Saleen S7

July 31, 2013

Saleen S7

Saleen S7

Irvine, California, isn’t Modena, Italy, and Steve Saleen isn’t Enzo Ferrari. But that hasn’t stopped this Mustang racer-turned-car-builder from creating a 220-mph-plus supercar that’s all his own–and all-American, right down to its thundering, mid-mounted 7.0-liter pushrod V-8.

Make no mistake, the Saleen S7 is a remarkable achievement.

But the new Saleen S7 Twin Turbo is designed to take the Saleen S7‘s max factor beyond Ferrari and into Bugatti Veyron territory. You read that right. Steve Saleen has always talked a big game.

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Saleen S7 side view doors open

And on paper the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo walks the talk, with a claimed output of “over 750 horsepower” at 6300 rpm and 700 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. That’s a 36-percent increase in power and 33-percent increase in torque over the naturally aspirated version of the Saleen S7 that made its debut in 2003. With a claimed curb weight of just 2750 pounds, the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo’s weight-to-power ratio of 3.6 pound per horsepower rivals that of the Veyron. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it’s going to be stupid fast.


Saleen S7 interior

Saleen S7 interior

A postcard from the edge: We’re lollygagging along at 50 mph in fourth gear, stuck behind traffic, when the road straightens and the double-yellow line ends. Signal, pull out, and nail the gas. The clattery, tappety metallic snarl of the big-banger V-8 sitting just inches behind our heads erupts into a booming wall of sound, and a relentless tidal wave of torque thrusts the orange Saleen S7 Twin Turbo forward with the intensity of a Saturn V on liftoff. We hit 120 mph in about the time it takes to read this sentence. Don’t let the simple architecture of the dry-sump, all-aluminum Saleen V-8 fool you:

It might only have a single camshaft and two valves per cylinder actuated by good old-fashioned pushrods, but its Ford-based design has benefited from millions of dollars of research and development undertaken by NASCAR race teams. It’s light–a street Twin Turbo engine weighs about 440 pounds, says Saleen engineering vice president Bill Tally, who started out wrenching for bike racer Kenny Roberts before moving to sprint cars and NASCAR stockers–compact, and very loud. Tally says the Saleen S7 was planned from the outset to have two turbochargers, but back when the car was launched in 2003, the naturally aspirated engine’s 550 horses were deemed sufficiently robust.

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Saleen S7 motor

Saleen S7 engine view

Indeed, our test of the regular Saleen S7 (September 2003) produced a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.6 seconds, a 0-to-100-mph time of 7.7 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 11.4 seconds at 127 mph, each just a few tenths shy of the numbers we recorded in the Ferrari Enzo a little over a year later. The 1001-horsepower, 253-mph, $1.25 million Bugatti Veyron has set a whole new series of performance benchmarks, however, and Steve Saleen is determined to prove his supercar is the equal of anything the best and the brightest brains of VW Group can create. In the second paragraph of the press kit, for example, you’ll read the $580,000 S7 Twin Turbo is capable of speeds “exceeding 250 mph.”

Elsewhere, you’ll see a claimed 0-to-60-mph time of 2.8 seconds, claimed 0-to-100-mph time of 6.0 seconds, and claimed quarter-mile time of 10.7 seconds at 136 mph in a performance comparison chart that includes the Enzo, Porsche Carrera GT, and Mercedes-McLaren SLR, among others. The chart coyly lists a string of N/As for the Bugatti Veyron. But you’ll find the claimed Saleen S7 numbers all shade the claimed Veyron numbers by a tenth or two. So is the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo truly a Veyron-beater? It’s hard to say, for several reasons. First, the car we drove on the road–the stunning orange one on these pages–isn’t the track-tested car, a 2001-plated mule updated to Twin Turbo specifications. Second, the test mule was set up for Saleen S7’s test driver (there’s no seat adjustment in the Saleen S7; the pedals have to be unbolted and moved back and forth), and our Neil Chirico couldn’t comfortably fit in the car.

And third, no one has independently tested a Veyron to see how fast it really is. Chirico squeezed himself into the mule for our figure-eight test, where he found the car to have a surprising amount of initial understeer. But the standing-start numbers–3.4 seconds 0-to-60 mph, 6.0 seconds 0-to-100 mph, and the 10.7-second quarter mile at 143.8 mph–are all the work of Saleen’s in-house shoe, who took at least 14 runs (we normally figure on about five) to get a result he was happy with. Until we’re given the opportunity to test the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo in exactly the same manner as we’ve tested cars like the Enzo, Carerra GT, and Mercedes SLR (in other words, we track test the same car we drive on the road after having weighed it, and the runs are done with a full tank of gas), we’ll call these results provisional.

One thing’s for sure: The Saleen S7 Twin Turbo is nowhere near as refined or effortlessly fast on the road as a Veyron. Steve Saleen calls it a race car for the road (it’s fundamentally an S7R sport racer with an emissions-legal engine and a fully trimmed interior), and even a Saturday morning cruise down to Starbucks evokes the sound, fury, and sweaty effort of a hot lap at Le Mans. First, you have to lever yourself over the wide sill panel and snuggle into the tight-fitting seat. The driver’s seat is eight inches closer to the centerline of the car than that of the passenger, mainly so your legs line up with the narrow footwell (and we mean narrow: You’ll need some of those race-style Pumas or a pair of Tod’s driving shoes to avoid galumphing all over the closely spaced pedals).

