Jim Campisano Editor
June 18, 2006
Photos By: Planet-R/Randy Lorentzen

One push of the start button and it was all over. I was in lust. The exhaust on the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo crackled to life. Unlike the Ford GT, which is as muted inside as a Crown Vic, the S7's 427 explodes with each engine revolution. It barks and snarls, seductively stimulating every automotive-loving nerve ending in your entire being-and a few non-car-related ones, too. Revving the force-fed powerplant made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Mat the throttle in any gear and it's not just the hair on the back of your neck that'll be standing up.

Seven hundred and fifty horsepower can have that effect on a person, especially when said power is in a wrapper that weighs a scant 2,750 pounds. Think about it-that's 200 more horsepower than the Ford GT, yet it weighs 800 pounds less. Not to mention it has 700 lb-ft of torque. That's a recipe for success.

I was about to go on the drive of a lifetime. I was being unleashed on a canyon road not far from Saleen headquarters in Irvine, California, but I felt about a million miles from planet Earth. Riding shotgun was Bill Tally, vice president of engineering for Saleen, who just happens to use an S7 Twin Turbo for a daily driver. He wasn't there to play nanny; no, he was present to explain the car's finer points, answer the myriad of questions I'd no doubt have, and encourage me to beat the hell out of this supercar.

Nice guy
Of course, this trip to Southern California was not just so I could push the limits of sanity in the S7, pamper myself at the Ritz Carlton on the beach in Dana Point, and/or escape the warmest Northeast winter on record. Before I piloted the Saleen wundercar, I got to sample the latest S-281 Supercharged, the Scenic Roof model. As you can tell by the photos, the Scenic Roof option replaces the steel in the center of your Mustang's top with a glass center section. It's available on all Saleen Mustangs.

Suddenly, it's 1954 all over again. Remember the Ford Skyliner? This was a similar concept offered from 1954 to 1956 on certain Ford (and Mercury) coupes. While offering panoramic views, the tinted glass roof in the Skyliner made your Ford a four-wheeled Easy Bake Oven-remember, this was back in the dark ages before air conditioning was commonplace on low-priced family cars. Tint technology wasn't that far along, either.

This was not an issue on the Scenic Roof car we drove. Though you could feel some sun through the heavily tinted roof, it did not cause unpleasant interior temps. Kicking up the A/C a notch was all you needed to restore climatic bliss.

The plusses are that it affords spectacular views on starry, moonlit nights, and it brightens up the otherwise stark charcoal gray Mustang interior. The once bunker-like cabin was now quite airy.

A calibration change increased the rated output of the 4.6 in the blown S-281 from 400 in 2005 to 435 for 2006. Also new on the Super-charged is a 14-inch front brake system, which we feel is a nice insurance policy. With the weight of the current Stangs at about two tons with passengers, the bigger the better for binders.

Like our March '05 cover car, this Saleen had power to spare. The brakes were reassuring when we pushed the car to its limits on the Ortega Highway, a serpentine canyon road that climbs from sea level to the hills between Orange and Riverside counties. It's a fun, challenging public thoroughfare; the downside is one mistake at speed and your "off" is waaaaaaaay off, like down the side into never-never land. Brakes are a good thing.

The Saleen Mustang displayed all the traits we liked in our '05 test vehicle-poise, power, balance, and comfort-with an added helping of sex appeal. The ride is firmer than other S197 Mustangs we've sampled, attributable in part, no doubt, to the massive 20x9-inch wheels and P275/35ZR tires.

The S7 Experience
Everything about the S7 screams race car, but the reality is quite different. It is remarkably civilized. The air conditioner blows cold, there's a stereo (that we never turned on), power window lifts-you name it. Especially trick was the power-operated scissor doors that freaked out unsuspecting gawkers in parking lots. They look cool, but are especially functional, too, as ingress and egress is a bit challenging thanks to the wide doorsills. Still, we'd climb across barbed wire to get the S7 thrill again.

