Saleen S7

Scott Dahlquist

Bring your Piloti driving shoes, or your JP Tod's mocs, or simply your callused soles, but leave your Skechers at home, dude. The foot-well is about ten inches wide, so careful foot-on-pedal placement is essential. We won't argue with Saleen's purist decision to install a traditional six-speed, H-gate manual transmission rather than Formula 1-style paddle shifting, but the latter's lack of a clutch pedal would have made for easier footwork. There is a tiny dead pedal, but your left foot won't fit entirely on it; you end up riding the clutch, which has just enough slack to accommodate its role as auxiliary dead pedal.

Turn the key, and push the start button. After a slight hesitation, the 7.0-liter V-8 sparks to considerable life behind you. The familiar small-block American V-8 throatiness is enhanced by modern metallic undertones. You not only hear it, you feel it, and, oh, what a feeling it is.

Full Driver Side View

The clutch pedal is creamy, with just the right resistance, requiring none of the tractorlike effort of, say, the first-generation Dodge Viper. The gears reward careful, deliberate pushes of the palm. Into first, release the clutch, and you're off, wind and mechanical noises filling the cabin as you quickly gain speed. The drive-train is immensely tractable; you hardly feel the need to shift out of second gear. "Keep the rpm at about 2500," advises Saleen. "There's no need to rev it really high with all the torque."

Acceleration, you ask? Enough thrust to make any other car blur into the background is only a flex of your right foot away. The S7 is not yet available for performance testing, and Saleen is not releasing his own figures for now, but he hints that the S7's 0-to-60-mph and quarter-mile times should equal, and perhaps surpass, those of the McLaren F1, which are 3.4 and 11.6 seconds, respectively. Throttle response is instantaneous no matter what gear you're in.

The S7's steering provides more feedback than your shrink and more feel than a teenager at a drive-in. For anyone not accustomed to driving a modern racing car, this amount of steering precision takes some getting used to. The most minute, inadvertent inputs to the steering wheel result in an exactly corresponding amount of directional change to the car. The downside is that every impact from the road affects directional stability, so a tight hand at the tiller is essential.

We are not here to tell you that we drove 200 mph on public roads, although Saleen says he has seen 205 mph on a track. Actually, we don't know how fast we drove, because our car's speedometer wasn't hooked up. The car's theoretical top speed is about 240 mph, but development engineer Bill Tally says they'll probably gear the car to about 215 mph, a speed deemed sufficient for any privateer's needs.

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