Saleen has some seriously cool cars on display in this museum
After four decades and counting in the automobile business, Steve Saleen has more than proven his staying power. And now he’s receiving rare recognition for it via an exhibit dedicated to a legacy of racing and road cars by Saleen at LeMay: America’s Auto Museum (ACM) in Tacoma, Washington.
Tacoma businessman Harold LeMay’s legacy is a beautiful museum documenting the full spectrum of the American automotive experience.
The LeMay museum is relatively young, having chartered in 1997, but officially opened in 2012.
Thanks to meaningful funding and an intelligent, long-range collaboration by Harold and Nancy LeMay, their backers and government, this rising star already has a 250 permanent car collection along with a spacious, handsome downtown building well positioned across from the Tacoma Dome.
A clearly thrilled Steve Saleen addresses his namesake exhibit in front of his daughter’s signature car, the 2005 Saleen S281 SC “Molly Pop.”
Aside from its core permanent collection, the LeMay is also building a dynamic personality with several outreach programs aimed at the wider community—especially youth—and more than willing to incorporate the automotive future into its discussion.
Open as the American west, the LeMay museum’s main hall conveys an optimism for the automotive future. Additional cars are on exhibit below this main floor.
Into this mix, ACM has chosen Steve Saleen for its first retrospective exhibit dedicated to a single automotive personality and company with the opening of Saleen: A Journey from the Heart of a Racer to America's Supercar.
Of course there was a ribbon cutting; Steve Saleen at left is assisted by Alan Granberg and Scot Keller of LeMay America’s Car Museum.
It’s a major initiative, starting with 17 automobiles significant to Saleen’s history holding pride of place in LeMay’s spacious main hall, and scheduled to display for a full year.
A few Saleen artifacts, almost all from Steve’s earliest efforts, are on display at the LeMay exhibition.
There’s certainly no lack of material to display. Steve Saleen’s professional racing career began over 40 years ago, and he founded Saleen Automotive in 1983. Now celebrating over 36 years, the company has a surprisingly long and diverse history, and is still actively bringing new designs to market, such as the emerging Saleen 1 mid-engine sports car.
Racing and an orientation toward driving is central to the Saleen philosophy, a natural result of Steve’s driving background.
The 17 cars present at the November 16 opening featured several milestone vehicles, including the very first Saleen Mustang in the shape of the singular 1984 prototype and a 1987 Saleen Mustang Escort Endurance Championship race car that did so much to put Saleen on the enthusiast map.
Saleen’s future is marked at the LeMay by this pre-production 2020 Saleen 1. The 450 hp, mid-engine sportster looks good, offers surprisingly good interior room and promises exciting performance.
Another highlight includes the S7 supercar that starred in the 2003 film “Bruce Almighty,” in which Jim Carey stepped in for God – and chooses a Saleen as his primary transportation.
LeMay has parked the first Saleen S7 (left) next to the job it made possible – the 2005 Ford GT. Ford was so impressed by Saleen’s ability to produce the S7 they contracted Saleen for engineering, paint and assembly for their homage to the GT40.
Dedicated Saleen fans will also appreciate the muscular 1995 S351 convertible, the Ranger-based 1990 Saleen Race Truck and the SA20 and SA30 anniversary cars. All of these are Saleen rarities and certainly have never been gathered in one place before.
Enjoyable as all of these Saleen cars are, for those with very long memories (and seemingly Steve Saleen himself, judging by his enthusiasm at the exhibit opening) the black and yellow-striped March 76B Formula Atlantic with the “Gas Saleen” script by the cockpit is a major delight. Superbly restored, the open wheeler ably represents Steve’s racing orientation and driver-centric self-identity. It was the machine he sold his house to buy in the mid-70s and subsequently drove to 13 track records while winning the 1977 Pacific Coast Championship.
Look for other notable Saleen vehicles to rotate through the 12-month exhibit as they become available. We’re sure Saleen fans would enjoy more early Fox-based production Saleen Mustangs with their signature lower body stripes and BBK basketweave wheels, along with eyeballing later standouts such as the S281-E powerhouse.
And while the exhibit is a look back at four decades of Saleen vehicles, it also looks to the future of the company with a pre-production Saleen 1 serving as greeter in the lobby and a fully-prepped Saleen Cup race car in the main display. Saleen: A Journey from the Heart of a Racer to America's Supercar will remain open at ACM through fall 2020.
Cars on Exhibit:
1976 March 76B Formula Atlantic
1984 Saleen Mustang (first ever Saleen vehicle)
1987 Saleen Mustang Escort Endurance Championship racer
1988 March Indycar
1990 Saleen Race Truck (Ranger)
1995 Saleen/Allen Racecar (Mustang SR)
1995 S351 convertible
2001 Saleen S7 (“Bruce Almighty” movie car)
2003 SA-20 Anniversary car
2005 Saleen S281 SC Molly Pop
2005 Ford GT (engineered, painted and assembled by Saleen under contract to Ford)
2007 Saleen S281 Barricade
2014 SA-30 Anniversary car
2015 Saleen S302 Black Label
2020 Saleen 1 sports car (street version)
2020 Saleen Cup (S1) Racer
2020 Saleen Sportruck XR