Frank H. Cicerale
October 1, 2008
Photos By: Peter S. Linney
Model: Elizabeth Ashley

It happens time and again to those in the Mustang hobby. Your pride and joy is wrecked in an accident, or you have to sell it for any number of reasons. It pains you to see her go, but the day comes when you and your Stang have to part ways. Still, the itch to own a high-horsepower ponycar lives on. It sits there inside of you, festering, pestering, until one day, you can't deny that feeling anymore. You just have to have another Mustang.

Finding the perfect steed once during a lifetime is difficult-finding it twice is nearly impossible. Luckily, that wasn't the case for Hayward, California, native Jesse Marquez. Jesse had the Mustang bug deeply embedded in him since he was a teenager, but it took a friend totaling a horse of a different brand to get him back over to the proper side of the fence.

"I've been a Mustang lover since I was 14, and it started with my uncle, who owned a California Edition '91 5.0," Jesse says. "He used to let me wash it for him, and I was hooked. Then my brother got a '66 coupe, and I finally got my first Mustang, a '92 LX convertible 5.0, which I still have."

While he already had his Mustang, Jesse also held the pink slip to a Brand-X fullsize ride that had been totaled. The insurance money he got out of it allowed him to go after another dream car, again with a Pony emblem on it. "At the time, I really wanted an '03 Cobra," he says. "I really had my heart set on one. I was looking for something that would be desirable and could serve as my daily mode of transportation."

As luck would have it, Jesse never did slide behind the wheel of a Terminator. In fact, a chance phone call from a friend set up a blind date between Jesse and an '02 Saleen Extreme Mustang. "[My friend] worked at a local dealer and told me about a Saleen they had, so I went to check it out," Jesse says. "It had everything I wanted, with a tad bit more power, and it was a rarer car. I like collectible cars, and when I found out it was one of only 54 built, and one of four with the options it had, I didn't hesitate. To be honest, I'm happy I didn't get the Cobra. I go to car shows, and those cars are like a dime a dozen. You don't see too many Saleen Extreme cars there."

Jesse happily plunked down his hard-earned Benjamins and motored home. At first, he was content to leave well enough alone. That was until he got hooked up with the crew from CA-Mustangs. "I loved going to car shows, but I wanted the car to get more attention," Jesse says. "I was hanging out with everyone from the car club, and all of them had Mustangs that were heavily modified, so I knew it was my turn to do the same. I wanted to keep the car original, so every modification I made was not to the original part. In fact, I have all of the original parts put aside in case I return the car to stock one day. You know how it is, though. Once you start modifying the car, you never stop."

Jesse began the modifications from the inside, then moved out, around, and under the Stang. The leather-clad interior remained as Saleen intended it to be, though a set of Recaro chairs replaced the original buckets. A Saleen 200-mph speedometer and white-faced gauges made their way into the instrument panel, and a twin-gauge pod stocked with Saleen boost and intercooler temp gauges was fabbed up as well.

For Jesse Marquez and his '02 Saleen Extreme Mustang, it was love at first sight.

For the sound-system mods, Jesse enlisted the help of Ernesto Onate, proprietor of Sound Innovations in Hayward. Ernesto created a sound system centered around a Pioneer AVIC-Z2 head unit that features a 7-inch touch screen. According to Jesse, the only thing this head unit doesn't do is drive the car for him, though that aspect is helped out thanks to the Directed Video overhead 12-inch screen linked to a back-up camera. The head unit powers the sound through three JL Audio W3 subs, a 100-watt JL Audio amp (along with another 350-watt by four-channel amp), and MB Quart speakers. The subs are housed in a custom fiberglass box painted to match the car (more on that later). Adding even more flash to the interior is the custom Saleen trunk-lid panel, the custom painted door inserts and center dashpanel, UPR billet pieces, a Momo Pit Stop Airmetal emergency brake handle, and a Momo Evo Airmetal shift knob located on top of the MGW shifter.

