Home » The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Is The Deeply Flawed 200 MPH Y2K Supercar That Killed An American Dream

The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Is The Deeply Flawed 200 MPH Y2K Supercar That Killed An American Dream

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When you think of an iconic 2000s supercar, what comes to mind? Most people would say a Ferrari Enzo or a Porsche Carrera GT. Some would say a Lamborghini Murcielago, and a handful of seriously afflicted gearheads would dream of a Pagani Zonda or a Koenigsegg CCX. However, there’s another one that everyone seems to forget about, and it’s about to celebrate a big birthday. September marks 20 years since the debut of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a moonshot car with a strange history and an unsettling automotive body count.

Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren Engine Bay

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Just like the original 300 SLR of the ‘50s, the 21st century SLR was built partially out of modified sedan parts. The M155 V8 under the hood is based on the M113K V8 found in the W211 E55 AMG, but it features some substantial differences. We’re talking about a new block, dry sump oiling, new rods and pistons for added strength and a slight compression drop, new camshafts, and a larger throttle body. Otherwise, the SLR has the same cylinder heads, same bore, same stroke, and same all-aluminum construction as the engine from an E-Class. How about that?

Mercedes Benzslrmclarencelebratingauniquecollaboration(10)

Then there’s the matter of the transmission. Rather than contract Ricardo or Graziano for an exotic ‘box, Mercedes-Benz stuck with a five-speed automatic transmission from its tried-and-true 5G-Tronic family. Think E55 AMG, C-Class, or Jeep Grand Cherokee, and you aren’t terribly far off.

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Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren 3

Even some of the braking technology was borrowed from more common cars. The SLR was one of the five Mercedes-Benz models unlucky enough to get Sensotronic Brake Control, an electro-hydraulic braking system that continues to be a thorn in Mercedes’ side. Instead of using a direct mechanical link from pedal to master cylinder all the time, SBC normally figures out desired pressure at each caliper, then draws from a special reservoir pressurized to between 2,000 and 2,300 psi. This early electro-hydraulic braking system is neat in concept, but also so failure-prone that Mercedes-Benz still keeps key system components covered under a special extended warranty.

Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren 2

If that sounds like a lot of commonalities with cars you can now buy for a fraction of their MSRPs, that’s just what F1 legend Gordon Murray wasn’t able to convince Mercedes to ditch. See, the SLR originally started life as an SL-based show car, and the engineering work on the production version was to be done by Murray since Mercedes owned 40 percent of McLaren at the time. However, early engineering talks sound like they could’ve been tense. As Murray told Motorsport Magazine:

‘We had a meeting with all the board members, directors and senior people, and I said to them, “What is that supposed to be in competition with?” They replied, “Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini – all the top-end people.”

‘And I said, “But it’s not a front-mid-engined car; it’s a front-engined car. It’s got no boot space, the fuel tank is high up in the air above the back axle, it’s got these huge pneumatic suspension struts on each corner that weigh 9.5 kilos each, and I can see from right here that the weight distribution is completely wrong.”

As a result of these discussions, the engine was pushed back nearly three feet towards the firewall, the fuel tank was mounted lower in the car, the dampers were more conventional, and the proportions of the car were substantially revised.

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Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren Cutaway

The result of all this re-working is that the SLR didn’t quite know what it was, other than that it was mind-meltingly fast. We’re talking about a top speed of 207 mph here. That’s faster than the Lamborghini Murcielago, faster than the Ferrari 575M Maranello, and faster than the official top speed of the Porsche Carrera GT. Oh, and that’s just the standard car. The pumped-up SLR 722 Edition could hit 209 mph and the mad windscreen-less Stirling Moss edition was capable of 217 mph. That’s an astonishing turn of pace, but it might not even be the best part of the SLR McLaren.

Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren Interior

The most intriguing part of the SLR is how it minimizes supercar hassle. All of the switchgear was Mercedes, so it’s all legible and rational and works exactly how you’d expect it to instead of being plucked from over yonder and strewn haphazardly across the dashboard. The toys on tap were immense by supercar standards, the overall form factor is damn near conventional, and because of Mercedes’ decision to stick with a five-speed slushbox, SLR owners don’t have to deal with roasting the clutch in an automated manual gearbox while driving around town and don’t have their entire trunks taken up by transaxles.

Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren 1

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However, even if the SLR is more comfortable than a Murcielago, don’t think that it’s as easy to own as an E-Class. Replacing the spark plugs is officially an engine-out procedure, you can’t lift the car yourself on a trolley jack or else you might damage something expensive and made of carbon fiber, and door strut replacement comes with a comma in the price tag. Still, SLRs are some of the more reliable ultra-exotic cars on the market, which is a weird sentence. These days, the floor for SLR pricing sits at $300,000. Exceptional examples will run you closer to $400,000, while the even faster 722 Edition model could run you north of $600,000 despite only 2,157 SLRs ever made out of a planned production run of 3,500 unites. At those prices, you can’t help but wonder what it competes against.

Mercedes Benzslrmclarencelebratingauniquecollaboration(8)

With its traditional GT layout, it’s not absurd enough to fit in the traditional supercar mold. At the same time, its performance targets forced it to be more hardcore than a full-on GT car. Oh, and then there’s the presence of modern alternatives in the market. For less money than an SLR McLaren, you could get a McLaren 720S, or a Ferrari F12berlinetta, or any number of quicker cars that still break through the 200 mph barrier and don’t share a transmission family with a 20-year-old E-Class. Sure, the SLR is a Gordon Murray car, but it’s also a Murray car compromised by the demands of Mercedes-Benz. As Murray told Car And Driver, if he had his way, the SLR “would’ve been mid-engined from the start,” and “had a normally aspirated engine.” Instead, in Murray’s words, “It turned out to be 1,630 kilos (3,594 pounds) with a supercharged engine — still light for a big car but nothing special.”

Chrysler Me Four Twelve

Murray’s description sounds a little bit like what the SLR allegedly killed. See, the SLR McLaren was developed during the infamous DaimlerChrysler era, and the American half of this doomed marriage had its own idea of what a Viper-topping supercar could be. Unlike Murray’s vision though, it wasn’t naturally-aspirated. Instead, it had four turbochargers. Debuting in 2004, the Mercedes V12-powered Chrysler ME Four Twelve was set to be the American Veyron, a massively powerful hypercar capable of sending Modena’s finest into the middle of last week. The touted statistics were enormous: 850 horsepower, zero-to-60 mph in 2.85 seconds, a top speed of 248 mph, a carbon-aluminum honeycomb tub, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission from Ricardo. The crazy part? It sorta worked. Motor Trend drove a rough development prototype in 2004, and all signs pointed to the mad Chrysler making it. Then, the plug was pulled. The ME Four Twelve was faster than the SLR, and Allpar claims that this “may even have been one of the reasons why Wolfgang Bernhard was “de-selected” from the Mercedes-head job.” Little old Chrysler had shown Mercedes up with something faster and cheaper. How do you reckon Mercedes reacted?

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Mercedes Benz Slr Mclaren Rear

Today, the SLR McLaren leaves a complicated legacy. It’s a misfit supercar more often ignored than it is admired or resented. It’s not in the same league of collectability as the Porsche Carrera GT or Ferrari Enzo, but it certainly hasn’t depreciated like an S-Class. It offers all of the speed of ’00s supercar royalty but in a far more livable package, and that’s a double-edged sword. Everyone remembers those who reached for the stars first, but fewer remember those who made it seem easy. However, the original gullwing is now revered for making Ferrari speed simply work. Perhaps in half a century, we’ll all be sitting around marveling at McMerc’s strange carbon fiber wonder. Well, maybe not all of us. I’ll still want my ME Four Twelve.

