Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
2003 Ford Mustang Saleen Speedster
This Mustang GT Went From Stolen To Drive It Like You Stole It.
It is a sad fact that the very same engineering, styling, and performance that makes Mustangs so popular also makes them a prime target among thieves. And if a stolen Mustang is lucky enough to be recovered, it's often damaged, written off by the insurance agency, and/or banished to a junkyard for parting out or meeting the crusher.
But this is a story of redemption, not loss. So let's not dwell on thieves and ruined cars, and get on with the fun stuff.
This story of David Melhado's Roush-powered track terror actually begins with an '03 Saleen Speedster. After purchasing a Saleen, Melhado-who also owns a '70 Mach 1-spent time with his Mustang mostly at car shows or club events. That was until his wife sent him to the Richard Petty Driving School as a 40th birthday present. After that, Melhado admits he got the itch for speed and started looking for ways to scratch it.
"I realized there was so much more to enjoying my automotive passion than to simply be a passive participant at car shows and cruise events," Melhado says. "After my NASCAR experience, my brother and I signed up for a few autocross events and did our first open-track day at Pocono Raceway."
By then, as you might expect, Melhado was fully addicted to the thrill of pressing the pedal to the metal. He began modifying his Saleen, while his brother upgraded his Roush Mustang, and the two constantly tried to "one-up" each other. But that came to a quick end when Melhado and his brother were at a track event and a driver lost control of his Evo directly in front of Melhado in his Saleen, crashing into two cars that were waiting to take to the track.
"From that moment on, I knew my Saleen convertible had seen its last event," Melhado says. "Despite some power and handling modifications, the car was too pristine to inflict stone chips and other damage to it, so I decided to build a car specifically for open-track days."
Melhado began his search and found the perfect platform in a "theft recovery" salvage title listed on eBay. The car had been victim to joyriders who had done cosmetic damage to the front end and burned the tread off the rear tires, but otherwise it was in good shape.
Melhado began by having the body damage repaired, which included swapping out the wrinkled nose for an '04 Cobra front fascia. Once Melhado had the car back home from the body shop, he began stripping the interior, right down to the airbags and anything else he wouldn't need when the car was in race mode.
Once the car was in a bare-bones state, it was shipped to Performance Autosport in Richmond, Virginia, and put into the hands of fabricator Don Rostich, who was charged with installing a complete Griggs World Challenge frame kit along with a complete race suspension. The Griggs kit significantly stiffens the Mustang's unibody frame by strategically adding braces to the chassis. Then the suspension was completely reworked to take advantage of the more rigid platform.
In the back, the standard four-link suspension was ditched in favor of two lower arms, a Watts link to locate the rear end, and a massive torque arm the runs down the center of the chassis. This system is designed to eliminate binding as the chassis leans through a turn and also significantly lowers the rear roll center.
Up front, Performance Autosport ditched the stock struts and spindles in favor of Griggs' front suspension, utilizing upper and lower control arms, which allows a lot of adjustment. Griggs says the front suspension design improves not only the front roll center, but also caster, camber, and even the kingpin angle. Doing this required completely redesigning the K-member, but Melhado says the results are more than worth it on the track.