The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is among the most prestigious automotive events in the country and plays host to some of the most exclusive and expensive cars the world has ever seen alongside new concepts and modern day vehicles. This isn’t the venue where Nissan is going to show off a new Versa or Ford brings a new Fiesta; it’s where new Maserati concepts play alongside the latest special edition from Bugatti. So it seemed a fitting place for renowned Mustang tuner Steve Saleen to introduce his take on Tesla’s Model S.
For Saleen (OTC:SLNN), the Tesla is quite far from his realm of expertise, which is made up largely of Camaros, Challengers, and, most of all, Mustangs. Even Saleen’s own project from scratch, the S7, utilized a 7.0 liter V8, which is a language that the company speaks fluently. Aside from four tires and a steering wheel, there’s little in common between the muscle car mainstays and the Model S.
With a combustion engine, there’s virtually no limit to what can be improved, swapped out, upgraded, or built on, but not so in an electric car. There’s the battery pack, the inverter, the electric motor, and little else that comprises the drivetrains of the EV. You can’t put in a bigger turbo, upgrade the fuel rails, swap out the exhaust, exchange for better spark plugs, implement a bigger intake, or all the other go-to mods for conventional gasoline vehicles.
Improvements to the Model S is made considerably harder by the fact that the car relies on Tesla’s proprietary software that makes sure everything is running correctly. Messing with that in an aftermarket setting could spell trouble for a firm like Saleen, which didn’t consult with Tesla about its product. Even hiring a bonafide software engineer to overhaul the system could turn the $100,000 or so sedan into a brick with leather seats in the event that something is altered the wrong way.
Therefore, Saleen made the executive decision — and rightly so — not to mess with that aspect of the car (well, maybe just a little). Even the name, the Foursixteen, is an homage to the Tesla’s stock-from-the-factory 416 horsepower. The firm instead turned its attention to the aerodynamic and handling aspects of the car, in order to improve airflow, firm up the suspension, and improve the cooling for the battery pack so it can withstand greater stresses for a more intense driving atmosphere. Essentially, if you can’t add power, make better do with the power you have. Lotus would be proud. And as Saleen himself says, “better aerodynamics is like free horsepower.”
Here’s the skinny on what exactly Saleen did with the Tesla. Most obviously, the front end has had an extensive overhaul, with a new hood, new front fascia and bumper, and a splitter along the bottom. It’s this part of the car that seems to be the most controversial, as observers has expressed mixed feelings about the new shape of the front. It’s radically different, yes, but it’s arguably better than the odd black plastic grille-cap that comes stock on the Model S which gives it a sort of mouth-agape expression. Regardless on what your feelings are about its aesthetics, it’s safe to say that the changes made were in line with the form-follows-function school of thought. The fascias — both back and front — were designed to work with and build on the existing aerodynamic veins beneath the car.
The hood is punctuated by some thick creases that contrast rather drastically with the glassy-smooth sheetmetal from the stock model — and naturally, there’s a reason for this. “Assisting the lower aero management is the unique V-shaped hood architecture efficiently directing hot air away from the drivetrain cooling system all while generating valuable downforce across the front section,” Saleen’s press statement reads. Heat management is one of the greatest challenges of working with large lithium-ion batteries in such a way, and the idea is that the more efficiently the heat can be dispersed, the harder the car can be driven. Saleen also gave the cooling system an upgrade, so that it can cool the 85 kWh pack faster and more effectively.
Saleen follows that up with a set of its signature spoke-heavy rims all the way around. They’re 22 inches across and wider than the stock rims, allowing for wider tires. Wider tires, in turn, mean more rubber on the asphalt, which results in better grip and traction; not satisfied with this, however, Saleen also added a new locking differential to help distribute the power more effectively, and use the wider tires to their full potential. So despite packing the same peak horsepower of 416, the Foursixteen is, at least in theory, considerably more efficient when it comes to using its power. Those 22-inch rims conceal a large set of carbon ceramic brakes, which for the Foursixteen is optional equipment (a $16,000 option at that). But in addition to helping slow the car coming into corners from a rapid clip, they also shave off 18 pounds per corner — about 72 pounds total.
In the back, a new bumper gives the Foursixteen a clean and muscular look, which is overshadowed by a prominent lip-spoiler that juts from the trunk-lid. Described as being “high-downforce,” the spoiler will help add more downforce to the back wheels and is assisted by the rear splitter mounted beneath. Overall, the car has less drag, less weight, better handling, and more downforce — everything you’d look for in a high-performance track-ready car, which is essentially what the Foursixteen aspires to be.
In order to ensure that all the added downforce doesn’t go to waste, Saleen’s team paid careful consideration to the suspension. “The Saleen specific S4 track-calibrated suspension includes a monotube coilover, which works in conjunction with an S4 sway bar setup to increase cornering agility without sacrificing ride quality,” the press blast said. The system can also be ordered in a fully adjustable configuration, it added, which will allow the driver to increase or decrease stiffness on an as-needed basis, for track time or just cruising around town.
Though playing with the battery pack is a no-go to boost power for now, Saleen employed some tricks to help pick up the performance over the standard Model S by implementing a new 11.39:1 final gear ratio (it’s 9.73:1 originally), which allows for quicker acceleration. How much faster is yet to be seen; the standard 85 kWh Model S hits 60 in 4.8 seconds, though, so a good ballpark guess would be low- to mid-fours.
The interior has seen a redesign as well. The seats now come in an attractive classic two-tone black and white color scheme, and the front seats have been tinkered with to allow for better side cushioning to keep the occupants in place when hitting a hard turn. When I spoke with Saleen on the phone, he chuckled and said that he actually had to add cup holders — as opposed to removing them for whatever reason in his other projects. But his other projects are not four-door super sedans that double up as family cars when they’re not being thrashed around a track. A small software update allows for better cornering response and drivability, by allowing the driver to maintain power as traction and vehicle weight distribution change, the company said.
Saleen also told me that at the end of the day, when all these improvements converge as a single, unified machine, the performance of the Foursixteen is said to rival that of the Mercedes S65 AMG. Not just rival, in fact, Saleen distinctly said that the performance of the Foursixteen would “be superior” to that of the AMG, at least in a track setting. For reference, the S65 uses a twin-turbo V12 that produces 621 horsepower (more than 200 horsepower over the Foursixteen) and a staggering 738 pound-feet of torque (versus the Foursixteen’s 443). But the S65 is large, and very heavy, and isn’t optimized for track use like the Saleen is. But it will be quite an interesting comparison nonetheless.
There are no official figures as of this writing, and Saleen told me that over the next few months, the stuff that people are really waiting for — 0-60 times, skidpad, quarter-miles, and so on — will become evident.
So what does one pay for a Mercedes-AMG-beating, custom electric sedan? $152,000, as it turns out, which includes the price of the original car. The model on display at Pebble Beach, though, was approaching $200,000 as it was equipped with the $16,000 carbon ceramic brakes and an optional $25,000 coat of paint, Saleen said, admitting that most buyers of the Foursixteen probably won’t spring for the candy apple red that was on display.
If cars like the S65 are the company that the Foursixteen will be keeping, than its base price is actually a decent bargain — base-to-base, the Saleen falls $70,000 shy of the S65, and that’s before one takes federal and state EV incentives into account.