E. John Thawley III
December 21, 2002

Grape Ape, Atomic Eggplant, Barney Mobile, Purple People Eater--Chris Hoff's latest crea-tion has plenty of nicknames. That's fine for a vehicle that is one part toy, one part showboat, and definitely full-time showcase for what Chicane Sport Tuning can do to a Mustang.

No stranger to us at the magazine, Chris is known in Southern California Mustang circles as creator of top-rung go-and-show late-models. His first notable creation, a silver SN-95, began life as a plain, old civilian V-6, but it was constantly updated by Chris with considerable help from Saleen (back when Saleen had an in-house custom shop) into several stages of V-8 power. The effort finally culminated in Saleen S351 trim, where, maybe not so curiously, the purple '97 S351 begins.

This time, however, the primary shop involved was Chicane Sport Tuning, which Chris co-owns with Joe Gosinski. Starting with 97-0047, the only Deep Violet S351 ever made by Saleen, Chris and Joe completely transformed the machine with a custom IPS short-long-arm front and IRS rear suspension powdercoated Caution Yellow. The engine compartment was reconstructed, and more than 100 unnecessary factory holes were filled and smoothed. The inner fenders were massaged symmetrically and resprayed with factory-matching paint. The block was high-temp-paint- matched to the body, with all accessory brackets powdercoated or polished. A bit dark in photos, the effort has a powerful presence when eyeballed in the flesh.

As a true Saleen, Chris' car legitimately wears the distinctive Saleen S351 vented fiberglass hood, S351 biplane wing, and front valance. The fenders are stock but rolled to clear the wide rolling stock.

Inside, the Saleen white-faced instruments are augmented by Auto Meter Phantom oil-pressure and water-temp units, while a simple, two-point chassis brace/rollbar stands guard against disaster. Asked if he has any roll control onboard, Chris replied, "My left foot," so scratch the line lock. He does have some nifty Saleen/Recaro seats to hold himself firmly against the considerable cornering, braking, and acceleration loads his purple beast generates. The main force generator, of course, is that detailed 351 under the hood.

As Chris tells the story, "I purchased this car with less than 8,000 miles on the odometer from a friend who moved out of state. Three days after driving it from San Jose to L.A., the motor let go in Sixth gear on the freeway--the pistons literally peeled like an onion. "At this point, both my Mustangs (the Silver one that was a Super Ford cover car) were down, and Chicane was in full swing. Like most shop projects, the car sat and sat--for almost two years. Tired of pushing the vehicle in and out of the shop night after night, it was decided to get the Grape Ape back up and running. The engine was rebuilt with all forged internals with the requirement that, as a street car, the motor last at least 100,000 miles."

With those goals in mind, an all-new Windsor, beginning with a new 351 Lightning block with a SCAT forged crank, replaced the expired engine.

A two-bolt main block, it was girdled with a main-bearing bolt brace for what seemed to be needed rigidity considering what happened to the old engine. Given a 0.030-inch overbore from the get-go, the 4.030x3.500-inch bore-and-stroke engine displaces 357 cubes.

Eagle H-Beam forged rods and 8.3:1 compression forged Probe pistons fitted with Childs & Albert gapless rings provide the reciprocating motion. No doubt once burnt, twice shy, Chris retained the low compression--it's the stock Saleen S351 value--to ensure blower friendliness and long life on readily available pump gasoline.

Still, long life is not much fun without a bit of horsepower. So Chris popped over to nearby Coast High Performance for a pair of CNC Stage I-ported Twisted Wedge cylinder heads. They carry their standard 2.02x1.60-inch valve package. Chris says he can't recall the specs on his camshaft--a "Saleen custom grind" no doubt rescued from the old engine. It's a Comp Cams hydraulic unit that works with Probe 1.6 rockers and Crane High-Rev springs.

