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2007 Saleen Mustang S281 SC Super Shaker Track Review

"Who's your green student today?" asked a friend and instructor at the BMW Club Atlantic Advanced Driver Training (HPDE) weekend in June this year. I said: "The Saleen." The response was: "Oh, boy." Mustangs, generally, have a reputation for being more power than chassis. Mustang drivers have quite the reputation for.. how to put this nicely? Taking advantage of said power/chassis imbalance. To make matters worse, this particular Mustang was a supercharged Saleen, with a honkin' Shaker scoop sticking out of its hood. Did I mention it was also a convertible? And the owner was someone who's never been on track before but clearly has the speed bug.

Having had a Mustang for years and driven a few on track, they don't scare me - generally speaking - but the combination of being convertible and supercharged with a new and excited owner worried me a little. Nevertheless, I shrugged it off and got excited about chatting with the owner to find out what he's looking to get out of the car. That's where things started to look up. What typically scares me is someone who says they've always been into racing and "canyon carving" because a) they aren't scared of speed, b) they believe they are already know how to drive on track (which may not be the case), and c) they likely have already picked up bad habits. But what this guy wanted to get out of the car was great: he wanted to learn how to drive it properly and make best use of its capabilities. How could you complain? That was the first good surprise, but not the only one. The second one, that came from the car..

The "standard" S197 supercharged (SC) Saleen Mustang made 435 hp. Then, in 2007, it was bumped up to 465 hp. This one builds on that and adds the Super Shaker hood. I can't find online literature confirming how much hp it makes. The owner claims 520 or 525 hp. I found an online dyno on Mustang 360 (link: Mustang 360 Saleen Super Shaker System) done by an owner who bought the Saleen Supercharger and Super Shaker hood kit. With a custom tune and no other changes, the car made 432 whp. Trusting the dyno and applying a 15% loss, that puts it at 508 hp crank. It feels every bit as strong as something making high 400's anyway. Considering that the car is heavy (convertible and supercharged), it probably is in the 4,200+ lb range including driver and passenger. I don't have a hard time believing it makes 500+hp. But it isn't the hp that surprises, it's how it's delivered.

The car is very surprisingly tame for something convertible, supercharged making 500+ hp, and solid axle. Helping matters, no doubt, is how linear power delivery is. There is a strong shove to remind you that it is force fed but the delivery doesn't take you by surprise and modulating the throttle is no more difficult than a naturally aspirated car making less power and MUCH less torque. I always leave traction and stability control on in students cars if equipped and advise new or unseasoned drivers to leave them on as well. As we trusted the car and started building up pace, I started to wonder if traction control was masking some aggressive throttle applications, but it wasn't.

At one point, I got into it more heavily to find the limit so I know where it is, and traction control light flashed to tell me it was intervening. I was genuinely impressed that - up to that point - there was no traction control intervention. Avoid being ham fisted (footed?) with the throttle, and this car will impress. Keep your foot down, and speed builds up fast and relentlessly, regardless of gear and rpm. The noise is intoxicating and the supercharged whine doesn't get old. Every corner exit, you'll have a big smile on your face as you roll in the throttle, remember how much traction it has and listen to the soundtrack as speed builds up. The Super Shaker hood? Oh, it super shakes. You get the full experience with this thing. Speaking of shaking..

Just about the only disappointment about this car is the lake of a roof. The chassis flex is impossible to miss. For someone who's never been in something else, it's probably a non issue, but I wouldn't be able to stand it on track if it were my car. This is the first convertible I've driven on track and I'm told by others who have driven a few that not all are this bad, but it isn't unusual. I imagine newer and more capable convertibles like a 911 or a Corvette are nothing like this, but it did no favours to my opinion that convertibles aren't meant for track (roadsters are excluded, of course). With that said, the suspension somehow shrugs off the chassis flex and keeps tires in contact with the road. The suspension upgrades aren't ground breaking but comprehensive.

The car gets specific dampers, linear-rate springs, urethane bushings up front, and front and rear anti-roll bars (1.38" up front and 0.83" in the rear). For reference, the Boss 302 has a 1.34" front anti-roll bar and a 1.0" rear. The suspension feels stiffer than my Boss 302. Tires are Pirelli P Zero Rosso in - get this - square 275/35/20 size all around. Even the Boss 302 came with only 255 section tires up front and not until the Shelby GT350's and now the Performance Pack Level 2 that a factory Mustang came with something wider than 275 up front. Wheels are staggered, unfortunately, so you can't rotate; 20" x 9" up front and 20" x 10" in the back. 

Front brakes were upgraded too, switching to two piece 15.0" rotors clamped by 6 piston Saleen branded fixed calipers. Fairly serious hardware that I wasn't expecting to see. Rear brakes were the standard 11.8" discs and calipers, but most of the braking is at the front anyway. Aside from maybe the 20" wheels, the suspension and brake upgrades seem to be very well thought out and done by someone who really cares about handling. It shows. If you can trust the car, you'll be surprised at the pace you can hustle it at. 

The balance of the car is a beautiful surprise. I thought it would have maddening understeer dialed in to make it "safe" at that power level, but front end grip is really good, the steering is accurate, and the response is quick. The car goes where you point it and you can control your line with your right foot. I didn't take the car to 10/10ths, obviously, but it is a VERY capable car at 6 or 7/10ths and it doesn't feel like it would all unravel as you push higher. I wouldn't want to take it to an all out hot lap, but pushing it another couple of ticks closer to the limit would likely not be a problem. Feedback isn't the greatest and the chassis flex kind of confuses some signals from the chassis that you would otherwise interpret as trouble. Not the most confidence inspiring if you are going flat out. Brakes are very strong, though, no surprise given the upgraded hardware. Brake dive is far improved compared to a stock Mustang and the pedal is easy to modulate. They didn't seem to fade one bit, although keep in mind that neither myself or the student pushed 10/10ths.

At the end of the day, I had a lot more respect for Saleen than I did before. The linear power delivery, traction, and handling balance shows that this isn't a collection of aftermarket products slapped together. It feels like a reengineered and complete/cohesive package. I'm still a little weary of it being a track car. I always worry about heat soak on supercharged cars on track since it isn't an uncommon issue with many, plus it's just more to go wrong (the latter is true of both supercharged and turbo cars). With that said, the car didn't show any sign of strain and, aside from the chassis flex, was almost without fault.

It could probably afford to lose a couple of lb., the steering feel could be a little better, and I wouldn't make a convertible version a track car; just more stresses on the chassis and mixed signals from the chassis flex at the limit. As it is, this makes a really nice car to do a few HPDE days a year. A coupe, though, that's a different story.. the coupe should be lighter to start with and if heat soak and brake fade are still non issues at 10/10th, a coupe version of this car with some 18" or 19" wheels and even better tires would be a fantastic street/track Mustang. It would be pretty darn quick, too.

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