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The comparisons between Carroll Shelby and Steve Saleen are natural. Both were race drivers of note, both used their racing experience to produce better road cars, and both made deals to build and distribute specialty Mustangs.
The Texan's story is well-known to the car cognoscenti, particularly after last year's Ford v Ferrari Hollywood extravaganza, but Saleen's history is not quite as legendary, at least not yet. Saleen grew up in Southern California during its golden age of car culture and was influenced at an early age by his father's Porsche 356. He would later race that car, though a quest for something with more power led him to a Shelby G.T. 350, which he raced successfully for several years.

Saleen drove in the Formula Atlantic open-wheel series; in 1982, he earned a spot on Dennis Mecham's SCCA Tran- Am team. There, Saleen raced a 1982 Trans Am alongside Elliott Forbes-Robinson, and the team took the series championship. Mecham, creator of the "Macho T/A" Trans Am (with his brother, Kyle), revised his tuner package for the new third-generation F-body, creating the Motor Sports Edition using some of the tried-and-true upgrades from the Macho T/A, but adding a special steering wheel and a version of the rear spoiler developed by the racing team.
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When Saleen left the team at the end of the season, he took some inspiration for a tuner car of his own but felt Ford's Mustang was a better subject. Legend has it that he persuaded his sister to buy a new Mustang GT with the 5.0 engine, and then he transformed that car into the first Saleen Mustang prototype. He took it to Sears Point Raceway soon after and managed to land orders for two more. Only three 1984 Saleens were built, and all three still exist. But it wasn't until the following year that the Saleen Autosport effort really got under way with Ford Motor Company. Today, Saleen is still producing specially equipped Mustangs in conjunction with Ford.
The parallels between Shelby and Saleen also extend to the cars each produced, and even to the fans who have taken to them. Back in the '70s, after the relationship between Carroll Shelby and Ford Motor Company had ended and the muscle car era was fading, a group of enthusiasts who appreciated the cars of that union formed the Shelby American Automobile Club to support the preservation of the Shelby marque and its cars. Back then, the club was largely comprised of people buying used cars from the previous decade, and working to bring them back into shape. The club was a means for those people to share information, find parts, plan gatherings, and help each other out.
SAAC is still going strong today, but the cars it celebrates are no longer so accessible. As this is written, a G.T. 350 driven by Ken Miles just became the highest-priced Mustang ever to sell at auction, fetching $3.85 million at a recent Mecum sale. Lesser G.T. 350s and G.T. 500s don't bring that much, but good luck finding one for under six figures.
Meanwhile, the cars of Saleen's company are still attainable in the way Shelbys were in the '70s. The average enthusiast could buy one casually, and then start putting it back together as a "running restoration," the way plenty of guys did with their G.T. 350s and G.T. 500s back when more of those cars were still in decent, running shape, more in need of refurbishment than full-scale rebuilding and restoration.
We found two such enthusiasts doing exactly that—working on Saleen Mustangs they each bought for well under $10,000, while also driving and enjoying those cars. Plus, our two Saleen owners each found examples from the first full model year of Saleen production: 1985. Considering that Saleen produced fewer than 140 cars that year, what are the odds of finding two in the same region?
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The Jalapena Red example, #128, is owned by Jeff Bass of York, Pennsylvania. Jeff wasn't actually seeking a Saleen when he found this car in 2015—he was looking for a 5.0 Mustang, after missing an '85 GT he'd owned in the late '80s.
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"I had wanted another Fox, and I thought one of the 'four-eyed' cars would be fun to have, since I'd had one before, but also because they're something a little different." Jeff was partially motivated by a desire to have a project to work on alongside his son, Jason, who was around 18 at the time. "I figured if we were going to do something like this, now was the time," Jeff said of his motivation.
It was actually Jason who located the Saleen after Jeff had combed the internet for weeks, coming up with a few 5.0 cars that were either heavily modified or too battered and rusted to take on. The project would have to be done on a budget, so farming out heavy bodywork or major component rebuilding was not in the cards. Jeff also didn't want to start with a car that didn't run or drive, so when Jason found #128 just south of them in Maryland in decent, functional condition, they checked it out and wound up taking it home.
