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.
Steve Saleen was especially proud of the Monroe shock absorber system, which used rotating internal valves that were electronically adjustable from the cockpit to shift from soft to firm.
Carrying his supercar concept into the design of the SSC's interior, Saleen worked with designer Scott McDonald to create a "rear sound enclosure." This unique Saleen speaker rack turned the SSC into a two-seater, while retaining an area that could accommodate soft luggage.
The completed car debuted at Saleen's open house in conjunction with the American Pony Drive on April 17. The SSC's $36,500 price tag-the regular Saleen hatchback retailed for $23,500-and the late start in the model year may have prevented sales from reaching the 250 mark. By the time Saleen stopped production of its emissions-certified supercar, 161 had been built. The only published exception to the SSC equipment list occurred on 89-0159. The car was built for DP wheel distributor Automechanica with the Mustang backseat in place and included a two-point interior chassis brace.
For 1990, Saleen made slight revisions to the base model's Racecraft suspension, substituting variable-rate front and rear coil springs for the older specific-rate units. The rest of the system included Monroe Formula GP gas shocks, special strut mounting bearings, urethane sway-bar pivot bushings, and performance alignment specs. The aerodynamic body package was improved by a redesigned "split" front air dam, a two-piece rear wing, and bolt-on subframe connectors.
Since the SSC had been a one-year-only special edition, Saleen introduced a new SC to make use of the modified 5.0L. The new supercar received all standard Saleen equipment-aerodynamic body components, a sporty interior, Racecraft suspension, and so on-and the centerpiece V-8 benefited from new Saleen-cast upper and lower intake manifolds and stainless steel headers for a boost to 304 hp. Complementing the SC-only engine included Borg-Warner's heavy-duty T5 five-speed, stock 3.55:1 rear axle gears in an Auburn-built cone clutch, white or silver 16x8-inch DP five-spoke alloy wheels, P225/50ZR16 (front) and P245/50ZR16 (rear) General XP2000Z tires, a three-core radiator, Walker DynoMax mufflers, Champion sparkplugs and wires, a heavy-duty battery, a 200-mph speedometer, and Saleen SC Edition FloFit Sport Seats.
The $33,990 SC-available only as Black, White, or Bright Red hatchbacks-received the same chassis reinforcements as the basic Saleen Mustang, but the unique intake manifold required a different strut tower brace for clearance. Further setting them apart from their stablemates, the SC body molding was painted to match the rest of the exterior, and two short diagonal stripes at the rear of the front fender and small "SC" lettering on the body molding ahead of the rear tire suggested supercar status.
Although the SC came standard with a Pioneer radio/cassette player with six speakers handling 80 watts over four channels, Saleen didn't burden it with the '89 SSC's heavy speaker enclosure. The SC also dropped the three-way cockpit adjustable suspension system from its standard equipment list, but the electronic Monroes could be purchased for an extra charge. A rollbar was available to SC buyers for an additional $600.
In the middle of the production year, slow sales of all Saleen Mustangs forced the company to subcontract its conversion work to an outside firm. A Cars & Concepts facility in St. Louis began building standard Saleens in August 1990, while Saleen Performance Parts-a spinoff of Saleen Autosport located in Southern California-was responsible for assembling SCs. Saleen closed out the year selling 243 standard models and 13 SCs.
The arrangement with Cars & Concepts and Saleen Performance Parts remained in place through the end of 1991 production, during which time Saleen sold only 92 standard cars and 10 SCs. The following year, Cars & Concepts closed its St. Louis plant and standard Saleen Mustang assembly reverted to Southern California.
Saleen SC Evolution
The SC convertible wasn't built in a day. Five years of progress took Saleen Autosport from the '88 SA-5 prototype (black, photos on the right) to the '89 SSC (white), which evolved into the '90-'93 SC (red). In 1993, the final year of the Fox-body Saleen, the company built three convertible SCs (yellow), all supercharged.
There were several improvements made to the regular and SC models for '92. Saleen upgraded to 17-inch wheels, motivated by the fact that Ford began installing 16-inchers to its V-8 Mustangs a year before. The five-spoke Stern alloy wheels measured 17x8 in front and 17x9 in the rear and wore BFGoodrich Comp T/As (225/45ZR17 fronts, 235/45ZR17 rears). Most of the aerodynamic kit was a carryover, but the '90-'91 two-piece rear wing was replaced by the single, pre-'90 design.
In 1992, Saleen offered a long-awaited Vortech centrifugal supercharger option (including headers) that increased output of the standard 5.0L to an advertised 325 hp and the SC powerplant to an estimated 450. The $3,200 blower was an A-trim unit with 5 pounds of boost, and 10 of the 17 standard Mustangs Saleen built for 1992 were so equipped. There were no takers for the SC model that year, despite the fact that it was available for the first time in a convertible form.
The SC returned for 1993, the final year of Fox production. That year, Saleen sold 87 base Mustang packages, 5 SCs, and 9 supercharged SA-10 anniversary cars. Three of the SCs were $44,490 convertibles; two were $39,990 hatchbacks.
The Price of Ownership
Bill Price is fortunate enough to own the first '93 SC Saleen-number 93-0001SC. It resides in his collection of vintage and new Mustangs in Georgia.