Where to start? That’s the question when confronted by the amazing Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss. No matter how often you’ve seen it in pictures, nothing prepares you for the impression the low-slung two-seater leaves as it hovers into view and you get the key for a world-exclusive drive.
Created as a parting gesture in the oft-turbulent collaboration between Mercedes and Formula One partner McLaren, the new roadster costs $1.1 million. And you don’t even get a windshield; it was deleted in a program that pared 441 pounds off the SLR’s curb weight, bringing it to 3,419 pounds. This is one of the most dramatic-looking and hardest-charging Benzes ever.
But you won't get it here. The car won't be sold in the U.S., due in part to the lack of windshield.
The SLR Stirling Moss was conceived in 2005 and then developed in Woking and Stuttgart. “We were conscious from early on that many customers were seeking a more extreme car,” said SLR development chief Detlef Barthelmes, “one that truly captured the essence of the original SLR.”
The basis is the standard SLR roadster’s carbon-fiber monocoque. It got beefed-up sills and an additional cross member behind the seats, helping to make the Stirling Moss one of the most structurally rigid open-top cars. Its carbon-fiber body shell gives the new car a menacing appearance.
The look is a mixture of old and new, with hints of the legendary 300 SLR Uhlenhaut (used by Moss to win the 1955 Mille Miglia) in its exaggerated proportions. Climbing in is tricky, but once you’re seated, the view is unique. The seats, thinly padded but supportive fixed-back units, are mounted low.
Along with the low weight, another target Barthelmes set was a 217-mph top speed. To that end, it uses the supercharged 5.4-liter V8 producing 650 hp at 6,500 rpm and a thumping 604 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. This is one great engine, linear and hugely powerful. Mercedes claims 0 to 62 mph in 3.5 seconds. With a five-speed automatic sending the drive to the rear wheels, there’s no tricky clutch to contend with as you fire the car from the line; the traction control works overtime as the Mercedes lifts its nose slightly, squats at the rear and catapults forward.
Exposed to the elements, you feel the roar from up front enter your head, and it doesn’t leave until you’ve switched off the car. Passing beyond a high-pitched mechanical whine at low revs, it shifts to a deep exhaust blare before building to a crazed hammer near the redline.
The suspension is firm, but there’s sufficient travel so that the SLR Stirling Moss is not thrown offline by nasty expansion joints. The steering is nicely weighted and reasonably direct. Although there is a faint trace of body roll, it will not greatly upset the corning line. It all translates into sharper turn-in and an ability to carry greater speed through corners. The powerful brakes are a combination of vented and cross-drilled carbon-ceramic discs at each corner.
Some will see the SLR Stirling Moss as just a marketing folly. We did. But when it’s driven at speed over some of Italy’s best driver’s roads, it’s obvious there is substance, too. The remarkable thing is that even at $1.1 million, Mercedes says it won’t be making money on the car.
“Sometimes you hit on a good idea, and you just have to see it through,” says Barthelmes. It’s the sort of no-compromise attitude that sums up the car itself.
2009 Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss
ON SALE: Now in Europe
BASE PRICE: $1.1 million
DRIVETRAIN: 5.4-liter, 650-hp, 604-lb-ft supercharged V8; RWD, five-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3,419 lb
0-62 MPH: 3.5 sec (mfr)
FUEL ECONOMY: 14 mpg (est)
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