Rod Short
June 1, 2001

The only way to know if you have a really special car is to see if it can stand the test of time. The Shelby GT350H has certainly done that with flying colors, because these distinctive former Hertz rental cars are still among some of the most popular classic Mustangs at shows today. As a lifelong Mustang enthusiast, Leah Kappler of Dallas, Pennsylvania, has seen how coveted and rare these cars are and, with that in mind, sees the same thing happening someday with this modern reincarnation.

"There really aren't a lot of Saleens in the Pennsylvania area, so I had never really seen one until I went to the 35th Anniversary Mustang celebration at Charlotte," Leah said about her car. "As soon as I saw one, I fell in love with it. To me, it had what the Cobra lacked in style, and from that point on, I was in hot pursuit to get one."

After returning home, Leah researched the Saleen and found that it wasn't as expensive as she had assumed. With all of that digging, she found that she could actually get a Saleen S281 convertible from Budget Rent A Car for the same price as her Cobra. That, coupled with the rarity and potential collectibility of these cars, convinced her that this was the route to go if she was going to buy a Saleen.

Although no longer rental cars today, the Budget rental Saleens were rented only at West Coast outlets for $149 per day. Drivers had to be at least 25 years old with a clean driving record and $1,000 available balance on a major credit card to cover incidental damage. Only 128 cars, all convertibles, were ever used by Budget, with 30 of the cars available for rental in 1996, 88 the following year, then just 10 S281s during the program's last year in 1998. Before the cars were shipped to Budget as rentals, Saleen modified the cars by raising them a full 3 inches for practicality in daily driving and adding automatic locking seatbelts and theft control devices, such as a LoJack ignition kill switch and tracking device, locking lug nuts, and even The Club to lock the steering wheel. At the end of the program, all 128 of the cars were returned to Saleen to get lowered and completely inspected before they were resold to the public.

"I bought the car sight unseen with the guarantee that I could send it back if it wasn't everything they told me it was," Leah said. "It came in absolutely great shape with nothing wrong with it-no cigarette burns or anything. It was like buying a new car."

According to Saleen's production records, Leah's convertible was No. 80 of just 327 S281 Saleens produced overall during 1997. Saleen's Owner Registry also verified that Leah's Saleen was only 1 of 5 cars manufactured that year with optional magnesium wheels and a sportbar.

"A lot of people have mixed emotions when they realize this is a former rental car," Leah said, when asked about the comments she's received. "Some people assume the car was beat to hell, then there are others who know about the Hertz/Shelby connection and they understand that my car will be a collector's item someday. I wasn't apprehensive about buying it to use as a daily driver, because I believed that I could park it at the supermarket and not worry about it. If it was a new car, I don't think I could be in the store 10 minutes without worrying about getting that first scratch on it."

Although Leah owns an entire corral of Mustangs, including a Drag Pack '70 Boss 302 with a 4.30 locker rear and a '92 limited-edition convertible, she confessed that the Saleen is still her favorite Mustang.

With the car as attractive as it is, it may stay around for a while!