Driving In The 239: Steve Saleen puts muscle back into muscle car [Naples Daily News, Fla. :: ]
(Naples Daily News (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 08--Rudy and Betsy Beyer go out for ice cream in style.
The Lehigh Acres couple sometimes will pull into a parking spot in their $132,000 bright orange 2013 prototype Saleen Mustang 351 -- the only one in existence -- that tops out at 200 mph. People can't help but ask about the brawny ride, Rudy Beyer said.
"Some people don't know, they don't understand the name Saleen particularly if they're not involved with Mustangs and Mustang clubs," he said. "But they all know it's something special."
Steve Saleen -- the man behind the Beyers' four-wheeled muscle machine -- will visit Naples on Saturday, meeting with car enthusiasts from 9 a.m. to noon at Naples Motorsports Inc., 1250 Airport Road S.
Saleen, 65, is one of the most prominent names for exotic cars in the U.S. His creations often appear in movies, including the yellow Chevrolet Camaro Bumblebee in the 2007 film "Transformers" and the high-performance race cars used in this year's "Need for Speed."
American muscle car fans can buy a Saleen Mustang similar to the orange 351 prototype, along with a Saleen Camaro or Saleen Dodge Challenger at Naples Motorsports. The cars range in price from $40,000 to the "black label" $100,000 version powered with up to 700 horsepower.
"You start with the DNA of the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, and that gets transformed almost like the cars in the movies, into almost a totally different vehicle that's, for the value, a very affordable price," Saleen said in a telephone interview this week from his Southern California base of operations.
Saleen for more than 30 years has thrived in an industry that isn't always nice to small-shop car manufacturers. Carroll Shelby succeeded for years but John DeLorean did not. Saleen's Corona, California-based company has produced more than 25,000 cars since he began in 1983.
Saleen, who received a business degree from the University of Southern California, said racing cars fueled his drive for high-tech cars so that's why he started his company.
"From the passion, we've continued to pursue this, probably a racer's mentality has helped as well," he said.
Saleen said modifying Mustangs and building sleek cars from the ground up -- such as the Saleen S7 -- is easier nowadays because of technology. Advanced computers, software programs, 3D printers and more allows Saleen to enter the marketplace on equal footing with Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Ferrari and other larger car builders, he said.
"That's actually kind of swung into our favor," Saleen said. "Technology has enabled us a smaller company to compete favorably with limited-edition vehicles."
Saleen pointed out he adds a supercharger to most of the cars he modifies and builds, which gives it extra horsepower. With proper calibration, this meets federal standards, he said.
Technology is so advanced, Saleen explained, that his company received computer-aided design data from GM to build from scratch the new Camaro -- for the first "Transformers" movie -- before the redesigned Detroit classic was ever mass-produced.
Saleen-built cars also have filled the big screen in the 2003 movie "Bruce Almighty," when Jim Carrey's 1975 Datsun 280Z transforms into a Saleen S7 and miraculously parts traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea.
"We're still working on that for real life," Saleen said, laughing.
Saleen said his company also has succeeded because it handles every facet of the car, from developing the design, building it, selling and marketing it and servicing the car.
Southwest Florida exotic car customers have created a demand for such rare vehicles in Naples, said Ron Ward, exotic car specialist and Saleen brand manager with Naples Motorsports.
"The people who are very interested in Saleens, they love the cars because it's a different lifestyle just like Ferrari is a lifestyle," he said.
"A lot of people who own these cars are crazy about them. It's a coveted car."
Saleen said now is the golden age of high-performance cars because consumers have so many options.
He said he's presently working on other movie projects but cannot divulge anything. Saleen said this summer he will reveal a battery-powered version of the sporty Tesla Motors car, which is built in Northern California.
"At the end of the day," Saleen said, "the cars are the stars."
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