Brad Bowling
November 1, 2008
Saleen's first "engine upgrade" consisted of this single part-a Cal Custom chromed air cleaner lid.

MM: Does Hancock Park still own Saleen Inc.?
Saleen: As far as I know, [it is] still the main investment house.

MM: Is it producing cars? The production numbers claimed over the last few years seem awfully high compared to what we see on the street or at shows.
Saleen: As for the production numbers, I believe we built nearly 2,000 vehicles in 2005; in '06 we were well into the thousands. I would not know the numbers for '07.

MM: When did you start SMS?
Saleen: We incorporated last year, but didn't announce it to the public until the first of this year.

Since Ford failed to produce a 25th anniversary Mustang model, many in the hobby consider the '89 Saleen SSC to be that car. Although it was announced that 250 would be produced, delays in getting the enhanced 5.0L through EPA certification meant only 161 were built before the season ended.

MM: What direction are you going to take the new business?
Saleen: Where we go in the future is hard to know right now. It depends on the success of our new product. I have a little different formula going forward. It depends on how the performance market works out.

MM: Currently, at SMS, what is being offered, and where are cars being built? Do you have cars being delivered to customers? Is there a network in place?
Saleen: With the new company building high-performance cars, we are going to expand to go after "American muscle," as opposed to focusing on Mustangs. I like being known for what I've done with Mustangs, but I want to kick off SMS by showing versatility with different platforms. Our first offering is the new Dodge Challenger, which I'm excited about. Then we'll eventually work our way to the new Camaro and Mustang. Don't be surprised to see a supercar thrown in at some point in time.

The SSC was a single-year model, but its drivetrain and certain styling cues were carried through, with annual improvements, to the '90-'93 SC. This is one of five SCs built in 1993, available only with a 450hp supercharged engine.

MM: Like the S7? Built from scratch?
Saleen: Definitely. One really positive thing about SMS is that I already have a core base of engineers and designers who have been with me a long time. We actually have a larger facility in Anaheim, on Coronado Street, with more equipment than before. We will be able to produce a lot more cars. As far as the retailing of cars, we'll continue to use existing dealer bases. We're also going to add our own stores. We will be opening SMS stores across the country and going global. Our first store should be open in a couple of months, and we will be offering vehicles, parts, accessories, and clothing for sale through those stores. I think the best way to do it is no different from Apple having its own stores but still selling through other retailers. Louis Vuitton is another example. It will be a unique atmosphere, and a unique way to purchase our products.

MM: Is this going to start from scratch, or will it be part of an existing brand?
Saleen: It will be from scratch.

MM: How close is that new facility to the Hunter Avenue plant you were in during the late '80s in Anaheim?
Saleen: About 3 miles. Same neighborhood.

MM: How different is the aftermarket or low-volume manufacturing environment today compared with the '80s? Your engine upgrade for 1984 consisted entirely of a Cal Custom chrome air cleaner lid.
Saleen: When I started building cars, finding wheels, body kits, or anything was nearly impossible. Today, you can build just about anything you can draw on paper. At SMS, we have all of that technology and equipment. We can have lunch, draw some parts-literally on a napkin-go back to the plant, and have the engineers put it in CAD format. We have a new machine, the largest one in Orange County, that can take that CAD data and make the part for us in a couple of hours or overnight. It's a part we can literally put on the car and test in the real world. We can do that in plastic or metal. Technology has had a major impact on our business.

Today, we were looking at the 100mm mass air sensor and the cold-air kit [on the anniversary car]. That kit was made by that machine. We have a lot of CNC equipment that can reproduce anything in quantity. The nice thing is that technology has kept up with what we want. Before, what we wanted was just a dream; but now it can be a reality overnight.