As one would expect in a vehicle costing $575,000, the cockpit of the S7 is a PETA nightmare, awash in the finest leather and suede. That's seats, steering wheel, headliner, A-pillars, and so on. (Trust me, any cow would be proud to give its life to be a part of the S7.) The driver's seat is not adjustable, neither for fore-aft travel or seatback rake. Each car's seat and pedal assembly is custom-fitted for the owner. Since I was driving the car the same day as Road & Track's Kim Wolfkill (who stands a good head taller than me), the seat was fixed further back than I needed, but extra seat bolsters were provided to accommodate my shorter arms and legs.

One thing you won't find in the S7 is an airbag. Saleen was able to get an exemption due in part to the car's very limited production. (Some 70 street versions have been built since the debut of the naturally aspirated S7 in 2001, and there have been 11 race cars as well.) The steering wheel looks like something out of an American Le Mans racer and works just as well. To compensate some for a lack of airbag, the A-pillars and headliner are thickly padded.

Another missing staple was a rearview mirror. Thanks to the massive 7-liter engine, you'd never see anything out of the back window anyway, so Saleen discreetly mounts a camera in the rear fascia that sends its signal to the pop-out video screen from the dash-mounted Kenwood stereo. Like the entire S7 experience, it takes a second to adjust to it, but it becomes second nature after awhile. It can be a bear to read in certain light conditions, but with a top-speed thought to be in excess of 250 mph (Steve Saleen is said to have driven it 239 mph), how close can anything be anyway?

As for the Phil Frank-penned bodywork, we think it's the most compelling supercar on the planet. As great as the Ford GT is, it's an update of the original from 40 years ago. The S7's lustful shape is not an adaptation of something else. It's authentic, inventive, and radical. This beauty extends under the chassis as well, as there is "full-tray" body sculpting to improve aerodynamics and high-speed stability.

Though highly decorative, all the scoops and slats are there for a reason. For example, side scoops help to cool the transmission, while split radiators exhaust under the car and to the sides to create additional downforce. Air enters the intake tract from the scoop on the roof.

The body, doors, decklid, and so on, are all carbon fiber, while the chassis is composed of 4130 chrome-moly tubing with honeycomb composite panels. The rack-and-pinion steering is power-assisted; in fact, the rack is mounted over your legs. The hydraulic assist makes an unusual breathing noise when you turn the three-spoke wheel. Funky, but interesting. The suspension is fully independent (you were expecting an 8.8 solid-axle out back?), and there are aluminum dampers with coilover springs front and rear. This ain't no kit car, boys and girls.

Remarkably, the twice-turbo'd 427, which has its roots in Ford small-block architecture, but was completely redesigned by the engineers in Irvine, is tuned to run on everyday 91-octane premium. The twin-ball-bearing turbos feed the oval-bore throttle body without the aid of an intercooler. The intake features eight individual runners, and the canted-valve aluminum heads are CNC ported. As expected, the block, too, is aluminum. The six-speed gearbox is longitudinally mounted and feeds a 3.20:1 ratio in the differential.

Ready For Take-Off
Even though I'd recently spent a week in a Ford GT painted in the "Heritage" colors (read: Gulf Oil blue and orange), the S7-by sheer virtue of its $575,000 price tag-commanded sweaty palms. Hell, that's more money than even I make in a year. Driving shoes are a must, thanks to a tight footwell, and though the driver sits closer to the center of the car than the passenger, your legs are still angled right a bit.

Once the pushrod V-8 fires up, your adrenal glands kick into overdrive. As it settles into an 1,150-rpm idle, you're thinking, "This is the greatest exhaust note ever." It's akin to having a tiger on a short leash. I slipped the shifter into Reverse, checked the stereo for foreign objects, and backed out. As I got used to the dual-disc clutch and the size of the S7 (at nearly 188 inches long, it's essentially the same size as a new Mustang, but perhaps because the top of the roof is a mere 41 inches off the ground, the Saleen seems enormous at first), I wondered if I'd scrape anything pulling out of the driveway onto the road-4 inches of ground clearance will get you thinking about such things. No problem

I discovered that the longer you drive the S7, the smaller it feels. Suddenly, the 3-1/2 feet of rear overhang seems to disappear. It's nearly 80 inches wide, but who cares? All the controls-the brakes, the steering, the clutch, and the shifter-have the feel of a race car. The brakes take a little getting used to, as you have to apply more pres-sure (there's no power assist), but lean on them hard and the six-piston (front and rear) discs bring you to an immediate halt. The rotors measure 15 inches up front and 14 inches in the rear.

