What If? 1968 Saleen S390

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Abimelec Arellano

Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

(Originally published in Sports Car Picture magazine, May 1968)

Would you buy a high-performance sedan built by… a teenager? Steve Saleen is just eighteen years old and he’d like to sell you a hi-po take on this year’s Mustang, called the “S390”. There’s more to the story than that, of course. Saleen’s family is in the manufacturing business and Steve has been ripping his Porsche through the canyons for a couple years now. When one of his friends got a GT350 Shelby, however, Steve was starstruck. And he thought he could do better! Imagine thinking you can beat Ol’ Shel while you’re still wet behind the ears!

Abimelec Arellano

But this isn’t a road-racer like Shelby’s Mustang. The S390 is focused on style and performance at the expense of SCCA laptime. You won’t want to put a rollcage in on top of the upgraded Naughahyde appointments, which can be had in a broad variety of colors including metalflake. The 4-barrel 390 is present and accounted for, but it’s tuned up from the factory 325HP to a full 400HP courtesy of a new cam, tuned intake manifold and exhaust, and special Saleen pistons. Don’t expect a GT-350 to keep this whizzer in view!

Want even more? Young Steve tells us that he’s also working on an S390R that will offer 495 horsepower courtesy of a Paxton supercharger and special low-compression pistons. “It’s a GT-500 killer,” he tells us via the company’s modern-as-tomorrow WATS line. “Even more torque than a tuned 428FE and it likes to rev!” Here’s another special Saleen touch: the company is working on making both powerplants available with an automatic transmission. All of you gals out there will surely appreciate this, as will veterans who have lost a leg, and possibly the very old. It’s very kind of Steve to think of these people!

The rest of us won’t need to look any further than the strengthened and re-geared “four on the floor” shifter. A high-pressure clutch and Equa-Lok differential will put long rubber stripes on the pavement any time you want it to happen. The Saleen seats are a sight better than what Ford puts in the car, and the smaller-diameter steering wheel really lets you take charge of the machine.

Abimelec Arellano

With an opening price of $4,999 for an S390 without the interior options, young Steve Saleen isn’t exactly offering a bargain here — but Ol’ Shel wants even more for his 428-powered chicken coop, so the price may be right for some of our readers who like Main Street more than The Corkscrew. There’s a race-prepared version on the horizon, and Steve may also turn his attention to the Mustang convertible in the years to come.

Abimelec Arellano

As big as young Saleen is dreaming, however, he has even bigger ambitions for the future. In an exclusive interview with Sports Car Picture, he told us that he would like to build a mid-engined LeMans contender! Hope you get that done before you get drafted for Vietnam, youngster! Our requests to test the S390R with our state-of-the-art equipment were denied, because there just aren’t enough examples on the ground for Steve to let one go. We will come back to this one we have had a chance to drive it, and drive it hard!

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