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The red Saleen did indeed run and drive, but not so well, and it had some cosmetic issues, though much of what appears to be its factory paint remains. The previous owner history is somewhat incomplete, and this car received some touch-up work in the past, though fortunately, almost all of its Saleen-specific parts were present and accounted for. In fact, this particular Saleen was ordered with nearly all of the optional items the company offered in 1985, including the 16-inch wheels and Kenwood stereo. Jeff's car had retained almost all of the standard Saleen gear when he acquired it, including the Wolf steering wheel, all pieces of its body kit, and the original Racecraft suspension items, with the special Bilstein adjustable struts and shocks.
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The rear wing was a Saleen Mustang hallmark in the day; Jeff Bass' Jalapena Red '85 (#128) has the optional 16-inch Riken wheels.
Still, the red Mustang needed a lot of attention. Jeff had to sort out the cooling system, remove and refinish or detail the front suspension components, and have some additional paint touch-up completed. Through this process, he has connected with fellow Saleen enthusiasts and has been impressed with how open and helpful they are.
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"I had a lot of questions when I got started on this car, and people were always willing to respond to help out. I've been pleasantly surprised with how generous these people are, too—I needed the Saleen shift knob and someone found me one right away that was just missing the Saleen insert; another Saleen owner had an extra insert and just gave it to me—he didn't charge me anything for it."
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Jeff says he's tried to respond in kind, sharing parts he's found but didn't need and extra bits he's come across. His experience with the Saleen community has bolstered his decision to get back into the classic car scene. It's also the way he met fellow '85 owner Dale Warner.
Dale and his wife Carlene live not far away in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and have been involved with the vintage Mustang scene for years—Dale is currently the president of the Mustang Club of Central Pennsylvania.

Dale
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Warner found excellent factory seats for his '85 (#134), but says he still needs to have the original Saleen Wolf steering wheel recovered.
"When I was a young kid, I saw a '65 Mustang and thought, I'm going to have one of those someday," Dale said of his early influences. The day came in 1988 when teenaged Dale got his '66 Mustang coupe from his parents. He fixed it up, drove it, then later restored it completely, and still owns it today. He and Carlene married in 1993 and she really likes early Cougars, so they got one and restored it. "We have seven different older Fords right now," Dale related.
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They weren't actually looking for a Saleen when their Oxford White car turned up. Carlene was interested in getting one of the later-model Shelby Mustangs, but Dale had other thoughts.
"I kind of like the four-eye cars—I had a '79 coupe years ago. But I wanted a break from fuel injection—I have a '91 LX 5.0. This car turned up for sale not far from Jeff in the York area, and the guy knew what he had. After about a week of haggling, we came to a price and I bought the Saleen."
The Warner's car is #134 and turned out to be one of only three '85 Saleens built in Oxford White with a Sand Beige interior. Like Jeff's car, this Saleen was a running, driving example, but in need of some attention.
Saleen left the drivetrain alone in the early years, save for a chrome lid for the Ford air cleaner
Though Dale is familiar with bodywork, he still isn't sure whether this car was completely repainted at some point or just touched up. The '85-only air dam was missing when he got it, with an '87-up piece taking its place. "It looked horrible, but I didn't realize how hard it was to find the fiberglass '85 piece. The car came with an '86 air dam, which is similar, so I painted and installed that one. Saleen still sells that piece so it's easy to get. Later, I found the correct '85 piece at Carlisle. Actually, a friend spotted it and called me—I got to the seller just in time to buy it before another guy, who was breathing down my neck while I was looking it over."
In another Carlisle swap meet score, Dale found mint-condition seats in the correct tan upholstery. "This guy had a pair of tan '85 seats that looked brand new. Those are in my car now," Dale said.
Holley 585-cfm 4V is factory spec for 1985—the last carbureted 5.0.
