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.
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