By: NIKA ROLCZEWSKI on December 20, 2003
Original Article: TORONTO STAR (CANADA)

Saleen Offers Power For Mere (rich) Mortals

Driving God’s car, you would think that I could have found some divine intervention, but even a silver Saleen S7 – the same wheels actor Jim Carrey drove in Bruce Almighty – wasn’t going to free me from the hell of Montreal traffic.

Here I was, patiently awaiting just a short glimpse of roadway, thinking I would give my kingdom for a green light, a clear street and a road full of twists and turns.

Far as I may have been from sainthood and sports-car roads, I still felt like a god behind the wheel of the S7.

How could I not? At 104 cm inches high, it’s lower-slung than the new Ford GT, and its long, wide shape is punctuated by gaping air intakes slashed into its bumpers, sides and rear deck.

This is far from the glorified kit car I was expecting: up close and personal with it, I see smooth lines and minimal gaps – quality that suggests this hand-built car is made to robotic production-line standards.

On the one hand, Montreal’s posh, party-loving rue Crescent isn’t really the place to be driving a $600,000 Le Mans-engined exotic that you’ve spirited away from its Canadian unveiling.

On the other hand, why not be a show-off?

The S7’s 349 km/h top speed, and the 7.0 L V8’s ability to propel the S7 from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.9 to 3.3 seconds, is as much symbolic as it is real. You may floor the gas once or twice off the track to experience that heavenly sensation, but the real fun bit is telling your friends – and the bystanders that gather wherever you park – about it.

Besides, full throttle in the S7 is not for the inexperienced. Unlike some other high-end exotics these days, it isn’t adorned with driver aids – Saleen considers them mere bells and whistles that make us better drivers than we are – so there’s no ABS, no traction control, no paddle shifts, just pure muscle pulsating under that reptilian skin.

The all-aluminum powerplant pounds out 550 hp at 6400 rpm. The intergalactic gearing isn’t set up for city driving, and the clutch – already replaced in this copy from loading and unloading during short bursts of driving – is very heavy.

As for the brakes, at a red light, I experience full wheel lockup with a brush of the pedal. If you want fluff, go elsewhere, because the S7 is a driver’s car, and an experienced driver’s car at that.

On the street outside, well-dressed executives strain to look into the low, low car. I labour to elegantly enter and exit its simple gray interior. Doors that swing up and my mature bones make this a daunting task.

The big, voluptuous body draws stares on the street; I hear whispers of “What is this?” in several languages.

Passersby peer inside to discover a fairly pedestrian interior: just enough Mazda- and Ford-sourced knobs and buttons for the air conditioning, radio and the car’s one bit of high-tech wizardry, a camera to aid the view when you back up.

But who cares what’s behind us? In a car this fast, it’s the visibility out front that matters – and it’s fine.

The S7 comes from Saleen Inc., which for almost 20 years has engineered modifications for many Ford road cars and built award-winning race cars.

The Californian-born S7 road car was unveiled in August, 2000, to an appreciative audience of enthusiasts and racers. Shortly after, its maker, Steve Saleen, announced plans to race a competition version in the latter half of 2000’s American Le Mans Series.

The car did respectably well on the track, and since then, magazines have compared the road version to exotics such as the Lamborghini Murcielago. While it’s lacking in racing pedigree and brand prestige, the S7 has held its own. The first delivery was made in July, 2002.

There are, says Joseph Gambieri of Auto Bugatti in Montreal, the S7’s sole Canadian distributor, a select few buyers who want a $395,000 (U.S.) supercar with all the qualities common to that exalted category.

Although a hard-core Italian car fanatic, he acknowledges that the S7 is “a great car – for half the price of a Ferrari Enzo. Stupid fast and crazy. One test drive and it can sell itself.”

Unlike the Enzo, for instance, it spoils its drivers with power windows, locks and mirrors. There’s a six-disc CD changer to go with the lightweight, six-piston Brembo brakes and the stiff-shifting transmission.

This is a car that you can get comfortable in.

But, in true Le Mans-racer style, the S7 also reeks of testosterone and hard-core, track-inspired authority. There are no names etched on a manifold to boost Saleen’s ego, but the car’s predatory nature is evident in its design and in the way the engine delivers its power.

At low speeds, the ride isn’t bad; someone in the crowd chuckles that it’s like having a beautiful and intelligent woman that can cook. I guess what he means is that the S7 has it all – passion, performance and driveability.

If you want a fancy name, go for a Ferrari or a Lambo. But if it’s a raw, almost animalistic quality in a car that you’re after, go Saleen.

Just 300 to 400 will be built in a five-year span; the carbon-fibre body manufactured in Britain rings in at around $100,000 (U.S.) all by itself. Order an S7, and a dedicated team will need three months to build it, start to finish.

Clearly, this exclusivity speaks to some people: two S7s will be arriving in Canada in the next few months.

Another honk of a horn, more double-parked cars and a crazy Montreal driver’s kamikaze move bring me back to reality.

I wonder how Bruce Almighty parted the sea of cars. How much more he could appreciate this beast than I can, stuck in this gridlock.

Then again, he was God, and I’m just a mere traffic-bound mortal.

Maybe one day, I’ll get the opportunity to drive this car the way it was meant to be driven. But there isn’t a chance in hell… this time.

Nika Rolczewski is the founder of www.racerchicks.com.