Photography by Tony Firpi
From its modest start in 1984, Saleen Inc. became the ultimate performance car builder. Steve Saleen developed his first Saleen Mustang in a one-car garage then spent the next 15 years building world class vehicles as well as a legion of worshipers. By 1998 the Saleen name was on par with the likes of Ferrari. Over the years, Steve Saleen’s company experienced both good years and bad years but Steve was determined–never one to rest on his laurels.
Saleen’s success was based on building the ultimate handling and performance car money could buy. To celebrate 15 years of success, a limited number of SA-281 Anniversary Specials would be offered. Called the SA-15, aptly named to celebrate 15 years in the high performance Mustang business, a 10-car run was to be produced.
At a base price of $42,500 the SA-15 wasn’t cheap but it certainly provided awesome performance and eye catching visual appearance. All were painted Ford’s Bright Yellow with black markings and a white pinstripe on a vented composite hood. Available as a convertible only, all were fitted with a fiberglass tonneau cover and a black light bar. While the standard S-281 wore a small rear wing, the SA-15 used the more aggressive SA-351 wing.
All Saleen vehicles carried unique serialization. The SA-15 was numbered 001-005 and 007-010. Saleen Performance skipped car number 006 every year since 1985. In 1985 vehicle number 006 was accidentally skipped and Steve Saleen decided it was a sign that 006 should be skipped for every model year after that.
As with all SA-281 vehicles, the SA-15 received special Saleen performance exhausts and wind tunnel-tested air management system. The suspension system included Saleen designed Racecraft front and rear springs, front struts, sway bar and urethane bushings. Bright yellow 18x8½-inch five spoke wheels with BFGoodrich Comp T/A ZR tires kept the car gripped to the road and the optional Saleen/Alcon 13-inch disc brakes stopped the car on a dime.
Inside, the SA-15 showcased white faced gauges, special anniversary race pedals, unique seats, door panels and a serialized console plaque. The optional Anniversary Recaro leather interior set the customer back an additional $3,950.
With all Saleen products to be redesigned in 1999, 1998 was a difficult sales year. The Saleen team stayed focused on planning and testing for the next generation Mustang and made very few changes for 1998. One common complaint that was addressed was the lack of power from its single overhead cam 4.6-liter V-8. With only 225 horsepower, the performance was not up to par with the outstanding handling of the car. To remedy the problem, the SA-15 would get a 90-cid Series I Eaton-based supercharger and a two-stage liquid intercooler. The issue with the SA-15 was the expenditure to certify such a small number of vehicles would be cost prohibitive. Saleen managed to get around the certification issue by officially selling the SA-15 to the customer at his facility, then the car was sent to his parts department where it was upgraded with the supercharger. The added supercharger raised horsepower to 320 and torque to 390 and produced the added power needed.
By year’s end, Saleen produced 208 Saleen Mustangs. The SA-15 and S-351 coupe were the rarest with only ten of each produced. This month’s feature vehicle is car number 01.
Number built – 10 units (1998 Saleen SA15 convertible)
Construction – Unibody
Engine – 281 cubic-inch single overhead cam V8
Power/Torque – 320/390
Transmission – five-speed manual
Suspension front – hybrid McPherson struts with Saleen/Racecraft N2 struts and variable rate rear springs mounted on lower control arm. 1.38 inch stabilizer bar with urethane pivot bushings
Suspension rear – live axle four-bar link, Quadra Shock system with Saleen/Racecraft N2 shocks and Racecraft N2 axle dampners
Steering – rack and pinion
Brakes – 13 inch, four-piston front disc brakes, 11-inch rear disc brakes
Length/width/height – 182.0/71.8/50.1inches
Wheelbase – 101.3 inches
Weight – 3,378 lbs shipping weight
0-60 mph/quarter-mile – 4.6seconds, 12.7 seconds at 122 mph (Saleen data on an S-351)
Top speed – 155 mph EST.
MPG – N/A
Price – $ 42,500 (Saleen SA-15 convertible)
Fuel For Thought
One year only vehicle
4,500 Saleen vehicles produced from 1984 until 1998
Perhaps the best handling four-seat sports car
Last year for this body style
Only 10 SA-15s built
Insurance cost is $500/year for a 1998 Saleen SA-15 valued at $25,000. This is based on Heacock Classic Car Insurance modern classic plan.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance
The SA-15 powertrain started with Mustang’s stock 4.6-liter engine. It was topped with a Series 1 Eaton-based supercharger. The blower added 95 horsepower and provided the needed acceleration from idle to redline.
Handling was outstanding. Specially designed front and rear suspension along with sticky and wide tires kept the Saleen stuck to the ground. Handling tests showed .93G lateral acceleration.
1998 Chevrolet Corvette
Number built – 31,084 units
0-60/quarter-mile – 4.8 seconds, 13.3 seconds at 107 mph
Top speed – 170 mph
Price – MSRP – $48,540; Today – $10,100 - $13,400
1998 Camaro Z28 SS
Number built – 6,000 units
0-60/quarter-mile – 5.4 seconds, 13.9 seconds at 105 mph
Top speed –150 mph EST.
Price – MSRP – $28,500 Today – $3,750 - $5,425
Low volume means high appreciation
Strong visual appointments
Not the fastest Saleen for 1998
Saleen vehicles are used occasionally to attend shows but not as daily drivers. Owners are particular about keeping their Saleen in pristine condition and low mileage.
What to pay
1998 Saleen SA-15
MSRP – $42,500
Low – $18,100
Average – $22,500
High – $25,700
*Based on prices from NADA Guides, www.nadaguides.com.
Saleen Light Bar $399.95
Saleen chrome wheel $169.95
Long tube headers $499.95
3:73 ratio ring and pinion $159.95
Saleen brake, gas and brake pedal set $42.95
*Stage 3 MotorSports
leen Book-20 years of Saleen Mustangs by Brad Bowling
Standard Guide of Mustangs 2nd Edition by Brad Bowling
Mustang Special Editions by Jerry Heasley and Brad Bowling
Any Saleen Mustang is considered best in class with ultimate handling, performance and image. The SA-15 took the performance and image up a few notches. With only 10 cars produced, it is high on the list of desirable collector cars.