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.
Shocks are Koni coilovers at all four corners, and the brakes are upgraded four-piston calipers in front and back. The discs have also been replaced for performance. The fronts are outfitted with 13.5-inch two-piece rotors and the rears are a one-piece design with a 12.19-inch diameter.
Handling has also been improved by making several changes to reduce weight. Besides cutting out practically everything in the interior except for the dash, Melhado even gutted the doors and airbags. More weight was cut by swapping out the stock hood for an '01 Cobra fiberglass hood. The diet even extended to the wheels, where Melhado uses lightweight Forgeline three-piece units, 18x9.5 up front and 18x10.5 in the back. Depending on conditions, Melhado says he usually runs either Hoosier R6 tires or Toyo Proxy RA-1s.
Of course, the full rollcage puts a few pounds back into the car, but if you plan to go all-out on any racetrack, a well-built cage is a necessity. Without the driver in the seat, this Mustang weighs in at a relatively svelte 3,219 pounds.
The engine has also seen several modifications, but surprisingly, no big changes have been made to really up the available horsepower. Instead, Melhado has so far concentrated on making the modular mill as reliable as possible. The 4.6L engine already has a Roush supercharger; since purchasing it, Melhado has added a Canton 7-quart racing oil pan and a remote oil filter to make sure it never starves of oil. Other racing-specific fitments include a Fluidyne aluminum racing radiator and a Fluidyne heat exchanger, an A/C delete with a Steeda eliminator pulley, solid motor mounts made by Griggs, an upgraded fuel pump, and an 11-inch McLeod aluminum flywheel fitted to a Spec Stage 3 clutch to help things spin up a little faster. A few ponies are also picked up over stock trim thanks to a 75mm BBK throttle body and Kooks 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers.
Behind the engine is a Tremec five-speed fitted with a Steeda Tri-ax shifter handle to make for smooth shifts all day long on the road courses. The Mustang also utilizes a Ford Racing aluminum driveshaft and a Moser rearend, upgraded with a Detroit True Trac diff and 31-spline, five-lug C-clip axles.
Melhado says that the Mustang "only" makes 342 lb-ft of torque and 335 hp, but it makes for a nice balance between power, handling, and braking. But that's relative considering he's often up against purebred racecars with an advantage of 100 or more horsepower. "But," he says, "that's been enough for me as I began the learning process of driving a racecar. Still, considering how great this car handles, I'm rarely ever at a disadvantage. It's a lot of fun getting around somebody I know has a lot more horsepower by being able to out-corner and out-brake him."