Like Jeff, Dale is enjoying his Saleen by driving it while steadily improving it, but unlike Jeff, Dale figures he will give #134 a restoration at some point, or at least a new paint job.
"The biggest issue with the body is the sunroof—it's an aftermarket piece that someone probably put in there back in the '80s. When I got the car, there was a piece of sheetmetal covering the frame, because the glass had been shattered. I looked everywhere to get the correct piece of glass, but have never found one, and because it's curved, you can't just have one cut. The guy I bought the car from gave me a whole other Mustang roof so I could fix it that way, but I'm in no hurry to attempt that—that will come later. I had a piece of acrylic cut to fit so it would at least look okay in the meantime."
While the two sets of owners can point to aspects of their Mustangs that they intend to improve, both are currently enjoying their now-classic cars on the road and at events. Meanwhile, their cars seem to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity and, perhaps, value. Is this yet another case where Saleen's Mustangs will follow a trend established by the famed Texan? Time will tell.

Owner's View My first car was a '77 Camaro, but I had friends who owned 5.0 Mustangs when I was still in my Teens in the '80s, and really liked those cars. As a college student, I couldn't buy a new one or even a late-model used example, so I bought a wreck and put it back together. That car was a GT, but was also an '85 in Jalapena Red. I drove it for a few years and then sold it when we started a family. I never expected to find a Saleen when my son and I were searching for another 5.0, but I'm glad I did. It's a little different and a little more special, but it still reminds me of the one I had 30 years ago. —Jeff Bass
OWNER'S VIEW After seeing a '65 Mustang when I was a kid, I knew I would have one someday, and I did when I got my coupe in 1988. But I also liked the Fox Mustangs for a long time. The first SVO came out when I was 14, and I was determined to have one—with the two wings, the offset scoop, and the overall look, I thought they were really cool, and I have an '84 SVO now also. The Saleen community is fairly tight; if someone needs something, the group always helps to find it. A few years ago, the Fox market went through the roof, and if I hadn't bought my car when I did, I probably wouldn't have it now. I think the Fox platform cars are the next generation to really grow in value. —Dale Warner
SPECIFICATIONS
PRICE
Base price....................$14,080 (includes Mustang GT, $9,885; base Saleen package, $4,195)
ENGINE Type.................................. Ford small-block; cast-iron block and Ford "E5AE" cast-iron heads Displacement............................................. 302-cu.in. (4.9 liters) Bore x stroke........................................................... 4.00 x 3.00 in Compression ratio...................................................................8.4:1 Horsepower @ rpm.................................................... 210 @ 4,400 Torque @ rpm............................................................ 245 @ 3,400 Valvetrain............................................... Pushrod OHV; hydraulic roller-tappet camshaft, .444-in lift, 266-deg duration (adv); 1.78/1.46-in valves Main bearings...........................................................................Five Fuel system................... Holley 585-cfm four-barrel carburetor Lubrication system.............................Pressure; gear-type pump Electrical system......................................................................12-V Exhaust.....................................Tubular steel exhaust manifolds, central catalytic converter, dual mufflers and tailpipes
TRANSMISSION Type.....................................Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed manual Ratios............ 1st/3.35:1 … 2nd/1.93:1 … 3rd/1.29:1 … 4th/1.00:1 … 5th/0.68:1 … Reverse/3.15:1
DIFFERENTIAL Type.......................................Ford 7.5-in (Currently 8.8, red car) with Traction-Lok limited-slip Ratio.................3.08:1 (Currently 3.73, red car; 3.55, white car)
WHEELS & TIRES Wheels.............................................................Aluminum; Hayashi (standard 15-in); Riken (optional 16-in) Front/Rear 15 x 7 in (standard, white car); 16 x 7 in (optional, red car) Tires..................... 225/60VR15 Goodyear Eagle VR (standard); Fulda 225/50VR16 (optional)
PRODUCTION For 1985, Saleen produced 137 hatchbacks, two convertibles, and one R model.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TERRY McGEAN
 
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