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One Lean & Mean Saleen
12.6.05. While the new Ford Mustang remains a rare sight on Britainís roads (though apparently UK dealers canít get enough of them) the notion of a brand new Ď05 Saleen Mustang from the US specialist car manufacturer is an even rarer one. As far as we know, only two currently exist in the UK, and these have been brought in to the country by relatively new importer UKI (Sudbury) Ltdís Tony and Patrick Mortimer, (01787 242137) men with a penchant for American iron.
What you might ask is a Saleen Mustang? Well itís all down to the naus and inventiveness of American, Steve Saleen. Through his Mustang racing exploits he was able to develop a range of go-faster tuning and body styling components for late-model Mustangs. The company was founded in 1983 and over the years diversified into sportscar racing and more recently became a specialist car manufacturer in its own right. The awesome 750hp two-seater Saleen S7, which the company describes as "the first true American supercar,Ē demonstrates how serious they are. However, itís the companyís new range of hot new Mustangs that have recently stolen the limelight.
Unique styling and wheel package add to the "wow" factor of the S281
Saleen (www.saleen.com) buys its base material (Mustang GTís) from Ford, takes them apart and reassembles them with a range of unique components either at its California or Michigan plants and sells them as Saleens. Three models share the same visual appeal but differ in horsepower. The S281 Three Valve (the subject of this report) gets 25hp more than the standard 300hp. Next up is the supercharged S281 SC with 400hp and then thereís the range topping S281 Extreme with a hand built 450hp supercharged V8.
Engine underdrive pulleys and massive anti-roll bar
The S281 Three Valve receives its power hike through the adoption of engine underdrive pulleys, an engine management tweak to favour (91 octane-plus) premium fuel and a high-flow air filter. Combine these changes with a 2.5 inch larger diameter free flowing exhaust system and the net effect is 8 per cent more power at the same 5,750rpm peak. Torque rises from 320 to 340 lb ft at 4500rpm.
The extra get-up-and-go is fed through the standard five-speed transmission and clutch to the stock Ford rear end equipped with a Traction Lok differential. Though Saleen is confident the driveline system can take the conservative power hike, in their quest to improve the Mustang driving experience, Saleen engineers have developed new specification front struts with linear-rate coil springs and a revised 1.38in front anti-roll bar. A subtle tweak includes urethane jounce bumpers which apparently help to cushion the suspension under compression. The Ďliveí rear axle with three link location and Panhard rod is retained, but benefits from Saleen specially designed coil springs and dampers and a new 0.70in anti-roll bar.
Saleen goes to the trouble of fitting custom dampers - but forgets to paint the brackets - or is that a Ford assembly line problem? Note rust already forming!
Braking performance of the Saleen S281 retains standard Mustang discs all round, while the chosen wheel and tyre package is an ďin-your-faceĒ 20 inch x 9 inch diameter (optional 10inch rears) chromium plated seven-spoke design shod with standard Dunlop or optional high performance Pirelli tyres measuring 275/35ZR20.
20 inch wheels fill out arches perfectly - a polished option would have been preffered to super shiny chrome
Saleen's unique Mustang body styling carries less of the Ďblingí factor thanks to a subtle restyle of the original Larry Erickson influenced profile, resulting in longer and visually more aggressive styling cues. The grille, headlights, turn indicators, bumpers and lower valance are all unique Saleen components - and beautifully intigrated too! The side profile is enhanced with stylish sill moulding, but the real action is at the rear. New boot lid and rear bumper mouldings (incorporating recessed Saleen lettering) extend rearwards by around three inches over standard to provide ducktail styling. Additionally, the inner rear light clusters are reduced from three sections each side to two via a unique panel insert. Twin oval exhaust outlets are neatly incorporated into the centre of the lower valance.
Revised grille omits driving lights for more agressive look, emphasised by new, deeper, sculptured front valance
New rear styling features extended bootlid and matching rear bumper/valance, inset tail pipes, blanked off rear lights and new black back panel
The visual transformation concludes inside with new grey leather upholstery, Saleen lettering stitched in to the seat backrests, new instrument faces, an aluminium gear knob, unique floor mats, plus Saleen S281 insignia on the dash panel.
