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Ford-Powered Saleen S7R Into Production

by Larry Roberts

March 6, 2001

Apparently the fortunes of Steve Saleen and his small Southern California car building company are getting better all the time. You might recall that Saleen is the sports car enthusiast-turned-builder who has made his mark in the automotive world as the producer of a line of "sporting" vehicles that have ranged from small trucks that raced in the old SCCA mini-truck road racing series to a line of sports cars that bear the Saleen name.

In truth, all the cars were modified Ford products, the most notable being the various Ford Mustangs that he customized until they were hardly recognizable. Some may dismiss this concept of modifying a currently produced vehicle from a large auto maker and attaching the modifiers own name and logo, but we need only point to the products of Shelby America. Carroll Shelby made his name and reputation on modifying British AC Ace roadster and Ford Mustangs and calling them Shelby Cobras and Shelby GT 350 coupes.

Steve Saleen has followed in the 35-year old footsteps of Carroll Shelby and has gone into production of Ford-powered exotic "supercars" of the same genre of Lamborghini, Ferrari and Lotus. The Saleen S7 was developed from a clean sheet of paper and unlike other Saleen products, uses only proprietary parts such as a Ford twin-cam engine.

But Saleen has also taken a page from Shelby's book on automotive success and is producing a professional endurance racing sports-racer to compete in national and international events. To that end Saleen's racing department, Saleen Allen Speedlab, has developed a racing version of its S7 exotic, the S7R, to be campaigned as a "production" car in the various classes in a plethora of sanctioning bodies. Originally the drivers for the factory team were to consist of the multi-national team of Tom Kendall, Oliver Gavin, Terry Borcheller and Ron Johnston driving a single car. The S7R is classed with cars such as the factory-entered Chevrolet Corvette C5R, recent winner of the Daytona 24 hour race, the all-conquering Oreca Dodge Vipers and a half-dozen other brands.

But now Saleen reports that he has contracted to build S7R race cars for so many independent teams that his own effort will have to be delayed. The first of these "privateers" is Paul Gentilozzi, two-time national champion in the SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am series. Gentilozzi drove his Rocketsport-entered S7R at the Rolex Daytona 24 Hour race and while his qualifying times were as good as any in the class, the car went out after 50 laps with undisclosed mechanical problems.

Saleen had planned to prove his S7R in competition and then sell five or six replicas to "privateers" after the 24 Hours of Le Mans race this coming June. But orders up front have taken precedence and his efforts will be concentrated on the orders at hand, some of which are planned to compete at Le Mans by their new owners.

And what could be sweeter for a race car builder than to have customers waiting in the wings to drive a yet unproven machine.

We'll have to wait and see.