By on June 2, 2020

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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26 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 2005 Ford Saleen Focus S121 – an Improved Hot Hatch...”

  • avatar

    I like the concept but looks a little tacky. Wonder how many of these would sell today?

  • avatar

    If I ever saw one of these, I assumed it was the work of a teenager. It’s got all the unfortunate add-ons of a Civic Type-R and half the power. Hard pass. The Focus SVT was a more desirable package and I bet you can buy the nicest one left for half the mentioned price.

  • avatar

    I had no idea they made these… but with only 200 produced it is a rare bird indeed. The SVT version was pretty zippy so I bet this Saleen edition was a blast. The added bits still look better then a stock Civic.

    • 0 avatar

      Squash the violence, JMII. Everybody loses when the argument devolves to “Is this more or less ugly than a 10th-gen Civic?” But I think you’re probably right. :-)

      I’m a fan of New Edge styling and would like to have some of these under-the-skin bits in a base-looking five-door.

      I also lean pro-Saleen, assuming their cosmetic changes are on the milder side. Ages ago–long enough that I can’t remember if it was Fox or SN95-based–a family friend actually commuted in a Saleen Mustang convertible. It was very subdued compared to this.

  • avatar

    I had an Focus ST, and it was a sweet little car. This is what my Focus wanted to be when it grew up.

  • avatar

    It also had Mazda platform

    • 0 avatar

      That is not correct.

      • 0 avatar

        IIRC, the Euro-only version they did in the mid-2000s shared a platform with the 3…but this one was definitely homegrown by Ford.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          The Euro version shared its platform with the Mazda 3 and Volvo S/V40.
          The Jaguar S-Type gets mentioned for filling car lots, actually it’s the Mondeo based X-type that is more ubiquitous. I actually wouldn’t mind the harder to find wagon just to differentiate from the usual Subarus and CUVs at the local garden center.

          • 0 avatar

            This version of the Focus the US shared with Europe. In 2005 I think, Europe put out a new generation, which was shared with the Mazda3 and Volvo S40, while the US Focus kept this platform and got a conservative redesign. Then the US restyled this platform yet again in 2008, which we kept until the all new 2012 Focus came around, which once again we shared with Europe. Mazda and Volvo were going their own ways at that point.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised they sold so many of these things. It would be embarrassing to drive something so slow that looks like that.

    • 0 avatar

      So slow?

      The girlfriend’s ZX5 with the 2.0L Duratec (136 horses) moved that 2,700-pound car just fine, as I assume it did in other Focus variants.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m just not the Fast and Furious type! I’d be fine with a base model Focus of that generation. The SVT would be nice.

        One of the first things I did when I got my Mazdaspeed3 was remove the OE shopping cart handle wing and replace it with the discrete spoiler from a base skyactiv model.

        I actually preferred the 160hp 2.3L MZR that was in my previous Mazda3 GT to this 265hp 2.3L DISI turbo. In some ways it was better for ripping around in the city because it could rev high enough to get up to traffic speed (60 km/hr) in first gear. It sounded great and built power linearly to the 7100 limit. The turbo dies off at 5500 rpm so I need to shift at 40 km/hr, right when the naturally aspirated MZR used to get good.

        Plus, the turbo uses about 10% more fuel, and the premium fuel costs 20% more. The Torsen-type LSD is fantastic though, so it does hook up and take off quite quickly after you disconnect the SWAS (steering wheel angle sensor) to prevent any torque-steer-limiting interference.

        I just have to remember at each fill-up that the LSD alone is well worth the couple hundred extra bucks a year in fuel. It might even break even when you account for the improved tire wear due to the elimination of all that inside wheel spin!

    • 0 avatar

      I had 2002 Focus with 2.3L Mazda developed engine. This thing was fast. Jaguar S has nothing to do with Focus. It is shared platform with Lincoln LS.

  • avatar

    Saleen has done a surprising number of these low-production efforts that tend to fly under the radar. Some are better than others. I currently own a 2009 Mustang Racecraft 420S. From, I believe, 2005-2007 Saleen offered a full-on Saleen Mustang (through select Ford dealerships) that included many mechanical and styling alterations. For 2008 and 2009 though, Ford tapped Saleen for a performance package that they could sell for under $40k. Saleen basically took the regular Saleen Mustang package and removed all the body/exhaust/interior bits.

    The 420S package started with a GT and added wheels, 2 fender badges, a tape stripe kit, Saleen head rests and white-face gauges, wheels, springs, shocks, front sway bar, washable air filter, higher flow fuel injectors, supercharger, and a computer tune for the supercharger and to raise the speed governor. Between 2008 and 2009 only 89 of these cars were made. Mine dyno’d at 406 rwhp and 396 ft.lbs. Lots of fun with beautiful 3-valve, port-injected simplicity, and much headroom for further power gains.

  • avatar

    So LESS power than a factory SVT.

    LESS power than a factory ST.

    The added “power” supplied by a fart-box intake and fart-tube exhaust, meaning it exists only on the aural soundtrack and/or within 200 RPM of redlline, and only if/when the engine bay is ice-cold.

    Styling by Pep Boys.

    Hardest of hard passes.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the correct take. Tacky mid 2000s body kit, lame upgrades. A case of rare not equaling desirable. The SVT got you more power with better looks.

  • avatar
    Kevin Szatmary

    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.

  • avatar

    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,

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