Saleen Stunting: Driving A Borrowed Saleen To The Saleen Nationals

As members of the media trying to cover as many events as possible during the course of a year, our mode of transportation to those events is not always something of our choosing. Often times, our personal Ford muscle is left behind in favor of something more economical or dependable. There are those rare occasions, however, when we get to play with our own toys while we work.

Then there is the even more rare and special occasion when someone else tosses us the keys to their toy, and let’s us play with them while we work. The latter is exactly what happened last August as we headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, to cover the 2018 Saleen Nationals. Avid Saleen collector Travis Smith tossed us the keys to his Legend Lime 2005 Saleen S-281SC for the the trip, making it one we will not soon forget, and allowing us to fully engulf ourselves in everything that is Saleen.

The Acquisition

I picked up Mr. Smith’s Saleen right outside of Spartanburg, South Carolina, for the last hour or so of my journey to the Saleen Nationals. Travis and his wife, fellow Saleen enthusiast Mallory Smith, were already on their way to the Nationals in their his and hers Fox-body Saleen Mustangs when I arrived at the Smith compound to pick up my Legend Lime ride.

This particular specimen is 1 of only 7,741 Mustangs produced in Legend Lime for the 2005 model year (making it the rarest of the ten colors available for the first year S197 Mustang). I found it sitting out front of the Smith’s house parked right where he said it would be – he was not pulling our leg! This was really happening! Once inside, I found the keys in the center console, a full tank of premium gasoline, and an Alice in Chains CD loaded up and ready to go in the six disc changer. This was no doubt going to be an awesome road trip!

First Impressions

As I made my way toward the interstate headed for Charlotte, I could not help but notice that the Saleen felt very familiar. It was a lot like my personal (basically stock and very boring) 2005 Mustang GT. As I approached the on-ramp, my mind flashed back to the conversation I had with Travis the night before. “Enjoy it,” he told me. “There is nothing you can do to the car that I have not already done.” With that in mind, I pushed the throttle toward the floor, experiencing the boosted 3-valve for the first time.

“Impressive!” I thought, as the 400-horsepower 4.6-liter pinned me back into the wider and much more comfortable leather Saleen seats. It is certainly no GT500, but it pulls nice, and offers a large improvement over my stock GT. As a speed faster than the law would allow quickly approached, I stabbed the Saleen brakes for the first time. A huge grin crossed my face as they quickly pulled the car back into the realm of legal speed. This was definitely a car I was going to enjoy driving! It did not take me long to see what all the Saleen fuss was about!

The 2005 Saleen S-281SC is greatly modified from the basic GT you would have found at your local Ford dealer. Front, rear, and side body panels, Saleen wheels, and custom Saleen graphics set the exterior apart. The interior's major modification comes in the form of a set of Saleen bucket seats, along with other small modifications. The big game changer is mounted on top of the three-valve, 281 cubic-inch powerplant. Saleen's Twin Screw supercharger wakes the 3-valve up from a sleepy 305 horsepower to a potent 400 horsepower power rating - a number, by the way, that matches that of the rival Corvette from the same 2005 model year.

The Nats

The Charlotte area is known for its motorsports and automotive events. The area is home to Charlotte Motor Speedway, zMAX Dragway, and Mooresville Dragway just to name a few. It also plays host to dozens of NASCAR teams, as well as the NASCAR Hall Of Fame. Most recently, the Mustang Owners Museum has opened up in town, providing yet another destination for automotive fans coming into the area.

The Saleen Nationals (you can check out the entire article here) provided us a chance to cruise around Charlotte with a couple of dozen other Saleen Mustangs, hitting some of the aforementioned spots along with Dennis Carpenter Restorations. Having a Mustang worthy of cruising with all the other participants from the Saleen Club Of America definitely made the event more enjoyable! If you are looking for a Saleen Mustang of your own, the club is a great place to start for everything Saleen!

While we played in the Smith's 2005 Saleen, Travis and Mallory enjoyed their pair of awesome Saleen Fox-bodies. It was a blast watching husband and wife enjoy the hobby they love together all weekend. Mallory had the honor of having both Steve Saleen and his wife Liz sign the dash of her white and gold Saleen. Meanwhile, Travis took home the prize of top Saleen Fox with his maroon and gold Saleen at the car show on Saturday.

This was not this Legend Lime beauty's first Saleen Nationals appearance. Travis and Mallory had the car shipped out to Colorado for the 2017 event, and were able to drive the car to the top of legendary Pikes Peak! Talk about a bucket list experience! As you can see by the decals on the windshield, they have enjoyed the car at several other events, including long hauling the power tour in 2018. They have also pushed her to the limits on the Tail Of The Dragon twice: once during the Saleen Club Of America's annual Dragon Run, and again at Ponies In The Smokies. They have even taken this Pony to the Atlantic Ocean for Myrtle Beach's annual Mustang Week. As beautiful as this car is, it is no trailer queen. The Smith's love driving it and making memories that will last a lifetime!

Until Next Time

As the Nationals flew by and Saturday morning quickly came, we got to personally experience the unique and gorgeous body lines of the S197 Saleen as we cleaned the car up for the Saleen Nationals car show. While the girl had some road grime on her from the previous two days of fun, it did not take long to have her shining bright again. Getting to proudly park and show off “our” Saleen among some of the finest in the country to bring an end to an awesome weekend was definitely a treat. Saleen owners are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Even though they all knew that technically I was an “outsider,” I was treated like family from the time I got there to the time I left.

While we regretted tossing the keys back to Travis on Sunday, we could only hope he would let us play in his Legend Lime beauty again some day. In the time since we borrowed the car, Travis tells us he has made several improvements to it, including a better sound system, lighter wheels, and more boost under the hood, along with a custom tune just to name a few. While the 2019 Saleen Nationals have come and gone, we hear there is a big party being planned up in Wisconsin for the 2020 Saleen Nationals. Mr. Smith, need an extra driver again?

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About the author

Jeff Southard

Growing up with a dad who loved Corvettes, I was destined to be a gearhead from day one. Beyond that, my dad owned an auto parts business for over 25 years. There, I learned the automotive basics as a child, then began my professional career working there after high school. From Corvettes and Superbirds to Hemis and Cobra Jets, my dad has owned a little of everything over the years, so I've had my chance to get some quality seat time behind the wheel of some rare, unique, and sometimes, just odd automobiles. I have owned my share of toys, including over 20 Mustangs. I guess to make a long story short, if you look up "car crazy" you will probably find my photo listed pretty close to it!
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