Fourth: Saleen S7 Twin Turbo
Power (C/D est): 775 bhp @ 6200 rpm
Torque (C/D est): 681 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
Street drivability: 3 stars
Zero to 200 mph: 38.2 sec
¼-mile: 11.6 sec @ 138 mph
200-to-0-mph braking: 1147 feet
Total time, 0 to 200 to 0 mph: 49.6 sec
The Saleen S7 Twin Turbo looks as exotic as a Le Mans race car, which is no surprise since it was designed that way from the outset. The looks alone might justify the $598,950 price, but it is also so beautifully made and outfitted that one overlooks the fact that the engine lurking amidships is a pushrod 16-valve Ford V-8.
Of course, the engine is hardly a stock Cleveland 351. It uses an aluminum-alloy block and cylinder heads and displaces 428 cubic inches. This engine is derived from Ford's NASCAR racing program and given further motivation by twin Garrett turbochargers. Regular S7 Twin Turbos, such as they are, make 750 horsepower at the flywheel on 6.0 pounds of boost. For the purposes of this test, the engine made 775 horsepower and 681 pound-feet of torque, thanks to higher boost pressure (8.0 psi), retuned engine management, and the removal of the catalytic converters.
If that appears feeble alongside the power inventories of the Viper, Ford GT, and Corvette, remember that the Saleen was easily the lightest of our contestants at 3064 pounds. Still, its power-to-weight ratio, at 4.0 pounds per horsepower, was the second worst here.
Ward Reasoner bought the S7 in early 2005 as a naturally aspirated car and then sent it to Irvine, California, for a twin-turbo upgrade. He must be one of the most enthusiastic of S7 owners: Not only did he bring his car all the way from Florida to northern Michigan for this test, but he also has 5600 miles on the car, an uncommon amount for an exotic. In normal highway driving, the S7 certainly feels like a race car for the street. The driver sits a long way forward in a fixed-position bucket, feet straight ahead in a relatively narrow footwell. Visibility rearward is on the bad side of atrocious. Without the rear-facing camera that is linked to a TV monitor mounted on the center stack, the driver would be a nervous wreck in traffic.
The engine is tremendously strong and traction is good, but the steering is too direct and nervous on the highway, and the ride is as firm as a Conestoga wagon's. Wind noise, too, is high, although the exhaust seems muted. The S7 is actually pretty easy to drive and certainly doesn't feel like a tuner car but rather a beautifully made supercar that was derived from a racer.
In Oscoda, driver Lee Saunders proved that he has cojones of steel. The reasons were pretty simple: The Saleen took a long time to get to 200 mph because it is geared for interplanetary travel in sixth, and its top-end progress was further hampered by aerodynamics that are designed for downforce rather than minimizing drag. "The car is fantastically stable," Saunders said. "The other guys are complaining that their cars are moving around, but in the S7, it's like you're on a Sunday drive."
Despite great launches, it took Saunders until the fourth run to hit the 200-mph mark. The Saleen ran the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 138 mph and hit 180 mph in 4000 feet but took another 4300 or so feet to reach the 200-mph mark.
For this last run, the crew removed the windshield wipers and covered panel gaps with tape. Saunders obliged with a ballsy effort -- so ballsy, in fact, that he almost didn't leave himself room to stop. Starting as far back on the runway as he could, Saunders saw 200 mph on the VBOX speed readout and then hit a bump, saw the speed go down to 199 mph, and stayed in it to make sure he hit 200 -- by which time he was close to the marker delineating 1000 feet before the runway's end. In a car worth nearly 600 large, without anti-lock brakes, from 200 mph, it was a case of steel cojones, indeed.
Third: Heffner Gallardo 850TT
Power (C/D est): 881 bhp @ 7900 rpm
Torque (C/D est): 595 lb-ft @ 7500 rpm
Street drivability: 4 stars
Zero to 200 mph: 25.7 sec
¼-mile: 11.3 sec @ 137 mph
200-to-0-mph braking: 1770 feet
Total time, 0 to 200 to 0 mph: 37.6 sec
Getting a Gallardo to break the 200-mph barrier requires some additions, as you might expect. But it also requires some deletions, which you might not.
This Lambo's owner didn't set out to possess the first Gallardo to crack the double-century mark. Like a lot of power junkies, Bernard Vroom (we did not make that up) wanted his car to stand out from other exotics swimming in the traffic stream around Sarasota, Florida.
As with the Ford GT, Jason Heffner's power prescription entailed a pair of Garrett GT35R turbos and a Spearco liquid-to-air intercooler, the latter dictated by the Lambo's mid-engine design (restricted airflow). But in this case, the upgrades went below the skin: lowered compression (from 11.0:1 to 9.0) via forged pistons with steel liners in the aluminum cylinder block. "We've seen scoring in some of these bores," said Heffner. The billet steel rods are by Carrillo, and Heffner replaced the con-rod bearings.
Fuel is delivered by a pair of high-capacity pumps to a Bosch injection system governed by a Heffner-spec ECU from AEM. The upper intake manifold is a Heffner design, as are the stainless-steel exhaust headers, the enlarged airbox intakes, and the high-flow air filters.
Full boost is a modest 9.0 psi, and it doesn't take long in arriving. At max, the boosted V-10 pulled 749 horsepower on the dyno, which works out to 881 at the crank. That's 388 more ponies than in the stock engine, essentially a whole herd, but nevertheless the second-lowest total in this muscular group, giving the Lambo the least favorable power-to-weight ratio: 4.1 pounds per horsepower.
Thus, reaching the 200-mph goal required something out of the ordinary, which Heffner supplied: Why not make the Lambo a rear-wheel-drive car? "It was the only way we could get it to 200," he said. "And anyway, we couldn't get the right aspect ratio for the front tires, so we were afraid we were going to burn up the center diff."
Taking away the front differential and half-shafts reduced off-the-line grip but did offset the added weight of the turbo system. With Vroom circling overhead in a light plane, Heffner climbed in and recorded two solid 0-to-200-to-0 runs that ranked the Gallardo third behind the GT and Viper. The Lambo covered the quarter in 11.3 seconds at 137 mph, 0.2 second behind the Viper. Vroom then descended from the skies to take the helm for the remaining two runs. He did crack 200 on one of them but neglected the stopping portion of the mission, so his two passes didn't figure in the results.
Beyond $60,800 worth of engine mods, which included a heavy-duty clutch and pressure plate from Lamborghini, Vroom's Gallardo was essentially stock and was amazingly agreeable on public roads at ordinary speeds. The clutch effort was light, the engagements were smooth, and the engine was content to burble along at relatively low rpm without any stumbles or balks. And when the driver summoned all that horsepower, the buildup was linear rather than the frenetic omigawd rush that goes with some turbo installations.
This is the fifth twin-turbo Gallardo to emerge from the Heffner shop. Judging by Vroom's car, we believe the installation is impeccable. Nevertheless, there are people in Italy who view Heffner's activities as heretical.
"The Lamborghini people don't like us very much," he admitted. But that probably won't keep him from completing the quad-turbo Murciélago that's now in progress.