Unusually shaped handbrake and short-throw gearchange with aluminium knob
A driver sits low in a very supportive powered bucket seat (the passenger is powerless) with plenty of room to stretch out your legs and peer into the twin recessed circular instrument binnacles with a new, if optimistic, 200mph speedometer. The handbrake is operated by a somewhat torturously designed dogleg handle in the centre console. More inviting is the shorter throw gearchange with aluminium style gear knob - that is until you try to snick it into gear. This has to be the worst aspect of the car, as there is no obvious detent across the gate, so from 2 to 3 or 4 to 5 you gingerly move it through the gate in the hope that youíve found the right cog. Given time you adapt, but itís not a quick, satisfying change.
Custom interior includes new leather patterned seat material with Saleen lettering
Out on the road, the standard Mustang has real presence, but the Saleen is lower, more muscular and has real menace Ė itís not for the shy. The 4.6 litre V8 emits a healthy burble which turns to a characteristic V8 snarl once engine revs rise. This is enhanced by an exhaust system which, in effect, has four outlets. Once revs and back-pressure rise beyond a preset level, two additional exits come in to play.
Once moving, the Saleen feels like a big heavy car (because it is!) unwieldy and oversize for British roads, even though the steering is well weighted to take out the effort. Over this initial phase, a driver can then begin to revel in the effortless power and the ease in which the engine spins up. Performance figures for the S281 reveal an indicated 0-60 mph in 5.0 secs while it is apparently capable of covering the standing quarter mile in 13.5 secs at around 115 mph. Thatís not bad for 325hp in a vehicle weighing 3550 lb. Get to 70ish in top (about 2000rpm) and the tyre roar from those massive footprints makes its presence felt, to the point where itís difficult to hear the radio, however the drone isnít constant at all speeds and cycles out lower down or higher up the speed range.
Driven up the motorway at the maximum-ish legal limit for 150 miles with around 30 miles of urban driving thrown in, the Saleen S281 averaged 24 mpg - a pleasant surprise. Driven predominantly round town a few days later revealed a lager lout thirst of 17 mpg. Fuel tank range is good for 300 miles at 24 mpg. One annoying aspect, (in fact it applies to every new Mustang according to dealers weíve spoken to) is the amount of time it takes to fill up at the fuel pump. An anti-siphon system is fitted into the filler neck and this restricts fuel flow to a mere trickle, meaning that it can takes as long as 15 minutes to fill! There is a knack - apparently, but itís still painfully slow.
The test car was fitted with optional 10-inch wide rear wheels and Pirelli sports tyres and quite frankly, the level of grip and handling are well beyond the realms of normal road driving. The Saleen likes to be hustled through bends, it corners flat, feels squat and inspires confidence. Whatís not so good is the amount of suspension crash and the tendency to follow road imperfections - possibly a result of using such large diameter wheels and ultra low profile tyres.
The S281 has serious road presence
US publications have raved about the new Mustang and specifically about improved build quality, but in our experience, some of the Ford-developed plastics are far below European standards. Additionally, the plastic cover for the end of the seat runner fell off Ė not surprising really when you see how big this moulding is compared with the small fixing surface, and one of the buttons which lowers the rear seat backrest came adrift. Itís not what youíd expect in a modern car costing this amount.
Taken as a whole, and despite the few shortcomings, the Saleen S281 is a wonderful package and more importantly, a great driver's car. All of the Saleen modifications are very well executed and finished. Panel fit is spot on and the paintwork equally so. It sounds fantastic, has all the power you need and drives like a sportscar. When you begin to add up all of the special components put into the S281, you simply couldnít build it for that sort of money. Plus, a Saleen is a special vehicle in its own right - a bit like a Shelby Mustang - so when it comes to resale value, theoretically, a Saleen should hold up better than a standard Mustang. If you want one, the Saleen S281 is available in the UK for £37,000 on the road from UKI (Sudbury) Ltd.
Every Saleen S281 is hand-built in the US by the specialist manufacturer
Story Steve & Andy Kirk
Photos: Steve & Andy Kirk