, aluminum door sill plates, console plaque, and steering wheel emblem. Add in the Heritage floor mats and performance driving pedals, and you can envision yourself slinging this mod monster around Riverside in 1969.

With the car honoring a racing legend, we would be remiss if we didn't try and rekindle some of the competitive juices and see what Gurney thought of the Saleen car as compared to his old Trans Am car, as well as the PJ Mustang. "A lot of water has crossed over the dam since I ran the Trans Am car, but I would have to say the car compares very well," Gurney says. "I think I would have won more races with the Saleen car. The Mustang has been able to stand the test of time, and this version, with the lighter engine and the addition of the blower, makes for a better combination than the old car.

"Parnelli was a great Trans Am driver, so when we built this car, the juices were flowing. I drove the Parnelli car early on, and felt it was a very good car. It was reminiscent of the old days. When I got to drive my car, a Vista Blue version, along with my son Justin, I didn't do the testing on the same day, nor the same course. I'm very happy with what it has become, though. Compared to the Trans Am car and the Parnelli car, I would have to say my car has an advantage in terms of power to weight."

The price of the Gurney Saleen checks in at $57,731, and there are only 300 built (100 blue, 100 red, and 100 white), so those who get their hands on one will definitely be wheeling a tribute to Gurney, both past and present. We had a Vista Blue Gurney Saleen tester that made its presence known in the parking lot and on the road, just like Dan made his presence known on the racetrack. The car turned heads everywhere it went, both with and without the bold number 2 on the door.

"It's hard to compare this car being built in my honor to anything I have done in the driver seat, but I look forward to meeting those who buy one and drive one," Gurney adds. The only question that remains now is when we get to see Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney duke it out on the track again, though this time behind the wheel of their respective tribute Mustangs. Thanks to Saleen, that option is open-and we can't wait to get a front row seat.