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Road Test: 2007 Saleen Parnelli Jones Mustang

By - January 17, 2007 – 9:18 amNo Comment | 5,093 views

Great things can happen when the right combination of things comes together. The Saleen Parnelli Jones Limited Edition Mustang is a perfect example. When legendary racecar driver and 1970 Trans Am series champion Parnelli Jones approached Steve Saleen about building him a Mustang to look like an original Boss 302 Mustang, the obvious came to mind: other people will want this car too! They set about building a modern-day Boss 302, and not just a Mustang with a body kit and some badges – Saleen wanted to do this right with a real 302ci engine, race-ready suspension and brakes, and of course, Parnelli’s approval of the final product. The car made its initial debut in April of 2006 at the New York International Auto Show to the joy of Mustang enthusiasts everywhere.

Fast forward six months or so and I’m at the Saleen headquarters in Irvine, CA, waiting for my chance to drive the Mustang that Saleen affectionately and simply calls the “PJ”. A lineup of six examples greets the group of journalists at the front door, all with the 1970 Trans Am paint scheme, the number 15 on the side and “Parnelli Jones” above the driver’s side door. Steve Saleen and Parnelli Jones join us for a few photos, and even sign the center dash panels that will go in each of the five hundred cars bearing both their names.

After a quick tour of the facility, we finally get behind the wheel and are let loose on the back roads of Orange County. Carving along twisty roads and quickly accelerating on short straights, I am instantly impressed with this car. The PJ handles better than any Mustang I’ve ever driven. The main reason for this is the suspension system specifically designed for the car that includes Saleen’s springs, shocks, swaybars, and in particular the watt’s-link that replaces the panhard bar. The system limits the amount of lateral movement in the rear of the car, and provides not only a smoother ride but immensely better handling as well. The results are astounding. The PJ turns sharper, quicker, and more direct than any other Mustang I’ve driven. It feels more like a light and agile sports car compared to the S281, and will no doubt be more at home on the track or on a winding canyon road. Braking is more than sufficient, with Saleen 14” slotted and vented discs with 4-piston calipers up front and 11.8-inch discs in the rear.

The engine is just as impressive as the suspension setup. In addition to the extra displacement, Saleen installs forged pistons, rods, and crankshaft, and a lightweight aluminum flywheel. A Saleen high flow inlet tube and air box as well as a 2.5-inch exhaust system help the car breathe easier. It doesn’t have the power output of the supercharged S281, but it makes up for it in how the power is delivered. While its supercharged counterpart delivers its horsepower in a giant whoosh of forced induction more like a turbocharged car, the PJ serves up a relentlessly consistent dose of its 400 ponies that makes you feel like you are always in the power band.

As if the 302 engine wasn’t throwback enough, Saleen went all-out retro in a visual commemoration of the original Trans Am racecar. Grabber Orange paint is the one and only color available for all 500 being produced, complete with black hood and side stripes, a black deck lid, rear wing, side skirts, shaker hood, a race-inspired air dam, and rear window sport slats. The car also receives functional hood pins, chrome trim front and rear, unique quarter window panels, 19-inch Mini-lite inspired aluminum wheels, and plenty of PJ and 302 badging. The inside features just as many distinctive items that are only found in the Parnelli Jones model including a unique instrument cluster, shift knob, driving pedals, floor mats, sill plates, and beautiful orange and black leather sports seats that aren’t quite as comfortable as the standard Saleen/Recaro buckets. The Ford interior may not be quite up to par for a $60,000 car, but it’s unlikely that potential buyers will pass on the car for that reason alone.

The nature of this car will likely create just as many adoring fans as it will critical naysayers. Its $60,000 price tag and ‘mere’ 400 horsepower will undoubtedly cause the accusations of being overpriced and too slow compared to the GT500 and the supercharged Saleen models. However, those particular individuals are sadly missing the point of this car – balanced performance. No part of the car overwhelms the others – power delivery, handling, and braking all work in perfect conjunction to provide a well balanced vehicle that is a true pleasure to drive.

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