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US:Saleen S121 Focus.

Saleen carves out a high-performance niche

David Coates / The Detroit News
Saleen's S121 Focus features a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

DETROIT - Saleen Inc., the California-based manufacturer of high-performance vehicles, marked its 20th anniversary with the unveiling of the S121 Focus.

Saleen's second adaptation of the Ford Focus, the S121 features a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine - without the nitrous oxide system available in its sister vehicle, the N2O Focus, which debuted last year.

"The reception that car received from dealers and consumers really surprised us," said Fred Blum, Saleen's vice president of sales.

With the flip of a switch, the N2O's nitrous system delivers an additional 75 horsepower, in short bursts.

But Saleen sees an opportunity to sell more models in a lower price range. The N2O starts at $25,519 while the S121 goes for $24,445.

While it lacks the added power, the S121 boasts the same high-performance brakes and suspension featured on the N2O.

The evolution of Saleen's Focus line illustrates how far the company has come from its roots as a custom vehicle builder. In 1989, Saleen became a certified niche vehicle manufacturer that assigns its own vehicle identification number (VIN) to each unit it sells.

Saleen vehicles add so many new components - more than 2,000 on its Mustangs - that they are considered Saleens, not Fords. To date, it's delivered about 10,000 vehicles through its own dealers in the Ford distribution network.

The company also used the North American International Auto Show to display its new Mustangs, fashioned from Ford's redesigned pony car, and the Saleen S7 supercar.

The S281 and S281 SC feature 325 horsepower and 400 horsepower, respectively. The S281 starts at $39,043 while the supercharged SC is priced at $46,134.

Saleen also displayed its two-seat S7 supercar. With a 750-horsepower V-8, Saleen claims it's the fastest production car in th world.

"It's nice to see an American car compete, and prevail over, the German and Italian and British brands," said retired Ford executive Neil Ressler, who studied the S7 when he was vice president of research and vehicle technology and chief technical officer.

The 2005 S7 sells for $550,000, up from the 2004 model's sticker price of $430,000.

Saleen has sold 85 S7s since the car was introduced in 2001.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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