The enemy within
The SLR faced two significant problems. First, it was a contemporary of the Ferrari Enzo and Porsche Carrera GT. Meanwhile newcomers like Pagani and Koenigsegg were really starting to establish themselves and the ever-present Murcielago flourished. And into this blundered the SLR, carbon-bodied but heavy, exotic and expensive but with a planned production run of over 3,000, outrageously fast and furious but saddled with a five-speed slushmatic. McLaren brought provenance and carbon expertise but the partnership that had delivered two F1 world championships on track was apparently less harmonious in creating a road car. A new-age McLaren F1 this was not.
And now, while Enzos close in on seven figures and Carrera GTs are considered a bargain at 300 grand, the SLR finds itself on the same potential shopping list as a secondhand SLS. That's a detailed comparison for another time but could you really consider the McMerc's flawed genius against the sure-fire grin fest SLS?
I think you could. Even a decade on, an SLR in the flesh is still an event and more than dramatic enough to steal the limelight from its more accomplished successor, as the number of phone cameras pointed at it as we photographed this car outside Mercedes-Benz World in Brooklands attests. A nearby SLS, meanwhile, was totally ignored.
Awkward profile view aside, the SLR has aged extremely well indeed, the design far more exotic, aggressive and cohesive than that of the SLS. As dramatic as the latter is, it's a 'junior' supercar in the 458 and Gallardo league, but the SLR remains the real deal. Then there's the cachet of that all-carbon construction, the significance (and challenges) of Mercedes and McLaren productionising this to the relatively mass-market. Making a handbuilt carbon supercar is one thing; doing it in the thousands and to meet the quality standards of a mass-market brand like Mercedes quite another.
On the pace
Monstrously fast and hugely charismatic it is, though. 626hp is still more than ample and the way it goes about it leaves nothing wanting. McLaren's input makes itself felt with discreetly clever aero to permit an SLS-humbling 209mph top speed; AMG's with good-old fashioned V8 muscle that sees off 0-125mph in a frankly still astonishing 10.6 seconds. That V8 broadcasts its Ride Of The Valkyries pomposity through side exhausts, ostensibly to create an aerodynamically flat floor but, really, because they're just wildly cool and exotic. As is the variable spoiler cum airbrake, which quietly references that used by the 1955 Le Mans 300SLR (yes, that one).
And you know what, the gearbox kind of fits with the rich, torquey power delivery. If you've got a racing engine's narrow power band you need fast, urgent gear changes. But the SLR is immense in any gear, at any revs and the lazy shift really isn't as much of an issue as you'd think. Besides, lingering in-ratio and letting that pneumatic drill engine note and overlayed supercharger howl build, build, build is one of THE great supercar experiences. The manual mode is usable but you'd want one with the proper paddles introduced by the 722 Edition (650hp, faster gearshifts, 44kg less and a couple of tenths off the benchmark sprint times among the revisions) in 2007.
And even if you don't buy that argument there's always those side exhausts.
1999 (Jan) Vision SLR concept unveiled at Detroit with 5.5-litre engine and 557hp
2001 (March) Orders open for the SLR and Maybach in UK, £500K of deposits at £25K a time made within five weeks
2003 (Sept) SLR McLaren unveiled at Frankfurt; first public appearance
2006 (July) Sets London Land Speed record of 175.7mph
2006 (Sept) SLR 722 coupe unveiled at Paris motor show, limited run of 150 built2007 (May) SLR Roadster confirmed
2007 (June) SLR Roadster makes first public appearance at Goodwood Festival of Speed
2008 (Oct) SLR 722 S Roadster shown at Paris with 650hp, limited run of 150 built
2008 (Dec) SLR Stirling Moss announced, limited to 75 examples
2009 (May) End of SLR Roadster production; Stirling Moss Edition production runs June-December, car only available to existing SLR customers
MERCEDES-BENZ SLR McLAREN
Engine: 5,439cc V8 supercharged
Transmission: 5-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 626@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 575@3,250rpm
Top speed: 209mph
Weight: 1,768kg (EC)
MPG: 14.8mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: c. £150,000