2003 Saleen S281-E

Irvine, California – Steve Saleen has his own ideas about comparison tests. “It’s called a race,” he says. “We’re there every weekend. We wait for someone else’s Mustang to show up for the comparison, but they never do.”

The S281-E (E is for “extreme”) is the street-legal version of the car that Saleen fields in the SCCA’s Speedvision GT road-racing series. Think of it as the equivalent of the GT2, especially since this car does the quarter-mile in about eleven seconds, which is almost as quick as the GT2.

Under the Extreme’s hood lies the supercharged and intercooled, SOHC 4.6-liter Ford V-8 from the Saleen S281, pumped up to produce 425 horsepower. The sixty additional horses come from a combination of more boost and a higher (6500-rpm) redline. To live with such performance, Saleen’s technicians have given the engine a complete makeover from intake to exhaust, with everything from a forged crankshaft and new cylinder heads to a Kevlar-reinforced clutch and a close-ratio, six-speed gearbox.

In fact, nearly every piece of competition-grade hardware in the Saleen catalog is in place. Besides all the engine pieces, there’s a new suspension setup, a limited-slip differential, thirteen-inch front brake rotors with four-piston calipers, and 35-series Pirelli P Zero tires on eighteen-inch wheels.

The miracle here is that this car is utterly docile. Sure, it hooks up and drives out of the corners like a racing car, but it doesn’t punish you when you drive it to the store. Aside from tire noise, the Saleen Extreme even rides quite well.

The base price of $59,995 for the S281-E coupe ($63,894 for the convertible) sounds like too much to pay for a Mustang, but Saleen already has thirty examples in the pipeline for customers who have put down cash, and his dealer network is calling for fifty more. Such recession-proof appeal tells us that the humble Mustang might have more in common with sports cars from Ferrari and Porsche than we realize–at least when Steve Saleen builds one.

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