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click above image to view more high-res photos of the Saleen H302 SC

There might be dozens (even hundreds?) of Mustang variations out there, but when Saleen sends you an invite to drive its new 620-horsepower S302E Extreme Mustang, you take it without thinking twice. You see, they have been working their magic on Ford's pony car for 25 years now, so if anyone knows how to do it right, it's Saleen. Company founder Steve Saleen might no longer be at the helm, but that doesn't mean the company's passion is gone for producing high performance automobiles. In fact, there seems to be a renewed enthusiasm, or what Saleen's General Manager Marques McCammon calls a "reawakening" of the company. Part of this is due to the recent acquisition of ASC (American Specialty Cars), and new key personnel in place including Paul Wilbur as the new President and CEO, as well as Chris Theodore, the father of the Ford GT program, as the new Chief Technology Officer. The two vehicles we drove, the H302 SC and the S302 Extreme, were the first two new vehicles launched under the new leadership. Follow the jump for our driving impressions of these two monster Mustangs.

Live Photos Copyright ©2007 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Arriving at the retired El Toro Marine base for a day of driving, we were met with Saleen's full lineup of vehicles. After a brief introduction to the new models, we headed out for some all-out driving on the abandoned runways. First up was the all-new H302 SC, which is by far one of the prettiest Mustangs ever built. The Heritage body design has more of a mature look than it did on the Grabber Orange Parnelli Jones Mustang, not to mention more power, as well. Using the 302 motor from the PJ with forged pistons (changed slightly to allow for less compression), crankshaft, and connecting rods, Saleen also added its patented twin-screw supercharger for a total of 580 bhp @ 6400 rpm and 525 lb-ft @ 6400 rpm. To put things in perspective, that's more power than the original Saleen S7. In addition to the engine upgrades, the H302 SC also receives a 6-speed transmission, lightweight aluminum flywheel, high performance clutch and a 3.73:1 rear end. In the handling department, the H302 SC gets Saleen's Racecraft suspension alongside a second generation Watts-Link system.

On the coned-off course, the H302 SC was undoubtedly a strong performer, exhibiting the same handling characteristics that we loved in the Parnelli Jones Mustang combined with a significant amount of additional horsepower. The car was smooth and easy to control, offering predictable handling and a chassis that felt up to par with handling the torque. A slight dose of understeer could easily be resolved with the throttle, and any traction lost by the rear tires was predictable and easy to control. Think GT500, except lighter, quicker, more responsive, and no wheel hop or rear end shifting from the live rear axle.

After making several laps in the H302 SC, it was time to switch to the S302E. The Extreme has the standard Saleen look, although with a carbon fiber front lip and rear diffuser. Underneath the hood is the same supercharged 302 ci V8 as the H302 SC, but with CNC ported aluminum cylinder heads good for an additional forty horsepower. More significant upgrades come in the form of 15-inch brakes with 6-piston calipers, lightweight forged aluminum 5-spoke wheels, and most importantly a sticky set of Pirelli P-Zero tires sized at 305x35x20 in the rear. The additional traction provided by the tires helps tremendously in putting the power down, both in a straight line and carving corners. Once hooked, the Extreme held onto the pavement with the exception of a brief chirp between gear shifts. Like the H302 SC, the Extreme could be easily steered using the throttle and provided excellent feedback. The power doesn't overwhelm the brakes, suspension or chassis, which is surprising for a car that was initially supposed to have less than half the horsepower. It's definitely a beast, but very predictable and controllable.

Amazingly, the cars ran all day without a hitch. None of the cars exhibited too much heat soak from the supercharger, and the brakes held up all day despite constant wide-open-throttle acceleration and ABS-inducing braking.

Priced at $74,999 for the H302 SC and $79,999 for the S302E, comparisons will most likely be made with the Corvette Z06 and the Viper SRT10. But most likely Saleen will attract a different type of buyer who wants the convenience of a back seat and prefers the Mustang's styling over the Viper or Vette. Yes, $80k is a hard pill to swallow for a Mustang, but you'd be hard pressed to find another car with 600+ horsepower that can be bought off the showroom floor for less.

Click image below to view the S302 Extreme's spec sheet

Click image below to view the H302 SC's spec sheet

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Phew that had me worried...i too thought the world was coming to an end when i saw there was no new mustangs =)

      Im still waiting for my Mustang II
      • 7 Years Ago
      nice engine in a heavy car with a truck axle.

      The corvette is ubiquitous, but this is getting entirely overplayed.

      80K??? That is modified M3 money. That is Porsche money. Easily used Ferrari or Aston Martin money.

      There are so many cool cars that one could buy for that kind of scratch, over a heavy, live-axle mustang with hard plastic interior.

      The engine tuning is interesting. Too bad the Mustang is the chassis it gets put into. To bad the Mustang has to be described that way, it shouldn't need to be.
        • 7 Years Ago
        You may not like it (and I do think 80k is a little steep) but people will most likely buy it. Sure there are better alternatives...there always are. But if that is the case, then Saleen would never sell any of their vehicles.

        Diehard Mustang fans, racers, rich old guys, people who have money and like tons of power in anything that is RWD and car collectors will buy this thing....whether we like it or not.

