Wes Duenkel
March 10, 2014

Gearheads tend to gravitate toward the cars they aspired to own when the car bug first sank its gasoline-infused fangs into their young consciousness. If the bug bit when you grew up in the late 1980s, the gravitational pull of Fox-body Mustangs was irresistible—especially those with "Saleen" plastered across the windshield.

Allenton, Wisconsin's Tony Brodzeller was typical of his generation, although he was perhaps predisposed with an affinity for Ford's pony car. His uncle owned a local Ford dealership that was Wisconsin's only Saleen outlet. Tony's teenage eyes fawned over the gleaming 5.0-liter machinery on display, hoping one day to have a whale-tailed example in his own garage.

Tony considered Steve Saleen as the Carroll Shelby of his generation. "I had the pleasure of meeting Saleen and his wife at the 1999 Mid-America Shelby event in Tulsa, Oklahoma," Tony recalls. "I maintained a relationship with the Saleens over the years. When I moved to Irvine, California, a few years later, I began volunteering at the Saleen factory. It was an incredible experience to be part of a modern-day American musclecar company." During this time, Tony purchased his first Saleen—a '99 S281 SC Speedster, serial number #008.

A few years later, Tony moved back to Wisconsin and was on the hunt for a new project. "My dream was to find a '85 Saleen Mustang that needed a restoration. It's the last year of a carbureted Mustang and the first full year of Saleen production."

"Production" is a relative term. Following three promotional '84 Saleens, 1985's production was a scant 139 cars. So the pickings were slim. Nonetheless, Tony was determined to find a ' 85 Saleen.

"A fellow Saleen Club of America club member posted a copy of a Southern California Craigslist ad he found on our club forum," Tony recalls. "I saw the post around noon on a Friday and within an hour was on the phone with the owner. Two hours later, I had a friend standing next to the car giving me a verbal run-down over the phone. Within seven hours, the owner had a cashier's check in hand and I was the proud new caretaker of 85-127."

After spending a few weeks in a friend's garage in California, the four-eyed Saleen was on a trailer to Wisconsin. It was there that Tony first saw the car in person and could evaluate the task at hand. "The car was in rough shape," he says. "The owner's son drove it daily to high school. It had approximately 225,000 miles and, although it was rust-free, every body panel had a ding, dent, or scratch. It needed a lot of work, but it was exactly what I was looking for."

Besides restoring the Saleen to its rightful condition, Tony had a few other things in store. Since it was the aesthetics that initially lured Tony to Saleen Mustangs, he didn't want to diminish the car's appearance. However, he didn't rule out a few alterations, saying "I wanted to drive and enjoy the car, so I made some tasteful modifications while preserving the stock appearance."

To that end, Tony livened up the powertrain a bit. The anemic cylinder head castings were replaced with high-flow aluminum pieces from AFR, but the logos were removed and the heads shot-peened and painted in a factory-like cast-iron color. The OEM intake manifold was retained but treated to the ExtrudeHone process to improve its breathing capacity. Tony even had OEM-style heat risers added to the aftermarket high-flow shorty headers before they were Jet-Hot coated black.

To accompany the engine's improved airflow, Tony selected a Ford Racing F303 roller camshaft, 1.6:1 roller rockers, a "world-class" T-5 transmission, a Cobra clutch, an aluminum driveshaft, and 3.55:1 gears.

Undoubtedly, the project's most challenging aspect was bringing the cosmetics of 85-127 back to life. Although the car was mostly complete, there were several items that had disappeared over the car's long, hard life. Frustratingly, the parts installed on the few '85 models that left the Saleen factory varied from day-to-day, and even car-to-car. These subtle differences, combined with Saleen's limited production, meant finding parts wasn't as easy as thumbing through a parts warehouse catalog. Instead, it took networking, patience, and a bit of detective work.

Luckily, many Saleen enthusiasts are in the same boat and they assisted Tony in locating the parts he needed to complete the project. One rare part is the front air dam. Tony explains, "The initial run of '85 air dams were fiberglass. They were very fragile and, due to the low ground clearance, several of the early build air dams got damaged. Saleen made a ‘production change' and started molding the air dams out of more durable urethane, which came on my car. But the urethane air dams weren't indestructible, and several of those got broken as well. The air dam was redesigned for '86, so Saleen stopped producing the '85 air dam and began stocking only the '86 style. So if you called Saleen for a replacement '85 air dam, there was a good chance you received an '86 air dam instead. In my case, there was a fellow Saleen club member who purchased a '85 air dam for a project, but he sold it to me to make sure my car had the correct piece."

The same situation is applicable to other Saleen-specific items such as the steering wheel, alarm system, and Kenwood stereo system. Tony reached out to the Saleen club to identify and locate the missing or damaged parts…or as closely as possible.

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The experienced hand of Marc Allen of Marc Allen Restoration Services in Danville, Indiana, performed much of the restoration work, stripping the car and every part for cleaning, painting, or plating with the correct color and finish. Tony then finished up the countless odds and ends in his own garage and got the Saleen roadworthy again.

Clearly, the biggest challenge when restoring an early Saleen Mustang is finding the right parts. What's Tony's advice to someone looking to tackle a Saleen restoration? "Reach out to the ‘Saleen community' and let people know what you need, what you have, what your goals are. For example, we just had someone new post on our forum that he had just bought a Saleen and was looking for information. Within a few hours, two previous owners of that car chimed in and offered pictures, history, and information. It's really cool when stuff like that happens!"

Many Saleen owners view themselves as stewards of the Saleen Mustang legacy, and Tony has done a great service to that history by restoring this '85 example to its rightful condition. But Tony doesn't take all the credit: "I'm forever grateful for the help from my friends in the Saleen Club of America who made my dream car a reality! There are numerous people from around the country who came together to help me by supplying impossible-to-find parts and donating countless hours of labor."

Predictably, the gravitational influence of Tony's love of Mustangs extends to his family. Tony's oldest daughter is named Shelby, and he refers to this four-eyed Fox as "Shelby's car." With that, Tony and his daughter are unlikely to let this one out of their orbit.