Time for a proper Saleen, the Mustang 302 Parnelli Jones edition

Note: My last post was for a car that was posing to be a Saleen. So, I thought for this – my 201st post – I should feature a story on a real Saleen. I originally had this story published back in 2007 when I visited their facility in Irvine, California. The company was quietly undergoing some hard times, and the man whose name was on the building was about to get ousted by some idiotic partners. After many years of struggles, Steve Saleen regained control of his company in April 2012. Saleen is back at making awesomely fast sports cars, and for sports car lovers, that is very good news. The topic of this test was a very special version of the Saleen Mustang, and was named after a very special racing driver. Read on to find out if I liked it or not:
saleen_302_rearFor fans of the Ford Mustang, the Saleen name is synonymous, just like the name Parnelli Jones is to the world of motor racing.
So what better way to celebrate both icons of Americana than to join the two together. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the 2007 Saleen Mustang Parnelli Jones Edition.
How this car came to be is as interesting as the car itself. Story has it, that Parnelli Jones contacted Steve Saleen to help restore one of his old racing Mustangs. While the workers at Saleen went about mending a piece of American motor racing history, Steve had ideas to make some new history of his own.
So Steve discussed the idea with Jones and with both parties agreeing to the terms, Saleen engineers set about to create something a bit special.
The Saleen Mustang Parnelli Jones Edition is a very limited edition piece. Only 500 examples of the car have been built, all sold out, with number 001 going to Parnelli Jones and number 002 going to Steve Saleen.
It was number 002 that I got to drive, Steve’s personal car. But before I tell you about the way it goes, let me tell you more about the company, the car and how I got my seat time in it.
Saleen is based out of Irvine, California, and in their discreet location they produce about 1500 cars a year. While most of the production run is concentrated on the S281 model, in both the 3-valve normally aspirated guise and the high-octane Supercharged version, they have now also started producing the S351, which is a pick-up truck based on the Ford F-150.
Also in recent years, Saleen became the only American manufacturer to produce a proper supercar. I am talking of course about the S7. In total, 75 S7’s have been produced (at $600,000 each) for both the road and the track, which is a great achievement for a manufacturer that isn’t Ferrari or Porsche.
So they have the right credentials to be taken seriously, and the Parnelli Jones Edition  (I’ll just call it PJ from here) is a seriously modified Mustang.
To start off, they stiffen up the suspension and with the help of proper control arms this Mustang can finally handle more than just straightaways.
To help you get down the straights faster, Saleen bores the 4.6-liter V8 from the Mustang GT, to 5.0-liters in the PJ. Power goes up from the regular 300 hp to 400 hp – not bad for a normally aspirated engine. Power is fed to the rear wheels via the regular Mustang five-speed gearbox, now fitted with a short shift mechanism to facilitate quicker gear changes, not to mention improving the feel of the gear changes.
saleen_302_intThen the PJ gets a nicely upgraded interior with beautifully trimmed seats and some nice touches to the trim to enhance the interior environment. The modifications inside are no match to the modifications outside. First thing you notice is the vibrant orange paint job, which was the colour of Parnelli’s original race car. You also get subtle chrome striping around the tail lights, some more pronounced black striping on the sides and the hood, with the hood also getting race car style bobby pins to keep it in place. Oh yeah, it also gets the famous shaker hood scoop, and to top off the classic look, you get louvers on the rear window. Oh yes, also don’t forget to spot the special wheels, which are unique to the PJ edition.
So far so good then, but how does it drive?
To find out, I got the good people from Saleen Canada to make arrangements for me since I was going to be in Irvine to test another car – the Fisker Latigo CS V10. This would be the best opportunity to not only see the factory (which was great), but to also drive this very limited edition Saleen Mustang.
So after the quick factory tour, I jump in the PJ and started it up. To my surprise, this car is not much louder than a regular Mustang GT. Maybe things change once you are on the move.
Well be in no doubt that it sounds great, a proper V8 rumbling soundtrack, but again, even on the move it did not sound much different from the regular Mustang GT. I don’t think this particular unit was skimmed on any options either, because this was Steve Saleen’s personal car, and also the car that gets tested by all auto magazines. However, while as good as it does sound, it is not quite what I was hoping for it to be.
Same story with the gearbox. Despite the shorter shift mechanism, the changes didn’t feel that much different from the regular car. In fact the Saleen S281 SC I tested in Montreal a few years ago seemed to have a much nicer, shorter shift action.
Even in regards to straight line speed the PJ is not a match for the Supercharged S281. On paper the horsepower difference is just 65 hp, but in reality it feels like a whole lot more.
While straight-line performance difference between a PJ and a regular Mustang GT is somewhat apparent, I didn’t feel it was significant enough.
Neither was the handling feel. I admit, driving around Irvine did not give me much opportunity to push it through the corners, but just how the car composes itself on the straights and through gentle curves did not feel as good as that S281 SC I tested in 2005.
So, in short, the PJ edition did not quite feel as special as I was hoping for it to be, and if you ask me, I would much rather stick with the supercharged versions rather than this bored out, dressed up limited edition coupe.
But my opinions don’t matter much to Saleen at this point because all of these 500 PJ editions have already been sold, despite their  US$75,000 price tag.
While I would still like to own one of these one day because of the looks and the heritage that comes with the names Saleen and Parnelli Jones, I know within that the Mustang I’d really want is the Saleen S281 Supercharged, and since those are cheaper and not built in limited quantities, owning one of those will be easier and more fun.saleen_302_fr
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