2009 Saleen S5S Raptor Preview

March 21, 2008

It takes some sharp talons to take on established challengers like Ferrari and Lamborghini. But that’s what Saleen has in mind with the new S5S Raptor. What sits on the stand atJacob Javits Center, this week, is officially being described as a “concept” vehicle. But we’re betting good money we’ll soon see this sleek, yellow supercar back at the New York Auto Show in production form.


Those familiar with the Saleen name – and most folks aren’t – will most likely connect it to a series of tuned Mustangs and other Detroit iron. Indeed, the company has also brought to New York a 465-horsepower version of Ford’s pony car named for motor sports legend Dan Gurney. But the eponymous Steve Saleen always had bigger aspirations – some would say pretensions – which he demonstrated with the flawed but nonetheless admirable S7 supercar.


The former racer no longer runs the company, but the new management team, brought onboard after a merger with Detroit ’s ASC, see similar opportunities to expand beyond the tuner market. And the Raptor could be their opportunity to move into the supercar big leagues.


The S5S is not only named for the aggressive bird of prey, but it has the sharp-clawed look of a beast that brooks no competition. The overall appearance is striking, with an impossibly low nose offset by muscular front fenders. The roofline bubbles up, then gently arcs rearward, a large, transparent panel showcasing the rear-mounted 5.0-liter engine. In production, the large glass roof would likely slide back. And the integrated rear wing will automatically adjust to improve aerodynamics at high speed.


With a relative unknown, one tends to seek comparisons, and observers might bring to mind the likes of the Lamborghini Gallardo, though Raptor is far less cab-forward in design. Squint your eyes and you might even detect a few subtle hints of the Ford GT. Not surprising, as Saleen’s tech chief is Chris Theodore, the man largely responsible for Ford’s own supercar offering.


He learned a lot before leaving the big automaker, including the use of composites, which are critical to the shaping of the S5S’s sensuous body.


Supercars require a delicate balance blending brute force, a refined suspension and eye-popping design. For the moment, Saleen isn’t revealing all the details, but when it comes to power, we’re told this bird boasts a 650-horsepower version of Saleen’s own 5.0-liter V-8. The supercharged powerplant will launch the S5S Raptor from 0- 60 in well under 4 seconds, we’re told.


Taking a cue from a growing number of racing series, the show car is designed to run on cellulosic (non-food-based) ethanol, or gasoline, of course. That way, says Saleen and ASC Chairman Paul Wilbur, “It can be both mean and clean.”


The forged alloy wheels feature massive 15-inch, 6-caliper brakes, so the S5S should be able to stop as fast as it takes off.


“Should we build it or not,” Wilbur kept asking reporters who came to watch the New York Auto Show unveiling. It was more than a rhetorical question. Despite the car’s looks and specs, the relatively unknown Saleen will clearly have an uphill battle getting potential customers to pay attention to an American supercar wannabe.


Of course, it will help to offer about 100 horsepower more than a Ferrari F430 at a price that Wilbur told TheCarConnection.com should come in right around $185,000.


On paper, the goal would be to produce an average 500 Raptors annually over the course of a 6-year lifecycle.


If the answer to Wilbur’s question is, “yes,” expect to see a production version of the Saleen S5S Raptor reappear at the New York Auto Show in about two years.

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