Sadly, the thought of featuring the Saleen Ford Ranger hit me the other day as I read about the company's dire financial situation. It's not easy making vehicles, and even modifying them is difficult these days without a small army of engineers and designers at your disposal.
In the mid to late 80s, though, it wasn't all that difficult to become a vehicle tuning company. Former Formula Atlantic driver Steve Saleen founded the company on the back of the Ford Mustang, a car that for the time was quick—but not quick enough. Saleen built his reputation in racing, with his Mustangs taking home coveted victories in SCCA races and at the 24 Hours of Mosport. Slowly, success on track began to shift the Pony car community away from drag racing and to road racing.
But before he'd partner on a racing team with Tim Allen (of "Ohh ohh oh" grunting fame) and before he'd work on making the Ford Contour and Explorer faster, he'd go racing with the Ford Ranger.
In 1987, the SCCA decided to open a new championship called the RaceTruck Challenge, a sanctioned entry-level series for small trucks. Once lowered and fitted with a roll cage, the risk of rollover or serious injury is significantly lessened; don't forget that in the 80s, "small" trucks were also much smaller than they are today.
The SCCA was on to something: what's more exciting for the fans to see vehicles similar to the ones they can buy, hurtling around their local track? And what attracts sponsorship and manufacturer attention like a series that's relatively inexpensive to enter…and win in.
Most manufacturers still sold small trucks, with Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge competing against entries using Jeep, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Isuzu models. That's right: there were Mitsubishi Mighty Max race trucks built.
While their competitors were happy to pump dollars into their teams to bring home trophies in the hotly-contested series, Saleen was the only outfit to offer a similar vehicle to the public: the Saleen Sportruck.
The two big modifications compared with a normal Ranger were its drag-reducing bodykit (essential in the RaceTruck Challenge, where wins frequently came because of bump drafting) and its suspension system.
All but one were painted white, and came equipped with the long bed. Up front was the normal Ford 2.9-litre 6-cylinder engine with a whopping *cough* 140 horsepower, mated exclusively to a 5-speed manual transmission.
Only 25 Sportrucks were made in total, with the number of survivors today unknown. Most of the photos in this story are from an old eBay listing where one was offered for sale—sadly one of the few sources of higher-quality photography on this elusive beast. A .pdf of the brochure is available here.