Brad Bowling
February 1, 2004
Contributers: Brad Bowling
Saleen Cobras
The introduction of Ford's modular 4.6L single overhead cam engine in 1996 coincided with the debut of Saleen's "base" S-281 model. Because the SOHC motor produced only 215 hp-making it, on paper, the least powerful Mustang V-8 since 1986-it didn't take long for Saleen buyers to request a DOHC Cobra-based S-281. The natural combination of SVT's 305hp powerplant and Saleen's cosmetic and performance enhancements made for a potent, if expensive, combination. Saleen built 11 S-281 Cobras in 1996, 18 in 1997, 35 in 1998, 20 in 1999, none in 2000, 16 in 2001, none in 2002, and 10 in 2003. In all, 56 of those were coupes and 54 were convertibles. Lee Davis owns this first-year Saleen Cobra, number 96-0331.

Steve Saleen has produced around 7,500 of his specialized Mustangs during the last two decades-only a little more than half as many cars as the 13,000-plus GT350s and GT500s Carroll Shelby built between 1965 and 1970.

The beauty of being a manufacturer of limited-production, largely hand-built cars is the opportunity to turn out individual models that get a lot of attention, such as the white '93 R-R-R hatchback made for comedian Tim Allen or the only '95 S-351 produced from a Cobra hardtop convertible. While those one-offs are exciting to read about, chances are Powerball-Lottery slim the average enthusiast would be able to add one to his collection. That's why we began to think about the obtainable rarities: cars that Saleen built in low, but not impossibly low, numbers.

Editor's note: Brad Bowling, a Mustang Monthly contributor and former Saleen PR guy, assembled this list after writing The Saleen Book: 20 Years of Saleen Mustangs, which is due to be released in April. More information about the 450-page hardback can be found at This article was written with the research aid of Stu Akers, Mark LaMaskin, and Greg Wackett.

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