By Brendan Moore
While at the New York Auto Show, I was able to speak to Steve Saleen, the famous specialty car manufacturer. First as a professional race driver, and then as an innovative businessman in the auto performance industry, Saleen is well known as the founder of numerous Steve Saleen Brands including Saleen Autosport in 1983, Saleen Productions in 1993, Saleen Speedlab in 1997, Saleen Performance in 1999, Saleen, Inc. in 2001 and now SMS Limited in 2008.
Steve Saleen has had an eventful 24 months, as he was involved in a deal to distribute Chinese-made pickup trucks and SUVs through a company named Chamco that fell apart in an ugly way. He started a new company after the break-down of the distribution deal, focused on the thing he loves most – making mass-market cars into very attractive high-performance machines.
More on the Chamco debacle from Autosavant in 2008:
“Chamco Auto is done; stick a fork in them. In addition to all of its other troubles, the wanna-be importer just lost its Chinese supplier of vehicles. Chinese automaker Hebei Zhongxing Automobile Co. was supposed to deliver large numbers of an inexpensive SUV and pickup truck to Chamco for sale in the US, but Chamco has been torn asunder by infighting at the company, lawsuits and counter-lawsuits, and last, but not least, the headlong flight of more than a dozen auto executives from the company, including Steve Saleen. Chamco was shut down by order of a New Jersey Superior Court judge, and control of the company was remanded to a court-appointed trustee in April of this year. Chinese manufacturer Hebei Zhongxing Automobile Co. said, that’s it, we’ve had enough, and we’re out of here. Hebei Zhongxing still hopes to sell their vehicles in the US, but it won’t be through Chamco, that’s for sure. Although they may want to rethink that SUV/pickup lineup. Steve Saleen has already started SMS, an automotive performance company that will enhance many makes, not just Ford models as Saleen performance previously did. And what of the 37 dealers that paid an average of $250,000 USD for their Chamco dealer franchise? They are out of luck.”
So, my first question to Steve was, “What is the current status of the Chamco litigation?”
His answer was that the whole issue is still in the courts, it is moving towards resolution, and that he really couldn’t divulge anything more that that as it is still an ongoing legal matter. He did, however, state that his relationship with Hebei Zhongxing is excellent, and that the problem was with the now-bankrupt Chamco.
We then moved on to a more pleasant subject: SMS Supercars, Saleen’s performance car company.
SMS was displaying two cars at the New York Auto Show; a Challenger 570 and a Challenger 570X. The 570 has 500 hp and the 570X has an almost-delirious 700 hp. I’ve included photos of both; some of which I took at the show, and most of which were supplied by SMS.
Here is part of the company’s press release regarding the SMS 570:
“The 500 HP SMS 570 Challenger and the 700 HP SMS 570 X Challenger can be ordered through all Dodge dealers at this time. In addition to the patented SMS Supercharger atop the ultra high-performance engine, both production models feature completely revised aesthetics, aerodynamics and performance features including; SMS Series 4 suspension and high performance cross drilled brakes with six pistons up front and four pistons at the rear. The interior features the SMS Signature Series chevron seats with deep bolsters, rich leather and Alcantara suede for high-performance comfort. Aerodynamic features include a front fascia with high volume radiator intake, a “GTX” inspired front grille, a high downforce front splitter with intercooler ducting, side skirts with rear brake ducting, a vented rear fascia with an extended blackout taillight surround, a high downforce rear diffuser and rear spoiler, as well as Steve Saleen’s new signature SMS Red ButterflyTM Dual Side Induction Hood. SMS 570 Challenger pricing starts at $64,870.00.”
But, wait, that’s not all!
SMS is also offering their version of two other iconic pony cars; namely, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang. The upgrades on these cars promise to be just as impressive, and like the Challenger, they will be sold with a full warranty and can be ordered from any Chevrolet dealer and Ford dealer respectively.
SMS is also going to open some regional centers in the US, where the cars can be purchased from SMS directly.
Saleen mentioned during the interview that the SMS facility in Southern California is the largest production area he’s ever had, and was obtained with expansion in mind as the business gets bigger. The still-new business now has about 30 employees. In that same vein of expansion, SMS has sales agents pitching the SMS product line to new-car dealers in 12 different regions of the US.
Saleen did not mention the number that is both his production goal and his production cap in the press conference at the show, but he did tell us that he intends to limit production of each model to 500 units per year. There will be a maximum of 500 SMS Challengers, 500 SMS Camaros, and 500 SMS Mustangs, which adds up to a maximum of 1500 SMS vehicles per year. It is worth noting that 1500 cars is less than Saleen production volumes in the past. With the limited production, Saleen expects that the residual value of his cars will increase from the already good current resale values of Saleen specialty cars.
He also commented that the cars should draw even longer stares at stoplights and valet parking stands.
Steve Saleen was unfailingly gracious to this writer during our interview, and in addition to his helpfulness, it was obvious that he loves what he’s doing and that he has a tremendous emotional investment in his performance cars. There simply are not many people like Saleen left in the business. Even if you have no interest in his type of performance car, you have to respect what he does so well.
Sure, you can always get a one-off made by custom shop, but Saleen’s cars are limited-production versions of an already-proven mass-production model (and with a warranty, mind you). There is much more certainty and probably just as much enjoyment with an SMS car as opposed to a one-off created in a custom shop.
We wish SMS the best of luck with their new company.
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SMS Supercars is at www.smssupercars.com