A niche manufacturer like Saleen does not create a car completely from raw materials on its own. The S7's suspension, as well as its spaceframe chassis, which is visible through the engine window, were developed by racing-car specialist Ray Mallock Ltd. in England. The car's state-of-the-art aerodynamics were tested in a Scottish wind tunnel, and the brakes were supplied by Brembo. The six-speed manual transmission comes from the Texas firm RBT, also the source of gearchange hardware for the Italian exotic Pagani Zonda (October 2001) and the Ford GT40 concept. The V-8 is completely reengineered by Saleen from Ford's small-block V-8. Having undergone all manner of metallurgical and respiratory surgeries, it produces 550 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque for a ratio of exactly five pounds per horsepower. Its dry-sump lubrication allows for very low mounting in the chassis, resulting in a center of gravity that is also about as low as they go.
We approached the S7 with some apprehension. We were on public roads, not a track, and the S7 has a learning curve. Steve Saleen himself was riding along to offer pointers and to make sure we didn't crack up his baby. We were in chassis number 17, while number 15, a show car, and number 18, which had been earmarked for delivery to the first S7 customer, were back at the hotel. Most of the other chassis long ago were transformed into S7R racing cars or sacrificed to crash testing. In other words, there were no extra S7s to replenish the test-car fleet should yours truly commit the unthinkable.
The unthinkable did not occur. If it had, Saleen undoubtedly would have had one of his minions throw us into the Pacific with the 7.0-liter V-8 engine block from the wrecked car tethered to our legs. We would not be here to tell you how fast the S7 is, how raw and exhilarating it is to drive, and how it does not require its owners to be amateur racers, although it certainly wouldn't hurt them to have some track time under their belts.
The driver's door rises out of the way to reveal a foot-wide sill and a leather bucket seat. As with the Murcilago, ingress is best achieved by a variation on the old hokeypokey theme: You put your right foot in, you put your left hand out. You grasp the open door, and you swing your butt about. Eventually, you'll find yourself planted in the cabin, and you'll immediately remove your thick wallet from your rear pocket, the better to fit into the hip-hugging seat. (Saleen will custom-fit seats, pedals, and removable steering wheels to each S7 buyer.) The leather-swathed cabin, while not particularly luxurious, has a high-quality, high-tech feel about it.