SMS And The Butterfly Effect

I struggled on how to start this one. I mean, Steve Saleen has been made famous by one of the Challenger’s most bitter rivals of all time, the Ford Mustang.


As a Dodge fan, one mention of the name “Saleen” probably sends chills down your spine. He built monster Mustangs for years that elevated not only his own brand, but also that of the Blue Oval boys from Dearborn, Michigan.

But for those of you who haven’t been living under a rock for the last two years, you now know that Steve Saleen has moved on to a new venture: SMS Supercars. The SMS part stands for Steve Mark Saleen. How fitting, right?


And instead of immediately picking up where he left off with the Mustang, Steve launched his new company behind the prowess of the new Dodge Challenger which was fresh to market at the time. Two models (the 570 and 570X) up the ante at virtually every corner of performance. Thanks to their proprietary supercharger system, horsepower ranges now from 550 to 700 horsepower depending on the application. But that’s just the start of the process.

“First of all, when we started, the Challenger was a brand new platform that we felt was very good,” Saleen said. “We do, however, address the entire car. And that includes not just horsepower, but the chassis, aerodynamics, and ergonomics. Over 30 years of racing experience goes into every vehicle we produce,” he added.


“We get the cars brand new and essentially strip them down to a bare unibody. No wiring looms are left. All trim is pulled off and we even remove the dashboard,” he said. SMS then rebuilds the car up exactly to their specs inside their shop located in Corona, California.

Every vehicle produced by SMS is fully certified and carries Saleen’s official signature on the dash (pictured below). Each car is also serialized to indicate the build number within that particular series.

And when I say SMS “produces” these vehicles, I’m not kidding. SMS Supercars is technically not a “tuner shop,” so to speak. “We are an official OEM,” Saleen emphasized. “And with more than three decades of being in this business, our cars have continually shown that they will appreciate in value. When you buy a vehicle from us, you’re getting a totally different experience.”


The SMS Challengers are admittedly striking. Heather and I both felt that the modifications made to the car truly enhance the look of the already beautiful Challenger. Upon closer examination, you can see the quality in the parts they add to the stock vehicle. The front and rear fascias are beautifully sculpted and add an element of elegant aggression to the muscle car. The GTX-style front grille is very distinct. The rocker panels are clad in deep side skirts and a new spoiler adorns the deck lid. Beyond that, custom SMS wheels sit at all four corners covering SMS brake calipers that bring even stronger handling and stopping power to either of the beasts.





Even the interior sees significant upgrades like custom seat upholstery, signature shift knobs on both automatic and manual transmissions, an SMS logo on the steering wheel, and additional gauges located on the instrument panel (one to measure supercharger boost).







But what may be one of the single greatest innovations in the history of automotive design, Saleen has added his signature butterfly valves to the custom hood. Actuated by a cable hooked directly to the accelerator pedal, the bright red valves open upon full throttle. And take it from us, when they go wide open and you hear the whine of that supercharger, it’s one of the coolest things ever on any car. Period!


Heather and I couldn’t help but model the trademark hood valves to give you an idea of what it looks like. Admittedly, we wanted to look cooler ourselves.






With such an extensive list of upgrades made to the Challenger, Saleen summed up their efforts in one sentence. “You can’t tell where factory ends and we begin.” We can’t help but agree.


We asked Saleen if he has plans to expand his Mopar efforts. “The Challenger remains the immediate focus here at SMS” he said. “And while the new Charger does look sweet, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 would be next on our list to add to the lineup.”


With Mopar on our minds, we asked Saleen what he thought of Dodge’s appointment of Ralph Gilles (pictured below) to the position of Brand CEO. Before I could even get the entire question out of my mouth, his smile spread ear-to-ear. “I’ve known Ralph for some time now and he is the absolute greatest choice they could have ever made,” he said. “Being that Ralph is a designer by trade, consumers can rest assured that every stitch in the seats, every crease in the sheet metal, and every seam of every panel will be analyzed and approved by the guy at the top. He is the perfect person for that position.” Quite an endorsement to say the least. We concur.



Now with three-plus decades under his belt, we asked Saleen what keeps him in the business. He told us, “I like cars. They keep me going. [...] The technology and efficiency of these new cars, even with all the horsepower, is remarkable. It’s a very relaxed environment compared to the older cars. This is a very exciting time to be in the performance side of the business.”