        And the chassis isn't a problem. It's solid. But like you said, it has a truck axle. I think an IRS would help. But the Mustang, with the right suspension setup, can hang with and even out handle some cars.

        I dunno. 3600lbs is around 300-400lbs lighter than the GT500. Not bad if you ask me. I think with that kind of weight savings, it will definitely be able to hang with the Vipers and Vettes out there.

        At $80k for a Ferrari or AM, you would get a nice weekend cruiser that most likely couldn't touch this thing in the performance department. If I could get a 550 or a 360 for $80k, I would.

        I bet most of the cost comes from that 5.0L. If it's Ford's 302 Cammer engine, I can understand it. According to FRP's site, that engine costs around $30k.
        • 7 Years Ago
        What would a fwd econo box ricer driver complain about a live axle for? Talk to us when the power comes through the rear wheels, then your opinion might count! Quite laughable with all the 'tuned' 80k plus fwd econoboxes in existence.....the pot calls the kettle black! That backwards chassis won the Grand Am Cup 05 championship and finished 2nd in 07 GS Manufacturers championship against M3's and Porsche's etc. I don't see any Porsche's or BMW's for 80K that runs with the Saleen....drop the pipe!
        • 7 Years Ago

        My opinion is no less valid than yours. And in this case, and probably most cases, is probably more informed, considering the ignorance you put on display.

        FWD Econobox Ricer???? I can only assume that you mean that toward me, since "That One Person" didn't have any identifying info about their car.

        Try 300hp, AWD, manual-shifted, turbocharged sport sedan. (Something that NO American company builds, BTW...) And I do mean AWD, I have the worn rear tires to prove it. My Legacy GT is no slouch, and I have more than surprised a Mustang or two.

        My other/wife's car is a... REAR WHEEL DRIVE Miata. That I am sure handles better than any live-axle mustang, regardless of what small fraction of the horsepower rating it has. I also have a motorcycle, which of course is the definition of REAR WHEEL DRIVE.

        I also didn't spend anywhere near the cash on my Legacy GT, including tuning, that a brand new Mustang GT costs. My car is lighter, much nicer inside, and can carry a few friends. Maybe that last bit isn't a priority for you, considering your tone.

        I used to own a Mustang, and have driven an S197 that a family member owns. I also used to own a ford truck. And they do ride about the same, except for the ride height and vehicle weight. (although factory mustangs with stock suspensions aren't that much lower than 2wd trucks.)

        I drove both previous Fords for many years through 12 years of snow-belt winters, and the Legacy beats them both, hands down, in the snow. Combined. Come back when you have a better reason for flaming someone you don't know anything about.

        Maybe the FR500s can win in some race classes, on a pool-table smooth track, but in the real world, with pot holes and uneven pavement, live axle behavior is FAR from ideal, and I would not spend 80k on a car, REGARDLESS of it's power level, that is hobbled in such a way with inferior suspension technology. I am not a race car driver, and I don't drive race cars on the street. I drive street cars on the street.

        I would buy a Porsche Cayman or Carrera, or even a new V8 M3 for the kind of money Saleen is asking, and have a truer sporting car, even if it isn't as statistically fast in a straight line, or have the outright horsepower bragging-rights number. I'll bet the german cars are still actually just as fast, or faster, merely from being easier to drive well. Certainly more enjoyable from behind the wheel. And even a used Aston Martin or V8 Ferrari would be nicer to drive.

        Go back to your little world of thinking that a $20k rwd car with an engine transplant and a body-kit can compete for $80k without really fixing the major drawbacks that it has, just because you happen to like it.

        Saleen racecraft suspension is good, but it can't overcome the laws of physics and make a solid axle bend in four places like an IRS does.

        Take the insults somewhere else, and let the adults talk about cars.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I agree with the top comment. Honestly, a 300hp, light weight car (like a Cayman) is way more fun than some 500hp beast that you have to point straight in order to use.

      As with most things, excess is fun, but not forever.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Saleen has NO CASH FLOW

      Saleen has NO STEVE SALEEN

      Saleen has NO SALEEN STORE

      • 7 Years Ago
      Is this the version that is used in the Transformers movie?
        • 7 Years Ago
        In the movie was a Saleen S281 Coupe.
      • 7 Years Ago
      For 80 grand I would expect the additional body pieces to look like they actualy fit the car. Where did they get those rocker panels and rear valence? JC Whitney? What ever happened to symmetry and flowing body lines? Seriously these pieces look like they slapped on as an after thought.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I have to agree. The body kits on quite a few 'tuner' Mustangs look poorly made and not well integrated into the design of the car. And I would assume that, over a few years time, they will weather, warp, and change color slightly, making them look even cheesier. Build me something plain and simple with this kind of horsepower/handling and I'm in. Leave the plastic cladding to the Pontiac Aztek
      • 7 Years Ago
      Thank god....a special edition Mustang!!! I was getting worried that the world was about to end as it's been like 5 days since you've posted anything about Mustangs.


      OK people...the world is not ending, false alarm. Please resume your normal everyday goings on............
      • 7 Years Ago
      i like how the car looks... beautiful..
      • 7 Years Ago
      Great performance, mean lookin' bastard.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ford could learn from this.
      If people are welling to pay that money for a Mustang that works well on a track, they could make the base one way better.
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