(Photo credits: McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler)

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Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
9 months ago

If you want similar brakes for cheap, many mid 2000ish BMW motorcycles had “wizzy brakes”. Wonderful when they work, $3500 for a new master unit when they don’t.

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
9 months ago

Didn’t Paris Hilton have a pink one?

Mike F.
Mike F.
9 months ago

I’m betting that the performance of the ME4-12 wasn’t what got it killed. It’s really the fact that it looks fucking amazing while the SLR looks godawful that sealed its fate.

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
9 months ago

hot take, these are some of the FUGLIEST cars ever made. completely out of proportion, look like they were designed by a kindergarten kid. also the stupid beak (especially on the moss edition) makes it look like the ugly new supra from the front (or maybe the ugly new supra was trying to look like this?)

anyway, these are ugly as hell and about as desirable as vomit flavored pizza.

Cerberus
Cerberus
9 months ago

Yuck. Never liked these. Looks like an SL to the GP, but uglier, like someone looked at that old SNL cartoon penis car and took it as a challenge to interpret it as a supercar, but to keep as much corporate identity as possible. The auto and all the electrowuss shit just made it a Paris Hilton hot rod to me (and I think she or one of her vacuous other 15-minutes-expired gang members actually had one or Justin Bieber, whichever). They’re not even good looking in person, though the width and height does make it more dramatic. All the contemporary reviews were lackluster, also, and it seemed like another unemotional technical achievement car where the dubious looks were decided before the tech—which engineers had to then figure out how to jam in—and those kinds of cars just don’t hold collector interest like their competitors that appeal to emotion or at least have some records to remember them for (“Bugatti” Veyron). I like the doors, though.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

Supercars? Supercrap! Really you can get a Yugo over 200 mph with a great 0 to 60 time if you dont need it to last. And frankly while pretty very few who can afford it can fit in it. It is unlikely you can can drive it over 100 mph because laws and poor roads. So really super cars are cars where 1 car proves it the rest are parked and never driven. And fat old millionaires cant fit in them to drive so idiot sons drive and wreck them.

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
9 months ago

I remember J leno showing off his on youtube and he said this was his daily driver for years. It is a supercar but you can drive it anywhere.

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
9 months ago

I met a guy at a car show back in Chicago around 2004, and he had an SLR, an Enzo, AND a Carrera GT. I chatted with him for quite a while, he let me behind the ropes, let me sit in the cars, etc. Seeing and poking around all three of those cars, all I could think of was how pedestrian that SLR seemed, especially from the inside. It was nice, and it felt bespoke enough, but lacked the “drama” I would normally associate with a car in that price range. It did have a certain presence in person, but the proportions felt “off”, especially that bit between the front wheels and the doors. That really felt like an afterthought, and now having read that it was not originally intended to be a front-mid design, well.. I guess it kinda was an afterthought.

I know that it IS special, but it just didn’t FEEL special, especially not for that kind of money. I came away from that experience very confused about who the hell the SLR was made for.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

It’s iconic but if I buy a super car with regular car associations I’ll get an NSX, the interior is almost all Civic the handling is legendary and servicing is merely expensive not ruinous

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
9 months ago

So ugly. All the great Mercs that came before and after are so much better. A rolling wart

Last edited 9 months ago by Morgan van Humbeck
Alexander the design snob
Alexander the design snob
9 months ago

The SLR has always looked like 2 cars with two different design teams and concepts were joined at the A pillar.

Dennis Ames
Dennis Ames
9 months ago

Flew to London last year to drop my son off at Grad school, and right across from the hotel one of these ( convertible no less) were parked with Dubai plates on it. Took a picture as it was the first that I saw in “the wild” . Beautiful car
https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipNwmJHo4M_8QZfj57LZzrpr72ylPqjsnLvDCneI

Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Ames

Link doesn’t work. 🙁

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
9 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Ames

Quoth the server: 404

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
9 months ago

Hey, this is right up my wheelhouse! As my business was started around w211s. I’ve actually touched two of these, as there is a Porsche shop north of me. And he likes money, so when offered the job, he accepted. Then realized it was better served by someone else. A few things about them:

