2007 Saleen Parnelli Jones Edition Mustang
It was a dream assignment; go drive the latest Saleen Mustang with Parnelli Jones, the legendary race car driver. As you can see in the pictures, this Saleen looks very much like the storied #15 Parnelli Jones Trans Am Boss 302 Mustang of 1970.
The invitation is clear. Jump in the 2007 Saleen/Parnelli Jones Limited Edition and you can answer the question we all asked hot shoe drivers when we were kids - in my case: " who do you think you are, Parnelli Jones?"
Everybody knows Parnelli. He drove a Boss 302 Mustang to a Trans Am sedan racing championship for Ford in 1970, among myriad other feats in the motor sports world, including Indy, Baja racing - in fact, the Petersen Automotive Museum and The Checkered Flag 200 in downtown Los Angeles honored Parnelli with "An Evening with Parnelli Jones" on Thursday, November 9, 2006. We attended that party as a warm-up to our drive. We heard such luminaries as Carroll Shelby, Al Unser Sr, and Mario Andretti tell old war stories about Parnelli's illustrious career.
Meanwhile, an hour's drive south of LA on the 405 freeway in Irvine, the main fun lay ahead. The address of 76 Fairbanks is home to Saleen, Inc. and another racing legend, Steve Saleen.
At 8 am, we arrived at Saleen to find a half-dozen PJ (Parnelli Jones) Mustangs neatly angle parked for our viewing enjoyment. What was almost scary was how closely the 2007 model looked like the original 1970 Parnelli Jones Trans Am championship Mustang.
After a tour of the manufacturing facility, including production of the 250 MPH plus S7 super car, I got talking with Parnelli. First, how do you approach a legend? Actually, Parnelli is a real down-to-earth sort of person. His handshake will rearrange one's fingers - it's a bone-crusher. At 73 years of age, the man looks like he could race. In fact, he still does vintage race. I wanted to know how this new limited edition Saleen came about. Actually, it was his desire to drive a '70 Boss 302 for fun on the street that launched the '07 Saleen PJ Edition.
"What happened is I was restoring this '70 Mustang. In fact, it was at the show [Petersen Automotive Museum] last night. I'm just now finishing it. But, before I started restoring, I was driving it, and you forget how antiquated the '70 Mustang was. And I said to myself, 'Gee, this isn't going to be that much fun to drive.'"
PJ has driven racecars for Saleen. Steve related the '87 Saleen championship season when both Parnelli Jones and Parnelli's former teammate George Folmer helped Saleen capture the SCCA championship for driver, team and manufacturer.
Jones lives in Palos Verdes, which is not so far from Irvine. He gathered up a bunch of pictures of his old race car and drove down to Saleen. He asked to buy a Saleen to "paint up like my Trans Am car."
Instead, Steve saw potential in building a series of them. Parnelli took an active part in developing the package along the lines of configuring it "as much like my '70 Trans Am car as was possible."
Later, here I am blasting down Southern California back roads in the brand new PJ Saleen, complete with #15 roundels on the doors. Parnelli is riding in the passenger seat. We're chatting. The '07 is so hot, I can't help but ask the obvious question, "So, could this street car outrun the old #15 racecar?"
"We were just talking about that very question, Steve and I, and I don't really know the answer," Parnelli said.
You might laugh, but performance has come a long way in the last 37 years. Handling-wise, Parnelli mentioned both cars had a Watts link in the rear suspension. In 1970, the street Boss came with a rear stabilizer bar and staggered shocks (one ahead and one behind the rear axle). A Watts link was exotic racecar stuff. Now, you get it on the Saleen.
Diana Spicer, Saleen's Director of Communications had mentioned to me, "The Watts link suspension allows you to still feel the performance of the car, but what it also does is soften the ride, just enough to be enjoyable, and not jarring."
The suspension was definitely stiff and exaggerated bumps in the pavement. However, as Parnelli advised, while I drove, the harder I pushed the car into the turns, the more the suspension hugged the road. In other words, a softer riding suspension would have tossed the Mustang off track. This Saleen begs for a racetrack. For now, we were limited to winding country roads on a two-lane blacktop - with traffic of course.
