Like many of us, Richard Miller fell in love with cars at an early age. "My dad owned an auto repair shop, so I was able to gain a lot of knowledge about cars just by watching and working with him," he told us.
Specifically, Richard grew fond of Fords and especially the Mustang. His first project car was a '65 fastback, for which he rebuilt the engine, followed by a brand-new '94 GT coupe. Richard's true love, though, is his '96 Saleen Mustang convertible.
"I had heard a lot about the Saleen Mustangs, so I stopped by our local Ford dealership to check one out." He was greeted with a black S281 convertible on the showroom floor; right then he knew he had to have it.
After making the purchase and taking the car home, Richard got involved with the local Mustang clubs, and started entering his Saleen in various car shows and driving events. For 10 years he kept the car completely stock, but soon realized that he would need to make some upgrades if he wanted to keep taking trophies home. A Vortech supercharger made the car more unique, but Richard's competition was stepping it up as well.
At Steve Saleen's annual car show in Southern California, he lost the first-place trophy to an owner of another '96 Saleen who had swapped his engine with a supercharged Cobra motor. "I knew I needed to make changes under the hood that were different and would draw people's attention," he told us.
To get some ideas on what to do Richard turned to Bill Schultz, the owner of Quality II Rod Shop in Richmond, Illinois, who also happened to be his brother-in-law. "He asked me what it would take to win again," Bill told us. The latest and greatest thing at the time was the new Shelby engine, so he came up with the idea of putting the GT500 motor in the car. Of course, the first question everyone had was whether it would fit. "I had done some preliminary measuring and I had determined that it would fit. I didn't really have any measurements on exhaust manifolds or anything of that nature, but I was pretty sure we would be within an inch or so."
The speedster top didn't originally...
The speedster top didn't originally come with his Saleen, but Richard added it later after the engine swap was done.
The plate on the interior...
The plate on the interior shows that Richard's car is the 323rd Mustang built by Saleen in 1996
The 18-inch chrome wheels...
The 18-inch chrome wheels that came standard from Saleen remain on the car.
The next question was whether they could even get their hands on the motor. It was 2007 and the GT500 had just hit showroom floors, so the crate motors were in short supply. Ford Racing set up a lottery for 1,000 GT500 engines, and fortunately Richard and Bill were selected within the first 10.
With the motor in their possession, it was then time to figure out how to squeeze it in between the fenders of the Saleen. "Needless to say, it was way too wide for the chassis," Bill remembered. Fortunately it did fit between the strut towers, although many components had to be either customized or rearranged to make room for everything. The K-member had to be refabricated and new motor mounts were constructed. The brake and clutch system had to be moved over 0.75 inch, the battery was relocated to the right side, and the steering shaft was moved to clear the exhaust.
Although fitting the motor into the car was tough, it wasn't nearly the biggest challenge. "The biggest problem we had was getting all the accessories," Bill told us. Since the GT500 had just been launched, it was difficult to get new accessory parts. They turned to a local dealership that used the VIN off a car on its lot to order components, but even so it still took several months to receive some of the parts they needed. "It would definitely be a lot easier today," Bill said.
Another challenge was dealing with the technology gap between 1996 and 2007. The decision was made to use a '96 wiring harness converted to work with the Shelby motor. Jeff Dunn at Ford Racing came through with a custom harness built just for the car, that included a switch from a coilpack to a coil-on-plug system. The drive-by-wire throttle body also wouldn't work with the Saleen, so a cable-driven BBK throttle body supplanted the stocker.
The exhaust system was custom...
The exhaust system was custom built from the manifold back and includes a BBK X-pipe and Borla mufflers and tips.
The interior is in incredible...
The interior is in incredible condition for being 15 years old and is mostly the same as when Richard bought the car new in 1996. Steve Saleen has given his approval of the car and has signed his name on the dash.
Moe Madrid of Bad Boy Designs...
Moe Madrid of Bad Boy Designs in Peoria, Arizona, added the custom graphics.