When somebody mentions their car has 100,000 miles on the clock, what reaction do you tend to have? Even in this day and age of 100K tune-up intervals, we're inclined to think most readers would visualize a machine with significant wear and tear. That's probably a fair assessment more often than not, and yet Bill Smallwood's '89 Saleen defies the odds due to a commitment to both wielding the wheel and fastidious care.
The condition of Smallwood's Oxford White hatchback is a testament not only to frequent attention, but also to Ford's initial build quality. Would you believe this car has currently racked up 119,000 miles, with only struts, shocks, battery, and tune-up components being something other than Ford or Saleen issue? OK, the stereo too, but that hardly counts. Putting pride aside, we must admit that our beloved Mustang has always had a pedestrian (read inexpensive) pedigree, so the fact that a car could look and run this well after so many miles is indeed testament to a durable product. The 5.0L engine performs virtually as-new, speaking not only to Ford's tough drivetrain components but also to the virtues of electronic fuel injection.
As the owner for most of this car's 20-year life, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Smallwood bears nearly sole responsibility for his Saleen's current fantastic condition. Two prior owners gave it great care until Smallwood bought it in 1996 with just 8,600 miles, but preserving a seldom-driven car in a garage is hardly a challenge in good car care. Rather, the trick here is putting an extra 100K on the odometer in a nearly transparent manner. Ponder that 119,000 miles, for we've all seen many a 19,000-mile car that doesn't look this good.
"My neighbors think I'm crazy," adds Smallwood, referring to the reaction he gets when performing an every-other-year scrub on the bottom of the car in his driveway. While "crazy" wouldn't be the term we'd use, we can understand why the neighbors might not get it. Let's just call Smallwood "passionate."
The Saleen passion started for Smallwood when he was a young man working at a local Ford dealership in Seattle, Washington. "I was working in the body shop at the time, and we'd get the Saleens in for a variety of reasons-bumped-up air dams, collisions, a variety of stuff." In the course of work, Smallwood would sometimes get to road test the car post-repair to ensure all was right, and the hook was set.
As indicated previously, Smallwood bought this particular car as a virtually new 7-year-old Saleen and used it as a daily driver for five years. When queried as to why he didn't continue down the path of low-mile preservation, Smallwood explained that the purchase price wasn't much more than what he'd have paid for a new Ford Escort, another car he was considering for commute purposes. Clearly, there's no need to ask whether he's happy with the decision today.
Smallwood's purchase occurred during the infancy of the Internet, so it was located with help from a hard copy of Hemmings Motor News. The owner at the time was the second; as a car enthusiast employee of Newman Haas Racing, he knew the Saleen was special. Of course, "special" is a relative term, as Saleen built 543 hatchbacks very much like Smallwood's in 1989. However, No. 663 would turn out to be a bit more interesting than most.
"Being involved in running my local club's show (Mustangs Northwest's Roundup in Bellevue, Washington), I'd spoken with Steve and Liz Saleen on a number of occasions. When I was contemplating buying this car, I called Liz and asked her for some specific information," explains Smallwood. It turns out the car was one of two Montgomery Ward sweepstakes giveaway cars for 1989, a promotion designed to celebrate and draw attention to Saleen's racing successes under Montgomery Ward sponsorship, including the 1987 Escort Endurance Championship. Knowledge that this Saleen was something a little different seemed to seal the deal for Smallwood, and it has been a long and enjoyable ride ever since.
The years of daily driving his '89 were out of necessity for Smallwood, reporting typical car-nut preservation techniques such as parking at the outer edges of parking lots. Such efforts were rewarded in that the owner says his car has 100 percent original paint, the only real flaws being some mild sandblast effect on the front end and behind the wheels.
The driving hasn't stopped since commuter retirement, however, as Smallwood reports consistent participation in major shows throughout the western U.S., including three trips to the Fabulous Fords Forever show at Knott's Berry Farm in Southern California. We like the sentiment and commitment to use his car as Ford and Saleen intended. We'd venture to say that the smiles which occur behind the wheel are unlike any he's had with the car on static display.
In the end, we'd encourage others to take a cue from Bill Smallwood. Have you driven your Mustang lately?