Jim Smart
January 1, 2005

When Steve Saleen first put his name on a Mustang more than 20 years ago, die-hard Mustang enthusiasts laughed. "Who does this guy think he is, Carroll Shelby?" we quipped. But Steve Saleen's marketing prowess as a seasoned racer and car-builder cannot be underestimated. Steve has a huge following today, with thousands of vehicles bearing his name. Saleen has become a spirited icon with late-model Mustang enthusiasts who love tipping their hats to this man wherever he and his wife, Liz, show up.

Richard Thacker and his son, Rich, both from Brunswick, Maine, have become quite familiar with the Saleen name. For them, it's something of a family tradition.

Rich, just 40 years old, enjoys an '89 SSC, a Saleen Mustang that was cranked up a notch in celebration of the company's fifth anniversary. There are only 159 others like it. Rich explains, "Saleen built the SSC in 1989. At that time, I was 26 and thought it was a great car. However, it was way out of my price range."

Rich tells us he fell in love with the car, reading all about it in car magazines and wanting like hell to own one. His dream was to find a low-mileage original SSC in like-new condition, a formidable task for anyone seeking a rare and collectible Mustang. When he ran into Mark Lamaskin of Performance Auto Sport and told him about his dream, Mark later called to tell him about an SSC he found with just 1,300 miles on the clock. The car was shipped to Performance Auto Sport in Virginia where it was picked up a short time later. Rich trailered it home to Maine.

This '89 Saleen SSC is a ride to envy: ported and polished heads on top of a 5.0L High Output V-8, DynoMax mufflers, a three-core radiator, 1.7:1 roller rockers, and a Tremec five-speed. An Auburn Traction-Lok with 3.55:1 gears offers Rich a nice combination of quick acceleration and open-road cruising. It's really the rare joy of being able to have your cake and eat it too; all that and Saleen SSC status to boot. Down below are big disc brakes and five-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in 16-inch Generals. Inside, Saleen deleted the rear seat and installed a four-point rollbar.It doesn't get much better than an SSC, or does it?

Rich's father owns the '98 Saleen SA-15, one of those rare opportunities for a shot at both history and speed in a stunning 15th Anniversary package. It all began when Rich prompted his father to order one from Saleen in 1998. Steve Saleen flew father and son to Southern California in September 1998 for the unveiling of the SA-15. They wouldn't take delivery of the production car until January 1999. After hibernating in the garage over the winter, it headed to the Mustang's 35th Anniversary Celebration in Charlotte. Showing this unique Mustang musclecar has been a Thacker tradition ever since.

The '98 Saleen SA-15 is certainly more advanced than the earlier SSC. It has an Eaton supercharged 4.6L SOHC that makes 320 hp. When Richard grabs the shifter, it's tied to a Tremec T45 five-speed transmission and a 3.27:1 Traction-Lok. Call this the ultimate Mustang fun car for 1998, with an interior that becomes an extension of your personality, Speed Line five-spoke 17-inch wheels and Michelin radials, heavy-duty ground effects, a wing spoiler, and more. The SA-15 is a nice time capsule Richard intends to keep for a long time.

The message here is performance times two. It's about the flow of testosterone and a passion father and son can share together. And from the looks and sounds of things, protocol isn't changing anytime soon.