Saleen S7

Scott Dahlquist
Saleen S7
Full Engine View

There are plenty of thrills to be had at lower speeds. The car's reactions to inputs to the accelerator, brakes, and steering are so immediate and unworldly as to require a reordering of driver expectations for a street car. By the time we began prying open the S7's performance envelope, we were at Jalama Beach County Park, south of Lompoc, heading back to California Route 1. Jalama Road, a fourteen-mile loop of rapidly changing elevation and direction, is the type of road that makes us natives of the flat Midwest weep. We bonded with the S7 on Jalama Road. In hairpin curves where in most cars we would be struggling to balance braking and steering, the S7 simply turned in and pivoted through the arc with grace and precision. "This is easy," we thought, as the road unfolded and our feet and hands arrived at a steady rhythm of accelerating, braking, and turning. Braking is accomplished very handily by six-piston front and rear calipers biting down on fifteen-inch front and fourteen-inch rear rotors.

Every virtue has its price, of course, and the S7 makes you pay not only in real money but also in some comforts and conveniences. The cockpit swarms with virtually unchecked wind noise. The aluminum-intensive suspension, with unequal-length control arms and coil-over dampers, makes for spectacular handling and an acceptable ride on smooth pavement, but with every encounter of the 275/30ZR-19 front, 345/25ZR-20 rear Pirellis with a reflective Botts dot, it sounds and feels as if somebody is pounding the underside of the car with a sledge hammer. Racing-style floating brake rotors, which rattle over bumps, compound the situation. The brakes, although phenomenal, do not include anti-lock, nor does the S7 offer skid or traction control, which seems an oversight. Counters engineer Tally, who has driven motorcycles at more than 200 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats: "We don't need stability control; we have downforce. Our competitors are masking problems with chassis and brakes." Ohhh-kay.

Saleen hopes to sell a few hundred S7s over three or four years. Why bother developing and certifying such a complicated, low-volume car rather than just selling a few more supercharged Mustangs? Aside from the personal pride in seeing your own name in capital letters across the rear end of a 240-mph supercar, there is, of course, the matter of money.

By proving that his company is capable of producing high-performance, exotic niche cars, Saleen opens the way for lucrative contracts to build such cars for traditional auto-makers. Word on the street is that Saleen will build the GT40 for Ford. "It's a delicious rumor," says Saleen coyly. "Obviously, we have a good relationship with Ford and would like to continue it."

Passenger Side Rear View

Is the S7 worth it? Any automobile that costs more than $50,000 is purchased for reasons that have little to do with practicality and everything to do with perceived prestige and status. The S7 has proven itself on the track, but with no stature in this rarefied realm of the automotive marketplace, Saleen definitely faces a challenge. That said, he has created a made-in-America, world-class supercar, one that's as raw as a racing car and completely unfettered by convention, which is something for all of us to be proud of. In its performance and appearance, it feeds our fantasies and the fantasies of its owners, and it exceeds our expectations of what any American manufacturer, let alone Saleen, can deliver.

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