Saleening Around California
And 750 BHP For The S7 In '05

The corporate slogan of Saleen is “power in the hands of a few”. For a weekend in December (just before Christmas - it was just like an early gift from Old Santa), I got to experience it for the first time – writes Gary Horrocks. But from what I can tell, for 2005 the slogan ought to be changed to something like “even more power in the hands of a few more.”

First of all, to get around the LA area for the GT Live JGTC event at Fontana, Saleen was gracious enough to loan me the use of a car for the weekend. It wasn’t just any car though. It was a 2004 S-281 Extreme. An “oh my gawd” bright yellow convertible Mustang, a car that had an extremely high ‘wow’ factor, and also the horsepower to match.

Let’s say that at the beginning, I was a bit intimidated by the power, as the supercharged V8 was rated at 445hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Add in the somewhat foreign to me streets of So-Cal, and the fact that, “oh, this is Steve Saleen’s daily driver”, well let’s just say that I was wondering what I was getting myself into.

It wasn’t more than five minutes into driving the car that I started to feel comfortable. Saleen takes pride in making high performance cars, obviously, but they are not just high performance vehicles, they are truly cars that you can live with. What I found with driving the S-281 was that the power was there. There is no disputing that. But what makes a difference is that it is there when you want it to be there. If you just want to tool around, the car really behaves itself. It’s when you put your right foot into it that things really happen, and in a very fast way. I’m not sure if it was me, or the car, but the urge to open things up is definitely there, but it is not like the car has to be driven fast.

I have no doubt that the suspension is more than up to the challenges. It felt firm, but not uncomfortable. Yes, you knew it was a performance car, but it did not beat you to death while driving it. As far as the limits, who knows what they are? I decided to play it safe and not push it too hard. I don’t know, maybe I was still somewhat intimidated, but I would rather look at it as wise. And, I’m glad to report, there were no tickets or incidents. But there are some places where there are some black stripes on the pavement, courtesy of Saleen power and Pirelli rubber, but for the most part, I was satisfied with just cruising around in a car that was more than capable of blowing the doors off most anything else out there. I guess there is something about power, isn’t there? Yes, gobs of power, but I prefer to consider it as refined power.

But, what I experienced was, in essence, old school, when compared to what will be coming out of the Saleen production facility soon. For 2005, Ford drastically improved the Mustang, and of course, Saleen followed. This includes both performance and ergonomics.

While they were not quite ready for release when I visited the factory, expect the new Mustangs to be hitting the showroom floors sometime real soon after the first of the year. And from the looks of the production area, they will be hitting the floors in droves. And with no STV Cobra version of the Mustang to be available in the near future, expect the S-281 models to not be on the showroom floors for very long.

For now, two models will be available. The so-called base S281 comes with 325 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque, while the S281 SC (supercharged) ups those levels to 400 hp and 425 lb-ft. The later is the car that is taking full aim at the Corvette C6, with the additional advantage of having the resemblance of two additional seats. In fact, Steve Saleen is proud to state that, “in the past, I would have had a weaker argument positioning the Saleen S281 SC against the Corvette in the areas of refinement, sophistication, comfort fit and finish. But not anymore. The Vette’s got two seats. We offer four. We both sell a fully certified car. If you want the same sort of exclusivity offered by the Corvette and such European cars as Porsche and BMW, you should be looking at a Saleen.”

Coming later in the year will be the re-birth of the S-281 Extreme, only this time it will feature “over 500 hp.”

dailysportscar.comBut even that “over 500 hp” figure will pale in comparison to what the 2005 S7 will feature. Think oh-my-god horsepower. Like somewhere in the 750 hp range, with 700 pounds-feet of torque.

This is quite a jump from the 2004 horsepower rating of 575 and it is all courtesy of a twin-turbo set-up, with the appropriate and necessary detail changes (right).

While this is not a high boost arrangement, it is enough to push the capabilities of this car beyond most any in the world. Power like can be really intimidating, and even Steve Saleen, who raced Indy cars commented, laughingly, “we pride ourselves in making cars that are drivable in the real world. This may just put us beyond that. I had always wondered what driving an Indy car on the street would be like. Well, I think this is about as close as you will ever get.”

And you will not find an Indy car to be this comfortable for two either.

There are other refinements for the S7 – for example, the suspension and aerodynamics have been improved, all in attempts to keep the car comfortably on the road.

So far, production of the S7 is “in the fifties, counting the what’s on the line,” with an additional 10 race cars having been built. Currently, the build rate of the S7 is pushing along quite well, holding steady at 2-3 cars per month. This obviously is a very labor intensive car to build, taking 240 man-hours to just build the steel space frame itself.

The frame of the S7, which has been subject to much controversy in the racing circles, is fully built in house. The only differences between a street chassis and a race version are that the race version incorporates brackets for the air jacks, and that the window in the rear bulkhead for the street version is also missing on the race chassis. All are made of 4130 lightweight steel, with honeycomb composite panels. Of course there are safety regulations that require further strengthening of the (race) roll cage, but even that appears to be minor.

The engine itself is, contrary to popular belief, not a Ford motor. It may have some family lineage that goes back to a Ford heritage, but it is completely a Saleen designed block. Economics and common sense dictated that Saleen retain the architecture of the Ford products. This allows the utilization of Ford head gaskets, bearings and such. Why spend the time to reinvent the wheel when you have proven products available off the shelf?

Three new Mustang models. A very hot version of the Focus. A waiting list for the S7. Prospects of even more orders of race versions of the S7. Contract work for Ford on the GT-40. Things are look up at Saleen. Hmmm. What’s up their sleeves next? I guess we’ll have to wait to see…


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