With Mercedes and McLaren now going their separate ways, at least when it comes to road cars, can we assume that they’ve agreed to disagree?
I’ve already driven the AMG Merc SLS, and it’s a belter. I’ve also seen the new McLaren road car, and it features a handful of technical advancements that’ll blow your mind. To be honest, these are the products of people who seem happier working apart. It’s for the best. Which leaves the SLR looking increasingly like the child of an unhappy marriage. And the SLR Stirling Moss as what – a child with no head?
To be honest, we were lucky to get this car. Only 75 will be made, and though they’re inching their way down the immaculate McMerc production line in Woking as you read this, most are destined for the private collections of those wealthy enough to spend £650,000 on a car with no roof and no windscreen.
Enjoy it, because you will almost certainly never see it again.
So our time with the SLR SM, after years of doing daft things in daft places in daft cars, ranks right up there in the grand scheme of things. In terms of sheer theatre, this is Richard Burton essaying the role of Hamlet. We got up horribly early to drive our convoy through central London, just for the hell of it, and the SLR SM was the undisputed star.
You might think it difficult to find something that could upstage an orange Lamborghini Murciélago SV, and you’d be right. But this car managed it, even with Paul Horrell at the wheel.
But it’s definitely a bit silly. We should stress that the vehicle you see here is far from the real deal dynamically, and came with a bloke in a truck and instructions on what was permitted and what wasn’t. This was a bit like having Megan Fox on a shoot, only to be told she turns into Miriam Margoyles if you let her eat crisps.
Except that I’m not sure you can really compare the SLR SM to the fragrant Miss Fox. She certainly has the edge proportionally, and chopping the upper structure doesn’t bring much in the way of harmony to the SLR’s already cartoonish shape.
The new lights and air intake ape Rudy Uhlenhaut’s incomparable mid-Fifties original, but that car’s grace and poise have been usurped by fashionable aggression. Every major body panel has been changed, and you can be sure that the re-engineering will have been done to the highest possible standard. But it ain’t what you’d call pretty.
On the other hand, nothing else here even gets close to the sensation of sitting in the SLR SM. You obviously need a lid to travel quickly in it, but even that won’t insulate you from the view ahead over the vast expanse of bulkhead and bonnet. As well as A-pillars and roof, the SM has also lost a lot of its interior, and most of its toys.
The big eyeball air vents and stitched seats nod to the original, but the SLR’s flip-topped gear-lever ’n’ starter button combo has been replaced with a little lever. Why? Various other buttons, including the ESP one the use of which is expressly verboten, now live in a binnacle between the seats. Why again?
Why indeed. Insert the key (same as an A-Class key, coincidentally), turn it, push starter button. The 5.4-litre, 650bhp supercharged V8 explodes into life, and even at idle it pummels your head. Into ‘D’, and ease gently off. Sweet Jesus, this is a strange sensation. Apply brakes… bloody hell, they’re a bit sharp. Maybe the finished thing will be better, though the SLR’s were never quite right.
Enter traffic; feel a bit silly.
You need balls the size of Jupiter to get away with this thing. Still, most people are smiling so that’s alright. Exit roundabout and, oh go on then, floor it. Car emits a huge rumble, side exit exhausts belch, SLR SM teleports to the next roundabout.
Travelling from 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds in something with no roof is actually physically painful, as the wind whips your face. Anyone even vaguely jowly would end up looking like the late, great Sir John Mortimer. Apply brakes. Oh dear.
Later on, we all agree the SLR SM is a handful, and probably way too big for most of our meagre British roads. The SLR’s notoriously over-eager turn-in has gone, thank God, and the SM’s steering is actually pretty good. Nevertheless, Paul Horrell wryly but rightly observes that while it’s the most powerful car here, it’s also the slowest. We’re all a bit bemused. Some of us are also unnerved.
Mercedes and McLaren have both moved on. The SLR SM is an amusing footnote to their collaborative adventure.
But nothing more.