Saleen Goes Extreme With Latest ‘Stang



Longtime Mustang tuners Saleen took to the runway during this week’sL.A. auto show to introduce their latest rorty rendition of the Ford pony car, the S302 Extreme.

The runway in question was, of course, at Irvine’s El Toro airport, one of the few places spacious enough to let us run wild with its 620 horsepower. Saleen engineers set up a long road course at the former military base that enabled us to do sprints from zero to 60 mph, followed by chicanes, slaloms, a wide 180-degree turn, a hairpin turn, and all the technical turns that show how good — or how bad — a tuned car can be.


The Extreme does get some help in improving the core Mustang’s on-track handling. Chief among the upgrades is the engine and its sky-high output, which comes courtesy a Saleen-built 302 cubic-inch engine originally introduced in the Saleen Parnelli Jones Limited Edition Mustang. In the Extreme, that motor gets the assistance of a twin-screw, intercooled supercharger. Along with the 620 horses, the motor delivers 600 lb-ft of torque.


To control the power the Extreme features a Saleen Racecraft suspension and a new Watts linkage. The stopping power comes from four disc brakes with 15-inch vented, slotted rotors with six-piston calipers in the front and 11.8-inch rear vented discs with single piston calipers in the rear, as well as anti-lock control. The Extreme rides on standard 20-inch, five spoke aluminium alloy wheels with Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tires.


Our test time behind the wheel of the Extreme showed it to be very quick in the 0-60 dash — with easy times of four seconds — and proved out its new handling package. The Extreme is confident and obedient: steering the car into the chicanes and the long bends never generates a lot of understeer and when it is there some, the Extreme is easily corrected with a touch more of the seemingly endless power. That power, by the way, roars right through the cockpit like the aircraft that used to ply the taxiways at El Toro, thundering in the most positive way.


For a break, we also drove the H302 SC. With a price of $74,999, this Saleen variant is priced $5000 dollars less than the Extreme. Its supercharged V-8 produces 580 hp and has 525 lb-ft of torque. It rides on smaller wheels and tires than the Extreme — Pirelli P-Zeros (275/35-19 up front and 285/40-19 in the rear). It offers close to the same driving pleasure as its beefier brother, but the difference in tires gave it more understeer, and it’s a little less confident under full power than the Extreme.


A new awakening?


The Saleen company is recovering from recent setbacks. The $500,000 S7 supercar proved to be too expensive and was discontinued last year. Nowadays, the company only builds the S7 in race trim.


Four years ago, the 55 Saleen dealers sold 450 cars annually. Since then the company paid much attention to its dealer network that has been expanded now to 202 dealers nationwide. They are selling 1650 cars a year now and should reach an amount of 2,000 by 2009.

The specialty vehicle manufacturer benefits from the input of Chris Theodore, who after retiring from Ford’s as Vice President, Advanced Product Creation, joined ASC American Specialty Cars in 2006 and who is now Saleen’s Vice Chairman and Chief Technical Officer.


ASC and Saleen were linked together by Hancock Park Associates, a private equity investment firm that owns Saleen Inc. and bought ASC Inc. out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this summer.


Theodore, often referred to as the father of the Ford GT, does not only bring in his broad experience, but also his enthusiasm and a slew of new ideas.


“I have many ideas,” he told, “and some of them are inspired by the Ford GT. That car sold very well for around $150,000. So why not think in that direction when we talk about a new supercar? May be an S3 or an S5?”

Hidden in darkness, an L.A. show debut.

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