"Driver's license, insurance and registration, please?" asked the CHiPs officer after pulling over an unsuspecting citizen. "Do you have any idea how fast you were going? Who do you think you are, Parnelli Jones?" "Umm..., actually I am," calmly answered the American racing legend, while driving near his home in Southern California. Amazed, the officer released Rufus Parnell "Parnelli" Jones, with only a verbal reminder to obey the local laws. How do we know this? Because we recently had the fortune to cruise with the great Parnelli during a recent trip to SoCal to test Saleen's latest creation, the '07 Saleen/Parnelli Jones Limited-Edition Mustang.
The Saleen/PJ was born after Parnelli drove to Saleen headquarters to personally show Steve Saleen the '70 Mustang he was restoring to look like his championship-winning '70 Trans Am Boss 302 race machine. "While the looks were there, the creature comforts and handling were not, at least compared to today's cars," says Steve Saleen, president and CEO of Saleen. "[Parnelli] really liked the retro lines of the new Mustang, and we discussed doing one like his old car that he could use as a daily driver. One thing led to another, and we realized it made sense to do a tribute vehicle."
Over the course of many decades, Parnelli Jones amassed dozens of wins in Midgets, Sprint Cars, and Stock cars; in off-road competition at the Baja 500 and Baja 1000, in hill climb at Pike's Peak and, of course, in Indy cars. In 1961, at the Indy 500, he shared Rookie-of-the-Year honors, and in 1962 he qualified on pole at the Brickyard, the first driver to do so over 150 mph. He returned in 1963 to drink the milk after winning. By the late '60s, Parnelli moved from open-wheel cars to bodied machines in the SCCA Trans Am series, racing Mustangs prepared by Bud Moore. It was in that classic Grabber Orange '70 Boss that he won the hearts of Ford fans everywhere, along with the Trans Am championship.
Parnelli Jones poses proudly with his Limited-Edition Saleen Mustang.
Saleen's PJ ripped up the curves with a great balance of precise handling and extra horsep
Saleen completely disassembles and rebuilds the 4.6 Three-Valve engines in its Irvine, Cal
To commemorate Parnelli's storied career, Saleen is offering a limited run of 500 Saleen/Parnelli Jones Mustangs styled heavily after the championship-winning No. 15 Boss 302. "We'd never done [a tribute car] at Saleen, but we knew right off the bat that it needed real things to make it authentic," Saleen says. "It had to be visually as close as possible to the Boss 302 of yesteryear and evoke the same performance with the same type of passion.
"Parnelli Jones is an American racing icon. In the '50s, '60s, and '70s, he won just about every race he appeared in, including the Indy 500. In 1970, the year that the SCCA Trans Am Series boasted its most competitive field ever, Parnelli Jones and his Boss 302 Mustang competed against the likes of Mark Donahue and Dan Gurney, and there he captured the championship. Our relationship began in 1987 when Parnelli raced for me on the Saleen team and helped us win our first SCCA Manufacturer's Championship at Sebring, Florida. I can't think of any other individual who brings with him the unique connection between championship-winning Mustangs and Saleen."
Lest you think this '07 Grabber Orange Mustang is a sticker package away from stock, think again. The PJ is engineered from the ground up for enhanced performance, including a new heart in the form of a completely rebuilt Three-Valve engine that is bored and stroked to produce 302 ci.
To achieve this, each engine is removed, disassembled, and then rebuilt with a 3.80-inch stroke crank, Saleen connecting rods, and forged pistons. Extensive cylinder-head work is done at the in-house engine-building facility, and Saleen-specific cams are installed along with larger valves. Compression is increased to 10.5:1, the redline is raised to 6,500 rpm, and after employing a 94mm mass air meter, Saleen exhaust, and Powerflash computer, the result is 400 naturally aspirated horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. The 302 is backed by a stock five-speed manual transmission, and the 8.8 receives 3.73 gears.