Cover Story - Mercedes-Benz SLR

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Dec 23, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Riding the Exclusivity Express, more than 600 hp propels the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren into the price and performance stratosphere

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    By DUTCH MANDEL
    (00:01 Dec. 22, 2003)

    “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank.” —Woody Allen

    MORTALS SHOULDN’T be able to simply get behind this form-fitting leather-wrapped wheel, slip the electronically coded key fob into a dash orifice, flip a James Bondian shifter-mounted flap and press a button to crank the beast to life. But that is what happened for this first-ever drive of the powerful Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar.

    This particular mortal released the driver-side scissors door, slid backward across a leather threshold and tucked into a customizable carbon fiber seat so snug it required fishing loose change, lip balm and a wallet out from pockets... which prompted a chuckle. This won’t be the last time someone surrenders his wallet to get into an SLR McLaren.

    Push that engine-fire button and it does several things at once: It stirs to life a race-bred and AMG-built 5.5-liter, supercharged V8 engine that has few equals on public roads; its gargle and rumble startles and awes the assembled masses; and it tempts you to throw it in gear.

    What the heck—give it a rip.

    Tip the tunnel-mounted shifter into first gear and ease down the throttle to hear that mighty rumble through wide, rectangular exhaust pipes. Tentative steps gradually give way after exploratory sniffs around the edges; though this might just be one of those all-time great life experiences, it is just a car. The highway sets you into a rhythm and you ease in power, check your mirrors with greater frequency, and feel what oversize Michelin Pilot Sport tires tell you from the road. So far, so fun, so punch it: A massive, immediate lurch propels the car as the supercharger engages and lays down all 575 lb-ft of torque and lets loose 617 hp. The delivery is fast and fluid. Few cars offer such from-thought-to-response power, but the linearity with which SLR makes speed happen is that simple. A big, hard stomp of the throttle and a rumble comes out through the foot box, or so it seems; it is a bass-led thrum that begs you to drop it down a gear through wheel-mounted shift buttons, just to hear it scream louder.

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    This baby’s got a sculpted back. Note the SLR’s flat undertray done for aero efficiency. A closer scan reveals screws holding it in place.

    When you aim for a corner, relax and point the car toward the apex. It takes a set and doesn’t stray from the line, though it does have some engineered-for-safety’s sake understeer. Want to set up for a tough right- or left-hand corner? Gather it up with a quick, forceful stab of the left pedal and the large ceramic disc brakes grip true while the SLR’s rear spoiler arcs to a 60-degree angle in air-brake fashion. No dramatics, just a car waiting to be fired along the next piece of pavement.

    The GT’s cockpit is the first clue the SLR’s intended greater purpose is for both high style and high-speed driving comfort. This can almost be called Bauhaus with its clean lines and materials. The Germans favor comfort and functionality, and there is no better function behind this wheel than driving. All else is superfluous; forget a cigarette lighter, ashtray or cupholder.

    The instrument panel has a large speedometer on the left, tachometer on the right with a 7000-rpm redline. There is a black nacelle with silver jewelry-surrounds that cover blue gauge faces. The word “McLaren” sits proudly on the face itself; this, and McLaren badges on its front flanks are all that tell you it is a collaboration with an elite Formula One team. Well, actually, the badges and its performance. Large, silver “SLR” letters gleam on the center console above the shifter.

    One thing noticed on this test drive is an audible thump that comes from right behind your head. This is normal: The left-rear shock mount, no more than 10 inches from the driver’s ears, is housed in what is essentially a carbon fiber drum; as the shock cycles, it generates an almost primordial bass vibration. What happens when a U.S.-bound SLR—of which nearly the first three years’ worth, or 600, are already sold—hits the twisty Hollywood hillside or, heaven forbid, the Long Island Express-way? The uneducated will wonder just what is breaking loose. Were this ambient noise not part of the SLR experience, would driving be too antiseptic?

