Photography Courtesy of SMS Supercars
Since leaving the company that bore his name, Steve Saleen has been busy working on his next venture, SMS Supercars. Like his past endeavors, it will likely prove a match made in heaven for performance enthusiasts, albeit on a larger scale than ever before….
There’s no question that among the Mustang and Ford community, Steve Saleen is a household name. Having built a reputation for building, racing and winning with Ford based vehicles over the last 25 years, his decision to part ways with Saleen Inc. in 2007, left many wondering what Steve’s next move would be. Well, like any gearhead with gasoline coursing through his veins, it probably wasn’t that surprising when he announced the formation of SMS Supercars dedicated to taking modern American performance to the next level. Recently, Mustang & Ford got a chance to chat with Steve and get the scoop on his new company, what he’s currently working and what we can perhaps expect in the coming months and years.
M&F: Not everybody is aware that Steve Saleen is still very much in the performance car business–can you give us a little background regarding events between 2007 and the present time?
SS: As many of your readers possibly know, I had started discussions with a private equity firm quite some time before 2007, who had, by then acquired a majority stake in my company. By 2006/2007 it was clear that our ideas about the future of the company were vastly different. So effective May 2007, I left the company Saleen, Inc., to allow myself a fresh start and to be able to shape a company that I could run the way I wanted to, and the way that my customers and dealers would expect from me. This company is Steve Saleen’s SMS Supercars. SMS are my initials, and the word Supercars already hints at what you can expect from us in the future.
M&F: Quite a lot of noise has been generated regarding the fact that you’re honoring existing Saleen warranties–which has received a lot of positive acclaim. Can you tell us a little about this program?
SS: It’s not so much of a program as it is a commitment. And we are talking about a commitment I made to my customers, buyers and–yes–fans, over 25 years ago, when I started building cars that people loved, that satisfied a market that did not have any offerings like mine before I came. When the owners of Saleen, Inc., decided to ignore my loyal customers and throw their warranties out of the window, I wasn’t content just sitting at the sidelines, watching. Even though I had left Saleen, Inc., in 2007, a lot of the people out there bought my products also because of my name, and the trust that they put in me personally. Because of my life’s dedication to the performance enthusiast, what I am doing is–even though I don’t have any obligation to do so–letting people know that we at SMS Supercars will be addressing their warranty needs and that we will deal with them as if they were SMS warranties. It’s as simple as that.
M&F: One of your current ventures is SMS supercars, is it correct in assuming this has a slightly different strategy than Saleen did?
SS: Yes and no. No, because I am involved. And my name and I stand for my commitment to performance and excellence. Yes, because I will now be able to expand my reach far beyond the Ford and Mustang aficionados. I have started my new venture with the SMS570 and SMS570X Challengers, the first products I’ve been involved with that represent a new era. And because SMS is planning on offering a complete line of pony cars I am aiming at completing the trio: so besides the SMS570 Challenger and the SMS460 Mustang, you will also find an SMS620 Camaro.
M&F: From what we understand, SMS’ first product was Mustang based–the 25A– did this follow the same set of principles when you developed the original Saleen Mustang?
SS: Well, again yes and no. The 25th Anniversary Mustang was one that I personally built to commemorate my 25 years in the business, as I have done throughout my career, at 5, 10, 15 and 20 years. However, the 25th anniversary model was not intended for mass production, as it was also still based on the 2009 Mustang. But, I did hint at a number of Steve Saleen innovations which you will find soon in the new Mustang from us, the SMS460 Mustang.
M&F: How many 25As have been built?
SS: Three; just like the original Saleen Mustang back in 1984.
M&F: You were the first to offer a street going S197 Mustang powered by a real 302 engine with the Parnelli Jones edition. From what we understand, a 5-liter V-8 is forming part of the new 2010 based 460. Can you tell us a little about this car?
SS: Obviously, past experience has indicated that the 5-liter 302 is a very good base powerplant and it proved very successful with the Saleen brand. It also has an iconic image associated with it. As a result, we will continue to use this engine as a base in the future. For our forthcoming 460, the 302 is a very good match, since this car is about high performance and high style. At the time of launch it will be the ultimate Mustang in our stable and having a real 302 engine sets it apart from the herd.
M&F: There is also a supercharged 4.6 version?
