Rare Rides: The 2005 Ford Saleen Focus S121 - an Improved Hot Hatch

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 2005 ford saleen focus s121 an improved hot hatch

Most examples of the popular first-generation Focus lived life as appliances. Use and abused, they filtered to the used car lots during the late 2000s alongside brethren like the Mercury Cougar and Jaguar S-Type. However, a select few were spared from such an ignominious fate by performance tuner Saleen. The Californian company took some new Foci and imbued them with extra performance.

Today’s Rare Ride is among the chosen — it’s the 2005 Saleen Focus.

The North American-market Focus debuted for model year 2000. An exotic Euro-sourced car, it was a replacement for the aged and sad compact that wore the Escort badge. A noticeable improvement over the outgoing Escort, Focus proved immediately popular. To keep with demand, Foci were assembled at plants in Wayne, Michigan and Hermosillo, Mexico.

Focus was available in a variety of body styles, a quaint idea that’s totally out of the question some 20 years later. On offer in its first year was a three-door hatch, four-door sedan, and five-door wagon. A five-door hatch came along for the 2002 model year. In 2005, Ford added to the complexity of its trim scheme, labeling each Focus body style with its own designation. For example, the five-door hatch formerly labeled with SES became the ZX5 SES. This tactic lasted only through 2007, which was the final model year for North America’s first Focus.

Power was provided at base level by the 2.0-liter engine from the North American market Escort. There was also a 2.0 sourced from Ford Europe (Zetec), as well as 2.0- and 2.3-liter varieties of Mazda’s L-series engine, badged Duratec. Transmission options included a four-speed automatic, as well as five- and six-speed manuals depending on trim.

The hottest trim Ford offered on the North American Focus was the SVT, which was available from 2002 to 2004 on the three-door hatch. Developed in conjunction with Cosworth, power jumped from 130 to 170 horses. Upon SVT’s demise, a new ST debuted for 2005. But ST was offered only on the sedan and managed a much less impressive 151 horsepower. In 2005 a new hot hatch option appeared, and this one was much rarer.

Saleen took a three-door Focus and added 10 percent more horsepower to the 2.0-liter Duratec engine. The improved 150 horses were achieved by a new washable air filter and a cat back exhaust. The company then set its sights on visual and handling improvements. They set about designing rakish body work for all sides, plus a new set of wheels. Inside, there were Saleen-branded mats and leather seats, as well as white gauge faces. Braking performance improved over the standard car, and the new looks sat atop a revised suspension. The base Saleen Focus was badged the S121, but understanding the desire for more powah from some customers, the company also offered the N20. That version had a Saleen-installed nitrous system which boosted 75 additional horses. Just 200 Saleen Foci were made, all for model year 2005.

Today’s banana yellow Rare Ride was auctioned off at the end of 2018, and was expected to bring between $12,000 and $14,000. A newer, current listing was on deck for this post, but it disappeared before I got to it.

[Images: seller]

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  • Kevin Szatmary Kevin Szatmary on Jun 03, 2020

    There was also an "N2O" version of this car that came with an disconnected nitrous system as part of the Saleen package. Might have been in the pre-facelift version of the ZX3 though, I can't recall.

  • DexteriousJones DexteriousJones on Jun 03, 2020

    I seem to recall that the N20 didn't have a full nitrous system installed (as that wouldn't be street legal), but it had everything in place for the owner to basically just hook up a bottle and go,

  • Lou_BC ERay? A southern model will be the BillyRay.
  • Lou_BC I've never used a car buying plan service. My Costco membership did get me 1,000 cash back on my last truck.
  • Jeff S I can understand 8 cars is a bit much unless you are a serious collector. I always loved the Challenger when it first came out and now. I don't need a car like this but I am glad it exists at least for 1 more year. If I had a choice between a Mustang, a Camaro, and a Challenger I would opt for a Challenger but probably with a V-6 since it has more than enough power for most and I don't need to be burning rubber. Challenger has the classic muscle car looks, more cabin room, and a decent size trunk which makes it very livable for day to day driving and for traveling. The base models of the Dodge Challenger has a 3.6-liter V6 engine that gives you 305 horsepower with 268 lb-ft torque. The car attains 60 mph from a standstill within just 6 seconds, which is quite fast. Even with their base engines, the Challenger and Camaro are lightning-fast. The Camaro reaches 165 mph, while the Challenger can go up to 11 mph faster!
  • Inside Looking Out I would avoid American cities if I can. European cities are created for humans and Americans for cars.
  • Inside Looking Out I used True car once in 2014 and got a great deal. The difference is that you do nothing but dealers call you. No haggling but you can get the same deal browsing inventories on dealers websites. It just matter of convenience, Rich people delegate job to someone else because time costs more.
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