    Everything about the SLR is forgiving, and that speaks to its dual personality of being an everyday grand touring car and, almost unnaturally, getting compared to cars like the Ferrari Enzo and Porsche Carrera GT. Don’t think that’s fair and just? Dimensionally the SLR is a GT. As for its performance, it is a race car.

    It carries amenities for a long drive, like climate control and navigational assistance and a world-class sound system in an exotic amalgam of carbon fiber, aluminum and leather—and don’t think that didn’t pose a conundrum to McLaren, where life’s purpose is to engineer weight out of a car.

    It goes from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3.7 seconds. Day in and day out, it can reach 204 mph in an environment loaded with safety devices—ESP, ABS, DSC—found on enormous luxury sedans.

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    No detail was overlooked on this GT, including a rear spoiler that can be activated by the driver for around-town motoring. The aero device doubles as an air brake, rising 60 degrees when needed.

    “Normally, when you mix two worlds together, you get a bad mixture,” says Klaus Nesser, SLR project manager. “It would be a rotten compromise. But this car, however, is the real deal.”

    THIS DEAL IS REAL BECAUSE of the McLaren association. Besides being Mercedes’ partner in Formula One, the company was integral with the SLR’s design. It has done much of the manufacturing development work, the ride-and-handling development, and it puts the SLR together in its Woking, England, headquarters. It is no small feat for a race team to take on the responsibility to build a road car, all while contesting for the pinnacle in racing, the world driving and manufacturing championships.

    Scratch the surface and you find that not all was rosy and nice between M-B and McLaren at the outset of this project more than four years ago.

    The racers wanted to build a car that was the ultimate, not unlike the company’s old McLaren F1 road-going rocket. Mercedes wanted a high-performance luxury car that would be more than a supercar. McLaren wanted to put the engine behind the driver for better performance and balance. Mercedes wanted a front-engine coupe. McLaren sought out a new headquarters and manufacturing plant; Mercedes contributed $200 million. It got the SLR.

    But creative tension is often healthy tension, and each company used its area of expertise to the benefit of the end product. Carbon fiber was the material of choice from the outset for its weight savings and safety characteristics. Because of CF’s extensive use, new ways to form it had to be developed. McLaren and the Daimler-Benz aerospace department tackled the program, along with key suppliers. Every part that could be formed of CF has been, from its twin crushable “dagmars”—two virtual dopplegängers of the Formula One car’s nose under the skin—bolted ahead of a forged aluminum engine cradle, to the firewall back to the rear bumper and integral crash box in the trunk. According to Mercedes-Benz officials, the “spider” (passenger capsule) is the largest and most complex single form ever built in the precious material. Four different CF manufacturing methods are used to create the 60 large and various pieces of the monocoque; nearly 95 percent of the capsule is formed of CF, a material one-fifth the weight of steel with 50 percent greater rigidity. The tub, fitted with an aluminum engine cradle, weighs less than 700 pounds. But CF does not come cheap, and this is where a good portion of the SLR’s cost comes from.

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    The hood is opened in a two-stage process—it slides forward and then tips forward—on the SLR.

    This SLR looks and is very different from the car that first appeared at the Detroit auto show in 1999. First, the engine moved behind the front axle, creating the need for a very long hood. Starting at the nose, the production SLR has a wide front splitter whose middle portion allows for air to cool the engine; the sides of the nose flow air over carbon-ceramic brakes. There are aerodynamic considerations, too: According to M-B, this is the first GT to generate negative lift thanks to its wind tunnel-honed nose, and at 60 mph, the front end plants tires firmly on the ground.

    Two rectangular exhaust nozzles slip out directly behind the front wheels. Besides the aural delight, and recalling the exhaust placement on the 1950s Mercedes from which the designers drew inspiration, this placement has genuine performance value: It allows the SLR a smooth undertray for better air flow management. Front side vents, of which there were just three on the original show car, have grown in number on the production model for good reason: Two enormous mufflers sit underhood behind the front wheels, and they generate tremendous heat that must escape somewhere.

