Tom Wilson
February 1, 2009
Saleen enthusiasts will find the interior traditional with the usual Saleen script, pedal pads, and instrumentation. As always, the twin-gauge pod atop the dash is a classy and fun touch. The Dark Horse does boast Ford's navigation system, a first in our Saleen experience.

And when you stop to remember that this is a certified, 50-state-legal new car and not some tuned up hot rod, the glory of it is even stronger.

There's a subtly different sound from the Super Shaker scoop, too. The blower whine is more pronounced, a bit shriller. Pedestrians well up the road turn to see what's coming; it's not a car for sneaking home at night. This is doubly true for the exhaust. It booms and mumbles industrially from idle to redline. Even when pushed, it never takes on a crisp note from the driver's seat, such is the price of catalytic converters. Even with the more aggressive cams, the electronics expunge any chop from the idle, so there's no snotty stuttering at the stoplight to intimidate the uninitiated. It's more a loud blubbering, although it'll finally snarl if free-revved to the moon.

Our test car was something of a preproduction prototype, generously loaned to us early in its life cycle by Saleen so we could make our deadline. It had seen track action before we sampled it, so we'll give it a bye on the thumps and bonks roads that we heard from the suspension on rough. Less abused, it should ride and handle admirably, just like the S281E we last tested and with which it shares its chassis.

Giddy-up in the Dark Horse is a push-button affair, but shutting it off is still a key twist.

Overall the Dark Horse is strikingly similar to the Extreme, as it should be with the same powertrain and suspension. It's a musclecar that can turn corners, and confidently at that. There is a sensation of great weight in motion-this is a 4,000-pound dreadnought, after all-but the tremendous thrust is always up to the task and then some.

Handling is good, limited only by the basics of the Mustang's nose-heavy layout. The Watt's link calms the rear axle, especially through uneven pavement, so the Dark Horse is reassuring in the curves. Likewise, braking seemed fine in our short drive. They're the same clampers we enjoyed-and thoroughly sampled-on the Extreme, so they should impress when leaned on. As it was, our lighter braking efforts this time were rewarded by a pleasantly firm pedal and immediate high-torque grip.

When the hood goes up at the burger stand, the Dark Horse relies on its Super Shaker hoodscoop and ebony gloss to carry the night.

If we had to throw a brick at the Dark Horse experience, it would be the shifter. This was one Tremec six-speed that still felt a bit sticky on some shifts, with the old grunt to get it into Reverse. These are long-time traits of this gearbox, although with massaging by expert technicians during assembly, they can be slick as a salesman. That aluminum-topped shift handle can be big-time warm after a day in the summer sun, too. Most enthusiasts can live with that, though.

The funny part of it is, do you really need six closely spaced speeds? The Dark Horse has enough torque to arm-wrestle a freight train; we'd be tempted to put a slightly taller Sixth in the box to put the car asleep on the freeway, but Dark Horse owners aren't too worried about fuel mileage anyway-which isn't bad as long as you keep can pry yourself off the joy pedal. Good luck with that!

Saleen is eager to get the word out that their new Super Shaker hoodscoop is a Saleen SpeedLab aftermarket item. For those lucky enough to already own a Saleen supercharger, the Super Shaker costs $1,250. That price includes everything, according to Saleen; the template for cutting the hood, an edge-concealing plastic gasket for that cut, plus all necessary mounting hardware and electronic tuning. New Saleen supercharger kits for Mustang GTs will offer the Super Shaker as an option. In that case, the complete kit-supercharger, scoop, manifolding, tune, and all small parts-is $6,949.99.