By: MARK VAUGHN on May 8, 2014 at 4:56 am
Original Article: AUTOWEEK, VOL. 51, ISSUE 54

Where are those Saleen S7s, anyway?

When we put the Saleen S7 on our cover (AW, Sept. 25, 2000), Steve Saleen told us the cars would be ready for delivery by “the second quarter of 2001.” Now, here it is a week away from 2002. Has anyone seen an S7 driving down any city street? No they haven’t, not unless that city street was bordered in concrete and fence to masquerade as a racetrack. Nor did we see street cars at a promised press intro last July. So what happened?

Saleen insists the project is on schedule and S7 supercars will be in dealer showrooms by March ’02. When he gave the original delivery date, he says, he didn’t mean just street cars; he meant race cars, too, and there are S7R race cars competing. Four Saleen customer teams won four championships in 2001, the S7’s first full year of competition, from the FIA Spanish GT to the ALMS GTS drivers’ championships. Impressive, but still none are being valet parked.

“We’re probably running about six months later than what we had anticipated [on the street car],” said Saleen. “Which is somewhat normal, I guess.”

Here’s how that happened: When the Saleen team went to test for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona a year ago, race car customers came out of the wood-or rather, carbon-fiber-work. So the attention Saleen intended to devote to developing a street version S7 instead went toward making race cars. That, and Saleen had to set up a dealer network. And add content to the street version. And work out “all the nickel-dime issues.” And crash an S7 for the Feds (successfully). And tune the engine to meet EPA standards (he expects U.S. certification in a month or two). And consolidate operations in a new building. And launch the S281-E Mustang. And put out the dog and bring in the cat.

He’s been busy.

What got this question raised is that the prototype S7, the one shown at the Monterey Historics in 2000, is for sale at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction Jan. 16-20, 2002. But that car is not legal for the street. The prototype is being offered by a Saleen dealer who convinced Saleen to let him buy it. The dealer, Park Place Ltd. of Bellevue, Washington, expects it to go for more than $500,000, citing “historical value potential.”

And there are two other things. The street car’s price that was originally $375,000 is now $395,000, an increase Saleen says was requested by dealers. Saleen’s race cars look like they’ll be legal for another run at Le Mans and another season in ALMS. However, the FIA, the international racing governing body, will almost certainly ban the car because of the firm’s failure to build-homologate-production cars (AW, Dec. 10).

We’ve been led down this supercar path before, a path paved with amazing performance claims and ever-changing price tags, by guys like Weigert, Bricklin, Mosler, Shelby and DeLorean. We always go along because it’s such a cool path. Like an abused spouse in a dysfunctional relationship, we want to believe this time we really will go 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds, hit a top speed of more than 200 mph and find cars in showrooms all across America at the original price.

Predictably, Saleen bristles at any parallel between him and failed supercar makers who have come before him. Saleen has a proven track record of building more than 8000 cars, he says. He has strong financial backing from a major automotive supplier. He’s not selling stock options (though Saleen says 41 customers have handed dealers $100,000 to make an order, with an undisclosed portion of that going to Saleen. Of that, dealers say 29 deposits are for street cars). He claims to have 95 percent of the tooling ready. He has a 150,000 square-foot industrial monolith in Irvine, California. He has CAD-CAM machines and computer guys clacking away at the keyboards. And there is no outcry (yet) from dealers or customers demanding their S7s, as there was with the Shelby Series 1 and other supercars. In fact, almost all the dealers we spoke with were happy with Saleen.

“I have no problem with them being late,” said Steve Serio of Aston Martin of New England. “The first Vanquish we got was a year late. If it [the S7] is being pushed back to make sure it’s finished right, that’s fine. I’d rather have it arrive in one beautiful piece.”

But come March-really, a short three months away-we expect to see S7s in showrooms and to drive one legally registered for the street. We want to believe, we really do. Because this time it really is going to be different. Isn’t it, Steve?