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.
Engine & Transmission
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.
Innovative Exhaust System
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.
Supercharged S281 SC
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 shape of the snorkel opening for the intake air tube is designed for maximum flow. To maintain a constant volume of air as the air flows toward the rear of the engine, the housing widens and flattens-out of the engine. Some other significant design features of the Saleen supercharger:
It features an integrated bypass for low-speed running; when you are driving at low speeds and don’t require boost, the bypass helps reduce heat buildup in the engine. The Saleen design provides for optimal runner length, resulting in more torque and better low-end drivability.
It features long, beefy downdraft runners with minimal bends for maximizing torque and horsepower. On the previous design, the air had to make two 180-degree bends. The new design provides a straight, direct shot into the cylinders and about 50 percent increase in flow compared to last year’s supercharger.
The new design is much more maintenance-friendly. It has only one sealing surface; the previous supercharger had four. In addition, you only have to remove the eight screws that bolt the air tube to the plenum for access to all of the blower components. Previously, you had to remove the supercharger assembly from the engine and then disassemble it.
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.
Precise, fun-to-drive handling starts with a highly rigid platform and body structure. The foundation for the new S281 Mustang is a high strength steel body shell that is completely new. It’s 31-percent stiffer in torsion, meaning a twisting force of 15,500 lb-ft can deform the body by only one degree. The body is also 49-percent more resistant to bending forces. These dramatic leaps in body stiffness not only contribute to the 2005 S281’s markedly improved dynamic characteristics but also have parallel benefits in accident protection.
Engineering a body with such high stiffness creates a passenger safety cage that helps protect the cabin from deformation and intrusion.
The front structure is designed to absorb energy in a controlled manner and dissipate it before it can reach the passenger compartment. The front rails have an octagonal shape to spread forces evenly at the firewall and progressively deform for increased protection in demanding, offset frontal crashes.
Saleen customers demand an S281 Mustang with handling to match the car’s acceleration potential. And this is an area where Saleen’s racing expertise and experience played a major role in the S281’s chassis development. Saleen developed special springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars to control body roll and to provide crisp cornering. Bushings made from high durometer rubber are used to achieve the direct steering response for which Saleen sports cars are noted. During the S281’s development, Saleen tested the car on roads and tracks around the country to achieve what they believe is an optimum ride and handling balance.
For 2005, The S281 Mustang’s sold axle rear suspension has new three-link architecture with a lightweight, tubular Panhard rod providing precise control of the rear axle. This technology stabilizes the rear axle as the wheels move, particularly during hard cornering.
Thanks to the Panhard rod, the 2005 rear suspension is four times stiffer laterally than the previous design. The added lateral stiffness, working in conjunction with an axle tube with increased wall thickness and a larger outside diameter, helps keep the tire flat on the road for greater cornering power and more precise handling.
The four-wheel disc brakes fitted to the S281 model have the biggest rotors and stiffest calipers ever fitted to an S281 as standard equipment. Twin-piston aluminum calipers clamp down on 12.4-inch ventilated front brake discs, an increase of more than 15 percent in rotor size compared to last year. In the rear, the brake rotors are 11.8 inches in diameter, more than 12 percent larger than on the 2004 model. In addition, the 2005 rear rotors are vented. A four-channel anti-lock braking system and all-speed traction control provide additional assistance during emergency maneuvers.
When traction control isn’t desired, like when a smokey burnout at the drag strip is in order, drivers can deactivate the system with a simple button on the instrument panel.
Wheels and Tires
Saleen-designed 20-inch alloy wheels are standard on all three S281 models. Up front, the wheels are 9 inches wide, and the rears are 9 inches as well. All S281’s are equipped with high-performance radials. Sizes are 275/35ZR20 all around. Optional are ultra-high performance Pirelli P-Zero Rossos, 275/35ZR20s up front with 275/40ZR20s fitted to the 10-inch wide rear wheels.
A performance-focused driving environment is as much a part of a Saleen automobile as its engine or suspension. The 6-inch gain in wheelbase gave Saleen the ability to maximize the comfort and ergonomics of the new S281 Mustang. Six inches might not seem like a lot when compared to the S281’s overall length, but it makes a large difference when behind the wheel. Taller drivers will feel more at home with more head room and shoulder room. Rear passengers also enjoy more leg room and shoulder room in their sculpted bucket seats.
The S281’s modern architecture creates a much more comfortable driving position. It starts with Saleen leather seats featuring stylish louvered head restraints and performance bolstering for greater support, whether cruising for long distances on the interstate or for high-g cornering. It continues with power seat controls relocated to a more intuitive position on the outboard side of the seat and features ample fore/aft and cushion height adjustments, along with individual front/rear cushion height adjustment, power lumbar and manual seat back rake.
Add a three-spoke steering wheel offering rake adjustment, Saleen high-grip, racing-inspired brake and throttle pedals ideally positioned for easy heel-and-toe downshifting and a Saleen, short-throw shifter lever that truly falls “right to hand,” and you’ve got the makings of a world-class driving environment.
Naturally, the interior features a number of Saleen exclusives. A few of these include unique Saleen gauges with black backgrounds, white numbers and easy-to-read silver needles with black inserts, satin aluminum trim, painted accents, Saleen door sill plates and S281 floor mats.
Each car also comes with an individualized Saleen VIN number stamped in the chassis, on a dash plaque and on the front bumper. The S281 SC model also features a Saleen twin gauge pod with readouts for boost and air temperature.
More standard features than ever before include one-touch up/down power windows, power mirrors, keyless entry and power locks, a heated rear window, interval wipers, a Shaker 500 audio system with 500 watts of output, a six-disc CD player, MP3 capability and a MyColor custom instrument panel. The industry-first, color-configurable MyColor instrument panel offers the ultimate in personalization. S281 owners can mix and match lighting at the touch of a button to crate more than 125 different color backgrounds to suit their personality, mood, outfit, or whim.
Specs & Performance
$47 249 USD
Saleen Series VI integrated TwinScrew Supercharger
DOHC, 3 Valves per Cyl w/Varibale Camshaft Timing
Electronic, Returnless & Sequential Ignition
4606 cc / 281.1 in³
90.2 mm / 3.55 in
90.0 mm / 3.54 in
298.3 kw / 400 bhp @ 5800 rpm
86.84 bhp per litre
248.45 bhp per tonne
569.44 nm / 420 ft lbs @ 4000 rpm
body / frame
Unit Steel w/Aluminum Hood
275/35ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero Rosso
275/40ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero Rosso
Saleen Discs w/4-Piston Calipers
f brake size
x 316 mm / x 12.4 in
Saleen Discs w/4-Piston Calipers
r brake size
x 300 mm / x 11.8 in
F 50.8 x 22.9 cm / 20.0 x 9 in
R 50.8 x 25.4 cm / 20 x 10 in
Rack & Pinion w/Power Assist
MacPherson Struts w/Saleen Racecraft N2 Struts, Coil-Over-Spring Units, Stabalizer Bar
Live Axle w/Saleen Racecraft System, Springs, N2 Shocks, Anti-Roll Bar