It must be in human nature to label and categorize everything in our world. Music and movies are split into genres, we label others into different socio-cultural groups and we also place cars into different segments and classifications. Though labels can help us understand information as well as aid us in making choices, it can also hold us back. We commonly allow ourselves to be defined by these classifications, often causing us to discredit anything that doesn't fall into our preferred genre. For this reason, manufacturers have often had an easier time selling cars that follow the rules of their segment. Though not often, some cars have stepped outside these confines. One such car is the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.
The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is the result of a partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Mclaren Automotive. The car was inspired by the 300 SLR, a car that Stirling Moss had driven to a Mille Miglia victory in 1955. The SLR McLaren features a front mid-engined chassis with a 5.4 litre supercharged V8 making 617 hp and 580 lb/ft of torque. The enormous power is routed through a five-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels. This is where the cars split personality comes to light. With an automatic transmission as the only option it's hard to call the SLR McLaren anything but a Grand Tourer. Long distance drives are definitely no issue and the SLR McLaren can consume mile after mile at staggering speeds up to 333 km/h. Once up to speeds, enormous brakes have immense stopping power but have been known to lack feel thanks to a brake-by-wire system. This only continues the split-personality theme that surrounds the SLR McLaren.
SLR itself stands for "Sport Leicht Rennsport" which can be translated to "Sport Light Racing". Though the car is constructed of mostly carbon fiber, it's not light at all with a weight just shy of 3,900 lbs. It was not a car built to fit into a category, it was meant to have breathtaking performance in a useable package. The SLR McLaren has a personality that could only be the result of a partnership between Mercedes-Benz and McLaren Automotive.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to experience the coupe from the passenger seat and from behind while driving a beautiful Mercedes 560SL. Unfortunately, not all of the pictures turned out thanks to my amateur photography skills but I hope you enjoy the shots I have. The first thing I noticed when seeing the SLR McLaren in person was how fast it looks. The angular, long nose makes the car look lower than it is, adding to its presence. At the same time, it's relatively understated for its performance with a classic design that will surely endure the test of time.
When getting into the car you realize how beefy the carbon monocoque is. After pulling down the door you are encapsulated on a carbon bucket mounted low to the floor. The car starts with the typical rumble of a Mercedes V8 but it was quieter than I expected given that the exhaust is expelled just behind the front wheels. The SLR McLaren comfortably cruises at low speeds but turns into and animal with any stab of the throttle. The V8 sound gains volume and you can hear the whine of the supercharger compressing air and forcing it into the motor. The wide torque-curve gives you a consistent push from behind as you accelerate to extra-legal speeds. On acceleration, the car almost takes on the persona of a muscle car, further enforcing it's split-personality. I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to take a ride in the SLR McLaren and was impressed by it's acceleration and braking force.
After my ride in the car I was fortunate enough to follow behind in a Mercedes 560SL. I've always admired the 560SL and it is the perfect car for cruising. The car has perfect proportions which make it look smaller from outside, but feel like a large cruiser from the interior. It was rock solid in typical 80's Mercedes fashion and floated over the asphalt. Classical music was playing on the radio and my face was in the sun. While driving the 560SL you don't accelerate, you advance. I am also a huge fan of 80's interiors. All buttons are chunky and depress with authoritative action while the big steering wheel is effortless in it's movement. The 560SL is the type of top-down cruiser you can enjoy at any speed wether driving to the grocery store or taking a long road-trip down the coast.
Overall it was a day I won't soon forget. The two Mercedes couldn't have been more different though they both exhibited exceptional build quality. Though I doubt I'll ever have a chance to get behind the wheel of an SLR McLaren or even in the passenger seat, I hope it's not the last time I go cruising in a 560SL.