Matt Rawlins
February 1, 2000
Photos By: Scott Killeen

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P114446_large 1999_Ford_Saleen_Mustang_S281 Passenger_Side
Horse Sense: Saleen was able to achieve a 60hp increase with the ’99 S281 model thanks to its underdrive pulleys, a new fuel calibration, and a less-restrictive exhaust system.
P114447_large 1999_Ford_Saleen_Mustang_S281 Driver_Side
This was the S281 that the guys at our sister mag Car Craft tested for its July ’99 issue. Both cars are identical even down to their 3.27 gears, so there really would not have been any discrepancies between the two sets of test numbers.
P114448_large 1999_Ford_Saleen_Mustang_S281 Engine
Here’s the heart of the S281, which is basically a stock 281ci V-8 with a new, intercooled, roots-style Saleen supercharger. Saleen also enhances the OBD-II computer variables, making sure that both engine and computer work in harmony.
P114449_large 1999_Ford_Saleen_Mustang_S281 Passenger_SideP114450_large 1999_Ford_Saleen_Mustang_S281 Front_Passenger_SideP114451_large 1999_Ford_Saleen_Mustang_S281 Interior

Having a job at an automotive magazine sure can be a drag (no pun intended) sometimes. Having to deal with stories and articles, tech questions, finding part numbers for buyer’s guides, making sure photos are good enough to print, and so on, can make all of us here a little wacky. On the other hand, we really shouldn’t complain too much. After all, it’s stories like this one that keeps us writers excited about coming to work the next day. Getting to drive cars like the new ’99 Saleen sure beats the hell out of just about any job we can think of, with the exception of being a movie star and being hounded down by hundreds of beautiful women all the time. But enough about us.

Subtle changes are the words that come to mind when describing the new ’99 Saleen S281 Mustang. We recently had an opportunity to drive a supercharged pony to Phoenix, Arizona, for the last leg of the National Mustang Racers Association schedule. The main purpose of this road trip was to get a good feel for Saleen’s new S281. Having driven one in the beginning of 1999 when the new Saleens were unveiled for the media, our curiosity was peaked. We wanted to stretch the S281’s legs and see how she would do. Though it has the same name and displacement as the previous model, that’s where the similarities between the ’98 and ’99 models end. Because of the new looks Ford gave the GT, Saleen had to do the same by giving its cars a touch more style and flair. By our estimations, they added a ton more style to the Mustang. One glance at the new ’99 Saleen and you know there’s something different about it. Saleen tampered a little with the C-pillar, making it more curvaceous and pleasing to the eye. Simple body add-ons which Saleen is famous for also gave the ’99 a look all its own. Basically, the Mustang that Ford rearranged for 1999, which didn’t do too much for our eyes, was made even better by Saleen.

With its standard 4.6L, Two-Valve modular engine, Saleen bumped horsepower output on its non-supercharged S281 to 285 hp up from the ’98 model’s 225 by using underdrive pulleys, a new exhaust system, and a new fuel calibration. Also available is the blown version of the S281 which adds Saleen’s new roots supercharger and boosts power to the tune of 350 hp. The blower makes use of an air-to-water cooler, mounted below the supercharger, which considerably reduces the air-charge temperature. As for other engine enhancements, Saleen’s cast 356-T6 aluminum manifold also helps reduce weight at the front of the car and dissipate heat.

To harness the power, the five-speed ’99 S281 receives standard 3.27 gears or optional 3.55s. According to Saleen, 3.08 and 3.27 gears are the better bet because of the blower’s massive low-end torque production, which is matched really well with those gears. As for the legendary Saleen suspension, the front of the S281 receives Racecraft struts, variable- rate springs and lower control arms, while the rear holds on to the pavement with a set of lower trailing arms, a stabilizer bar, and Racecraft shocks.

Stopping 3,075 pounds of roots-blown rolling thunder is a challenge accepted readily by a set of 10.8-inch, two-piston, vented discs up front and 10.5-inch rears. However, if your wallet is up to the challenge, Saleen will gladly sell you four-piston calipers with 13-inch grooved rotors for the front. Fitting over those nice-looking brakes are a set of 18x9s, front and rear, or, if you want to put a little more meat on the back, a set of 18x10 Saleen five-spoke wheels might be just what you need. Pirelli P7000s measuring 255/35 ZR-18 and 265/35 ZR-18 come standard on the S281, but don’t fret, because those who intend to far exceed the speed limit can select the Pirelli PZero upgrade which puts 265/35s in front and Godzilla-like 295/35s out back.

Test comparisons for the new ’99 S281 are also much better, and unlike the ’98 models, the ’99 beats the competition thanks mainly to the new supercharger. According to Saleen, the S281 was measured against the likes of the Z28 Camaro, the Porsche Boxster, the Trans Am, the Mitsubishi 3000GT/VR-4, and the BMW Z3 2.8 in four different performance tests. The results showed the S281 clocking the best quarter-mile time of the bunch at a low 13.6 at 106 mph—.3 seconds faster than both the Camaro and the VR-4. The S281 also was .3 seconds faster to 60 mph than the Camaro. It pulled a .93 on the skidpad, which tied the Porsche Boxster.

Not too bad for a Mustang that sells for about $32,000.