If you've seen the road test of the Saleen S7 in our June 2003 issue, then you know about the raw speed, dynamic visual appeal and heretofore-unseen amounts of g-generating downforce that this American exotic dishes out. For the entire story of how this gentrified race car came into being, it's an absolute must to visit the Saleen production line in Irvine, California, where S7s are assembled alongside several variants of Saleen's S281 Mustangs. Please, if you will, join us for a tour. Each Saleen S7 begins life on this chassis jig, which ensures accurate alignment of each tube of 4130 chrome-moly. Note the two sturdy roll hoops, and the stout lower perimeter structure. At this stage, the firewall and numerous other reinforcement panels of aluminum honeycomb are riveted and bonded to the chassis, resulting in a completed tub. An example of the meticulous hand measurement and assembly of each S7. Here, a worker fits the steering rack to the tub. The steering rack itself, quite the showpiece with its red anodized fittings, is made to order for Saleen from an outside supplier. It employs electric/hydraulic assist, and is the exact same piece used in the S7 race car. I wouldn't suggest you actually eat off the floors of the S7's engine final assembly room, but they're that clean. A Saleen technician prepares to fit pistons to the aluminum 7.0-liter block. Forged aluminum pistons and connecting rods forged form 4340 billet steel are prepped and ready to ultimately produce 550 bhp. Cylinder heads, based on a Saleen-exclusive casting, have both their ports and combustion chambers carved out by a CNC mill for optimum uniformity. Check out the size of those stainless valves! The S7's forged crankshaft, another machined objet d'art. Once in place, it'll spin to 6500 rpm. At 8.0 in., the S7's twin-disc clutch is of relatively small diameter, in order to place the engine lower in the car. Buyers get a choice of organic or metallic friction plates, depending on the car's intended duty. The stainless steel exhaust system not only routes spent gases, but serves to absorb crash energy in a rear impact. The entire rear subframe, engine and rear suspension can be unbolted from the main portion of the chassis for service. Note that many of the engine's accessories are offset to the side to shorten the overall engine length. The carbon-fiber bodywork is the only thing about the S7 that's not made in America. Steve Saleen concedes that the craftsmen in the English Midlands are the best at this specialty. An S7 nears completion as the rear window is carefully lowered in place by four technicians. The S7's doors swing up on a hinge line angled at about 45 degrees, in the manner of a Porsche 962. Getting through the doors is easy; threading your legs into the narrow footwell is harder. As with any hand-built car, a series of final checks is in order before the owner arrives to be custom-fitted to the seat and pedals. Those four pipes aren't just for show. Neither are the car's many vents, ducts and gills, which serve to admit air, evacuate heat and create downforce. Oh, we almost forgot...Saleen sells about 900 normally aspirated and supercharged S281 Mustangs a year through Ford dealerships. Steve's a busy guy. ----- It's long, low and menacing, looking unlike anything to ever come out of the Saleen stable. There's not a trace of Mustang to be found, nor any other vehicle for that matter. The S7 is a clean-sheet design that Steve Saleen calls "an American interpretation of the European supercar." Created in the same spirit as exotics like the Ferrari F40, Porsche GT1 and McLaren F1, the S7's mission is to bring race-car performance to the street with a decidedly American flavor. One walk around the car quickly settles any lingering doubts of Saleen's status as a "tuner" versus a "manufacturer." Built at the company's new 150,000-sq.-ft. facility in Irvine, California, the S7, unlike its Mustang-derived brethren, in no way draws its origins from any preexisting production vehicle. Instead, it starts life in the same fashion as many race cars, with a lightweight steel-tube chassis mated to a powerful mid-mounted engine. The chrome-moly space frame is reinforced with honeycomb-composite panels for increased rigidity while the suspension consists of unequal-length A-arms and coil-over shocks at all four corners. Race-spec Brembo calipers tackle the braking duties accompanied by massive vented rotors, 15-in. front and 14-in. rear. At center stage sits Saleen's own all-aluminum 7.0-liter V-8 and 6-speed transmission. Good for 550 bhp and 525 lb.-ft. of torque, this thundering powerplant makes short work of any stretch of road, especially when combined with the S7's svelte 2750-lb. curb weight. Some 1200 lb. lighter than the similarly exotic Lamborghini Murciélago, this lack of mass gives the S7 a surprisingly nimble feel despite its substantial exterior dimensions. Best seat in the house: The S7's interior is snug, well finished and functional. Inside, accommodations are snug, yet manageable. Once through the scissor-type doors and planted in the racing-style leather buckets, the cabin actually seems to open up. It's certainly not spacious, but in the cramped world of supercars, the S7 fits quite well. Shoulder and head room are good and all controls appear where they should. The driver's footwell could stand to be wider for the Bigfoot set, but once you're strapped in and situated behind the small-diameter steering wheel, everything falls smartly into place. Even in street trim, the S7 never strays far from its competition counterpart, the S7R. Both iterations share many of the same vital components. The race-car chassis gains additional rollcage bracing, while the engine and suspension are tuned toward racing, but retain the street S7's basic configurations. The carbon-fiber bodywork is very similar, with the S7R also employing quick-release latches and a raised rear wing. Brake systems for both versions are identical. As such, the S7 also shares similar performance with the S7R, a car that won four international GT championships last year, along with a podium finish at Le Mans. Fire it up and everything about the S7 screams high velocity. The thrust of the V-8 is ferocious in any gear and at any speed. It pulls with ear-pinning torque when summoned, yet remains docile and surprisingly muffled at commuting speeds. Initial estimates put a 0–60-mph sprint somewhere in the mid-3-second range and a top speed at more than 200 mph. The ultra-quick steering takes some getting used to, but it does allow the S7 to be positioned precisely. As speeds climb and its aerodynamic forces come into play, the S7 requires a deliberate mindset shift to accept that the faster you go, the more grip you have. Obviously, physics only allows this to happen up to a point, but on anything short of a high-speed race course, that point will not likely be reached by anyone but a professional racer. And like its handling, the S7's braking is the stuff of pure race cars. At no time is there ever any concern that the brakes won't get the car slowed down no matter what the situation. Saleen delivered its first customer S7 at the beginning of June and company officials expect to be turning out one car per week by midsummer. There are already firm orders for the first 50 cars, so expect to wait at least a year before tossing down $395,000 for an S7. Expensive, yes, but what that buys is a striking new supercar with the looks, performance and racing pedigree to take on the best European exotics with the added distinction of coming from the good ol' U.S.A.