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History: 2004 Saleen N2O Focus

by DrivingEnthusiast

With the upcoming announcement of the Focus RS500 in Europe (unobtainable in North America), it’s time to take a look back at North American Focus efforts. One particular interesting production Focus was the 2004-2005 Saleen N2O Focus.

As background remember that the Focus of these years was fully engineered by Ford of Europe, and was built in Mexico for the North and Central American markets. During these years, the Focus was a true “world car” (something Ford won’t achieve again until the new 2012 model arrives). Compared to its European cousins, though, the American models were missing several options, engines, and models. Also missing was Europe’s “ST” model – that is, until Ford simply re-badged it and sold it as an SVT for a short (and not very successful, as it’s competition rapidly obsoleted it) production run.

It’s not widely recognized that Steve Saleen built several models of cars other than Mustangs. These included F-150s, Rangers, Explorers, and Focuses (Foci?). Only the Mustang was a continuous production model – the other offerings were all limited runs. Concepts that didn’t go into production were built on a Tempo, Taurus, Contour, and Thunderbird. Saleen has a very rich history, and it’s certainly too broad to cover in this blog post.

Each Saleen was built on a dedicated assembly plant in Irvine California. If you have been following Saleen over the years, you know that Saleen was registered as a vehicle manufacturer in the eyes of the Federal Gov’t, with all that implies. Saleens are not in any way shape or form “tuner” cars.

The Saleen N2O Focus was designed by the same Saleen rulebook as the Saleen Mustang: Racecraft suspension, body kit, improved seats (Momo in this case) and shifter, signature white-faced gauges. And, breaking the Saleen rulebook, a nitrous kit (more on that later). The net result of any Saleen design is a complete car, with each aspect of the driving experience well-thought out.

The Saleen N2O Focus was limited to 2004 and 2005 model years (a lessor model, the S121, was also built). Saleen started with a 2.3 liter Focus (2004) or a 2 liter Focus (2005) base, with the standard MTX-75 5-speed manual transmission. Struts, springs, sway bars (1.25 fr/ .98 rr) with urethane pivot bushings, and a front strut tower brace were all added. Unique 17×7 TSW Revo wheels with Pirelli 215/45-17 tires were used (extra-sticky Pirelli Corsas were optional). Brake pads were replaced, but the front disc/rear drum system was otherwise untouched. 13″ 4-piston brakes were an option up front (and didn’t change the rear).

The suspension is the centerpeice here; roadtests of the Saleen N2O Focus all reported that it worked very well. Read the review in Modified magazine here: http://www.modified.com/roadtests/0503_sccp_2004_saleen_n20_focus_road_test/index.html

And now the numbers, with the 75-shot Nitrous: 227 hp and 226 torque. In a 2600 pound car, this results in a 6 second 0-60 (traction and open-differential limited), and a 14-second flat quarter-mile.  Very respectable.

The market for used Saleens varies widely. The high-water mark of the Saleen N2O Focus is probably this $18,500 example: http://www.investmentmotorcars.net/inventory/detail/04focus/detail.htm. You’ll note that this blue example only has the Alpine option. 88 2004 models were produced, in 2005 Saleen adapted the new Focus front end and 75 were produced.

Some friends of ours recently added this 2004 model to their collection. It’s their first Saleen, after a history of SVT ownership (and a quasi-Saleen ’91 Mustang GT).  This example has the optional  Alpine stereo ($2744), but not the Saleen brake package ($1365) or the Saleen color changing paint (a $16,000 dollar option!).

We were generously given time to test drive the Saleeen. Our first impression was very positive – the Momo seats work extremely well. The shoulder “wings” are in exactly the right place and are exactly the right size for street or track use, without inhibiting the ability to turn slightly for backing up. They are padded very well, and there is no doubt the driver could spend several hours in these seats, or any number of racetrack laps.

The handling is excellent –  it has a “go-cart” feel without the typical evils of bump-steer or bump-stop crashing. And this despite coming from the Saleen factory with a stance much lower than a stock Focus. Steering is very quick, and your first impression of it would be that this would be a nice ride for an autocross. Typical for Saleen, the suspension is very well thought out.

Let’s backtrack a bit and talk about the nitrous. Since Saleen is a manufacturer, and offered a full warranty on all of their products, the Nitrous kit was delivered disconnected. It was up to the owner to connect it and fill the bottle, which then voided the standard Saleen and Ford warranties. This was an obvious trick to get around emissions laws – certainly anything running on Nitrous has absolutely zero chance of passing emissions laws. Saleen at first ignored that problem, since it was by owner decision. Then the California Air Resources Board (CARB) stepped in. This, and missing certification of two other Mustang models in the same years, resulted in a $700,000 dollar fine from the CARB. Oops.  History doesn’t record why Saleen choose nitrous… superchargers and turbochargers were (and still are) available. But when connected it worked well, and the car was *fast* with it activated.

To leave the emissions compliance aside, simply fill the nitrous bottle, connect it, purge the lines, and away you go. Various Hondas, Nissans, and Ford’s own SVT Focus will also all be left behind. Otherwise, without the nitrous, the Saleen N2O Focus will return as much as 34 MPH in  mixed highway driving. Very nice.

Back to the driving. A quick trip to try out a new BBQ joint across town offered an opportunity to try the Saleen on a variety of back roads, across both poor pavement and good. The suspension again surprised us with its compliance – the Saleen easily ate up bumpy roads and never crashed or bump-steered. This would make a fun car for back-roads driving… just don’t hit the nitrous in a blind crest!

So now this Saleen starts life with its second owner.



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