Look Back: '90-'93 Saleen SC
A high-horsepower, superb-handling, one-year-only, utlra-rare convertible.
While it may seem an overstatement to label this month's feature car the ultimate Fox Mustang, if horsepower, handling prowess, and an ultra-rare, one-year-only convertible model are your criteria, the '93 Saleen SC qualifies.
With four straight years of rising sales and an SCCA Showroom Stock championship behind him, Steve Saleen was enjoying 1988 and looking for a new challenge. Because Ford had no short-term plans to replace its aging Fox-body Mustang, Saleen knew his line of high-performance Ponies would grow stale if he didn't offer engine modifications. He wanted to produce an enhanced "super Mustang" to sell alongside his base coupe, hatchback, and convertible models utilizing suspension, brake, chassis, aerodynamic, and interior upgrades.
Saleen knew it wouldn't be easy to build a powerplant that met federal guidelines for tailpipe output, fuel economy, and reliability, but in the late '80s, he and his Detroit-based race team were in the best position in the industry to take such a big step. Because there was no precedent for a small-volume manufacturer to certify an engine in 1988, Saleen hired former Environmental Protection Agency employee Terry Hudyma to walk the proposed modifications through the regulatory jungle.
Accompanied by high hopes and a shiny black prototype known as the "SA-5," Saleen announced at Road America on June 2 his intention to sell 250 street-legal, 300hp Mustang-based supercars in all 50 states. The prototype Saleen hatchback (number 88-0003) wore black DP5 five-spoke wheels and had been upgraded to anticipated supercar specs underhood. A month later, Saleen gave passenger rides in the SA-5-the name commemorated Saleen Auto-sport's upcoming fifth anniversary-at Sears Point during a national convention of the Shelby American Automobile Club. Taking the advice of media members who pointed out that magazine editors don't typically put black cars on covers, Saleen switched the model to a predominantly white paint scheme. Realizing the 1988 anniversary year would be over before the car could be produced, Saleen also changed the model's name to "SSC."
In August, Saleen unveiled a white SSC in Boston alongside Ford's new '89 cars and trucks. The SSC prototype sported short yellow and black-Saleen Autosport's race team colors-markings and the gray wraparound body molding that would become its signature look.
The SSC powerplant, still many months away from certification, was a stock 5.0L, to which Saleen added a high-performance air filter, 65mm throttle body, high-flow heads, a modified intake manifold, 1.7:1 rocker arms for increased valve lift, and stainless steel headers. A heavy-duty radiator kept the hopped-up V-8 cool, and Borg-Warner's T5 five-speed manual transmission was judged capable of handling the increased horsepower and torque. Dress-up features for the SSC engine included polished stock aluminum valve covers, a special engine plenum plate, and Champion sparkplug wires.
Once certified, the SSC engine produced 291 hp, a few ponies shy of the 300 mark everyone anticipated. The company could still claim a vast improvement over Ford's stock 225 hp.
The SSC program began with the performance equipment found on regular Saleen Mustangs but added white DP5 wheels; grooved brake rotors; a heavy-duty clutch; an Auburn-built differential with 3.55:1 gears; three-way Monroe Formula GP adjustable shocks; Walker DynoMax mufflers and pipes; 200 watts of Pioneer CD sound; a custom speaker box; flat-gray body molding; special pinstriping; FloFit seats, door panels, and a Momo steering wheel wrapped in gray leather; four-point interior chassis stiffener-also known as a rollbar-and a 200-mph speedometer. The new wheels were 16x8-inchers wearing P225/50ZR16 General XP2000s at the front and P245/50ZR16s at the rear, making the SSC the first Saleen to be fitted with Z-rated tires.