    The rear has become broader but no less attractive than that on the show car. Dare we say this baby’s got back, all developed in a wind tunnel to keep the tail planted? The doors were envisioned as gullwings (’50 again), but here, too, performance won out as scissors doors take up less space when open. The two-hinged system is a marvel of modern engineering; the door is carbon fiber and you only need a single finger to shut it.

    This overall design is clearly inorganic, born of technical requirements. German practicality at its finest shapes this SLR, and this is no less dramatic than purely passionate, organically grown coupes like Aston Martin’s Vanquish, Porsche’s 911 GT3 or Ferrari’s 456. It is what it is and form, truly, form follows function.

    FEW OF US WILL GET TO know how well the SLR functions, particularly at its outer limits. While it can be a docile, everyday car, the average driver would not likely approach the SLR’s abilities, though Mercedes aims to change that, and in so doing, introduce new owners into the “club.” Everything from buying the car to driving the car will be an event, an experience limited to those precious few who can enjoy the precious few cars.

    “The idea is to create a community,” says Nesser, who oversaw SLR from the first day and helped to assemble all of its key players. “You want to get people together in an atmosphere, and do things that money can’t buy or that normally you wouldn’t experience. We’d rather do a few things in style, but only things that members of this community could experience. That is what entry into SLR ownership will give you.”

    Experiences “that money can’t buy” begin when you lay out $50,000. That is what you have to put down to order the car. The deposit gets you an invitation to go to England to enjoy a day and a half of Mercedes’ and McLaren’s undivided attention; you pay to get across the pond to England and then everything else is on them for the next 36 hours. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour of the McLaren race shop. You’ll be brought into a room dedicated to the SLR where you can choose options, like interior and exterior color. You’ll also get a chance to drive one of the company cars to get a feel of it. And then there is a luxury hotel in London and talk of a “personal concierge” to attend your needs. Oh, and you’ll also spec your car: Now that the company has sold out its U.S. allotment for the next two-plus years, you might be able to choose a color other than the silver and black that are the only first-year choices.

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    Open wide and say, “ahhh!” The scissors door makes climbing in and out of the SLR easy, and its lightweight construction means it can be closed with a single finger.

    As nice as this treatment is, just wait until you pay the difference—another $400,000—and fly to England to pick up your car (by August, when U.S. cars become available, a European delivery program will be set up). The company is thinking about a pay-extra graduated driving experience available only to those who would like to find out what the car can do and what they can do with the car.

    The ultimate goal, the company says,is to graduate these SLR owners into a full-fledged racing license.

    Which makes sense, because it shines on the track in the hands of a capable driver. Chris Goodwin, McLaren tester and SLR development driver for the past four years, is one such. He has put 15,000 kilometers on the SLR at the Nürburgring alone, and countless more thousands going over high- and low-speed patches of asphalt between Stuttgart and Woking.

    It takes the second left on a rented track to find out that the brakes are very good. The car slides, but the unique-to-SLR Michelins keep it poised on course. The SLR moves its tail out with throttle inputs, a feather here and there, and a quick twitch of the wheel and it’s dancing on the edge.

    But the violence of how this Mercedes behaves on track is nowhere near the brutality of other cars. Part of its dual character, yes, but it can behave well enough to hold its own. “Lesser GTs,” Goodwin says, “are competing and winning at places like Le Mans.” Could this forecast an entry for such a vehicle in the near future?

    Future SLR buyers are measured differently from others who covet the three-pointed star. This car is not about social demographics, per se, or even that quick move for the wallet. Surely these owners have the means, but more importantly, they have the interest. They are entrepreneurial, and M-B loosely categorizes them in three groups. The first are those who would have SLR as a daily driver, or who at least imagine using it as such. The second are collectors—don’t use the speculator word—who, according to Mercedes’ Nesser, are adding to their already healthy stable of exotics. Finally come the racers. Already, a number of performance-oriented drivers have shown an interest in what this car can do on the track.

