The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren - has there ever been a more misunderstood supercar? Unveiled in 1999 as the Vision SLR concept, it promised to combine GT levels of practicality with supercar performance; a formula that, in itself, shouldn't have been too difficult to pull off when you consider the project had both the financial backing of Mercedes-Benz and the engineering might of McLaren behind it.
However, the process of turning concept into reality took more than four years to complete, and as the history books now show, the collaboration was not without conflict. Indeed, if there's one postscript that shows just how far apart both Mercedes and McLaren were in terms of ethos, it's that Gordon Murray - Woking's technical boss at the time - originally envisaged 'McLaren's' supercar as a mid-engined, naturally aspirated machine with a kerb weight of close to one tonne. A totally different car, then, to what rolled out of Woking's factory gates in 2004.
With a kerb weight of 1693kg and a supercharged 5.5-litre V8 mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox (Murray's dream of an atmospheric V12 was canned early on), what McLaren essentially ended up with was a Space Shuttle when it had originally intended on building a Soyuz rocket. Suffice to say, the motoring press (aside from a rather enthusiastic J. Clarkson) were a little underwhelmed with the results, preferring the sublime Porsche Carrera GT and Ferrari 575 GTC.
And yet, despite not living up expectations, customers seemed to 'get' the concept of the SLR from the off. By the end of production, around 1,400 people had handed over the requisite £300,000-£400,000 for the opportunity to own the ultimate Mercedes (or should that be McLaren?) GT car. Indeed, some owners ended up developing a serious collecting habit - something Mercedes and McLaren were more than happy to accommodate, producing multiple variants of the SLR ranging from the original 722 Edition in 2006 through to the limited-run Stirling Moss variant in 2009.
With each new variant came minor tweaks that slowly but surely transformed the SLR into a supercar worthy of the McLaren name, with arguably the most 'complete' edition being the 722 S Roadster - yes, really.
Now, the PH cynic in all of us might lead you to believe that the cabrio is nothing more than an irrelevance. Indeed, at the time of release, you could have bought a twin-turbo SL65 for around £200k less. But take the time to look at the Roadster's specification and it's clear that the SLR's fundamentals lent themselves to a roofless application better than they did to the coupé.
This was a car built for touring - albeit touring at beyond 200mph - and the SLR's carbon tub offered McLaren the chance to lop the roof off while still retaining the same level of core rigidity as the coupé. And with the option of storing the powered fabric hood neatly in the space behind the seats, the driver could more easily enjoy the noise emanating from the side-exit exhausts; we'll let you decide if it sounds more like a Spitfire than a Messerschmitt 109.
Because the 722 Roadster was the last 'true' SLR to be produced (ignoring the rebodied Stirling Moss Edition) it also benefitted from all the technical advancements that had been made by the development team at McLaren. Therefore, it received a new engine map that raised the power of the supercharged, 24-valve, 5.5-litre V8 motor from 617bhp to 641bhp, while new wheels, aluminium dampers, a lighter oil tank and 'optimised' sound deadening ensured that the 722 felt a little lighter on its feet.
These modifications also helped drop the 0-62mph time by 0.1sec to 3.7sec -not that the SLR was lacking in straight line speed in the first place - while the Vmax rose two whole mph to a frankly eye watering 210mph. Thankfully, larger carbon ceramic brakes were fitted to ensure that this German missile could come to a stop time and time again without any protestations.
It was, in short, the closest McLaren ever got to producing the 'ultimate' SLR. Which is why we're ok with it wearing the iconic 722 badging that, of course, pays homage to one of the great moments in racing history, when Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson won the 1955 Mille Miglia road race in an SLR racer bearing the number 722 - denoting the car's 7.22am start time.
Now, whether you see the SLR 722 S Roadster as an appropriate homage to one of the great moments in racing history or just a cynical marketing strategy, that's up to you. But either way, if you want a 722 Roadster you'll have to accept that it comes equipped with a brace of '722' badges. And as you can see from our Showpiece, it's certainly no shrinking violet.
With just 10,000 miles on the clock, we suspect this 722 S will attract offers of close to £500k. Rather expensive when you consider that the 722 S Roadster 'only' cost £414k from the factory. However, only 150 were built and with McLaren Special Operations (MSO) now offering bespoke personalisation off-the-shelf cosmetic and hardware upgrades, it seems that the SLR is in more demand than ever. A misunderstood supercar then, but not unloved. Available now for viewing at Christian Lewis.
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