Tom Wilson
February 1, 2009
Billed as the meanest, darkest, and fastest Saleen yet, the Dark Horse Extreme Edition melds Saleen's Heritage bodywork with the 620hp S281 Extreme powertrain, plus an improved Super Shaker hoodscoop. Total production is 25 cars, and finally, after 25 years, we have a Saleen without a billboard across the windshield. "Saleen" is there, but in 1 1/2-inch-high letters-and they're black.

Horse Sense: Sane people don't shoot black cars at night, so that exempted us immediately. But all that black paint and a warm summer evening had us fixated on late-night cruising, so we opted to shoot the Dark Horse in its natural element. The strobes flashed from 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m., startling birds in their nests and neighbors from their sleep.

When it comes to any story with the word Saleen in it these days, the first lug nut to bust is where to start. By now most folks understand that Steve Saleen, the man, and the company bearing his name went separate ways in the spring of 2008, so we'll let that part go. And while Mr. Saleen is off spinning his own doughnuts, the Saleen company has continued to balance its heritage with its new offerings.

Of course, there are the financial realities of our time. With stock portfolios tanking faster than a Boss 429's gas gauge at full throttle, whims such as the $89,000 Mustang before us may not be primary in people's minds. In short, it's time to add more horsepower and honk the exclusivity horn a little louder. This meant another trip to Saleen's parts bins in Troy, Michigan, where Saleen mated its Heritage bodywork with the Extreme powertrain to foal the Dark Horse Extreme Edition. Award yourself a few points for deducing that all 25 Dark Horses are painted a handsome gloss ebony, punctuated by Shinoda-like flat-black stripes.

Blacker than a fleet of Model Ts, the Dark Horse seems a natural for cruising till dawn.

In fact, black is the theme throughout the Dark Horse, with every possible bit of trim sleeked in some form of black. The wheels, for example, are black chrome, as are the brake calipers, bumper numbers, serial number plate, and even the Super Shaker hoodscoop badging, not to mention the entire interior, save for the bright dash option. This is one car that definitely won't be wearing white-face gauges. In fact, the sole exterior colors seem to be the running lights, taillamps, front turn indicators, stylized red S on the Saleen badging, and Saleen script on the brake calipers.

The Heritage bodywork was introduced on the Saleen/Parnelli Jones. A relatively mild restyling, the Heritage theme is classic, fitting between the prosaic stock styling of a Mustang GT and the expressive mood set by the more complex S-series bodywork found on the S281 models, including the thumping S281 Extreme. Highlighting the Heritage togs is the bar running across the headlights, along with the protruding hoodscoop-more on that when the tour gets to the engine room.

Mechanically, the Dark Horse introduces the Super Shaker hoodscoop. Redesigned with a more direct air path, the Super Shaker may make 5 hp more than the previous Extreme scoop, according to Saleen. It will be available as an aftermarket part for both Saleen-blown and naturally aspirated Three-Valve engines and will be standard issue with ram-air Saleen blower kits. It's a hose-happy install, with drain and multiple coolant hoses snaking to and from the scoop.

In its understated exterior ornamentation, the Dark Horse reminds us of a Mustang Bullitt, and in fact, its outer form is nearly sparse by Saleen standards. We've also heard the Dark Horse called a black PJ with a supercharger. While that's a technically accurate observation from a body-panel point of view, given the 20-inch black chrome wheels and pizza-pan front brakes, the Dark Horse musters a more contemporary and urbane fashion than the good ol' times revived by the Parnelli Jones cars.

Inside, the Dark Horse continues its "meanest, darkest, and fastest Saleen yet" theme, as Saleen CEO Chris Theodore put it. Ford's premium-level bright dashboard and satin-silver steering wheel spokes are literally the only bright spots. The rest is either Ford's stock black interior or Saleen's black upholstery or trim. The seats are handsomely upholstered in an alternating pattern of leather and Alcantara, with the center console armrest lid and dash top continuing the plush and matte Alcantara topic.

Naturally, the more you look, the more Saleen touches you notice. The instrument faces-black, as we said-are Saleen's own, including the 200-mph speedometer. So, too, is the twin-gauge pod atop the dash with the now familiar boost and charge cooler coolant temperature instruments. The Saleen logo in the steering wheel center is a given, as is the "Saleen" script embroidery in the headrests, floor mats, foot pedals, and doorsills.