1989 Ford Mustang Saleen SA-5 - The Sinister Saleen
Steve Saleen Wanted His "Super Mustang" In Black, But This SA-5 Would Be The Only One Built
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The year 1988 was one of explosive growth and crucial decisions for Saleen Autosport. Encouraged by the previous season's SCCA Showroom Stock Championship and sales of 280 high-performance Mustangs, the company was taking seriously its status as a small volume manufacturer.
Although his 5-year-old business was thriving, Steve Saleen was restless to push the Mustang platform to a new level of performance beyond improved aerodynamics, suspension, and brakes. He knew Ford had no short-term plans to replace the Fox chassis or even perform a superficial restyling for several years, and that he was in the perfect position to leapfrog his standard Saleen with an enhanced "super Mustang." Having grown up in Southern California, the nation's poster child for automobile emissions standards, Saleen knew it would not be easy to build an engine that met federal guidelines. With his SCCA race team shop square in the middle of the Detroit auto scene, however, the idea was at least possible.
"There was no precedent in 1988 for certifying a powerplant on the scale we were talking about," Steve Saleen remembers. "We invested time, money, and effort into a project that might not have had a payoff. There was no guarantee we could even pull it off because everything the Environmental Protection Agency dictated was still being defined on our level."
Terry Hudyma, a former EPA employee, went to work for Saleen with the sole responsibility of walking Steve's proposed engine modifications through the unmapped regulatory jungle. Steve announced his intention to legally sell a 300hp '89 Mustang-based supercar in all 50 states on June 2 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The prototype was a black hatchback, 88-0003, owned by Saleen employee Phil Hubbard, decked out in black DP5 five-spoke wheels and sporting some of the planned engine mods. In July, Saleen gave passenger rides in the prototype at Sears Point during the Shelby American Automobile Club's national convention. The high-speed rides not only generated publicity for the proposed model, but Saleen used the free track time to research and develop a supercar suspension.
Although Saleen liked the purposeful Darth Vader-like appearance of the prototype, his hope to blanket the enthusiast magazines with the new model caused an immediate color change when a photographer pointed out that no editor likes to put black cars on the cover. Not only are they hard to photograph under natural lighting conditions, but there is a long-held belief in the newsstand business that black cars equal low sales. Saleen decided against red because Ford was making a change to its red paint. White, he felt, had a more subtle appeal that suggested refinement, not just raw horsepower.
As for what to call it, company memos from the period indicate Saleen intended to name the new model "SC," but changed his mind when Ford announced its upcoming supercharged Thunderbird with that same designation.