By: MARK VAUGHN on June 11, 2007
Original Article: AUTOWEEK, VOL. 57 ISSUE 24

After decades of Mustangs, Saleen discovers the truck

Saleen made its reputation in Mustangs, producing tens of thousands of them in the more than 20 years of the company’s existence. Mustangs are fine things to make, since everyone loves to go fast. But when you look at the numbers, Ford sold only 166,000 Mustangs last year while moving almost 800,000 F-series pickups.

Now, we ain’t necessarily math wizards, but it appears there are more truck customers than Mustang buyers. This occurred to Steve Saleen, too, and he made the S331, Saleen’s first large-scale custom truck. (He did a production run of 50 Ranger pickups for homologation purposes in his wild SCCA truck-racing days in 1987. “Of all the racing I’ve done, the trucks were by far the most fun,” Saleen said.)

The S331 has everything you’d expect of a Saleen: a big fat supercharger underhood, big fat wheels and tires in the wheel wells and big fat aerodynamic add-ons over the rest of it.

The aero stuff is solid injection-molded plastic and includes about every edge of the truck-grille, skirts and rear spoiler, to name three. The hood is aluminum and includes a hole for “heat extraction.” Saleen engineers say the heat extractor hole works.

Air goes to a two-stage intercooler on the S331 Supercharged model from a 2.3-liter screw-type compressor. The screws are from Lysholm, but Saleen designed the rest. The air makes just one bend before feeding into the blower, located in the valley of the V, and then into the intake runners. Because the flow is so smooth, temperatures stay lower, and the whole thing needs only 5.5 psi of boost to bring power to 450 hp and torque up to 500 lb-ft. The normally aspirated S331 three-valve model still gets 325 hp and 380 lb-ft with bigger injectors, better airflow, custom accessory pulleys and a reflashed chip.

All that power stays on the road with a customized suspension-lower springs in front and Sachs shocks at all corners. Those are 23-inch forged wheels in the wells, bigger than even those on the out-of-production Dodge Ram SRT10, which has 22s.

There are two brake choices on the S331: 13.0-inch front and 13.7-inch rear vented discs or 15-inch slotted and vented rotors with six-piston calipers front and stock rear binders. The rear wheels are staggered offset to give the back end a wider, more stable stance.

Yes, there are kits from Roush that make 445 hp, and you could buy one of the last SRT10s on dealer lots to make similar power. The difference, Saleen says, is that his rig can haul as well as haul. We rode along in an S331 towing a Baja 26 Outlaw powerboat that, together with its tri-axle trailer, weighed about 7000 pounds. The S331 didn’t flinch.

The next day, we took the same truck to the Saleen Driving Experience, an autocross setup designed to teach new Saleen drivers the intricacies of proper car control. Again, the S331 felt fun, or as much autocross fun as may ever be possible in a 5500-pound, leaf-spring-rear truck. It was certainly more fun than a stock F-150 could provide.

Cost ranges from about $54,000 to $64,000. Again, we ain’t good at math, but that’s a lot of money. The Roush Stage 3 is about $56,000. The SRT10 is/was $45,000. Saleen has a deep cadre of loyalists, though, many of whom need or want trucks.

“The potential market for this is more than what we do with Mustang,” said Saleen. “Our dealers said three-quarters of their sales are trucks, so it made sense.”