Tom Wilson
February 1, 2009
Saleen black-face instruments are right at home on the Dark Horse. And as we said in our S281 Extreme coverage, the 200-mph Saleen speedometer doesn't look so silly any more. Ford's multicolor illumination is retained.

Two items unique to the Dark Horse are an engine start button where the power point is normally found at center dash and a red-anodized aluminum shift knob and shifter surround. Chris explains that "unless you guys [the press] object, the shift surround will be black-anodized on the 25 production cars." We don't object, as the red is overt and the gloss of black-anodized aluminum would be enough contrast in this interior.

Contributing to the Dark Horse's cave-entrance accommodations are the completely blanked quarter-windows and rear-window slats. Obviously there are less lumens in the Dark Horse's rear seats, and all told, the men-of-few-words, racer-X types ought to be reassuredly in the shadows when belted behind the Dark Horse steering wheel, especially after some window tint.

Saleen engineers have always maintained the 5.0-liter Extreme engine puts out slightly more than 620 hp, and with the freer-breathing Super Shaker hoodscoop, it should put out a hair more, and more consistently. We saw 524 hp at the tire of our last Extreme test car; for the record, the Dark Horse is rated at 620 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, and it feels like it.

Engineering-wise, the Dark Horse is an animal we've examined before. All the mechanicals-engine, clutch, transmission, driveshaft, rear axle, suspension, brakes, and tires-are from the S281 Extreme. That's a great place to originate, with 620 twin-screw horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 600 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm from a hand-built Saleen 5.0-liter modular. In case you missed our gushing May '08 report on the Saleen Extreme, the engine is a Three-Valve modular stroker built by Saleen using a stock bore, stroker crank, and all forged internals. The camming is also Saleen-specific, giving a freer-revving persona that's nothing less than intoxicating to unleash. Behind the engine is a clutch and close-ratio Tremec 6060 six-speed transmission from the Shelby GT500. A Saleen MaxGrip differential with 3.73 gears resides in the 8.8-inch live axle.

Actually, there is a significant update atop the engine: the Super Shaker hoodscoop. The new scoop resembles the previous Saleen through-hoodscoop as used on the naturally aspirated PJ, for example, but employs a straighter, larger air path into the rear of Saleen's Stage VI twin-screw supercharger. In the Super Shaker, air enters the scoop, pops over a rain deflector (think of a medium-height wall laid back at an angle), then turns down to pass through a flat-panel air filter laying in the bottom of the scoop. Past the filter, the air resumes a rearward flow, zooms through the throttle body, then gently turns 90 degrees downward to enter the rear of the supercharger, which requires another 90-degree turn. The Saleen Lysholm-type supercharger discharges the air upward into a water-to-air charge cooler. Thus, the Saleen supercharger sits atop the engine, but it's not very visible as the Super Shaker covers it up.

Understated in the rear, the Dark Horse breaks with modern high-end Saleen tradition by fitting a non-center outlet exhaust. The soundtrack is boomy, interspersed with moments of delicious blower whine.

Unlike the PJ hood scoop, the Super Shaker ingests all its air from outside the engine compartment. A tray seals the scoop to the underside of the hood, and the only air path into the engine is through the scoop sitting outside. This brings repeatability to multiple full-throttle applications and reduces heat soaking because the intake tract is more efficiently "air-cooled," if you will. The Saleen engineers say they can see the air charge temperature drop when going down the return road at the dragstrip in testing-something that certainly didn't happen before. Topping it all, the Super Shaker makes more power-possibly 5 horsepower-on the dyno due to its less restrictive air path. You can't feel 5 horsepower in this car, but it's nice to know it's there.

Unfortunately we were unable to test that repeatability as our overnight sampling was too short for any formal testing. Still, it doesn't take lab equipment to figure out the Dark Horse flat hauls. It really does. Hammer it, squeeze it, tickle it, and it doesn't matter; the Dark Horse is out of there.

Unless you've pedaled a car in this power league, it's difficult to describe the feeling of well over 500 hp to the rear tires. Toggle off the traction control and wheel spin is immediately available, as is car-rotating grunt in slow corners. On the straights she pulls hard the entire sweep of the tach. There is no getting lazy near redline; the Dark Horse asks you if you really want to go this fast. This is real power, the sort that demands your facial muscles smile even when just wiffing the power in traffic. It's the sort of power you don't just hand to anyone; the sort of power that always seems enough; the sort where for once you just don't automatically mat the throttle.