Tom Wilson
May 19, 2008
Photos By: Guy Spangenberg
Ultra-powerful, precise, poised, and handsome, the S302 Extreme fully delivers on the Saleen promise. If one needed to mark their 25 year in the performance car business, this one would do.

Horse Sense: Collectors should note the S302 Extreme is the last Saleen Mustang developed during the Steve Saleen era, and combined with its ultra-performance, limited-production, and eye-watering exclusivity, it ought to prove rewardingly collectible if anything is collectible from this twilight of the pure gasoline era.

Now that it has reached the promised land, it's ironic that Steve Saleen is no longer with his old company. It's been a 25-year struggle from body kits and bolt-ons to building one of the most powerful, yet civilized and highly detailed speed machines ever offered to the domestic performance enthusiast. You'd think it would've been satisfying to hang around and accept the accolades.

But that's not how it turned out, and so the reality is that the thoroughly corporate Saleen is offering a robust line of specialty performance vehicles, topped by the most powerful EPA-certified, 50-state-legal, series-produced Mustang you can drive off a dealer lot--the 620hp S302 Extreme.

Also extreme is the $79,995 sticker price, which rumbled right along on our demo car with the addition of a $2,799 chrome wheel upgrade, as well as $1,550 worth of destination and delivery charges for an MSRP of $84,348. This doesn't include $2,660 Gas Guzzler tax, nor sales taxes ($6,537 in our corner of the country), licenses, or dealer prep charges. That exceeds $90,000, and should you opt for one of Saleen's enticing $18,000 special paints you'll have ushered in the era of the $100,000 Mustang. Actually, you'd be playing catch up, as we saw an '07 Extreme convertible with Liztick Red paint, chrome wheels, and speedster tonneau at Saleen's Irvine facility last year, and it was clearly 100 large.

Yes, we did say "'07 Extreme." Curiously, it's not new for 2008, but is rather mainly a carryover from 2007, when the company quietly produced small numbers of the uber-Mustang essentially in its current form. For reasons unknown, this was done without press coverage, especially in the screwdriver magazines such as this one. The '07 Extreme was on the Saleen Web site, however, so it wasn't as if it were a total secret.

Saleen's unique front and rear body clips, vented aluminum hood, and other design details have worn well. The Extreme plays the quiet, strong man with a rear wing delete and handsomely understated silver paint on our demonstrator car.

Whatever the rationale for keeping the Extreme out of the limelight last year, we're glad Saleen chose to highlight the car at its '08 model introduction. We're even happier we were able to take the demonstrator home for a week of real-world evaluation following the introduction. It's a persuasively seductive machine; a car that suavely demands you come back for another dip into the power pool, a bit of transport even jaded enthusiasts look forward to driving. And in its power and refinement, it's also a new sort of performance Mustang, one that straddles the traditional ponycar enthusiasm with luxury intentions and an overwhelming dose of tire-smoking muscle. The Mustang has never bulged a tuxedo quite like this before.

Naturally enough, the pleasantries begin underhood. Saleen engineers need go no farther than the all-forged Saleen/Parnelli Jones engine for the power foundation. Stroked, but not bored, to this magazine's favorite displacement, the short-block is topped with five-axis, CNC-ported, Three-Valve cylinder heads and a pair of Saleen-specific camshafts. It's these cams that largely differentiate the engine and give it such a powerful personality.

Pushing 12 pounds of boost into all this is Saleen's own twin-screw supercharger. Saleen buys the critically machined twin-screw rotor pack from specialty blower manufacturers in Sweden, but the remainder of the system is Saleen's. It follows the familiar Saleen layout, with the supercharger floating in the engine valley, suspended under the intake manifold and water-to-air charge cooler. Thus, you can't see the blower, but you can sure feel it.

The intake air system starts with a Saleen airbox and high-flow mass air meter, runs up to the stock throttle body, and enters the supercharger/intake manifold casting by crowning over the intake package and curving down into the rear of the supercharger. Mere 39-lb/hr fuel injectors are employed; they seem part of Saleen's philosophy of using relatively low boost and supporting equipment to get big jobs done. The smallish fuel injectors--at least compared to mega-power tuner practice--no doubt have something to do with idle quality and emissions.

We're not sure precisely which clutch Saleen uses, but it's likely the Shelby GT 500 piece. The transmission is a Tremec 6060 six-speed manual, which is straight out of the GT 500, and the final drive is via the time-tested 8.8-inch solid rear axle with 3.73 gears rotating in the Saleen MaxGrip limited-slip differential. As a historical note, the '07 Extremes used 4.10 gears, but they proved too short.