1996 Mustang Saleen S-281, cool plastic

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Rare Rides has featured three of Saleen’s sporting creations in the past: A unique Thunderbird exercise in style, a hot hatchback, and the company is fully booked supercar. Today’s Rare Ride is arguably more familiar than those other three, as it is Saleen’s most basic version on the SN-95 Mustang.

For the 1994 model year, Mustang moved from its old Fox bodywork roots of the 1970s to a new version of the Fox bodywork, the so-called Fox-4. It was the first time Mustang has experienced more than one upgrade in 15 years, and the SN-95’s swoopy, modern look promised to bring Mustang and all of its panels successfully misaligned through the 1990s.

Unlike previous Mustangs, there was only one body style for the SN-95, a coupe presented with or without a roof. Notchbacks and liftbacks were a thing of the past, Ford said, however, in keeping with Mustang tradition, there were several engines on offer. The smaller mill was the old Essex V6, available in 3.8 or 3.9 liter displacements (2004 only). Each engine besides those two had eight cylinders and one of four displacements: 4.6, 4.9 or 5.4 or 5.8 liters. Within those displacements, there were three different versions of the 4.6: two-valve, four-valve, and four-valve with supercharger. Several transmissions were used: the automatics had four speeds, and the manuals used five or six.

The fourth generation Mustang was separated into its initial SN-95 and updated “New Edge” versions, the latter of which Ford coded SN-99. The SN-95 was offered from model years 1994 to 1998, and the New Edge styling carried the long-lived fourth-generation Mustang from 1999 to 2004.

Steve Saleen has been in the Mustang modification business since 1984 and continued his efforts with the SN-95 for its first model year in 1994. There were two basic Saleen Mustangs on offer via two different code numbers. The base model was the S-281, a slight warm-up of the Mustang GT. It added Saleen-designed front and rear bumpers, a body kit, Saleen badges and tape strips, and some new wheels. Below was an updated suspension. Saleen used cubic-inch displacement to label its Mustangs in this era, and the 281 represented the 220-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 under the hood. The other Saleen Mustang was the much more expensive S-351, which used a 5.8-liter V8 and implemented numerous performance changes. On top was the R code S-351. That ditched the back seat, lost a lot of weight, and used a supercharged V8 supplied by Saleen for 487 horsepower.

Despite its modest upgrades over a standard Mustang GT, the S-281 almost instantly became the most popular Saleen product ever and earned the highest production figure of any Saleen car. Given the success of the S-281, Saleen went on to create several additional versions. A supercharger option brought the S-281SC to life in 1999 and increased power to 350 horsepower. There was also a Saleen version of the Cobra (S-281C) an Extreme version with compressor (S-281E) and a model, especially for veterans, called the American Flag (S-281AF). Saleen created a compressorless three-valve model called the Heritage (H-281 3V), which spawned the supercharged Heritage Dan Gurney (H-21DG). There was a Superleggera version that has been stripped down and minimized changes, the Racecraft 420-S. Finally, the S-281 celebrated two different production anniversaries in Saleen, with a special 15th Anniversary (SA-15) and 20th Anniversary (SA-20) edition.

The S-281 formation proved to be durable in Saleen. It lasted until the release of the Mustang SN-99 and lasted until 2009; a little less than half the ride of the fifth generation Mustang. By that time Saleen had branched out from its roots, as the company became an OEM in 2005. It was no longer simply a Ford car modifier.

Today’s Rare Ride is a fine example of the simplest S-281 available, a first-year production coupe. 193 of these coupes were produced in 1996, 113 in 1997 and 57 in 1998 before the arrival of the New Edge. With 28,000 miles on the clock, today’s red Mustang asks $ 19,995 in Kentucky.

[Image: Saleen]

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