Wes Duenkel
March 1, 2008

Horse Sense: In 1987, Saleen dithed the stock seats in favor of aftermarket units from FloFit. That company's couches remained a Saleen staple through 1991.

The story of '87 Saleen number 197 is eerily reminiscent of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. One could imagine George Gast in the role of Dr. FrankenSaleen.

The Final Act: In a dimly lit garage, Dr. FrankenSaleen readies his creation. A single light bulb sways slowly from its noose, dragging the doctor's shadow back and forth across the hanging garden utensils. He works nervously, for this night marks the culmination of years of endless searching and patient labor.

His back aches. He's been hunched over this engine compartment for-he's lost track of how long. Could it be days? The empty cans and wrappers are his only reference to the passage of time. He runs down his mental checklist-he doesn't want to forget any important details: fluid levels? Check. Header bolts? Tight. His dirt-stained index finger traces each spark plug wire: 1, 3, 7, 2, 6, 5, 4, 8.

It is time. The doctor nods, and his assistant, Yvonne, slides the key into the ignition switch. "Turn the key!" he commands. One click and the fuel pump gargles, pressurizing the arteries of the monster. Then it ceases. A blanket of eerie silence smothers the beast. Yvonne's right hand quivers, twisting the key ever further until

George Gast's 197 is completely legit, listed in the Saleen registry with him as the owner.

Whir-whir-whir-GrhOOOOoom! Droplets of water spews from the tailpipes as the monster bellows to life. Fresh oxygen rushes into its lungs as the pistons heave with every revolution. Headlights pierce the cracks in the garage door, slicing into the darkness that surrounds the garage.

"It's alive!" exclaims the doctor, turning back to his patient. There are vital signs to check. He retrieves his timing light from the top of the passenger-side fender.

Act 1 began in the fall of 2004 when George "Dr. FrankenSaleen" Gast was on the lookout for an '85- to '93-era Saleen. He had lusted for one ever since he first laid eyes on the whale-tailed Foxes. An eBay search uncovered a large number of Saleen parts that belonged to an '87 Saleen, number 197. "I e-mailed the seller asking about the complete car," George says. "He informed me he was selling parts because it was wrecked. I was fortunate enough to catch him before anything sold. I verified the authenticity with Liz Saleen and drove down to Gainesville, Florida, to see the car."

A TKO gearbox from Tremec and a SPEC Stage 3 clutch transfer all that power to a 3.55 gearset. Hardware for twisty roads consists of the Saleen-spec adjustable KONI dampers, Racecraft springs, rear lower control arms, and subframe connectors, and a 151/48-inch sway bar.

Upon arrival, George evaluated the 197's condition. "Unfortunately, the car was a mess when I found it-it had been in a terrible accident. It was black, and the entire drivetrain had been removed, along with the dashboard, steering wheel, and shifter knob." The Mustang vultures had already paid a few visits. Nonetheless, George was determined to resurrect the car-with or without the toe-tag. The carcass was dragged from beneath a palm tree and loaded onto George's trailer. Next stop: his home in Douglasville, Georgia.

Once unloaded, it was apparent this Saleen's body wasn't even worth a trip to a plastic surgeon. "I contacted a friend with the DMV and he suggested a body rebuild using a donor." Well-chosen words, Doctor. "After saving the rear hatch and wing, driver-side door, and a few other items, I had a certified rebuilder swap everything over to the new body. The DMV verified the work, switched the VIN to the new body, and signed off on the car." With that, Dr. FrankenSaleen gave 197 a new lease on life.

With something straight as a base, the assembly process began. "The interior was completely ruined from baking in the Florida weather, so it came out for full restoration. New upholstery and carpet were installed, and all the panels were removed, cleaned, and painted or replaced. The material for the original FloFit seats is no longer available, so with the help of Marietta Upholstery, we found a material so close that most people can't tell the difference."

The heart of Dr. FrankenSaleen's monster lies underhood. Another Saleen-spec option is the Vortech/Saleen intake. A period-correct Ford Racing Performance Parts B303 cam with 1.7 Cobra roller rockers slide 16 valves inside Edelbrock aluminum heads. A Vortech S-Trim pumping 13 pounds of boost has netted George 510 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque to the wheels.

Dr. FrankenSaleen needed to search more to find the parts necessary to complete 197. Acquiring the original dash and steering wheel proved challenging. "After numerous e-mails and phone calls, I convinced the previous owner to sell the dash and steering wheel back to me, but the original shifter knob was long gone. Luckily, several of my Saleen friends referred me to an eBay auction with a correct shifter knob."

With the knob in hand, George proceeded to complete the interior. He decided early on that he wanted 197 to have all the performance upgrades offered in the Saleen catalog. "That meant I needed original Saleen fuel pressure and boost gauges since I planned to add the Saleen-spec Vortech supercharger." George chose two Auto Meter gauges (voltage and water temp) that matched the Saleen instruments, mounting them on the A-pillar.

One interior upgrade had to wait until the car was complete: "At the Mustang 40th Anniversary celebration in Nashville, I was fortunate enough to have Steve Saleen sign the dash. His comment: 'The car looks great.' It was the best part of the entire event."

