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Kenny Answers Questions About The Original Saleen Racing Mustang
Q: I am trying to reach Mr. Brown to clear up a few things, I am in the Saleen Club of America and we are currently having a debate about Mr. Brown's time with the Saleen Race team back when they were in the Saleen/Escort Championship. We were discussing your modifications you made to Saleen 1986 19R and 29R during that race season. We were curious about what sort of "tricks" you had incorporated into the suspension geometry/brake system (if any). It seem one half of the debate thinks you didn't modify the K Members until the 1987 season and the other half of the camp recalls you saying that you specially looked at Marc Allen's R car one year at a show and said it DID have a modified K member. If you have time to clear this up that would be great, if not I understand, you’re a busy guy. Thanks for your time! -- Blake Little
A: Interesting question. I’ll try to do the best I can, but I have slept a couple times since then. So I apologize if my recollection and accuracy is off a little. 1986 was a tough year as it was the first year for the racing Saleen-R's that were based on a street car, but weren’t really ready for racing - let alone endurance racing. In ’86, I looked at a lot of things on the suspension but the restrictive rules and scrutiny on the cars (as they were new to the series) limited me to small changes to geometry. We did have to modify the front struts to get the three degrees of camber we needed. I do remember when Rick crashed #19 at Mosport, we took a few “liberties” in putting the front of the car back together and oh darn, the strut towers weren’t quite in the same location - imagine that.
The brakes were the huge Achilles’ heel with super small discs up front and drums in the rear. The brakes were so bad the best way to slow down was to park on the rear bumper of a Corvette and let them do the braking. Just kidding, but they were really bad so most of my attention was on the brakes. Back then we did not have the broad choice of racing pads that are available today; in fact our brake pad choices for the ’86 Mustang were pretty bad. Brake wear and rotor wear were significant calling for multiple brake pad/rotor changes during the races. After trying all the options available, I came up with a “trick set” endurance brake pads from a friend of mine off a 917 Porsche. We machined the Porsche back plates off then bonded and riveted the pads to the Mustang back plates. However, brake pedal feel became very hard. Although, they did slow the Mustangs down and we had great pad wear, but they were a little tough on the rotors. We still had to do one maybe two rotor changes during a 24 hour race but that still took far less time than the multiple pad rotor changes as before.
The other brake trick I came up with was on the rear drum brakes. During the race the rear brake shoes would wear down and make the brake pedal really long as the race progressed, like pump, pump, pump, pump brakes. I modified the rear brake adjusters so I could slide under the back of the car during pit stops and do a quick adjustment on the rear brakes so the new driver would have a high strong brake pedal to start their stent.
In '86 at Road Atlanta we showed up with 3-point strut tower braces and wider wheels. The SCCA made us take them both off for the rest of the season as they were not part of the Saleen street car. It was pretty clear that the strut tower braces really helped the front suspension and handling (see where we are going here?).
The best part of the ’86 season, aside from the win at the 25 Hours of Canada, is it gave me a really good understanding of how the Saleen Mustangs worked and what their strengths and weaknesses were. That lead to a pretty significant list I made for Steve on what we needed to win in ‘87.
Those who know the Saleen cars can see the fruits of my efforts as the ’87 cars came with as standard equipment: a 3-point strut tower brace, bigger front disc brakes, rear disk brakes and I think wider wheels. I remember we tested a boat load of wheels and different off-sets. There were more changes, but these were the most significant.
Something that was pretty cool is I was the one who was asked to fill out the homologation Technical Specification papers on the '87 Saleen race cars, the set of specifications that the SCCA Tech Officials would check against for legality. It was like they handed me a clean sheet of paper and said make out your wish list. I won’t get too far afield, but one thing I noticed is the spring spec only called for wire diameter and free length, hmmmm.
I knew that the coil-count and wind had a big impact on over-all spring rate. Long story short - the wire size I chose, at different coil count and wind could have a spring rate range of over 300 pounds. We had three sets of springs for each car that all met the technical specifications to a “T”. No one but me knew the rates as they were coded (that way no one could accidentally slip and give away our spring rates), but let’s just say I had choices.
Getting back to your original question about the K-members. I can’t recall exactly what I had done that stayed on the ’86 K-members. In ’86, I tried many things and developed a bunch of data on front geometry working with a friend of mine in Mustang suspension engineering. I can’t remember exactly when in ’87, but through the magic of Steve Saleen, I received a phone call instructing me to meet a private plane at the executive airport as it had something for me (very cloak and dagger).
I met the plane and unloaded – aaaaahhhhh, a gift from the heavens – three brand new virgin Mustang K-members. By virgin I mean not a single hole cut, punched or drilled into the K-members, just the main pieces welded together. That afternoon I sent everybody home early. By the time they all showed up for work the next morning, I was bleary eyed but there on the floor were three brand new painted K-members with mounting, suspension holes and slots ready to be installed. By not having anyone there provided plausible deniability as they knew nothing. In essence, I moved and adjusted every chassis hole, mounting slot and suspension pick up point. To the naked eye (read tech inspector here) they all looked bone stock, but boy did they work and the rest is history as they say.
Something else that was a bit of a trick is the Monroe shocks we ran on the race cars were not the same Monroe shocks that came on the street cars. The Monroe’s on the racecars were rebuildable and we had a tackle box in the trailer that had a broad array of valves, plates, internal springs and seals for the race shocks making them totally tunable for different tracks.
I hope that answers your question. There were honestly a ton of other small tricks that we integrated into the cars, it was a constant game with the tech inspectors of what we could get away with (based on some crafty writing of the Saleen-R technical specifications) and not run too afoul of the rules.
As a side note: what I learned racing the ’87 Saleen Mustangs became the foundation of my critically acclaimed AGS, Advanced Geometry Suspension systems. What I did for the ’87 Saleen’s found its way onto the performance street cars I built through 1990 as AGS 1.0 suspensions. Each evolution, AGS 2.0, 3.0, 3.5 and now 4.0 builds on the best of the previous and continually improving the performance.
AGS 4.0 available for the ’05-’14 Mustangs is hands down the best Mustang suspension I have ever engineered and a huge favorite of magazine editors and industry insiders. My late son Paul Brown, who did some of the development driving of AGS 4.0, called it the best strut Mustang suspension he had ever driven. So the original DNA of my current AGS 4.0 (K-member and all) can be traced all the way back the Championship ’87 Saleen Mustangs.