If you roll into the throttle, you won't smoke the tires into oblivion-they'll just beg for mercy. First, I punch it from 40 mph in Third gear and immediately catch up to slower-moving traffic. Funny, I didn't even notice those cars before.

"That was 120 mph," Tally comments nonchalantly. Gee, that took a nanosecond.

Repeating this exercise in Second gear snaps my noggin into the headrest and keeps it pinned there until I speedshift into Third as the tach climbs to 6,300 (6,500 is redline). Before lifting, I'm pretty sure I've exceeded the speed limit. Of Mars.

It's like having a drug hooked up to your right foot. Each time you dip into the throttle, your brain is skyrocketed into a place normal humans never go. This can't be good for you, but you can't stop.

"We have to reacclimate owners used to Ferraris and other high-strung supercars with narrow powerbands," says Steve Saleen, president of the company that bears his name. This isn't one of those fancy "furrin'" jobs that you have to rev to the moon to enjoy.

From a light, I get more aggressive in First. The tail starts kicking out as I blast off. Lifting a tad brings it right back in line, and a quick shift into Second and full throttle brings a hint of tire spin and a rush of acceleration that is mind altering.

But addictive acceleration is only part of the trip. In the S7, everything pivots around your butt. It's a clich, but the car becomes a part of you. Together, you can accomplish super-human feats. Hairpin corner? Don't slow down. Just crank the wheel, feed in some throttle, and you're blasting off. The only drama is your brain trying to crush itself on the inner wall of your skull due to the g-forces. No matter what you ask of the S7, it responds like a skilled lover, ready to make all your fantasies a reality.

What's funny is that all this race car poise and pedigree don't come at the price of a finicky nature or incorrigible road manners. The ride is reasonably smooth; despite the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear tires, the decibel level in the cockpit is conversation friendly; and the A/C blows so cold, you're prone to turning it down. In stoplight-to-stoplight, in-town meandering, the S7 was as well behaved as any stock Mustang. Except, maybe, for the riveting blasts from the exhaust pipes, of which someone should make a soundtrack CD. Imagine a Street Renegade car that bathes you in luxury and handles like an F-1 car, and you've got the essence of the S7 Twin Turbo.

At one point, I was behind the S7 at a traffic light while driving the S281 Supercharged Scenic Roof. Imagine having 435 hp and still possessing a 315-pony deficit. When the light turned green, we both jumped on it. By the time I was in Second, the S7 was so far ahead of me, I didn't think I'd ever see it again-fairly startling, considering I was driving an 11-second Mustang. Saleen claims the S7 is good for 10.6 at 139 in the quarter. Sad to say, I didn't get to drag test it, but anything that goes 139 should be a 9-second piece, no? My guess is, with an experienced drag racer at the helm, high-9s at 140-plus are possible.

What was nice, though, was knowing that all the S7's DNA was present in the S281 Supercharged and the naturally aspirated S281 Three-Valve, automobiles that a mere mortal could aspire to own. With its unique bodywork, sinewy suspension, and even more horsepower than before, the S281 Supercharged is the right vehicle for those of whom the S7 Twin Turbo is just a tad out of their price range.

Better still, a new 550-horse S281 Extreme should be available by summer of 2006.

