Tom Wilson
May 1, 2002

Horse Sense:
While the official power level for the 281-E engine is 425 hp, the inside word is that number could be slightly conservative. Underrating power has not been a Saleen tradition, but the E's power rating is said to cover the worst tolerance stack imaginable. Who says chassis dynos don't keep things honest?

Starting with the cover of our February issue, we were hyperventilating about the spanking-new 281-E Saleen, the major portion of our excitement bulging from under the E's hood. Composure regained, we're now daring an even closer look at the new Saleen engine this month. Why? Well, the blown Two-Valve is definitely a high and newly set benchmark in the modular market thanks to its combination of power, tractability, and emission certification. Furthermore, Saleen says the engine will also be available aftermarket as a crate engine, so let's add accessi-bility to that list.

As we approached the new Saleen engine, we were obviously interested in discovering how it made such great power, but we were also rather curious about the engine's notable smoothness and broad range. For a "little" 281-incher, the E-engine sure has a muscular bottom end. Furthermore, there is always the question of longevity-at such elevated power levels, can the Two-Valve engine take the heat?

Building Block
A central answer to many of our questions is found in the E engine's cast-iron block. As Saleen Development Engineer and chief engine man Bill Tally told us, the Four-Valve Cobra engine's aluminum block is not his first choice for boosted power in a street engine warranteed for 100,000 miles. For thermal stability, cylinder-wall rigidity, and all-around toughness, the Two-Valve's cast-iron block is definitely superior-a major reason the E engine begins life as a plain-old Mustang GT mill.

Given the modular engine's block doesn't allow meaningful stroke increases, it is well gusseted and dis-tributes loads evenly, so there is little to do with the stock 4.6 GT blocks with which Saleen begins. Minor clearancing of the main bearing bulkheads is necessary to clear the fully counterweighted crankshaft. The cylinders are honed to a finer finish and the align-boring is checked, but other than that the E blocks are pure Dearborn.

Crankshafts for the E are sourced directly from Ford's supplier of Cobra cranks, allowing Saleen-specific balance and hardening. This gives the Saleen crank a general Cobra aspect, including the eight-bolt flywheel attachment, along with full counterweighting, nitriding, and bal-ancing for Saleen's rod, piston, and pin combination.

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Stock Ford main and rod bearings are used with this crankshaft, but they are hand-selected for optimal, tighter-than-Ford oil clearance. Again Saleen says the Ford bearings have proven durable in severe testing, and the company is quite happy with them. Likewise, the modular oiling system is well within its design parameters on the E engine, which stays close to stock rpm levels. Therefore no oiling changes are needed.

Saleen stated the mainline E engine production connecting rods will be U.S.-sourced, H-beam forgings, but as usual, we photographed an early engine and it used Eagle H-beam rods. Either way, these rods will never fail-unlike the sad, powdered-metal stockers, which can snap midbeam.

Hanging onto the small end of the rods are unique Saleen QD (Quench Dome) pistons that Bill Tally is definitely proud of. Stamped out by Arias-and soon to be offered in a signature "Saleen by Arias" stand-alone line-the Saleen pistons are not flyweights but 430-gram production parts designed to take 100,000 miles of supercharged, daily-driver abuse. Swinging on thick-wall pins, these pistons were specifically designed for the E engine. Besides the stout construction, they feature a revised dome shape that works with the cylinder heads to form a distinct quench area for high in-cylinder motion. Billy says the resulting tumble plays a major role in detonation control and power building.

Breathing Room
For the all-important cylinder head, Saleen is using the standard-production, Two-Valve casting augmented with light hand porting-much better flowing-but stock-diameter stainless steel valves, along with beefier valvesprings and retainers. The valve seats, guides, lash adjusters, and rocker arms are stock '02 Ford fare. Obviously Saleen has found a quick hand-blending in the valve bowls worth the effort, but the company need not port-match the intakes because it's casting its own intake manifold, and can therefore machine the intake runners to match the Ford cylinder head ports. Another Ford goody is the head gasket-it does just fine sealing the Saleen blower engine.

Billy's valvespring comments are worth noting. He says many modular tuners use too small a spring on Two-Valve heads. One reason is the seat pockets must be slightly enlarged to use more readily available hot-rod springs. But probably more importantly, Billy believes many modular tuners mistakenly equate the Two-Valve springs with the ball-point variety used on the Four-Valve engines with their forest of tiny valves. The truth is, the larger, heavier Two-Valve poppets are closer to 351 Windsor practice than Four-Valve needs, and naturally the valve-springs must follow suit. Furthermore, the GT engines tend to live a bit higher in the tach than Windsors, so this too indicates a need for a healthy spring.

Camming the Saleen engine required a new set of lobes developed specifically for the E engine. Naturally, multiple grinds were tried, some of which proved harsh on valvetrain durability. The result is big all around on the exhaust side, more lift, and quite a bit more duration on the intake to give a ton of power, excellent tractability, and durable valvetrain performance.

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Dealing with the E engine's copious airflow has resulted in the induction system containing the largest number of Saleen-sourced parts. The induction tubing, the supercharger housing, and the intake manifold are all Saleen bits for maximum efficiency in packaging the air-to-water intercooler, the supercharger, and all associated intake-air plumbing.

Saleen's Program Manager of Certification and Powertrain Engineering John Spruill is the talent tweaking the 281-E's EEC V/Saleen's Powerflash engine-management software. As Ford heavily revised its software for 2002, this has meant considerable effort on the E calibration. Not only did the boost-specific portion need attention, but so did other driving modes. One of the most difficult to finalize was the part-throttle, low-rpm regimen, thanks to fuel-pressure fluctuations caused by the high-volume fuel pump in the returnless fuel system. Working the devil out of numerous such dark corners, however, is what has given the E such wonderful driveability. This bodes well for the aftermarket buyer who will receive an E-spec computer as part of his complete E crate engine.

The cure for fuel-pressure spiking, John says, is a turbine-style fuel pump in the tank. Ford uses turbine pumps in returnless systems, where nearly constant, rapid voltage changes to the pump are used to control fuel volume. High-volume aftermarket pumps are commonly positive-displacement designs, and several were tried on the E prototypes to meet the engine's voracious fuel appetite at full power. However, an inability to change fuel volume rapidly enough at lower flow levels led John to specify a 250-lph-at-40-psi-at-12-volts turbine pump for production.

Queried on emission compliance, John answered the Extreme engine was packaged with other Saleen modular engines. This makes the project a much less expensive "paper test" case, as well as meeting TLEV (Transitional Low Emission Vehicle) status.

Final Details
We are simply too early to tell you what flywheel, clutch, or flexplate the E crate engine will carry. Even worse, the price had not been set at press time.

Being early never stopped us from guessing, however inexpertly. First, though, remember that as a complete engine, the E will be complete. For emission and driveability reasons, the definitive E engine will be offered from air meter to oil drain plug, including the engine management computer, all accessories, injectors-the works. That has to translate into a price notably north of $10,000-which is staggering but pencils out when all the parts, hand assembly, and dyno run-in are considered.

Less-expensive possibilities we expect but can't confirm yet from Saleen are piecemeal offerings such as short- and long-blocks, or just the cylinder heads. The Series V supercharging package is already in the Saleen aftermarket system, for example. On all of this, Saleen promises com-petitive pricing.