You don't need four turbos, sixteen cylinders, and sixty-four valves to go fast and be happy. All you need is too much horsepower propel-ling too little curb weight. For less than half the price of a Bugatti Veyron, Steve Saleen will sell you the street-legal fraternal twin to his S7R, a car that's earned seven GT racing championships. Key distinctions? The road edition costs less and is more powerful.
The Saleen S7 Twin Turbo is the longest and lowest two-seat sports car on the market. (The Veyron and the Lamborghini Murci,lago barely trump its prodigious width.) Like every serious racing car, this one is difficult to enter. The trick is to snake a leg under the S7's steering column before surrendering to gravity. Exiting is an even bigger hassle.
But who cares? The excess that makes the Veyron a two-ton mama is lost on this blow dart. In lieu of mufflers, air bags, four-wheel drive, ABS, a manu-matic transmission, and seat adjusters, the S7 Twin Turbo has power, noise, and an exterior scarred with ninety-two slots and gills.
Every fillip serves some purpose. The carbon-fiber body is a flow-through design that uses air to feed the engine, generate road-hugging forces, and evacuate heat. Aluminum honeycomb sinew bonded to a steel-tube skeleton yields a stiff, 230-pound spaceframe. The honker behind you is basically a NASCAR Nextel Cup V-8 upsized by twenty percent and pressurized to 5 psi. The engine's 700 lb-ft and 750 hp are quite enough to squirt this 3036-pound package well into the rapture zone.
The six-speed's shift knob twists freely a few degrees, a trick employed to minimize binding friction. Clicked into gear, the engine surges and lopes between an 1100-rpm idle and the 1800-rpm settle-down speed. The double-disc clutch expects a left foot with finesse. You can step off the mark with the tires lit and burning or with them stuck down and spitballing you toward the horizon, as you like.
Brake rotors the size of a medium pizza rattle against their hubs, ready to become arresting hooks. The ride is almost plush over expansion joints, thanks to relatively soft springs working in series with the stiffer coils that come into play when the suspension settles under air pressure at speed. The electrohydraulic power steering winds only 1.9 turns between stops.
If you goose the gas while exiting a bend, the tail steps wide, right now. The wiggles can be avoided by upshifting, so you can smack straights with torque instead of horsepower. When a momentary hole in traffic appears, a reflexive twitch of the ankle flicks the speedometer needle to 140 mph with three more gears in reserve.
Following our pleasant day of joy riding in the tangerine photo car, Saleen rolled out his red ringer for testing. Shaved Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires helped boost the lateral stick over the 1.0 g hurdle. In spite of a touchy clutch, we logged a 0-to-60-mph sprint of well under four seconds and a quarter-mile buzz of 10.9 seconds at a spectacular 146 mph. Braking from 70 mph with modulated pedal pressure (remember: no ABS) required 157 feet, only a foot more than a Ford GT.
So, picture this hypothetical race: A Bugatti Veyron, the unchallenged epitome of extreme engineering, leaps authoritatively out of the gate thanks to its all-wheel drive and electronic launch control. After writhing in a cloud of tire smoke for a spell, the Saleen takes chase. By 100 mph, the Veyron's traction advantage is spent. Now it's a pure power-to-weight ratio cum aerodynamic drag race. The lighter, slicker Saleen whistles past the French poodle well before both machines hit the wall at about 250 mph.
If I were a gambling man, my money would be on the Saleen S7.