Brad Bowling
May 20, 2006

To fully appreciate the rare and powerful Saleen SR, it is necessary to take a look at the car on which it is based and the events leading to its creation.

Saleen Autosport's annual sales figures peaked in 1989 with production of 895 high-performance Mustang hatchbacks, convertibles, coupes, and limited-edition SSC models, then plummeted as the entire auto industry was hit with the worst recession in 25 years. In 1992, when Saleen sold only 17 Mustangs equipped with his unique combination of suspension, aerodynamics, interior and engine enhancements, many observers wrote-off the California-based company as another victim of the slow economy.

Saleen may very well have become an automotive history footnote, a "whatever happened to?" story, had it not been for Steve Saleen's willpower and the type of outrageous luck that usually only happens in movies. Three men became involved in the Saleen program around 1993, just as the company was facing its most radical product redesign ever, each bringing a special skill or influence. Comedian Tim Allen had one of the hottest sitcoms on television at the time and lent his celebrity status and popularity to Saleen; designer Phil Frank had an uncanny ability to translate Steve's vision to full-scale prototype models; and businessman Tony Johnson brought crucial financial backing.

This talented trio enabled Saleen to elevate Ford's SN-95 Mustang to the same supercar shelf as the Corvette, with the centerpiece of the new model being a 351ci V-8 plucked from SVT's Lightning truck and massaged to 371 hp. Aiding the transformation from pick-up powerplant to Mustang motor were Edelbrock aluminum heads, a roller camshaft, a 65mm throttle body, a 77mm mass air sensor, and an EEC-IV engine management system. Stuffing a 351 into the prototype's tight compartment required lowering the engine mounts, modifying a GT40 intake plenum, and according to fabricator Joe Gosinski, gaining "an eighth of an inch here and there."

Saleen wanted the '94 bearing his name to be a quantum leap above anything else based on the Mustang; he was looking for a real Neil Armstrong moment. AER Manufacturing was hired to build the production 351s once Saleen received its certification from the Environmental Protection Agency.

For the S-351-the first time Steve Saleen named one of his cars after its engine-a heavy-duty Tremec five-speed transmission was hooked up to the V-8, and the stock rear axle gear ratio was 3.27:1. Suspension improvements included Racecraft struts and shocks, variable-rate coil springs, urethane sway bar bushings, and caster/camber plates. The new S-351 would have won any automotive limbo contest as the new springs provided nearly three inches of drop.

Standard on the S-351 were front P235/40ZR18 and rear P245/40ZR18 BFGoodrich Comp T/A radials, which could be upgraded with Dunlop SP8000s measuring P255/40ZR18 and P285/40ZR18 on magnesium wheels. Speedline, the Italian rim manufacturer, built them with a process developed with Ferrari to prevent the corrosion that had historically plagued magnesium wheels. The S-351 wore the stock Mustang GT four-wheel disc brakes, 10.8-inch up front, 10.5-inch at the rear, unless ordered with the Saleen/Alcon four-piston front caliper and 13-inch grooved front disc.

The exterior benefited from Phil Frank's new body package, which included an entirely new front fascia with five pronounced airscoops below the bumper. The sides were shored up and given a new look with Saleen's traditional treatment plus a flat panel at the base of the door that blended into the lower skirt. Just as with the front fascia, a Saleen rear valance replaced the entire Ford bumper cover starting in '94. A pedestal-mount wing visually extended the width of the car when seen from the rear, and black-out taillamp surrounds were installed over the stock Mustang pieces. Gone were the days of pop-riveting fiberglass parts over an existing factory piece; composite technologies had given Saleen the ability to replace entire front and rear caps economically.