Brad Bowling
January 20, 2006

Step By Step

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Mump_0601_02z 1989_ford_mustang_saleen Engine
Although it debuted with a mildly modified 302 V-8, the SA-5 prototype eventually was fitted with the 291hp SSC powerplant and drivetrain.
Mump_0601_07z 1989_ford_mustang_saleen Wheels
The original five-spoke DP5 rims came from the wheel factory powdercoated in white, over which Saleen applied black paint. To fix excessive chipping, the SA-5's current owner had them stripped and powdercoated black.
Mump_0601_08z 1989_ford_mustang_saleen Rear
After a color change and a bit more tinkering with the engine, Saleen's black SA-5 evolved into the white SSC, which sold 161 copies during its only year of production, 1989.

"I liked the name 'SA-5,'" he remembers, "because it was a big deal that we were celebrating our fifth year of production. The name meant 'Saleen Anniversary 5,' but we weren't going to get it certified in time for the close of '88."

He chose "SSC" because it had no meaning whatsoever but sounded racy. Contrary to legend, it does not stand for "Saleen Super Coupe" or "Saleen Super Car."

One month later, Saleen unveiled a white SSC in Boston during a show of Ford's '89 cars and trucks. It had gained the short yellow and black markings commemorating the Saleen Autosport race team colors and the gray wraparound body molding that would become its signature look.

No longer needed for publicity, the one-and-only SA-5 was eventually upgraded to SSC specs as per Saleen's deal with Hubbard, although there are many differences from what went into production. Cross-drilled rotors sit at each corner, whereas the SSC brakes were merely grooved. Saleen's buildsheet indicates it is equipped with the optional factory ABS system, but in reality it has the old-fashioned standard type. In the late '80s, Saleen Autosport fitted its press and prototype vehicles with custom-ordered springs from Betts to make them sit lower and handle better than the Racecraft coils used on production cars; the SA-5 sits on more-expensive Betts units. In this final year before Mustangs got driver-side airbags as standard equipment, the SA-5's buildsheet indicates a Momo Monte Carlo steering wheel, although it came from Saleen with Momo's Veloce model-the current owner installed the Monte Carlo to match the documentation. Seat leather in the SA-5 was a Mercedes-quality perforated material; the SSC chairs are covered in saddle hide. The SA-5 and SSC both had Monroe's three-way, cockpit-adjustable suspension, but the SA-5 is wearing a set of prototype, rebuildable, nitrogen-filled shock absorbers.

Like the SSC, the SA-5 powertrain is a mix of Ford Motorsport and SVO high-performance parts assembled by Saleen with the goal of creating 300 reliable and emissions-legal horsepower. Starting with a stock 5.0-liter, Saleen added a high-performance air filter, 65mm throttle body, high-flow heads, a modified Mustang intake manifold, 1.7:1 rocker arms for increased valve lift, and free-flowing, stainless steel headers. A heavy-duty radiator kept the hopped-up V-8 cool, and Borg-Warner's "world class" T-5 five-speed manual transmission was judged to be capable of handling the increased horsepower and torque. Dress-up features for the SA-5/SSC engine included polished stock aluminum valve covers, a special engine plenum plate, and Champion plug wires.

At some point in its 16,000 miles, the SA-5 was repainted, perhaps by Saleen. Hubbard sold the well-documented car at auction in the '90s to Eric Peterson, who maintained its originality for the better part of a decade before passing it on to Mark LaMaskin of Performance Autosport in Richmond, Virginia, where it now is the centerpiece of a collection of low-mile, unique Saleen Mustangs.