SS: Absolutely. We have developed a brand new supercharger for this application which we launched at the New York Auto Show. Our website, www.smssupercars.com, has more details on it.
M&F: Besides Ford-based vehicles, you mentioned the vehicles based on offerings from other brands–for example the Challenger 570 and the forthcoming 620 Camaro–can you tell us a little about those?
SS: The SMS570 Challengers were both shown at the New York Auto Show in April 2009 and gathered a huge interest. We had owners, buyers, dealers and even designers from other brands compliment us on our product. From our perspective it was a really successful launch. And we even sold a few cars right then and there on the show floor. The SMS570 Challengers are going to be first to market with deliveries starting at the time of this article. The Challengers will incorporate our latest technology in supercharged engines, suspension and aerodynamics.
My next car to be in production will be the Mustang. We showed renderings at the 45 Anniversary Celebration in April in Alabama, but the final car is just around the corner, literally.
The third of the American Muscle Car trio will be the new Camaro. Specifications and more details on this will be released at the end of summer.
M&F: A lot of people didn’t understand that Saleen was actually a small volume manufacturer, even in the early days, selling cars that met OE and Federal requirements not just a tuning facility–from what we gather, you’re taking a similar approach with SMS. Is that correct?
SS: Thank you for pointing that out. It is correct. For all of my 25 years in business, all my products were always 100 percent certified and produced by myself. We are doing almost no post-title or aftermarket vehicles. My company continues to do all of its own design, engineering, certifications, manufacturing, assembly and after-sales service (warranty).
M&F: Given that the Federal government is imposing stricter fuel economy standards in the future–how do you see that affecting the market for small volume, niche performance vehicles–if at all?
SS: Performance has never gone out of style. The performance market has been talked down or pronounced dead numerous times since I started getting involved. It has and it will survive and prosper, as there is always going to be a desire for performance. But if you look back 25 years, we and others have always gone with the times. Our cars–together with offerings of the industry–have become dramatically more fuel efficient and more environmentally friendly with every model, with ever year. So, I do not worry, we will be able to address even stricter regulations just the same way we have in the past.
M&F: You’ve been quite an advocate of using the Watt’s linkage on your cars in recent years–will you continue to offer it on the Mustang based cars moving forward. What do you see are the benefits of using this design?
SS: Yes, we were the first to adapt the Watt’s linkage suspension to the production of the Parnelli Jones Mustang in 2006 and 2007, and we are going to continue to develop and use this technology. It gives the driver much better handling, better point-in and a better grip on the exit of a corner, without the complexity, weight and cost associated with many independent rear suspension systems.
M&F: Even though the economy has seen many outfits curtail racing activities, does SMS have any plans to possibly campaign vehicles in motorsport–I’m guessing SCCA or Speed World Challenge would seem the obvious?
SS: Yes, racing is part of our DNA and you will continue to see us involved in motorsport on a global basis. Wait to hear more from us on in the time to come.
M&F: We just had to ask this one–over the course of your career in this industry–is there one car you’ve developed that’s particularly near and dear to you. If so, which one and why?
SS: Obviously it would have to be the S7. It clearly established me as a manufacturer of unique supercars that are right up there with the best of the best. In fact, it put America back on the map as being able to compete against the most exotic and fastest cars in the world. With its racing pedigree it has established itself as the most successful racing supercar.
M&F: Some enthusiasts are perhaps not aware that you’ve also worked on truck programs in the past and won the 1991 SCCA truck championship. Given America’s love affair with pickups and past projects, do you see the possibility of adding a performance pickup to the SMS stable–Ford’s new 6.2 liter V-8 Raptor would seem a logical starting point?
SS: Yes, we have indeed been very successful offering trucks in the past. We built several special editions and were involved in making the Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson Special Edition, which has proved popular. While I would not rule out doing a truck at some point in the future again, it is certainly not one of my priorities right now.
M&F: Tell us a little about the SMS parts and accessories business–can enthusiasts, essentially build a car that roughly duplicates the turnkey vehicles using SMS approved parts?
SS: Yes; most definitely. What’s nice about our aftermarket parts and accessories is that they are of OEM quality. We’ve worked very hard to ensure the fit and finish are of a much higher standard than what you typically find in the aftermarket sector.
M&F: Do you think that there might be an opportunity to develop another hyper car, in the S7 idiom?
SS: I’m not calling the new company SMS Supercars for nothing.