When specialist automaker Saleen said they were offering a sport truck, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Others had affixed that label to trucks ranging from paint-and-tape specials to pickups so sporty they couldn’t carry overnight luggage despite retaining their cargo box.
Thankfully, Saleen has wrought a real truck with real performance. That’s tough to do. But given the advanced raw material in Ford’s F-150 and Saleen’s maturing engineering capabilities, they’ve delivered the S331 SC—a truck that retains all the payload and towing capacity Ford ever gave it, along with the thrill of a truly taut chassis and 450 supercharged horsepower.
A naturally aspirated 325-horsepower S331 is also available; with intake, exhaust and engine management upgrades. So gung-ho are Saleen buyers that these non-supercharged S331s are expected to form only 10 percent of the projected 2000 per year production run emanating from Saleen’s assembly plants in Irvine, California and Troy, Michigan. The new trucks can be purchased at just over 200 Saleen dealers across the U.S.
Aesthetics of the S331
The freshly minted Ford F-150 is more than field stripped, then reassembled with Saleen parts to form a well-equipped truck. Every S331 uses the SuperCab featuring two large doors for the pair of front captain’s chairs and two rear-opening auxiliary doors to access the occasional rear bench. The interior is heavily redesigned with a fresh Saleen instrument cluster and two-tone black and gray, double-stitched leather seating.
The Saleen badging embroidered into the seating, floor mats, door panels and affixed to the steering wheel is tastefully done and does its job of saying you’re inside something special. If you look closely a small serialized console badge denotes the truck’s number and limited build status. A racy touch is added by metal pedal pads, aluminum scuff plates and other bright trim.
Outside, Saleen uses their own vented aluminum hood, plus quality TPO composite fascias, rocker panels, tailgate trim and a powerful palette of colors to make the truck very much their own. It’s adept styling that’s geometrically tensioned yet without a hint of boy racer or excessive aggressiveness.
We saw it as handsomely powerful, yet refined enough to take anywhere. Saleen’s 20 years experience of making body panels has resulted in the sort of quality expected from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), including nice finishes, consistent panel gaps and mechanical fasteners in high-vibration areas.
Power and Suspension
While the sophisticated design treatment—and a growling side-exit exhaust system—sets the tone, it’s the performance muscle that makes the real statement in the S331. The core engine remains stock, but the supercharged truck gains an efficient, instant-response screw-type supercharger with water-to-air charge cooling. Saleen casts their own integrated supercharger housing and intake manifold, thus retaining some manifold runner length for good off-boost efficiency. On-boost the power is enormous, the supercharged 331 cubic-inch 3-valve V8 belting out an impressive 500 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
Saleen retains the Ford 4-speed automatic transmission and uses 3.73 gearing in the 9.75-inch rear axle’s limited-slip differential. Impressive as the power is, it’s making the 5,500 lb. pickup truck handle where Saleen earns the most credit.
The specifications are simple enough; the springs, gas shocks, tubular sway bars and urethane bushings are all tuned for performance, but this glosses over the detail work Saleen made to match these components together, and especially with the 23-inch tall, 10-inch wide wheel and tire package. The seven-spoke wheels (satin or polished finish) are forged for strength and the tires are BFGoodrich’s high-performance KDW2′s in a positively behemoth 305/40ZR-23 size.
Stock Ford brakes are standard on the S331, but few will be sold that way. If nothing else, the stock brake is lost inside the open-spoke 23-inch wheel, looking more like the wheel’s hub than a brake. Saleen is offering a 15-inch front brake option boasting a slotted and ventilated disc gripped by 6-piston calipers. But while it’s a huge brake, it simply looks normal inside the tall wheels. It also stops much better than stock and is not that expensive of an option on a premium pickup.
Other notable options are Class III or Class IV towing packages, a retractable, roll-up aluminum tonneau cover, either drop-in or spray-in bed liners and HID headlights. The Class III tow package hides niftily behind the swing-down rear license plate, and offers 4- or 7-pin lighting connectors and 5,000 lb. towing capacity. The Class IV package adds automatic load leveling via supplemental rear suspension airbags and a larger capacity aluminum radiator (which is also available separately).
So equipped, the S331 SC can tug no less than 9,500 lbs. of trailer. Payload capacity in the bed is 1,350 lbs. and is accessed via an integrated rear step bumper that will hold 1,000 lbs. should four people decide to perch on it simultaneously. For sound system aficionados a Rockford Fosgate “Punch” upgrade with subwoofer is also available.
Driving the S331
Driving the S331 is absolutely fun. The seating is comfortable, even for tall folks, and the handsome interior makes being behind the wheel a good place to be. While the truck is heavy, the power hit is definite, and the S331 SC sprints right alongside sports sedans and other fast company.
We haven’t timed the Saleen, but it feels at least as fast as the old Ford Lightning and will embarrass plenty of unsuspecting drivers. Such amazement will only become wonderment when the road curves; the S331 can carve a corner with minimal understeer and surprising adhesion. And while bodyroll is not entirely banished, the S331 belies its weight in transitions, juking through the esses with car-like agility.
Our greatest surprise came in the ride department. It’s forgivable to think the S331 should slam like a bling-and-spinners buckboard, but it doesn’t. In total defiance of its 23-inch wheels, the S331 offers a controlled but plush gate we would not hesitate to drive daily or on long vacations towing the bikes or boat. Oh, it’s a truck and will lightly freeway hop on bad concrete pavement, but overall the ride is positively amazing considering the excellent handling.
Downsides to the S331 mainly follow the laws of physics. Fast heavy trucks aren’t the last word in fuel economy, and if the premium-fuel only S331 wasn’t a horrid fuel glutton during our short drive, it clearly isn’t going to win any Index of Thermal Efficiency awards, either.
We found the volume knob on the exhaust on the edge of loud—but probably right where it needs to be for a blown sport truck. It’s quiet at idle, but quickly becomes full-voiced anytime your right foot goes down a little.
Furthermore, when your foot hit the floorboard the hurricane in the exhaust adds an unfortunate hiss to the pipe’s rumble. Sensitive ears will occasionally pick-out some blower whine (most consider it exotically fun) while the truly mechanically tuned will on rare occasions just barely hear some brake pad knockback from the 6-piston calipers.
Of course, we could take the easy shot at the cover charge. Base price is $52,990 and typically equipped with the big brakes and a tow package, expect mid-to upper-50s. Work the option sheet over hard, especially with one of Saleen’s very cool exotic paints and you could have a $60,000 pickup.
Upsides to the S331 are extensive. If it matters there’s the exclusivity and resale of a limited-production truck, and the performance is exhilarating and easily accessed. For a confirmed truck enthusiast who loves the utility but hates the lumbering, the S331 seems ideal.
by Tom Wilson