Back in 1994, Ford debuted its new SN95 Mustang. Gone was the boxy Fox-bodied car of the early ‘90s, and in its place was a sleeker, more muscular Pony Car that looked and drove in a sportier and more modern way. The problem was GM also updated its Camaro and Firebird to the heavyweight division of muscle cars thanks to its LT1 and later LS1 small block V8s.

With Carroll Shelby having unceremoniously divorced from Ford (a loving reunion was to be had a little more than a decade away), the Mustang had just one man they could turn to for automotive salvation: Steve Saleen. More than just a tuner, Saleen’s company was (and still is) recognized by the federal government as a small-volume manufacturer, and one of those manufactured products was the incredible Saleen S351.

Though it may have looked somewhat like a Mustang, the Saleen S351 took everything fun about Ford’s Pony Car, and ratcheted it up by a factor of ten. Saleen did away with the Mustang’s mediocre power source in favor of the Blue Oval’s revered 351 cubic-inch V8 as its base. Topping off that 5.8-liter behemoth were TFS “Twisted Wedge” aluminum heads and a Vortech centrifugal supercharger. That power-packed powerplant made an insane 495 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque (remember, this was the mid-90s). That power was then sent through a Borg-Warner T56 six-speed manual transmission borrowed from Team Viper, and ultimately ended up at the car’s hydraulic Gerodisc differential with could be had with a no-cost option 3.55:1 rear gear, helping to twist a set of massive P295/35ZR-18 rear Michelin Pilot SX tires (with P245/40ZR-18s up front).

Not satisfied with just massive power enhancements, Saleen’s take on the Mustang is comprehensive in natural. Turning, stopping, and steering are all just as important as acceleration. A lowered suspension that sports new shocks and springs, anti-roll bars, better bushings and stronger lower control arms. Big, thirteen-inch, four-piston Alcon brakes up front, and 10.5-inch, single-piston rears, all help perfect the perfect performance package.

Even the base interior gets a revamp, with supportive, race-ready, Recaro front seats and a trick white-faced gauge setup featuring a 200mph speedometer that the S351 almost has the power to peg. Opt for the fantastical drop-top Speedster variant, and a body-color tonneau cover hides the rear seats. That fun feature, combined with the added roll bar, gives the S351 the look of what can only be described as an ‘exotic muscle car.’

Car and Driver was lucky enough to test one of these monsters back in 1998 and it did not disappoint. Feathering the throttle just right, they managed to hang on while the S351 launched from 0-60 mph in a scant 4.4 seconds, 0-100 mph in only 9.5 seconds and through the quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at 116 mph.

It is true that the Saleen S351 did cost significantly more than the Mustang it replaced, with a base price of $56,990 in 1998; it also eclipsed its rivals from GM at almost double their cost. But, with such incredible performance potential, the S351 almost bypassed those former Pony Car competitors with Secretariat-level success. The S351 stood firmly in the realm of the Corvette, Viper, Ferrari F355, and Porsche 911. When compared to those supercars, the stellar Saleen was nothing short of a super-performance bargain that we have never, and will never forget.

Related: Top 10 Classic Cars to Buy | Flashback—The Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R

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