Up top, we're sure everyone recognizes the Cobra manifolding. It's run unported, with a 65mm Ford Racing Performance Parts throttle body, a Pro-M 77mm mass airflow sensor, and a K&N air filter. The "extra" air is supplied by a Vortech V-1 S-Trim supercharger pullied with eight-rib pulleys to Vortech's usual high-output setting. That's nominally 8-10 pounds of boost--enough to wake up a free-breathing Windsor such as this one. Chris opted to forego intercooling.

These days, fueling a blown Windsor is off-the-shelf technology, so Chris didn't have to reinvent the impeller when it came to handling the gasoline. A 225-lph in-tank pump gets things moving through Chicane/Goodridge Teflon steel braid lines, all the way up to the polished Vortech fuel rails. They con-nect to 36-lb/hr injectors, the whole shebang being controlled by a Kirban adjustable fuel-pressure regulator and Saleen Powerflashed computer. All fuel and spark tuning was handled by the computer's Saleen-spec reprogramming, so there are no FMUs or add-on chips. Chris says the ignition is "stock," but he lists a Crane coil, Mallory wires, and NGK plugs on the spec sheet.

Chris was able to highlight a couple of Chicane specialties with his showboat. One is an exclusive, double-bypass, 1,700-cfm, high-performance, radiator/shroud, double-fan system. Another is a radiator-overflow system that was polished to eye-candy status. ARP fasteners were used throughout the project, and as the photos show, all wiring is hidden behind the fenderwells for a clean, street-machine look.

On the exhaust side, Saleen/Ford Racing Performance Parts ceramic-coated short-tubes connect to a Bassani X-pipe with high-flow catalytic converters, Borla mufflers, and Saleen/Borla tailpipes. A Halon fire system is also onboard in case things suddenly become too hot.

There was no saving money in the driveline either. A Centerforce Dual-Friction clutch was fitted to work with the T56 six-speed transmission and B&M Short-Throw, High-Boy combination. A custom aluminum unit handles driveshaft chores. The IPS Ultra Sport independent rear suspension uses an 8.8-inch centersection sourced from a Thunderbird. It was fitted with a Torsen limited-slip differential and freeway-friendly 3.27 gears that tame the bottom-end traction woes and yield a mean mid- and top-end rush--hallmarks of blown Windsor power. More custom work was spent on the halfshafts, which were made up just for this car. We should note the IPS suspension on Chris' car uses Penske adjustable remote-reservoir dampers, IPS springs, and IPS camber plates. Chassis bracing was accomplished using Griggs Racing subframe connectors.

Chris opted for a Wilwood brake package built up using Wilwood calipers, pads, and 12-inch rotors, along with IPS custom hats and spacers to get everything bolted on the car. The brakes live inside suitably huge Saleen/Speedline magnesium 18x10-inch wheels wearing Michelin Pilot MXXX3 295/35ZR-18 tires.

Of course, our listing of hardware can't account for the fine attention to detail Chris has brought to this envy-inducing street machine. And while we haven't driven his car, with prior experience with blown Windsors and S351s in particular, we can tell you it's plenty potent. Chris says he hasn't dyno'd the final combination but knows it is "over 480 hp at the crank" and "faster than my wife's Windstar." Otherwise, his comments on the car center on the chassis. "The car has an incredible ride--firm yet not harsh, and entirely predictable. One thing of note is that the vehicle does not handle like a Mustang. There is no snap oversteer, no squat and dive, and no live axle peekaboo since it doesn't have one.

"While the NVH on the IRS is higher than that of its Cobra cousin, the IPS does not make any compromises as it comes to performance. Roll is minimal and handling is nearly neutral. If anything, it pushes due to the chunk of iron perched on its nose."

Chris went on to wrap up his purple project saying, "There's basically nothing 'Saleen' left on this vehicle save for the wheels, the brakes, the body kit, and two stickers. Strangely, it holds a special place in Saleen enthusiasts' hearts--people either love it or hate it due to its purple hue--not unlike its cartoon namesake." Us? We love it. 5.0