Not being a fervent racing fan back then, it wasn’t until I hired Brad Bowling to edit Old Cars Weekly that I heard the name Steve Saleen. Brad had worked for him and, according to Brad, even did his taxes. So, I got to know Steve well enough to “borrow his car” in California one time. That turned out to be a “sweet and sour” experience.
The car was an orange Saleen Mustang convertible with white graphics and a telephone (before everyone had a cell on their belt.) PR guru Joe Molina was behind the loaner that I was going to drive around LA when I came in for a meeting of the Meguiar’s Award Committee.
I forget the model of the car, but it was a looker, rather than a performer. I drove it all over without a hitch. I went to see Otis Chandler. I dropped in at the Nethercutt Museum and since it was raining, Byron Matson let me drive the car inside where his tours began. There was a bunch of ladies there (all about the age I am now, 66) and they all wanted to sit in the car. Then, I went up the street to visit Ed Cholakian, before he moved All Caddies of the ‘40s to Vegas.
One night I took the car to Jay Leno’s shop near Burbank Airport. Leno had a new Cobra Mustang at the time and John who worked for him wanted to drag race it against the Saleen. We went cruising, but there were too many cops around and we went back to the shop without the slightest stomp on the petal.
The last night I was in town, Barry Meguiar hosted a dinner at a restaurant called Michael’s in Santa Monica. After dinner I came out to find the Saleen had been hit. The parking lot attendants didn’t say much, except that they parked the restaurant cars in a public lot next door and a guy had come around the ramp with a van and hit the rear corner of the Saleen. They gave me a torn off piece of cardboard with a name and license plate number on it.
I called the police three times and they never came. The valets and the restaurant manager said they weren’t responsible. It turned out that the car was uninsured. It had been borrowed from the high-end rental car agency on a “good-old-boy” basis with no paperwork. The damage was around $700. When I got home, the insurance company said it wasn’t worthwhile to chase someone for the $200 left after the deductible. So, Old Cars Weekly paid the bill to fix the car.
Each time I ran into Steve Saleen after that, he kidded me about “wrecking” his car, even though I was not even in it when it was hit. He’d say, “You don’t know how to handle a high-performance machine” or “I’m never going to give you the keys again, son!”
At the 2014 Chicago Auto Show I got a look at the “Tribute” cars that Saleen has now put together to honor some of the greatest Trans-Am drivers of the ‘70s. All of them are custom designed, super tuned packages for the new pony cars. I believe there’s a Mark Donahue Camaro, a Swede Savage Challenger and the one I liked best is the red and black George Follmer Tribute Edition Mustang. (I judge with Follmer’s nephew at Elkhart Lake).
So Steve, what do you say? That thing in Santa Monica happened a long time ago. I’m a racing fan now. I’m better at handling horsepower! So please, please. . . can I borrow the keys?
For information on Saleen products visit: www.saleen.com.