Pete Epple Technical Editor
December 18, 2009
Photos By: Frank Cicerale

In Saleen's 27-year history, the company has never built a Mustang for the sole purpose of drag racing. Steve Saleen, who grew up road racing, spent years building his empire around Mustangs with improved overall performance and amazing styling. "Power in the hands of few," was the motto, and the company hit its mark year after year.

Today, Saleen Mustangs are some of the most desirable late-model Fords on the road. In nearly three decades, the famed Mustang builder has won many road racing championships and has built many different versions of the Pony, but Saleen has never built a car just for drag racing-until now. Two years ago, the company decided to hit the straight and narrow and to do so it teamed up with JDM Engineering in Freehold, New Jersey, to build a winning combination.

When Saleen (the company) turned 25 in 2008, it produced limited-edition Mustangs to commemorate its Silver anniversary. Twenty-five Sterling Edition S302E (E for Extreme) Saleen Mustangs were built, plus one special "DR," or drag race version, taking the 26th spot. This one-of-a-kind Saleen belongs to Jim D'Amore II of JDM Engineering.

You may think such a rare car would sit idle, waiting for it's valve to rise, but actually, it's driven hard and is the showcase machine for JDM Engineering. The striking silver Stang can be found at just about every NMRA event, piloted by Jim's good pal and bracket-racing champion Paul Gamino in the Super Stang class. In fact, the Saleen has logged over 140 low-10-second blasts down the quarter-mile, but the JDM powertrain and suspension are designed to withstand the abuse.

After the Saleen's Sterling Edition appearance package was added by Saleen, a JDM 298ci stroker was dropped in. The powerplant is fortified with a forged-steel crankshaft, and JDM-spec Manley rods and pistons, which produce 9.8:1 compression under the JDM/M2 Race Systems CNC-ported Three-Valve cylinder heads. The JDM-spec Comp Cams camshafts manipulate the Manley valves, letting the air/fuel mixture in and burnt exhaust gasses out.

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The intake charge is forced into the mill via a Saleen twin-screw supercharger, and the combination of the 2.87-inch (Standard Extreme) upper pulley and a 7.4-inch (10-percent overdriven) lower pulley allows the supercharger to produce over 17 psi of boost on launch and about 14 psi at the stripe. Exhaust gasses exit through American Racing headers into a three-inch H-pipe, then out Saleen mufflers. On the in-house Dynojet, the supercharged powerplant produced 708 rwhp with 697 lb-ft of torque.

When Paul hits the loud pedal, power is transferred through a 2,500-stall Precision Industries torque converter to a stock 5R55S five-speed automatic transmission. "This is the only Sterling Edition built with an automatic," Jim informs us. "The rest were built with six-speeds." The gearbox is controlled with minor changes in the tune, which is set by Jim. The trans spins an aluminum driveshaft from The Axle Exchange, which links to an 8.8-inch rearend housing that's stuffed with 4.30 gears, along with a Strange spool and axles to prevent breakage.

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Getting over 700 horses planted is not easy. To ensure traction, a slew of goodies from BMR Fabrication have been added. Saleen struts and springs support the nose, while a BMR K-member cradles the engine. The front sway bar has been removed to help weight transfer. Out back, Saleen shocks and springs hold up the rear, and a BMR antiroll bar keeps the car level under hard acceleration. Bogart wheels sit at all four corners, wrapped in Mickey Thompson drag radial rubber.

When you open the doors, you are greeted by more uniqueness. At first glance you might think this is more cruiser than drag racer as the typical sporty Saleen seats have given way to lighter carbon-fiber buckets from the Saleen S7 supercar. "The S7 seats are 57 pounds lighter than the stock seats," Jim tells us. And although the S7 seats reduce weight, this S197 is no lightweight-with the driver, the Saleen checks in at 4,020 pounds. The office also sports a six-point rollbar and harness, and all the usuall Saleen treatments.

JDM's Saleen was prepared as if for show, but with plenty of go. Despite the 4,020 race weight, it's been as quick as 1.30 in the 60-foot and 9.69 at over 142 mph in the quarter. But with only a six-point, it's run mostly in the low 10s. Admittedly, Jim doesn't drive the Saleen much on the street, as this Pony's primary duty is on the track, but it does see the occasional blast or road trip. "Recently I drove the car three and a half hours to Carlisle, Pennsylvania [to Fords at Carlisle] with no problems," Jim tells us. "You could get in the car right now and drive it to California and back, but it's much more fun driving it a quarter-mile at a time.