The 2005 S281 is Saleen’s first all-new car in this market segment since they began manufacturing automobiles more than two decades ago. And by ’new’, that means changes are more than skin deep. There is an all-new all-aluminum 281-cubic-inch 3-valve V8 matched to a slick-shifting 5-speed manual gearbox. The suspension is totally new with an advanced MacPherson strut design up front and a three-link live rear axle with a Panhard rod at the rear. The improvements in handling have to be driven to be believed.
The wheelbase has been stretched six inches and the wheels are pushed closer to the corners of the car, especially up front. Not only has this allowed us to significantly improve the S281 Mustang’s ride characteristics, but also its overall handling and balance. And there’s a lot less weight on the nose of the car for better weight distribution.
The first thing to capture any viewer’s attention is the S281’s dramatic styling - boldly new from stem to stern. Its signature long hood and short rear deck emphasizes the Saleen muscle under the bonnet and its traditional rear-wheel drive. The alloy wheels are big, wide, and clothed in equally aggressive rubber that completely fills the prominent wheel wells.
Up front are integrated turn signals along with available HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlights. Featuring unique Saleen-designed headlamp assemblies incorporating the industry’s first bi-functional Xenon/HID lamp, these lights use moveable light shield technology to achieve both high and low beam functions in a single reflector with only one HID light source. They provide 40 percent more light in both low and high beam functions than conventional lamps. A high-performance sports car deserves high-performance lighting.
You will also notice a family resemblance with the Saleen S7 in the shaping of features such as the lower front grille opening, the hood "vents," the rocker panel side skirting, the rear spoiler and the rear diffuser. Designed by the wind. Beauty and function. Optimal aerodynamics and top-speed performance. Objectives the S281 achieves because of lessons previously learned in wind tunnel testing of the S7. The S281 SC gets a hood, rear wing and quarter window treatment distinct from the S281 3-valve.
While the S281 pays homage to other Saleens, including its predecessor, in certain of its design cues, the overall sophistication and refinement of the exterior surfaces pulls the S281 firmly into the 21st century.
"At Saleen we have our own design language," explained Steve Saleen. "It’s evident in everything we do: S281, N20 Focus, S7. The new S281 is clean, distinctive, and aggressive. It’s retro, yet contemporary. And it’s got great proportions. "But I’m equally proud of the subtlety, refinement, and sophistication of the overall design," Saleen continued.
Saleen has a couple of credos the company lives by. One of them is "Power in the Hands of a Few." "Power" can mean a lot of things, but first and foremost at Saleen it speaks to what lurks under the hood.A muscular V8 infuses every S281 Mustang with tire-smoking performance. The 2005 4.6-liter V8 has new three-valve heads - two intake valves and one exhaust valve. The additional intake valve measurably improves engine breathing on the intake side.
The exhaust system is an innovative "variable design," featuring twin mufflers with vacuum-actuated valves that open above a specified back pressure. When these valves open, a portion of the exhaust gases is routed through a second set of tail pipes pointed at the ground. This design offers numerous advantages. It allows the engine to be calibrated to produce higher torque. Secondly, it provides a free-flowing exhaust system, while still providing the capability for passing mandated pass-by noise regulations in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. Thirdly, it makes for some lovely exhaust sounds at wide-open throttle. The exhaust side of the engine also features a full 2 ½ inch stainless steel exhaust system, running from the exhaust manifold outlet to the tip of the exhaust pipes.
Because of its all-aluminum design, the new engine weighs 75 pounds less than last year’s V8, which, along with the increased wheelbase, reduces weight on the nose from 5 percent down to a much more ideal 53 percent for a front-engine/rear-drive performance machine.
Saleen has been using supercharging since the mid 1980’s and introduced a supercharged version of the S281 in 1999. Once word got around about its performance capabilities, the S281 SC quickly displaced its normally aspirated S281 counterpart as Top Gun on the Saleen sales charts.
The supercharger is an all-new innovative design, so new and so innovative that Saleen has several patents pending on the design. Saleen started with unconventional wisdom. That meant tossing all current supercharger design theory out the window. When they had finished with their out-of-the-box thinking, Saleen’s engine wizards created a design unique in the annals of supercharging; a supercharger that "blows" all others away. A blower charming in its design simplicity and elegant in its compactness, light weight and high efficiency. It’s called the Saleen Series VI integrated TwinScrew supercharger with two-stage water-to-air intercooling system.
Essentially, the Saleen design integrates the previously separate intake manifold, blower housing/assembly and intercooler into one compact unit that nestles neatly into the valley between the heads. This allows for a much wider intake manifold.
The blower assembly contains twin screws, which push 2300 cc of air per rotation versus 1600 cc for last year’s supercharger. As a result, the supercharger turns slower for equivalent boost, producing lower stress and lower air charger temperatures. The higher supercharger efficiency, along with the lower air charge temperatures allows for an intercooler that is smaller, lighter and more compact and which has virtually zero pressure drop from inlet-to-outlet side.
Where does the "two-stage intercooling" description come from? A second cooler located in the airdam below the engine radiator assists the intercooler integrated into the supercharger assembly.
The overall efficiency gains - in the engine, the supercharger and the intercooler - mean the new supercharged V8 produces more horsepower and torque at a less stressful 6-7 psi boost than last year’s supercharged engine at 7-8 psi. The S281 SC also benefits from a specific Saleen PowerFlash performance computer along with a Saleen free-flowing air filter.
The S281 SC cranks out a neck-snapping 400 horsepower, 25 more than last year’s S281 SC, and an eye-popping 420 lb-ft torque, 5 more lb-ft than in 2004. The 400 bhp figure matches that of the 2005 C6 Corvette.
The S281 SC Mustang is equipped with an improved version of the current 5-speed manual gearbox. The ratios are the same as last year but the gear change mechanism has been revised for smoother shifting. In addition, the S281 SC receives a higher final-drive ration 3.55:1 versus 3.27:1 from last year - for more aggressive acceleration. An electronically-controlled 5-speed automatic transmission is available. It is matched to a 3.31:1 final-drive ratio.