The Saleen S7 Super Car

Even divine intervention cannot help her in Montreal traffic

NIKA ROLCZEWSKI
Special to The Star

You would think that, driving god’s car, I could have found some divine intervention, but even a silver Saleen S7 – the same car actor Jim Carrey drove in the film “Bruce Almighty” – wasn’t going to free me from the hell of downtown MontrĂ©al traffic.

Here I was, patiently awaiting just a short glimpse of roadway, thinking I would give my kingdom for a green light, a clear street, and a road full of twists and turns.

Far as I may have been from sainthood and sports-car roads, I still felt like a god behind the wheel of the S7. How could I not? At 41 inches high, it’s lower-slung than the new Ford GT, and its long, wide shape is punctuated by gaping air intakes slashed into its bumpers, its sides, and its rear deck.

This is far from the glorified kit car I was expecting: up close and personal with it, I see smooth lines and even gaps – quality that suggests this hand-built car is made to robotic production-line standards.

On the one hand, Montreal’s posh Crescent street isn’t really the place to be driving a $600,000 Le Mans-engined exotic that you’ve spirited away from its Canadian unveiling. On the other hand, why not? Ultra
high-end exotics like the S7 don’t get driven much, and when they do, they play the crowd-pleasing showoff role as much as they hit the track to explore the outer limits of their capabilities.

The 217-mph top speed, and the big V8’s ability to propel the S7 to 100 km/h in 2.9 to 3.3 seconds – is as much symbolic as it is real. You may floor the gas once or twice off the track to experience that “whoa, mother of god” sensation, but the real fun bit is telling your friends – and the bystanders that immediately gather wherever you park – about it.

Besides, full-throttle in the S7 is not for the inexperienced or faint at heart. Unlike some other high-end exotics these days, it isn’t adorned with driver aids – Saleen considers them those bells and whistles that make us better drivers than we are – so there’s no ABS, no traction control, no paddle shifts, just pure muscle pulsating under that reptilian skin.

The engine? It’s an all- aluminum, 7-litre- V8 pounding out 550 horsepower at 6,400 rpm. The intergalactic gearing isn’t set up for city driving, and the clutch – already replaced from loading and unloading during short bursts of driving – is very heavy.

As for the brakes, at a red light, I experience full wheel lockup with a brush of the pedal. If you want fluff, go elsewhere, because the S7 is a driver’s car, and an experienced driver’s car at that.

On the street outside, well dressed businessmen – leaving long corporate lunches – strain to look into the low, low car. I labour to elegantly enter and exit its simple gray interior. Doors that swing up and my mature bones make this a daunting task. Its 188-inch makes it stand out on the street; I hear whispers of “What is this?” in many languages.

They peer inside to discover a fairly pedestrian interior: just enough Mazda- and Ford-sourced knobs and buttons for the A/C, the radio, and the car’s one bit of high-tech wizardry, a back-up camera. But who cares what’s behind us? In a car this fast, it’s the visibility out front that matters – and it’s fine.

The Californian-born S7 road car was unveiled in August 2000 to an appreciative audience of both enthusiasts and racers. Shortly after, Steve Saleen the company’s owner, announced plans to race a competition version to compete in the latter half of the 2000’s American Le Mans Series. It did respectably well on the track, and since then, magazines have compared the road to exotics such as the Lamborghini Murcielago – and while it’s lacking in racing pedigree and prestige factor, the S7 has held its own. The first delivery was made in July 2002.

There are, says Joseph Gambieri of Auto Bugatti, the S7’s sole Canadian distributor here in Montreal, a select few buyers who want a US$395,000 car with 64 air intakes, and that can drive 160 mph upside-down due its great aerodynamic qualities; He snickers that although a hard-core Italian car fanatic, the S7 is “a great car – for half the price of a Ferrari Enzo. Stupid fast and crazy. One test drive and it can sell itself.”

Unlike the Enzo, for instance, it spoils its drivers with power windows, locks and mirrors. There’s a six-disc CD changer and air conditioning to go with the lightweight six-piston Brembos and the stiff-shifting transmission. This is a car that you can get comfortable in.

It is a comfortable car that’s also a rocket if you want it to be – in true Le Mans-racer style, the S7 reeks of testosterone and hard-core race inspired power. There are no names etched on a manifold to boost Saleen’s ego, but the car’s predatory nature is evident in its design and in the way the engine delivers its power to the ground.

At low speeds, the ride isn’t bad; someone in the crowd chuckles in an accented voice that it’s like having a beautiful and intelligent woman that can cook. I guess what he means is that the S7 has it all –
passion, performance and drivability.

If you want a fancy name to impress your friends with, go for a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. But if it’s a raw – almost animalistic – quality in a car that you’re after, go Saleen. Its prestige comes from the fact that just 300 to 400 will be built in a five-year span; that the carbon-fibre body manufactured in the UK all by itself rings in at around US$100,000.

Order an S7, and it’ll take a dedicated team three months to build it, start to finish. Clearly, this exclusivity speaks to some people: two will be arriving in Canada in the next few months.

Another honk of a horn, more double parked cars and a crazy Montreal driver’s kamikaze move bring me back to reality. I look at my watch and wonder how Bruce Almighty parted the sea of cars.

How much more he could appreciate this beast than I can, stuck in this gridlock. Then again, he was god, and I’m just a mere mortal stuck in gridlock. Maybe one day, I’ll get the opportunity to drive this car the way it was meant to, but there isn’t a chance in hell…this time.

Nika

Nika

Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.