Saleen S7

Saleen S7 side view

Part of the Saleen S7 purchase experience involves an overnight stay at the Ritz-Carlton hotel at nearby Dana Point and a visit to the factory to get the pedals and the seat right, but you’re stuck with the steering-wheel position: It’s fixed. The interior is finished; not quietly opulent like the Veyron’s or as theatrical as the riot of aluminum, carbon fiber, and bright quilted leather you find in a Pagani Zonda, but impressive for such a low-volume car. The center stack includes a CD sound system, controls for Saleen’s bespoke air-conditioning system, and a rearview TV screen that slides out when you select reverse gear. The tranquility of the cabin is shattered the moment you kick the engine into life: Even at idle, the Saleen V-8 sounds like someone’s started a WWII fighter plane in your garage.

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The shifter requires a deliberate shove, and you need some deft footwork on the throttle and clutch to get everything underway without stalling. The compact six-speed Randolph Austin transmission whines like an old freight elevator (a legacy of the race-car-style pitch angles of the gear set, which allow the small gears to handle the immense torque loads), the power steering (Saleen’s own design) puffs and hisses like a steam engine, and the full-floating brakes rattle and bang over bumps. Every time you fire this thing up, it’s an aural adventure. And, to be fair, that’s what you’d expect of a race car. But you also get a violent and race-car-like shunting through the drivetrain at about 2000 rpm on light throttle openings.

The big problem with this is that, apart from the few occasions you’re hot-dogging on the racetrack or carving up a canyon road, you’re going to be spending a lot of time tooling around on light throttle openings. The cause, says Saleen engineering chief Bill Tally, is primarily the fuel mapping required to get the engine to pass Tier 2, Bin 8 emissions standards, amplified by the tightly wound drivetrain. In the old days, you’d have gritted your teeth and driven around the problem. But when other extreme supercar powertrains these days manage to be so much better behaved, there’s really no excuse for it.

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Saleen S7

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Find the room to allow the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo to flex its muscles, however, and everything starts to come together. Like a race car, it feels more coherent the harder and faster you drive it. The steering is quick and direct, and, on the road, at least, the big Saleen dives eagerly into turns. The swoopy bodywork, carefully shaped in the University of Glasgow’s wind tunnel in Scotland, starts exploiting low-pressure areas around the front fenders and engine cover to produce downforce from as low as 40 mph, says Tally.

A new rear fascia, introduced on the 2005 models, has improved rear-end downforce and overall balance of the car, adds Tally, who admits the original Saleen S7 could be twitchy when cornered hard. The ride is impressive for a supercar rolling on ultralow profile tires, thanks primarily to a two-stage coil-spring setup inspired by the factory motocross bikes Tally used to work on. The unquenchable brakes–massive 15-inch rotors up front and 14-inch at the rear–have no anti-lock system, but are easily modulated using the computer between your ears. There’s no traction control, either: You drive a Saleen with your hands, your heart, and the seat of your pants.

Supercars are highly specialized pieces of equipment, but these days even the fastest of them are remarkably civilized to drive. Your mom could idle a Veyron (or the cheaper $455,000 Mercedes SLR, for that matter) through the Wal-Mart parking lot and then dial up a buck-eighty on the freeway home, while humming along to her favorite Perry Como CD. The Saleen S7 Twin Turbo, by contrast, is strictly old school–a rough-edged, blood-spitting street-racer that dares you to tame it.

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*Manufacturer claims
2007 Saleen S7 Twin Turbo
Drivetrain layout Mid-engine, RWD
Engine type Turbocharged 90° V-8, alum block/heads
Valvetrain OHV, 2 valves/cyl
Displacement 426.6 cu in / 6991 cc
Compression ratio 11.0:1
Power (SAE net) 750 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 700 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Redline 6500 rpm
Weight to power 3.6 lb/hp (est)
Transmission 6-speed manual
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.20:1 / 2.05:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 14.4:1
Turns lock-to-lock 2.0
Brakes, f;r 15.0-in vented disc; 14.0-in vented disc
Wheels, f;r 19 x 9.5; 20 x 12.0 in, forged aluminum
Tires, f;r 275/30ZR19 96Y; 335/30ZR20 104Y, Michelin Pilot Sport
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Track, f/r 68.8 / 67.3 in
Length x width x height 188.0 x 78.4 x 41.0 in
Turning circle 44.3 ft
Curb weight 2750 lb (est)
Weight dist, f/r 40 / 60 % (est)
Seating capacity 2
Headroom 34.5 in
Legroom 47.5 in
Shoulder room 47.5 in
Cargo volume 2.7 cu ft
Test Data
Acceleration to mph
0-30 1.5 sec
0-40 2.1
0-50 2.6
0-60 3.4
0-70 4.0
0-80 4.5
0-90 5.1
0-100 6.0
Passing, 45-65 mph 1.3 sec
Quarter Mile 10.7 sec @ 143.8 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 111 ft
600-ft slalom 69.6 mph avg
Lateral acceleration 0.99 g (avg)
MT figure eight 23.4 sec @ 0.90 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1600 rpm
Consumer Info
Base price $585,000
Price as tested $592,700
Stability/traction control No/no
Airbags None
Basic warranty 2 yrs / unlimited miles
Powertrain warranty 2 yrs / unlimited miles
Fuel capacity 19.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 9 / 15 mpg (est)
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
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