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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