We were beyond impressed by the operations underway at SMS Supercars. Their work with the Challenger is incredible. From the performance upgrades to the engine, suspension, and brakes, to the interior and exterior enhancements, the SMS 570 and 570X are wonderful pieces of automotive design, technology, and performance. For those of you looking for a unique take on the Challenger, SMS has got to rate among the best who offer such a choice. These cars are incredible.


We thank Steve for allowing us to drop by and view the shop for our last stop on the tour. And we also have to thank Kent Lang (Retail Sales Specialist for SMS – pictured below) for coordinating the day. We appreciate the hospitality.



  • CJ

    Another great article RLD! It’s great to see inside the aftermarket shops and learn more about their design and processes. It’s very interesting that Saleen’s butterfly valves are cable operated. I know of one aftermarket company that was attempting to put functional butterly valves in the stock Challenger hoods that were operated by actuators. I think they gave up due to the size of the actuators not fitting the stock hood without cutting into the metal. Cable operation may be another option. I would love to see some functional butterfly valves available for the stock hood. MOPAR – are you listening??

  • http://facebook Dano

    Friggin AWESOME!!!!!!!_

  • nick

    That’s a bad ass ride.

  • Roger

    they keep getting better and better ! totally awesome ! i could only dream i could have one in my driveway !

  • RICHARD S,.Krupa

    Great car and I own #35 for 2010

  • SweDane

    I have always admired Mr. Saleens creations – but the looks The Challengers gets after The Saleen Tweak is not at all appealling to me – if he just did his magic to the driveline and left everything else bone stock – it would indeed be ” one hell of a ride ”
    But – fortunately – every person has a taste of his own !
    SweDane

  • Tyler

    I love the challenger so much. The first thing i do when i graduate college in a year, im buying a srt8 challenger.

  • Henry Duschletta

    I love it this beauty machine that bellisimo bebe Dodge Challenger but with what money I will buy it maybe buying you 1000 pesos the month please mister dodge president :)

  • George

    I have been trying to get a refund from Steve Saleen since November 2008. In July of 2008 my dealership (Hendrickson Chrysler Dodge Jeep Inc, Monticello Indiana) sent a deposit of $2000 to SMS. When our time came in the production slot, we told Sean that we would not be ordering the cars due to downturn in the market at that time. On the deposit form it stated that if we did not order the cars, the deposit would be returned. In September of this year I finally talked to Steve Saleen on the phone and was told that a refund would be issued before October 2010. Since then emails, letters and phone calls have been ignored. I would urge caution in dealing with SMS. Feel free to contact me at Hendrickson Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Inc at 888-346-6151 or email me at gvoltz@hendricksonauto.com.

  • Sean

    I’m in the same boat as George. Steve Saleen and SMS Supercars has made false promises and sold us product that was not as advertised. We purchased a 570X Challenger with hopes that it would be as amazing as it looked and sounded, but we were very displeased with the product. Engine problems, Clutch problems, and no certification. Potential buyers be aware.

  • Mike O’Cooley

    Buyer Beware:  I bought an SMS Challenger in 2009, and have had an extremely negative buying experience.  Don’t be fooled by these people like I was.  The problems I’ve had are several:
    a) Overstated engine horsepower:  I’ve had the car dyno’ed several times at my own expense because SMS would never give me any dyno results.  I’m 80-100 rear wheel horsepower short.  False advertising on their website which significantly overstates actual horsepower
    b)  Emissions non-compliant in Texas.  My car won’t pass state inspection due to failing the emissions test for vehicle inspection.  I can’t renew my tags.  Despite repeated requests to SMS  to fix this, I’ve been abandoned.  SMS has not returned my calls or my email requests. Making payments on a car I cannot legally drive. Their warranty is non-existent.  Here again, false advertising
    c) Bait and switch:  I’d originally ordered a black Challenger with a 5.7L supercharged engine.  During the assembly of the car, I was called and told the car “fell off the lift”….  Despite numerous requests for photos and/or documentation to confirm this ridiculous story, none was ever given to me.  I got a hemi orange naturally aspirated 6.4L delivered to me
     
    There’s more, but these are the 3 key negative points that still haunt me.  If you’re considering purchasing from SMS or Saleen, Buyer Beware!  SMS Supercars?  In my opinion it should be called SMS Superdisappointment.