Non-Italian Exotics: Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

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Before each company went their separate ways, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren together built this absolutely wonderful piece of exotic machinery.

The nationality of the SLR is a difficult thing to determine, but we can at least safely say that it isn't Italian, and therefore belongs in this series. It was built at a time when Mercedes-Benz owned 40 percent of McLaren, and much of the construction actually took place at McLaren's facility in the UK. Never an out-and-out supercar, the SLR McLaren was nonetheless every bit as exotic as the other cars in its stratospheric price range.

The design of the SLR was inspired by the 1955 300 SLR (not to be confused with the legendary 300SL of the same era), a race car with a not entirely positive history. Stirling Moss piloted a 300 SLR to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia, and it is this highlight which Mercedes would prefer you keep in mind when thinking of the 300 SLR. The other thing for which it is justly famous is a crash in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, where one crashed into the stands, burning both its fuel and magnesium bodywork.

The crash killed 82 spectators (although it has been said that race officials only counted the French citizens killed in the official report and that the real number was much higher) and was the worst accident in the history of motorsports. So remember, Mille Miglia, not Le Mans. One 300 SLR chassis was chosen to underpin a street legal daily driver for Mercedes motorsport chief Rudolf Uhlenhaut. Though the race version of the car had an open top, this 300 SLR, known as the Uhlenhaut Coupe, got a more practical hardtop design. It is this version of the 300 SLR with the more obvious visual relation to the modern SLR, including the gaping vents just behind the front wheels.

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The 1955 car was seen as a mix of the race car and the SL, and it therefore also had gullwing doors. The modern SLR went with a butterfly door design, thus incorporating a McLaren signature visual cue. Though not a production car, the Uhlenhaut Coupe is generally regarded to have been the fastest street legal car built by a major manufacturer in the Fifties. The modern SLR was a bit less hard-edged, but still an incredibly potent machine. The engine was a 5.4-liter all-aluminum dry-sump supercharged V8. Air is fed to the engine via a twin-intercooled Lysholm-type twin-screw supercharger, boosting the output to 617 horsepower.

The engine is at the front of the car, but behind the front axle, leaving a huge amount of space between the engine and the front bumper. The body is made entirely of carbon fiber, and although this is practically a given on today's supercars, when the SLR first went into production 9 years ago, it was a much more expensive and exotic material. It got to 60mph in 3.8 seconds and had a top speed of 208mph. The SLR was never intended as direct competition to its contemporaries, the Ferrari Enzo and Porsche Carrera GT. It was nearly as fast, but the SLR was more of GT car, just a very, very fast one. One of the prime examples of how the SLR isn't a supercar is the transmission.

This was a 5-speed automatic, and it was the only one offered. The cabin was also designed with comfort in mind much more so than other supercars. Several special editions of the SLR were made. The first of these was the 722 Edition. The name comes the number given to Stirling Moss's 300SLR in the Mille Miglia, and it is one of two special editions intended to pay tribute to him. This makes sense, since not only did he drive the car to its greatest victory, but he also said it was "greatest sports car ever built- really an unbelievable machine." The 722 Edition was a bit more powerful and a bit lighter than the standard car.

It was also a bit more expensive, but since the standard car had a half-million dollar price tag, it's not the kind of increase you'd really notice. The most dramatic of the special editions was the Stirling Moss Edition. This had a speedster body, without a roof or windshield. This obviously bore a much stronger resemblance to the actual 300 SLR race car which Moss drove. This edition was 440lbs lighter than the standard car, and horsepower was also bumped up to 640. Only 75 of these were built, at a price of over $1 million each, and they were only offered for sale to those who already owned a standard SLR.

The final edition of the SLR came out just last year, several years after the standard coupe was discontinued. This was the McLaren Edition, an odd name considering all of the cars were built by McLaren. Only 25 were built, and it uses a slightly tweaked version of the coupe body style. Since both McLaren and Mercedes seem to now be preoccupied with other projects, it's unlikely that we'll see anything else quite like this again anytime soon.


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