With the interior of the car modified to his liking, Jesse couldn't leave the exterior in plain-Jane (for a Saleen, anyway) fashion. He ripped on over to the Garage Body Shop, where Joe Marquez (Jesse's uncle) went to work. A Vertical Doors lambo door kit was fabbed up, ensuring they'd reach to the sky each time they were opened. The Saleen Extreme hood was kept, along with the rest of the attending bodywork. A Mach 1 grille-delete kit eliminated the stock front grille, and a pair of tinted HID dual-beam headlights provides the proper illumination when the sun goes down.

The sinister look of the Mustang comes in the form of the awesome two-tone paint applied by Uncle Joe. Up top, PPG Storm Gray metallic can be found, while underneath the red pinstripe lies PPG black. "I always loved the look of a clean, black car, and gray is one of my favorite colors, so I decided to put them together," Jesse says. "When I saw the final look, I was in love with it." Throw on some clearcoat and a pair of tinted taillights, and this Mustang looks like it's ready to strike. Finishing the visual aspect of the Pony is the smoking rolling stock, which revolves around Foose Nitrous rims, size 20x8.5 up front and 22x12 out back. Michelin Pilot PS2 shoes are found on all four points.

Jesse then moved on to the performance part of the car. He wanted to throw a bunch of power to the Mustang, but after investing all of his time and effort into making it look good, he figured he'd attend to the underpinnings before the powerplant. After all, he didn't want to have an ill-handling car and take the chance of wadding it up. The front end features MacPherson struts, variable rate coil springs, urethane bushings, and a 13/8-inch sway bar. The hind end of this Pony showcases the stock 8.8-inch rear suspended by a set of Saleen upper and boxed lower control arms, variable-rate springs, Saleen-specific bushings, and Saleen Racecraft shocks. Maximum Motorsports XL-series full-length subframe connectors tie both ends of the car together, while caster/camber plates of the same manufacturer allow Jesse to set up the front end the way he likes it. Hauling this Pony down from speed are Baer 14-inch slotted and cross-drilled rotors up front, 11-inch rotors of the same design out back, and a set of Alcon four-piston calipers that clamp everything down.

Last on Jesse's to-do list was the power production. The 4.6L Two-Valve mod motor's bore/stroke was left alone, though Saleen did its own thing to the powerplant at its Irvine, California, facility. A forged-steel crank and attending connecting rods link up with the forged-aluminum pistons to shore up the bottom end for the flavor of boost yet to come. Saleen custom-spec cams made their way onto the aluminum Two-Valve heads, followed by the big mamma-jamma, the Saleen Series V 2.3L supercharger. The blower is filled with Lysholm internals, and sits atop the Saleen intake manifold and accompanying water-to-air intercooler. A 75mm Accufab throttle body flows the air into the supercharger, 42-pound injectors feed the fuel, and the fire is lit with an ECM stocked with the Saleen tune. The blown mod mill expends its flatulence through Saleen headers and a Bassani catted x pipe system that exits through the Saleen center exhaust. Team Breed custom valve covers and a JLT custom-painted cold-air intake add some sex appeal to the engine bay. Lying in wait behind the engine is the stock T-56 six-speed transmission that sends the power to the 3.73-stocked rear via a custom aluminum driveshaft.

"The first night out with the car, I realized I couldn't have it as a daily driver," Jesse says. "It was too precious, special, and it deserved more. All the times I needed a car, I sacrificed. I walked to the store and took the bus just so I could keep it out of harm's way."

Jesse now wants to change the stereo system and go with something larger. He also plans on having JDM Engineering install a 2.6-inch blower pulley and a tune to replace the stock 4-inch pulley. One thing that won't change, however, is how he feels about his Saleen Extreme. "I've spent all my time with the car, and have put every dime I have into it," he says. "Some may say I'm obsessed or insane, but they can never understand."

You're right, Jesse, and until those critics find love at first sight, they never will.

It was love at first sight here for us, too, as we couldn't get enough of Jesse's Saleen. Check out the hot video of his smoking ride at www.musclemustangfastfords.com.