I acquired Saleen XP8 98-027 in November 2021 from the previous owner who had owned it since 2014 and it is absolutely my favorite car I’ve ever owned.
These trucks are incredibly rare, with about 120 ever being produced, many of which are no longer on the road today. The Saleen Explorer was my high school dream car as my first car was a ’95 Ford Explorer so this was basically the “ultimate” version of my first car. Through some luck, patience, and persistence, I was able to finally track down this example.
The car is fully stock except for some performance modifications listed below, which is how I intend to keep it…because these cars are so rare, my ethos for this truck is to try to keep it original and restore it to its former glory.
Restoration deep dive:
What is a Saleen XP8, anyway?
Back in the 90s, performance SUVs weren’t really a thing…the AMG ML55 wouldn’t come out until 2001 and there were no performance SUVs offered by the OEMs yet, with the exception of the GMC Typhoon from 1992-1993 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9L V8 which was a 1998 model only. Saleen had been tuning Mustangs for decades and saw an opening to create a fun SUV that you can use to tow, haul around the family, and even daily drive.
Total production is debated and largely unknown, but the best estimates seem to peg production numbers around 120-150 units. Many of these trucks are no longer on the road due to accidents, rust, etc. Almost all of the Saleen Explorers were powered by the 5.0 V8 that is nearly identical to the beloved fox body mustang engines, which meant there was a ton of parts you could modify them with and the motor was very dependable. There were a handful of V6 cars made too (named the XP6) which was an accident where Ford accidentally shipped Saleen some V6 trucks and Saleen just rolled with it.
Once Saleen received a new Explorer from the Ford factory, they went through a major overhaul to make them into what you see below. The modifications included:
- Exterior: Full body kit including front & rear bumpers, wing, side skirts, body cladding, and CF mirror caps
- Optional carbon fiber / composite hood
- Suspension: 18″ Magnesium wheels and Racecraft suspension with lowered ride-height, Bilstein struts, beefier sway bar
- Optional Alcon big brake kit (later recalled due to failure)
- Performance: High-flow exhaust (Borla) and performance air filter
- Optional supercharger
- Interior: Carbon fiber steering wheel, interior accents, Coco Mats, Saleen gauges & racing pedals
- Optional Recaro seats
- Misc: Saleen graphics & serialization plaques, Saleen owners jacket
The options were often dealer installed and the Alcon big brake kit was prone to failure and most kits have been removed or modified to create new brackets.
From a cosmetic perspective I did a pretty intense restoration partnering with Elite Finish here in San Diego to oversee the work. We had to have the wheels and bumpers repainted, whereas the rest was able to be restored through a combination of wet-sanding, polishing, and coating. We also replaced all of the graphics, replaced faded trim, and otherwise made sure the car looked as good as possible from the outside…I was also able to hunt down the optional carbon fiber hood, something that’s nearly impossible to find, which really puts the cherry on top from a cosmetic perspective.
Otherwise, the exterior is completely stock as it came from Saleen/Ford. The roof racks have been deleted as has the rear wiper, although I may return those to stock. Likewise I changed the graphics from grey/graphite to black to enhance the contrast, and the brake calipers have been painted red to give it a little extra pop. Lastly, my magnesium wheels came in silver, but many XP8s did leave the factory with color-matched white wheels which in my opinion is an amazing look that is 100% period correct and was literally the first order of business when I got the car (along with replacing the dry-rotted tires they were wrapped in).
Next, I took it to a local mechanic to get the truck into good health from a safety & performance perspective. All fluids were flushed, the brakes were completely replaced (lines, pads, rotors, fluid), the steering rack was replaced and a fresh alignment done, along with a ton of other odds and ends ranging from getting spare keys cut, fixing the door locks, and anything else to get the car running and functioning normally. The tires were replaced as well, and a new battery & air filter were also installed as a best practice. I plan to eventually get it dyno tuned to see if we can’t get any more power of the current setup, but the car runs great and starts every time, so for now I’ll leave “good enough” alone.
Modification wise, this car has gotten some serious TLC over the years – as I mentioned before, the motor is largely the same as the 5.0 Mustang motors so there is a ton of aftermarket support. My XP8 has a Explorer Express M90 Supercharger, upgraded fuel pump, injectors, and MAF, Torque Monster headers, Snow Performance Water Meth kit, custom exhaust, and a custom tune by Unleashed Performance. I have not gotten this on the dyno yet to understand what kind of power comes out, but the stock numbers from Saleen peg the supercharged 5.0 motors at around 288 hp and with these mods I hope it should be just over 300hp – far from good by today’s standards, but faster than the 5.9L Jeep Grand Cherokee that was the “top dog” of the time.
Lastly, the interior has gotten some attention to bring it back to factory. I replaced a racing seat with a factory seat, replaced the torn center console cover, had new floor mats made from Coco Mats, new center console emblem, and a deep, deep detailing of the seats and carpet. I plan to eventually replace the head-unit back to factory, but for now an aftermarket head unit is installed. There is also a period-correct carbon fiber trim kit installed that I enjoy, and also dons the signatures of both Steve Saleen and his daughter Molly Saleen on the passenger side airbag.
I’d love to find a set of the optional Recaro seats, but they are largely unobtainum. The seats appear to be a rebranded Recaro Style Topline, but sadly those are out of production so needless to say if you have a lead on these please let me know!
Overall, this car has been a TON of fun and gets looks and comments everywhere it goes. It’s also awesome to drive as it’s very comfortable and practical, so I find myself driving it everywhere – picking up pizza, daycare drop-off, etc…I also regularly take it to the local cars & coffee where it parks alongside supercars and hypercars, and even in that environment tends to get some lookers who typically either “I never knew they made this!” or “I forgot they made this!” from the crowd. I plan to just drive the crap out of the car, while slowly improving and fixing things along the way to make it the most well preserved and documented XP8 still on the road.
Stay tuned for more developments!