Saleen S7 R

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Raw American muscle in sleek composite clothing

Building – and selling – a car with your own name on it is an achievement not many accomplish; seeing one of your cars take a class victory at Le Mans must be a personal peak.

That’s the journey that Californian Steve Saleen made. Starting as a weekend racer, he replaced an ageing Porsche with a Shelby GT350 Mustang, moved into tuning in 1983 while also racing in Formula Atlantic and soon began to offer ever-faster variations on the Mustang theme, to the point that he gained a manufacturer’s licence. A victory in the 1986 Mosport 24 Hours put the Saleen name firmly into the racing arena, and the firm’s machines started to find success through SCCA and GT racing. Saleen’s team also took its Mustangs to Le Mans to contest the 24 Hours and developed racing trucks which took several titles. But Saleen himself wanted to create a complete car instead of improving an existing product. 

That appeared in 2000: a clean-sheet design which was low, dramatic and mid-engined. Using a steel and aluminium honeycomb chassis the Saleen S7 sported a carbon-fibre body with much attention to aero management but stuck to US know-how for the engine, a naturally aspirated dry-sump 7-litre Ford Windsor V8 pushing out 550hp. With suspension development by Britain’s Ray Mallock Racing team the S7 clearly had competition aspirations and soon the ‘R for racing’ version appeared in ALMS, ELMS and FIA GT races. Sales to customers widened its reach, with Mallock taking the 2001 ELMS title, and the loud S7 Rs became a relatively common sight in GT events, winning British and Spanish GT titles.

By 2006 an updated S7 R was showing well run by the French ORECA outfit which took the FFSA GT championship while Zakspeed took over as the factory entry in FIA GT, scoring a brace of victories. Thereafter the Saleen star waned, but one final burst of excitement came at Le Mans in 2010 when an S7 R topped the LMGT1 category in the endurance classic.

Since then the Saleen name is more often seen on modified Mustangs and the outrageous Sportruck, a hot version of Ford’s huge-selling F150 pick-up. But Saleen is tempting new customers with its proposed S1, an all-new mid-engined two-seater in the McLaren/Ferrari bracket.

Meanwhile the S7 has become historic, and while over the years road versions gained two turbochargers, ramping up the horses to 750, 1000 and in the most recent offering 1300bhp, the car on the forecourt at GTC, north of Marseilles, makes no such claims. It’s one of the Zakspeed racers, which contested the 2006 FIA GT series in the hands of Jaroslav Janis and Sascha Bert, sometimes assisted by ex-Fi pilot Andrea Montermini, winning at Brno and the Hungaroring. After two further seasons it had a total rebuild and, backed by a suite of spares, it’s ready to enter series such as Masters and Global Endurance Legends.

Price new: $375,000 Price now: $750,000 Rivals: Chevrolet Corvette C6R, Aston Martin DBR9, Maserati MC12 Heritage: Adventurous clean-sheet racing effort from a successful tuning and modifying concern