A Modern Tribute to Historic Racers

Photo courtesy of Saleen Automotive Inc.

2014 Saleen George Follmer Edition Mustang.

I spent my usual four days traipsing around the Monterey Peninsula earlier this month, when seemingly the entire automotive hobby descends upon the scenic coastal area to revel in all things vintage automobile.

But the new car industry also sets up shop the third weekend in August, starting adjacent to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and fanning out through the region at various other events. Lots of car enthusiasts of all financial positions are there anyway, so it makes sense to form a casual version of a major auto show.

Each year, several new models make their debuts during Monterey weekend, with companies seeking to get a jump on the official auto show season. The idea is to get some buzz going early, in front of all the right customers as well as the automotive press.

Saturday at the Laguna Seca racetrack, Steve Saleen rolled out his latest creations. Saleen has been doing modified muscle cars for decades, and chose a historic racing location (an ideal spot – the Rolex Motorsports Reunion was going on right around their display) to unveil three tribute models.

Each tribute car that Saleen will be building is an homage to a significant car from the SCCA Trans-Am racing series in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, all composing what’s called the “Heritage Collection.” Muscle cars saw their original heyday during that time, when car companies wanted their models on the track in order to get customers into the showrooms.

Saleen used to deal exclusively in modified Ford Mustangs, but these days the tuning firm works with Chevrolet and Chrysler products as well. As such, they’re offering a Mark Donohue Edition Chevy Camaro and a Swede Savage Edition Plymouth Barracuda (based on the Dodge Challenger – there’s no more Plymouth) as part of the Heritage Collection.

Both those drivers raced in the Trans-Am series back in the day, and both perished in racing accidents. But their names are still closely associated with the cars they raced, so the Saleen customizations of their modern equivalents are ultimate race fan tributes.

And Ford couldn’t be left out of the program, obviously, so there’s also the George Follmer Edition Mustang, done up in nearly the exact same livery as Follmer’s 1969 Boss 302 Mustang that he raced alongside teammate Parnelli Jones. Saleen did a tribute car for the famous Parnelli in 2006, so now George is getting his due as well.

At Saleen’s splashy news conference at the track’s infield, renderings of the Camaro and Barracuda were unfurled above examples of the old Trans-Am series cars. Mark Donohue’s son David drove a vintage 1969 Sunoco Camaro onto the stage, and Swede Savage’s wife and daughter accompanied a 1970 Barracuda vintage race car. Performance veteran Vic Edelbrock drove the old #16 Follmer car into the ceremony (having just raced it on the track), and then Mr. Follmer himself pulled in front of the assembled crowd in the new car.

Based on a 2014 Mustang GT, the GF Edition wears the striking red, black and white color combo from back in the day, and even sports a set of wheels patterned after the original Minilite aluminum ones used on the race car. Authentic sponsor decals can be added as a purchaser sees fit, and “George Follmer” is painted above the driver’s side window.

Retired but still appearing quite fit at age 79, Follmer quipped that the new car’s 470 horsepower (upped by the Saleen crew from the stock Mustang GT’s 420), handling and braking are actually superior to the race-prepped car he drove back in the day. “Oh, and it has a radio and air conditioning,” Follmer noted, to laughter from both the audience and Steve Saleen.

The company has to get busy building the planned 250 examples of the GF Edition Mustang. Ford is changing the car next spring and will be getting away from the retro styling a bit, so Saleen will have to work with 2014 cars to keep the look proper.

Taking a spin down memory lane won’t be cheap. The price tag for each of the cars will be $74,999. That’s a lot of coin for a new American muscle car. Then again, buying and using an authentic race car from back in the day is way more expensive. And, the street car has that radio and air conditioning.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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