Brad Bowling
June 21, 2010

Steve Saleen was ready to set the world on fire in the summer of 1984. He had just sold three of his new high-performance Mustang conversions and was certain he had only scratched the surface of the premium-pony market. Minor changes to the '85 Mustang's appearance and further evolution of the 5.0-liter gave the California-based modifier a double advantage in that the '84 components he had developed could still be used and his cars would be even faster with the improved V-8.

Still wearing the '84 model's 600-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor and dual-plane aluminum intake manifold, the 5.0-liter gained 35 hp for '85 when Ford added a hydraulic roller cam and lifters, forged aluminum pistons, steel-tube exhaust manifolds, and a partial dual-exhaust system consisting of a single catalytic converter feeding a pipe that split into two mufflers. The 210hp 302 was available only with the Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed transmission and 2.73:1 Traction-Lok rear axle (3.08:1 optional) in a 7.5-inch housing. Choosing an automatic created a substantial power loss; running on central fuel injection (CFI), that version of the V-8 started out at 165 hp but increased midyear to 180 with a less-restrictive air cleaner, partial dual-exhaust system, and a nominal increase in compression.

Although Steve Saleen only produced three Saleen Mustangs for '84, he was optimistic that his small company could sell a couple of hundred in 1985. The economy was strong, especially in his home state, where national defense spending under U.S. president and former California governor Ronald Reagan brought big bucks to aircraft, computer, and weapons manufacturers. Also, American automakers were stressing performance, even in their most mundane models. Young car enthusiasts, long ignored by the marketplace, were being "discovered" and catered to by corporate demographers. Until the manufacturers fully met their needs, some drivers would willingly spend a little more to buy from the niche car builders.

The anticipated production schedule would overwhelm the small Racecraft facility in Petaluma that Saleen had used to build the '84s, so when Brodie's Tire & Brake asked why he needed them to mount and balance so many fancy Hayashi wheels, Saleen saw an opportunity. He convinced Brodie to reserve two hydraulic lifts and some mechanics for the production of Saleen Mustangs. Sixteen Mustangs were converted during the next eight weeks, and the first sales literature began making its way to Ford dealerships around the country.

Saleen's printed requirements for its dealers included: LX hatchback body, 5.0-liter V-8, 3.08:1 rear axle, five-speed transmission, and P225/60VR15 Goodyears. Customers working with accommodating Ford salesmen could check any of the regular Mustang optional equipment, such as T-tops, air conditioning, power windows, and tilt wheel, but were requested not to order the lower two-tone paint treatment or cruise control.

Colors included Oxford White, Black, Canyon Red, and Medium Regatta Blue. Any request for a non-Saleen color added an additional $150 to the $4,195 package, and a conversion from a GT model cost $100 extra. Automatic transmissions created no problems for the Saleen production system, so there was no fee for that option-its availability just wasn't advertised.

On the occasion someone insisted on retaining cruise control, the Wolf four-spoke steering wheel would be shipped to the new owner uninstalled in the car.

Saleen Autosport offered the choice of three different Mustang seats in '85, each of which would be installed at the Ford factory-low-back cloth seats (standard with LX models), articulated high-back buckets (GT standard; LX optional), and leather-covered sport seats (modified SVO units). High-back articulated units with covers stitched by Cozy Upholstery, a local vendor, replaced some low-back seats.