Elisa Brooks
September 12, 2011
Photos By: Kevin DiOssi

The saga of a slick street/strip, 9-second Saleen

After his early days of jaunts with 5.0L Fox-body Mustangs, Alex Rodriguez was ready for an upgrade, so the South Florida native became the proud papa of a brand-spankin'-new '05 S281 Saleen Mustang that was sure to turn heads everywhere it went.

It was a mighty big upgrade indeed. This silver beauty gave him the attention a specialty vehicle owner demands, but just cruising around in a smokin' hot car wasn't enough.

Knowing how much fun he could have with a few upgrades, Alex added a few minor bolt-ons to the Three-Valve modular mill. After some research, and knowing his power goals were pretty basic, Alex added boost with a Magnuson twin-screw supercharger and a Steeda tune, making a very conservative (yet still enjoyable) 409 rwhp. Then Alex did what any typical horsepower-hungry, torque-craving performance junkie would do. He took it to the track and beat the crap out of itùliterally!

Unfortunately, he drove it so hard that he face-planted the Saleen into the wall at Palm Beach International Raceway (formerly Moroso Motorsports Park). Yikes! One fender and door of the Saleen were pretty banged up, as was Alex's ego, but that didn't stop him from making the best of a not-so-great situation. After the bodywork was completed, he opted for a unique, yet subtle ghost-flame paint theme laid on by experienced painter Tim Procurant of Custom Visions in Pompano Beach. Tim created the perfect inconspicuous design to complement the overall look. Alex was a businessman, so he wanted a really cool car he could feel confident both driving to the track or to a meeting with clients, and he achieved exactly that.

Once the paintwork was done, Alex began to rethink the goals he had originally set for this Saleen. He headed to Mustang Specialties, which has been in the Mustang modification scene for decades. It was then that his good friend John Rollins, manager of Mustang Specialties, started urging him to take it to the next level. Little did Alex know that what started as an 11-second quarter-mile e.t. goal was going to turn into a psi-induced monstrosity that would eclipse the 9-second hurdle with ease, all while remaining his daily driver and maintaining 18 mpg. Yes, you read that rightùit gets better gas mileage than your wife's SUV.

The engine setup is surprisingly mild considering the blazing e.t.'s that have come out of this Mustang. Using the original 281 block, Ronnie Wilson of Mustang Specialties stroked this baby to 300 ci and added boost-friendly necessities, including an Eagle crankshaft, rods, and CP pistons. Working the three-valves-per-cylinder is a very mild custom Comp Cams setup, which serves as a key to keeping well- behaved street manners.

Knowing how much of an improvement it was over the stock manifold for a forced-induction combo such as this, the crew added a JPC Racing sheetmetal intake, paired with a GT500 throttle body to create the perfect matchup. Ronnie also did all of the machine work on the stock heads and handled the entire assembly from start to finish.

The power one can extract from stock parts is amazing these days, especially when you take into consideration how radically Mustangs run, but awesome cylinder head flow and boost is to thank. In this case, a air-to-water intercooled Procharger F1A blasting 27 psi into the subservient engine combination helps to produce such impressive numbers: around 800 rwhp fueled by VP Q16. All this power is sent through the ATF Transmissions-built 4R70W that enables Alex to run a remarkable 9.20 at 152 mph with a 1.30 60-foot time in his 3,700-pound silver-bullet Saleen.

Let's not forget to mention the meager 100hp shot of nitrous to add that little bit of extra vigor when heading down the quarter-mile. Of course, you need the proper fuel and spark components to bring your brute to life, so Alex and his crew added 80-lb/hr injectors, Magnafuel pumps and regulator, and MSD coils.

Tuning is always an integral part of bringing any setup together, especially a boosted one such as this, and there are no shortage of options in South Florida when it comes to fulfilling the car's tuning needs. Alex ventured to DiabloSport, where he found accomplished calibrator Kevin MacDonald, and he was the man for the job. Kevin tuned this car using the Diablosport software, and it was dialed in flawlessly for both boost and driveability.

Even though this Saleen is driven daily, Alex chose a high stall speed of 4,000 rpm for the Precision Industries torque converter, even though he sacrificed a small amount of driveability. The auto swap was no easy feat. The ATF trans proved to be enough for the power they were putting through it at first, but as the Mustang Specialties team stepped up the horsepower, they began running into issues and had to make a decision.

Pressed for time with the 2008 Spring Break Shootout approaching, they decided to exchange the ATF setup for another aftermarket high-priced transmission. The good news is that Alex won the race in Bradenton, but the transmission couldn't endure the strain of more than a few runs and ultimately broke, leading them right back to ATF and they haven't had any issues since. Alex and John pride themselves on this transmission and say it's the best feature of the entire package.

After being in the Fun Ford Weekend winner's circle, Alex slowly lost interest in his Steed and decided to put the keys down for a while to focus on other aspects of his life, like his career and his new family. Sadly, the Saleen was put on the local Craigslist website for sale. When his good buddy John, who helped orchestrate and oversee the entire project, caught wind of it, he could barely sleep at night thinking that someone who didn't truly appreciate the work and time involved might end up with this unique ride. It is safe to say that John was slightly attached to this project, so there was only one thing for him to do--buy the car from Alex. And so he did.

Now John cruises around town, and drives this hot rod back and forth to work at Mustang Specialties, giving eager customers a taste of the raw power to demonstrate all that his shop has to offer. Shortly after adding this horse to his stable, John welcomed his baby girl, Emily. Until she is old enough to tag along, he will continue to enjoy it in it's current state. But plans for a big-bore engine setup that will run 8s are definitely on John's to-do list.

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