From every angle and from any distance, the Saleen S7 looks like a supercar. Every pedestrian strolling along Santa Barbara's State Street on a spring evening notices it. The gill-straked body is very long, very wide, and very low, and it sits atop huge, low-profile Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires. The snug cockpit is surrounded by acres of painted carbon fiber encapsulating enough aerodynamic ductwork to heat a house. A mid-mounted drivetrain breathes under glass, gulping air fed by a roof duct. The rear end swells upward and outward in an expression of power and strength, with quad exhaust pipes finishing the statement. When the winglike doors are open, the S7 looks like something Martians would offload from a spaceship.
The S7 is no science-fiction fantasy, though. It's a real supercar, one you can drive home if you can write the check. (It's probably already represented in your kid's Hot Wheels collection.) Steve Saleen, as you might know, is a former professional racing driver and current team owner who has been remanufacturing Ford Mustangs for nearly two decades. (Don't use the dreaded word tuner in his presence.) Along the way, he has carefully nurtured a fiercely fanatical band of Saleen loyalists who are keen to spend upward of $60,000 on Mustangs with thoroughly reworked drivetrains and suspensions and bodywork that does not go unnoticed.
In December 1999, Saleen decided to build an American supercar, and the S7 concept appeared in all its gilled glory at the Monterey Historics eight months later, in August 2000. Last year, the Saleen S7R racing car, which does not differ much from the street S7, made an auspicious debut, winning nineteen out of thirty-two races, including its class in the 12 Hours of Sebring, and four championship titles. (Technical editor Don Sherman described the S7R, and his brief drive of it, in our October 2001 issue.)
Two questions concerning the S7 have been top of mind these past two years. First, would Saleen actually deliver a real, live, fully certified street version? Second, if he did, would it be worth $395,000, which is, after all, significantly more than any current Ferrari or Lamborghini costs? After many understandable delays--have you ever tried to build a brand-new car, let alone a 550-horsepower, carbon fiber-bodied supercar, from scratch in less than two years?--Saleen delivered the first customer car in early June.
The S7 is not a direct competitor to cars like the Lamborghini Murcilago. Sure, they are both hyperexpensive, mid-engined, midlife-crisis machines for multimillionaires, but the Lamborghini is a fast and flamboyant grand touring sports car, whereas the Saleen--which is pretty flamboyant, too--provides a pure driving experience that is only a small step away from that of a racing car. This core difference between the two cars is evident in their curb weights: The S7 weighs only 2750 pounds, says its maker, while the Murcilago weighs about two tons.