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2000 Saleen S281 Supercharged Mustang Is a Horse on Steroids

From the April 2000 subject of Automotive and Driver.

Saleen Mustangs are unabashed mutants, with bodywork additions that bulge just like the lats on Mr. Universe contestants, with wheels and tires that crowd the wheelhousings, and with engines that pulse with supercharged steroids.

In fact, they’ve additionally displayed a few of the downsides of steroid abuse previously, comparable to grumpy idling, supercharger whine, a jolting trip, and tramlining on longitudinal grooves badly sufficient to make a bloodhound dizzy. Additionally, underneath the duress of our testing procedures, some examples of Saleen’s handiwork have even, uh, did not go ahead.

However this S281 you see right here appears a zebra of an altogether completely different stripe. Utilizing the overhead-cam 4.6-liter V-8 as a base, and using a Roots-type Saleen supercharger a lot quieter than the one we final sampled on Saleen’s S351R (C/D, December 1996), the 2000 S281 is com­paratively civilized in nature.

It begins simply and idles easily. Though the two.5-inch-diameter stainless­-steel exhaust system utters a observe clearly deeper and gruffer than you hear on the inventory Ford, it avoids being obnoxiously boomy, particularly at low rpm, the place this downside typically turns up on aftermarket pipes.

The clutch effort is affordable, and the short-throw shifter that Saleen bolts on works fairly properly, notably once you keep in mind that the usual five-speed transmission is not the slickest within the enterprise anyway. Low and midrange torque are glorious, offering vivid throttle response in nearly any gear. You’ll be able to go away the site visitors for lifeless with out breaking a sweat, however the S281 engine may also zip by way of to its 6000-rpm redline with no signal of reluctance alongside the way in which. Maybe that is what you’d anticipate from the over­head-cam engine, however it’s undoubtedly helped right here by Saleen’s cast-aluminum consumption manifold and high-flow (24 kilos per hour) gas injectors—all managed by customized fuel-delivery calibrations.

The final supercharged Saleen we examined (C/D, August 1998) suffered from the dearth of an intercooler, however the S281 takes no possibilities right here and wears an air-to-water intercooler squeezed into the engine bay. Saleen claims 350 horsepower for the automotive on this type, up 90 hp from the inventory GT’s 260, and 65 greater than Saleen’s personal naturally aspirated S281.

That is a colossal soar, and though the automotive feels considerably stronger on the street, our take a look at outcomes do not present exhausting assist for these horsepower num­bers. Sure, our quarter-mile time of 13.8 seconds at 103 mph is kind of a bit faster than a inventory Mustang GT’s 14.2 at 98, however is it evi­dence of 350 horsepower? Not likely. Saleen’s pub­licity materials quotes some efficiency figures pub­lished by one other maga­zine, declaring it went from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and turned the standing quarter in 13.4 seconds at 108 mph.

We guessed these might need been easy one-way runs, maybe with out climate correction. However once we regarded extra carefully on the num­bers, we found that our launches had been higher, with fractionally faster instances to 30 and 40 mph.

For the reason that supercharged S281 needs to be bogged off the road (the clutch should be engaged at low revs to keep away from time-wasting wheel­spin), this efficiency disparity thus seems to be a pure energy subject. Much more telling is the efficiency of our personal tremendous­charged—however not intercooled—venture Mustang GT (C/D, July 1999). We mea­sured 278 rear-wheel horsepower on a dyno, which interprets into about 330 crankshaft horsepower. That automotive—with 20 much less hp and about 150 fewer kilos than the Saleen automotive—hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and blew by way of the quarter-mile in 13.6 seconds at 103 mph. Maybe this S281 was only a sluggish instance—who is aware of?

A fairly honest enhance in energy is obvious at increased speeds. The S281 reaches 100 mph 2.1 seconds faster than the GT. And extra convincing but is the sprint to 130 mph—it is a full 13.5 seconds faster. The supercharged engine additionally has the grunt to tow the spoiler-festooned S281 to a high pace of 154 mph, beating the inventory GT by 16 mph. Given the additional spoilers and scoops, that velocity enhance makes the 350-hp declare extra credible.

And from the motive force’s seat of the S281, there’s an unmistakable enhance in torque that’s obvious in all driving conditions. In fifth gear, the S281 accel­erates from 50 to 70 mph in 8.5 seconds, 1.4 seconds faster than the inventory GT, which has a 3.27:1 axle ratio that’s extra con­ducive to acceleration than the three.08 axle used on the Saleen. Couple that with the excellent suspension and wheel-and-tire upgrades on our automotive, and also you get dynamics within the realm of race automobiles.

On the skidpad, the Saleen swooped round at a giddy 0.92 g, displaying res­olute roll management and minimal understeer. Out on the observe, the automotive (geared up for our take a look at with non-compulsory 10-inch-wide rear wheels and 295/35ZR-18 Pirelli P Zero tires, price some $995) has such good grip and such ferociously fast turn-in that it makes the inventory Ford steering really feel additional­ordinarily quick.

Cough up one other $2600, and you’ll demand 13.0-inch grooved entrance discs with four-piston calipers to go behind the Saleen five-spoke alloys. Our automotive wore standard-issue Saleen brakes—upgrades from the inventory Mustang—and these had been good for stops from 70 mph in simply 160 ft, a notable achievement for a 3540-pound automotive. With the sticky tires and properly­-tied-down chassis, this all provides as much as a scarily quick automotive on the observe. We needed to restrain ourselves at our temporary observe session to maintain the crimson mist at bay and to guar­antee an unwrinkled automotive on the picture shoot.

It isn’t that the Saleen S281 has any nasty surprises up its sleeve. It is simply that the cornering speeds are excessive sufficient to make any little lapses of focus probably costly ones. Naturally, the aggressive setup compromises the automotive’s trip on tough surfaces, the place it hammers and jolts over the worst floor imper­fections. Owing to its urethane bushings, the trip is just not quiet, both. And—as anticipated—the stable rear axle does its ordinary dance on corrugations in addition to its oblig­atory wag on massive one-wheel bumps.

However for what it’s, the S281 is surpris­ingly usable and completely able to com­muting and touring roles. And at $33,182 with the supercharger however with out the wheels and tires, it is not wildly unafford­in a position. Hey, that is 350 (or so) horsepower and a race-bred chassis for 33 massive. Is that this an amazing nation, or what?

Saleen Inc.
2735 Wardlow Highway
Corona, CA 92882

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2000 Saleen Mustang S281 Supercharged
Car Sort: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door coupe

As Examined: $34,177

supercharged and intercooled SOHC 16-valve V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, port gas injection

Displacement: 281 in3, 4601 cm3

Energy: 350 hp @ 5000 rpm

Torque: 410 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm 

5-speed guide 


Wheelbase: 101.3 in

Size: 183.2 in
Curb Weight: 3540 lb


60 mph: 5.1 sec

100 mph: 12.8 sec

1/4-Mile: 13.8 sec @ 103 mph
130 mph: 24.4 sec

Rolling Begin, 5–60 mph: 5.5 sec

Prime Velocity (drag ltd): 154 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 160 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.92 g 


Noticed: 15 mpg

Metropolis: 17 mpg 


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