'06 Saleen S7 Twin Turbo Specifications

GENERAL
Curb weight2,750 lbs (1,250 kg)
Weight Distrib., F/R40% / 60%
Fuel Capacity19.0 U.S. gal (72 liters)
Wheelbase106.30 in (2,700 mm)
Track, F/R68.82 in (1 748 mm) /
 67.32 in (1,710 mm)
Width78.35 in (1,990 mm)
Front Overhang40.59 in (1,031 mm)
Rear Overhang41.14 in (1,045 mm)
Length187.95 in (4,774 mm)
Height40.98 in (1,041 mm)
Ground Clearance4.00 in (102 mm)
Trunk Space, F/R2.65 cu ft (76 liters) /
 2.82 cu ft (79 liters)

Chassis
4130 lightweight steel space frame with honeycomb composite panels

ENGINE
TypeAll-aluminum V-8, Two-Valve, cam-in-block
Displacement 7.0 liters
Bore and Stroke4.120 x 4.00 in
 (104.6 x 101.6 mm)
Compression Ratio11.0:1
Pistons Forged aluminum
Connecting Rods4340 forged billet steel
Crankshaft4340 forged billet steel
Induction System Air enters a roof intake,
passes through a 90mm
mass air meter, feeding a
carbon-fiber plenum; from the plenum, air is
routed to two twin-ball-bearing turbos, passes
through an oval bore-throttle body into an aluminum
intake manifold with eight individual runners
Cylinder Heads CNC machined, all-aluminum,
 Saleen high-flow
ValvesStainless steel with titanium retainers;
Intake: 2.125 in (54.0 mm); Exhaust: 1.625 in
 (41.3 mm); beryllium exhaust seats
ValvetrainSolid lifter/roller rocker
Exhaust SystemStainless steel high-flow
with merge collector incorporating dual
catalysts per cylinderbank and EGR system; two
twin-ballbearing turbos with 44mm wastegates
Required Fuel91 octane
Alternator 140 amps
Battery12 volts
Front Engine Accessory Drive  
(FEAD){{{Compact}}} drive system with
 side-mounted water pump
Emission Control SystemOBD-II–compliant;
dual, heated oxygen sensors per bank; high-volume
 
EVAP system
Fuel System
High-capacity returnless
 
with 43-lb/hr injectors
Oil System
High-vacuum dry sump
configuration; Capacity:12.6 qt (12.0 liters);
 
aluminum oil tank
Horsepower
750 bhp at 6,{{{300}}} rpm
Torque
700 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm
Redline
6,500 rpm

Cooling System
Carbon-fiber front intake, feeding twin, front-mounted aluminum water radiators with ECU-controlled electric cooling fans; oil-to-water heat exchange

Electronics
Saleen PowerFlash control system computer, integrated coil-on-plug ignition system

Drive Train
Transmission: Longitudinal, six-speed, all synchromesh transaxle
Transmission Ratios

DRIVETRAIN
1st 2.86:1
2nd 1.61:1
3rd 1.14:1
4th0.96:1
5th0.81:1
6th0.64:1
Final Drive Ratio: 3.2:1

Limited-slip differential
Light-weight inboard and outboard tri-pod jointsHigh-torque-capacity steel halfshafts
Clutch: organic/metallic 8.0-in twin disc; hydraulic actuation

Suspension
Front suspension system: Unequal-length double wishbones, lightweight aluminum dampers with coilover springs, stabilizer (antiroll) barCNC-machined, billet aluminum, flow-through uprights

Rear suspension system: Unequal-length double wishbones, lightweight aluminum dampers with coilover springs, stabilizer (antiroll) barCNC-machined, billet aluminum, flow-through uprights

Brakes
Saleen-engineered/Brembo-supplied lightweight aluminum six-piston mono-block calipers front/rear:
15.0-in ventilated disc (front)
14.0-in ventilated disc (rear)
Lightweight aluminum disc mounting bells

Wheels And Tires
Saleen forged alloy wheels
Center locking wheel nuts with automatic safety locks
Front: 19 in x 9.5 in
Rear: 20 in x 12.0 in
High-performance Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
Front 275/35ZR19
Rear 345/30ZR20