As I shifted the notchy 5-speed, I noticed the PJ logo on top of the billet aluminum shifter knob. Saleen really personalizes the cars they build. I also noticed a PJ logo on the steering wheel's center cloisonné, bordered by Saleen at the top and Parnelli Jones Edition at the bottom. Even the seat back buttons incorporate the PJ logo. It's no wonder Saleen personnel were calling this Mustang by its nickname - PJ.
Although we didn't have the opportunity to put testing instruments on the car at this juncture, Saleen claims the PJ runs the quarter mile in 12.50 seconds flat. After a crisp launch and nailing the throttle, we can believe it. Also, 0-60 MPH times come in at 4.5 seconds.
To be a real 302, per Parnelli's old racecar required boring and stroking the 4.6L to 3.55 x 3.80 inches. The SOHC 5.0L V8 pumps out 400 horsepower at 6000 RPM and 390 ft-lbs of torque at 4700 revs. That's enough to give the old racecar a run for a Trans Am crown, plus Saleen built the engine race car tough. On our tour of the manufacturing facility we got chatting with Bill Tally, VP of Engineering. He had laid out rods, pistons, cams and other engine parts. Forged internals, balanced and blueprinted, make this engine more than street worthy, and yet it's still backed by a Saleen three-year, 36-month warranty.
Saleen will build 500 of these limited edition Mustangs, which the brochure labels as part of their 'Heritage Collection.' Will we see more heritage type Saleens? Steve told us, "I'm working on it."
In the meantime, buy one of the 500 PJ Mustangs and your friends may ask you - hey, who do you think you are? Parnelli Jones? I know what my answer will be.
2007 Saleen Parnelli Jones Edition Mustang
High Compression pistons; bored and stroked to 3.55 x 3.80"; Saleen stainless, 2.5" Variable Exhaust system, Saleen Design Shaker Hood with Hi-Flow Inlet Tube and Air Box
Saleen Quick Ratio five-speed manual gearbox, 8.8-inch differential with 3.73:1 final drive
400 HP @ 6000 RPM (Crank)
390 ft-lbs @ 4700 RPM (Crank)
MacPherson strut with lower control arms; Saleen Racecraft system including N2 struts with linear-rate coil-over springs; 1.38" tubular stabilizer (anti-roll) bar with urethane pivot bushings; specially calibrated suspension settings
Live axle located by three links plus a Panhard rod; Saleen Racecraft system including direct-acting, linear-rate coil spings and N2 shocks; 0.79". stabilizer (anti-roll) bar; specially calibrated suspension settings
Limited Edition orange and black leather sport seats with badging; Limited Edition instrument cluster; Limited Edition gauge pod with individual oil pressure and oil temp gauges; Limited Edition shift knob; Limited Edition floor mats and sill plates; Limited Edition performance driving pedals with driver foot brace; Limited Edition steering wheel emblem; Limited Edition graphics and badging; Limited Edition serialized number; Limited Edition console plaque; Shaker 500 AM/FM CD-changer; Saleen 200 MPH speedometer with black face gauges; Saleen dash vents and bezels; Saleen / Parnelli Jones key fob; Saleen owners document portfolio and warranty guide
Limited Edition Exclusive Grabber Orange Paint with Black Hood Stripe, Black Side Stripe and Black Deck Lid; Limited Edition Injection Molded TPO front Fascia /Race Inspired Air Dam; Limited Edition Injection Molded TPO sill extensions; Limited Edition hood pins; Limited Edition chrome trim (front & rear); Limited Edition Injection Molded TPO rear fascia; Limited Edition injection molded TPO Quarter Window Panels; Limited Edition '1970' Replica Wing; Racing Inspired Billet Gas Cap; Limited Edition Rear Window sports slats; Limited Edition Reusable Static Cling Race and Signature Decals; Limited Edition badging; Limited Edition "1970" Commemorative Championship Wreath; Saleen Designed Aluminum "Shaker" Hood; Saleen Integrated Front Turn Signals; Saleen Designed Center Body Panel
Power assisted 4-Wheel ABS, Saleen 14" slotted and vented front disc brake system with Saleen four-piston calipers(front); 11.8" Discs (rear)
Wheels And Tires
Saleen 'Minilite' inspired aluminum wheels with Limited Edition center cap, 19 x 9" (front), 19 x 10" (rear), Pirelli Extreme Performance Summer Tires 285/35-19 (Front) 285/35-19 (Rear)