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    The Bauhaus-like interior is elegant and efficient; you expect something else from the German and English collaboration?

    But still, the question remains as to whether this car can compete with the ultimate supercars?

    “You can never compare a street car with a race car,” Goodwin says. “A race car benefits from wide tires and more mechanical grip. But the effort here is good. Could this car be raced? I’m sure people will race this car. GT racing is on the ups, and there are lesser cars that are very successful on the track.

    “Sure, on a racetrack it might be tough to be competitive with an Enzo. It’s not that kind of car. If we wanted to build a supercar, we could. But you wouldn’t want to drive that car every day. A bigger challenge is to develop a road car that behaves every bit as good as a race car in those race conditions, and we have done that with the SLR.”

    2005 MERCEDES-BENZ SLR MCLAREN
    ON SALE: August 2004
    BASE PRICE: $450,000
    POWERTRAIN: 5.5-liter, 617-hp, 575-lb-ft supercharged V8; rwd, automanual
    CURB WEIGHT: 3732 pounds
    0-60 MPH: 3.7 seconds


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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  3. mmg

    mmg OT Supporter

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    wow.
     
  4. ace3

    ace3 mouthify my wang.

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    too fucking goofy looking
     
  5. eurocarracer

    eurocarracer New Member

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    :sad2: i dunno what to think.
     
  6. coronet

    coronet Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep?

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    :werd:

    I'm not impressed.
     
  7. Balzz

    Balzz N54 Elitist OT Supporter

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    It reminds me of super pursuit mode. :hs:
     
  8. ap

    ap New Member

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    uuuuuugly
     
  9. smell my finger

    smell my finger strive nonetheless towards beauty and truth,

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    :bowdown: x 4367327713274324
     
  10. smell my finger

    smell my finger strive nonetheless towards beauty and truth,

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    this thread is full of idiots
     
  11. TheProwler

    TheProwler Active Member

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    :drool: :yum: These rims are to die for.

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    I love that car.
     
  12. Sandjunkie

    Sandjunkie New Member

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    :eek: :drool: :wackit: So when does MB want to put one of those im my driveway and leave the keys?
     
  13. NaturalLight16oz

    NaturalLight16oz Only The Best For Me!! OT Supporter

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  14. sweetcheeks

    sweetcheeks Patron Saint of Quality Footwear

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    looks like a penis on wheels.
     
  15. dmora

    dmora Guest

  16. The Acclude

    The Acclude Makin' love is cool, but sometimes she needs her h

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    Ill take two please fap fap fap fap
     
  17. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    IBZO6isbetter
     
  18. CFO

    CFO Guest

  19. M4A1

    M4A1 :)

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    I hate the side gills and the mirrors.
     
  20. AsianRage

    AsianRage Know about Media Ventures?

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    With everythingelse being :cool: and :wackit: the side profile leaves much to be desired.
     
  21. curiousgeorgeM3

    curiousgeorgeM3 naughty little monkey

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    :bowdown: The only Mercedes I would even think of owning.
     
  22. DSHR

    DSHR Well-Known Member

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    MB owns :eek3:
     
  23. Penguin Man

    Penguin Man Protect Your Digital Liberties

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    Did anyone else read about what happened when they debuted it in South Africa? It got hit by a Golf :o

    SLR was ok, Golf had to be towed ;)
     
  24. Mountain Dude

    Mountain Dude Here it comes, and there it goes, another day in d

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    It looks way better than the enzo, but I'd still take the Enzo, but if someone has enough money to buy the enzo, chances are that they'd have enough money for this as well, so I'd take both.
     
  25. zlatic

    zlatic New Member

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    it looks like a fucking stretched out m-coupe. nothing special, gay interior, and its $3234232323423. i could put a nice engine in a yugo, stretch it out, and price it way over wat its worth.
     

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