The hybrid we can all get behind
I got my first glimpse of the SLR playing "Need for Speed: Most Wanted" way back in 2005, and I couldn't make heads or tails of the thing. It looked like someone stepped on the clay model during the design phase and they just went with it. The proportions were alien to my young mind, although it looked like it would perfectly cut through air. A silver arrow racing through the streets of Rockport, City. My appreciation to anyone who gets that reference.
Wising up to what the SLR was exactly, my fascination for it had peaked. The company that was known for making some of the most advanced and premium cars available had teamed up with another company I had never heard from. Apparently this McLaren company knew a thing or two about cars. The small company from England had helped Mercedes craft one of the best grand tourers ever. After seeing one in the flesh for the first time at the Newport Car Museum in Portsmouth, Rhode Island all of those pleasant memories came flooding back.
With my interests in the SLR rekindled, I've decided to give a little history lesson on its development to accompany the pictures I captured of the convertible the people at the NCM had on display. Fist we'll have to take a quick look at the namesake behind SLR to get an appreciation for the weight the name carries. The Mercedes SLR moniker has roots deeply seeded in motorsport. The Silver Arrows, Mille Miglia, Juan Manual Fangio and Stirling Moss are just some of the names associated with the SLR.
The Silver Arrows or "Silberpfeilen" were some of the best Formual One, sports car racing and rally cars made in Stuttgart. These cars dominated their respective fields and put Mercedes on the automotive map in the early 1950's. This is what led Mercedes to develop the 300 SLR, SLR being an abbreviation of "Sport, Leight, Rennsport" or "Sport, Light, Racing". The SLR was originally going to be names the W196S but the marketing team decided to come up with something a little more inspired. And we can thank them for not leaving us with another ambiguous numerical name to decipher.
This new sports car was based off of the W196 Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss drove in the 1954 and 1955 Formula One seasons with the W196's stable mate was developed to participate in the 1955 World Sportscar Championship season. Stirling Moss would pilot the 722 SLR through Italy with navigator Denis Jenkinson for a record breaking average of 157.65 km/h during the Mille Miglia.
Unfortunately, one deadly crash would rip Mercedes out of motorsport for nearly 4 decades. During the 1955 Le Mans race, driver Pierre Levegh crashed into a spectating crowd, killing the driver and more than 80 spectators. A couple road versions of the SLR were made by motosport chief Rudolf Uhlenhaut nut the project was scrapped because of the tragedy at Le Mans. And with that, the SLR name went dormant.
Fast forward to 1993 and Mercedes had finally made their return to Formula One. This time around however, they were supplying engines to Sauber and their Formula One cars. In 1995 Mercedes finally made their way over to McLaren. McLaren had seen unrivaled success from drivers like Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the 1980's. However, by the time Mercedes joined McLaren, they were struggling. The last win McLaren had was in 1993. With Mercedes working in tandem with the British automaker, driver Mika Hakkinen became world champion in 1998 and 1999. Thanks to their success in motorsport, and with Mercedes parent company DaimlerChrysler having a majority of McLaren Group's shares thus putting more interest into possible additional revenue, the relationship was extended to the street.
The Mercedes-Benz Vision SLR was unveiled in 1999, the name and design both styled to honor the racing cars from the 1950's. The concept was based off of the SL-Class and combined the best bits from both companies. Luxury, comfort and reliability from Mercedes and the sportive nature, character and engineering from McLaren were combined to create the new SLR.
By 2003 the first production model of the Mercedes SLR McLaren rolled off the assembly line at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, England. The latest SLR was powered by a 5.4 liter V8 equipped with a supercharger producing 0.9 boost. The hand-built AMG powerhouse is positioned behind the front axle and delivers 626 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Max torque figures of 575 lb-ft comes in at 3,250 rpm to 5,000 rpm. This is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels.
Thanks to this power output the SLR can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. The quarter mile is dispatched around 8 seconds later at 127.3 mph. To bring the SLR to a stop carbon ceramic brakes are equipped to all four wheels. An adaptable spoiler assists with braking and was fairly revolutionary technology at the time.
Numerous revisions and special editions were subsequently created for the SLR. These included the 722 Edition in 2006, paying homage to the 722 car Stirling Moss raced through Italy. The 722 had its engine upgraded to make 650 horsepower. The SLR 722 GT was released a year later with an upgraded suspension, braking system, aero, interior and exhaust all done by British engineering company RML Group.
2009 saw the release of what was and still is one of the most beautiful Mercedes ever made, the SLR Stirling Moss. Limited to just 75 units, the Stirling Moss was a full speedster that payed homage to the man himself and his legendary run through the Mille Miglia. With no roof or widescreen to separate the drive from the environment or the 650 horsepower V8, the Stirling Moss culminated everything the SLR represented.
The SLR finally died with the last revised model in 2010. This not only signaled the end of one of the most extreme Mercedes models in the marque's history but the end of their partnership with McLaren. Some speculate that McLaren were unhappy with the final product with a compromise to performance in exchange for comfort and daily usability. While the boys over at Stuttgart expected to make 3,500 SLRs over the car's production run, only just over 2,000 were built.
Numerically, this could write the SLR as a flop. But for a supercar with an outrageous price tag, an AMG powerplant, athletics tuned by McLaren and the luxury only Mercedes could offer the SLR delivered in spades on what it represented. Two worlds were brought together through motorsport and they decided to share that with the people. Paying homage to the original SLR from the 1950's, Mercedes accomplishments in motorsport and Stirling Moss himself all in one car is nothing to take lightly.