This monster's skin is mostly Saleen-spec, which is just how George likes it. Besides, it's what attracted him to these cars in the first place. "The car is now bright maroon red instead of the original black. The color change was partly dictated by the donor car, and the fact that a complete repaint wasn't in the budget. The rear valance for '87 is a one-year design. Through more contacts, I found an original one in California. Saleen stopped producing the original body parts some years back, so any parts have to be found by luck and good hunting." The only non-Saleen body part visible is a 211/42-inch Kaenan cowl hood.

"I added an NOS nitrous kit as an aftercooler." Why? "Well, the kit was free, so what the heck?" With the blower and nitrous, the monster belted out a 601 hp run before they shut it down. "It went extremely lean so I'll have to wait for more tuning and a bigger fuel system before I use the nitrous again." Did he mention that the entire bottom end is totally factory-stock? A fractured block may be in George's future if he keeps this up.

More Saleen-spec upgrades reside in the rolling and stopping departments. "For open-track events, I wanted better stopping power." George has that covered with a 13-inch Saleen/Brembo four-piston caliper upgrade (an '01 Saleen option). Unfortunately, 197's original mesh-style wheels were unusable, so George set out again to locate some new feet for his monster. "I wanted the famous three-piece Sterns that came on only 14 special Saleen Mustangs." A tall order given their rarity. Another trip to the eBay graveyard located a set for sale, but he lost the auction. "The seller e-mailed me with an offer to sell me another set he had just found in Japan. They were the correct offset and size Saleen used-an exact match. Getting these wheels was the best purchase for the car's looks."

George loves driving his creation on the street. "It runs strong and feels like nothing I've driven before. The car drives and acts as docile as any stock car-until you press on the pedal with any kind of enthusiasm."

What does the future hold for Dr. FrankenSaleen's monster? "I plan to enlarge the motor with a 331 stroker kit and race block. A larger fuel system will help me make my goal of more than 650 hp on pump gas. I also plan to have the car repainted the original black to finish the restoration."

In hindsight, George has no regrets. "My '87 Saleen has an odd history, but to me, its one of the nicest cars I've ever owned. The car now has a rebuilt title, so naturally its value suffers. But it keeps an original Saleen from going to the crusher and gone forever-which, to me, is important. The cost to rebuild it was probably more then it would be to purchase a different Saleen, but I love a challenge. Resurrecting number 197 was half the fun."

Curiously, 197 came with the radio-delete option, however, George needed tunes. Hardware from Pioneer and J&L entertain George on long trips. He also added an additional creature comfort. "In 1987, not all Saleens came with cruise control, but in 1989, Saleen manufactured a metal plate to house the stock Ford cruise control buttons on the Momo wheel. I decided I wanted cruise control-all I needed was that mounting plate. With the help of Bart Gadlage, the owner of an '89 Saleen, I copied the plate and made my own. The cruise is a great addition and I enjoy it whenever I'm on the road."

5.0 Tech Specs
ENGINE AND DRIVETRAINIgnition
BlockSaleen 8mm ignition wires,
StockACCEL coil, ACCEL billet
Crankshaftdistributor, MSD 6AL-BTM
StockGauges
RodsAuto Meter
Stock 
PistonsSUSPENSION AND CHASSIS
StockFront Suspension
CamshaftK-member
FRPP B303Stock
Power AdderControl Arms
Vortech S-Trim V-1 superchargerStock
w/ 3.12 blower pulley and 6.78Struts
crank pulley, NOS dry nitrous kitKoni adjustable
w/ 75hp jetSprings
Cylinder HeadsSaleen Racecraft
EdelbrockCaster/Camber
Intake ManifoldSaleen Racecraft
Saleen/VortechSway bar
Throttle Body1 5/8-inch sway bar
70mm MACBrakes
Mass AirSaleen 13-inch front brake
80mm Pro-{{{M}}}upgrade w/ Brembo four-piston
Fuel Systemcalipers, cross-drilled and slotted
Ford Racing 255-lph in-tank fuelBrembo rotors, Porterfield R4S
pump, T-Rex 50/70 inline fuelpads, brake proportioning valve
pump, Kirban adjustable fuelWheels
pressure regulator,38-lb/hr LucasStern three-piece 17x8-in
fuel injectors reflowed to 42-lb/hrTires
Exhaust235/45-17 Ventus HRII tires
MAC 1 5/8-inch short-tube,Rear Suspension
unequal-length headers, BassaniShocks
X-shape crossover w/ high-flowKoni adjustable
cats, Flowmaster two-chamberSprings
mufflers, Saleen SSC tipsSaleen Racecraft springs
TransmissionControl Arms
Tremec TKO five-speed w/ SPECSaleen Racecraft
Stage 3 clutch, Steeda Tri-AxBrakes
shifter, FRPP aluminumHawk rear pads and cross-drilled
driveshaftand slotted rear rotors
RearendWheels
Stock 8.8 w/Auburn lockerStern three-piece 17x9-in
differential, 31-spline axles, FRPPTires
3.55 gears255/40-17 Ventus HRII
 Chassis Stiffening
ELECTRONICSTwo-point Saleen rollbar
Engine Management 
'89 A9L EEC IV