Saturday, September 29, 2007

I Wanna Find a Long, Flat Stretch of Highway for These Amazing Saleen Cars

With its "angel wing" doors—and 750 hp engine—the Saleen S7 soars to 60 mph in less than three seconds.

Steve Saleen is obsessed with speed. "Roll into the throttle," the former Bob Bondurant racing school instructor commands me as I navigate a makeshift test track, which consists of the public roads that surround the Saleen automotive company’s headquarters in Irvine, Calif. Heedless that his S7—a certified supercar equipped with 750 hp and no traction control other than the driver’s right foot—is already roaring through the industrial park well over the speed limit, he urges me on: "Faster, faster!"

A Saleen S7 will hit 60 mph in 2.8 seconds from a standstill—while still in first gear. It is capable of traveling a quarter mile in the 10-second range and will achieve 200 mph in another 10 seconds. But as I take a sweeping right-hand turn and press the accelerator deeper, the clutch pedal moves simultaneously toward the floor and—with a clink, and then a clunk—flops backward, smacking my shoeless left foot with the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer. I shift out of first, but the clutch refuses to engage second gear, so I lift my foot just as Saleen is begging for more throttle.

As we soon discover, the pin that held the clutch pedal in place has become dislodged, rendering the transmission inoperable. We coast to a stop, and the ride is over.

"You broke it," Saleen deadpans. "Way to go.

"Exotic supercars are notoriously temperamental, and the American-born Saleen S7 apparently is no exception. The car, which made its production debut in 2002 at 550 hp, gained twin turbochargers in 2005, giving it the additional 200 hp and a total of 700 ft lbs of torque. "But that is only using 6 to 7 pounds of boost pressure," says Saleen. The factory, he notes, offers an aftermarket package that generates 1,035 hp, and the S7’s twin turbos are capable of handling as much as 23 pounds of boost or—theoretically, at least—as much as 2,000 hp.

Read more about these amazing cars in the Robb Report

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