  • M155 is a lateral move from 113k, plus it’s more red. Pretty sure the whole new engine code was to stop every E55 from throwing in the smaller pulley and full sending it.
  • The recommended service procedure to this car is insane. They were so afraid of a tech slipping a nut and tossing a wrench through some carbon. Anything that had the ass end of a snap on going in the general direction of the structure is an entire assembly out of car, so you can swing your tools in open air.
  • They really wanted the side pipes to work and dedicated like 20% of overall volume to the endeavor
  • Speaking of service, good luck. Only dealers with Big Star authorized techs will stare at it from a block away. Being 20 years old, there is less of those. They tend to be the longest term techs and migrate towards 8 or so dealers with the highest pay. Unless your in one of those metros, good luck.
  • since everything is a engine out, you would think they made that easier then the standard w211, they did not. New sparks plug could graze 20k repair at a dealer
  • These were “cheap” for like six months, so people who are rich but not wealthy bought them.
  • These cars are absurdly low, a large man may have challenges putting his hand underneath. To make the car have a low overall height everything important is also very close to the ground. I have a w211 scrapping subframe and it’s slightly higher.
  • SBC was a wildly dumb idea. Warranty is though 25 years, but every dealer hates doing them, so unless currently on fire, it looks fine to them.
World24
World24
9 months ago

The ME 4-12 is about the only car I wish ever got built that didn’t.
That thing would’ve been SWEET.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
9 months ago

I have always loved this car. If I was rich for a day, this is a car I would definitely buy.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

The Chrysler had a dual clutch transmission from Ricardo in 2004?

That would have been a nightmare compared to the MB 5G in the SLR.

Last edited 9 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago

I think people forget how culturally significant this car was. While you can show a normie a Carrera GT and they probably won’t be able to tell it from a regular ass Porsche, there’s a very good chance they’d recognize an SLR. Paris Hilton drove one and I think some other A listers did too. I remember them making appearances in music videos as well.

As far as super cars go they were somewhat ubiquitous despite the minuscule production numbers…and I’ve always liked them for some reason. I genuinely think they’re unattractive, ungainly, and not really up to snuff compared to their original competition…but that’s just endeared them to me more.

They’re unapologetically weird and compromised, and Mercedes really let their freak flag fly with them. I honestly can’t even imagine a German manufacturer outside of Porsche trying something this out there today. It’s also such a “time and place” car. When I see pictures of it I’m instantly transported back to my adolescence.

Was this the coolest car of its era? Absolutely not. It also wasn’t the fastest, most engaging, or anything like that. But it’s a fucking weirdo, and I like it all the more for it because like most of my fellow Autopians I live for *that weird shit*. If I had $300,000+ to blow on a supercar this absolutely wouldn’t be my pick, but if it is someone else’s pick then they have my respect and admiration.

Roofless
Roofless
9 months ago

Oh man, I’d forgotten about the ME4-12 – that design’s held up Real well. That whole era of Chrysler was fun – they did some genuinely interesting stuff, both in concept and actual production cars. Shame they’re under Stellantis now, where good brands go to die a cheap, badge-engineered death.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
9 months ago
Reply to  Roofless

The ME4-12 was also my take away from this article. I don’t think I have ever heard of that car, but looking it up, man it looked awesome. Right in time to compete with Ford putting out the GT too. Might have helped Chrysler become more than an “also ran”? Maybe not, but still, that is a good looking car.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
9 months ago

My neighbor growing up was a huge Merc fan. He has a 230 SL Pagoda, an SL55 AMG and a McLaren SLR. I have to admit that I was counted among the people unimpressed by the SLR – it’s just a fancy SL – but after getting up close with it, it’s a very special car. Every single part looks expensive and thoughtfully engineered. Carbon, machine aluminum, etc is everywhere. If you don’t think of the SL as a supercar, but as the ultimate expression of the GT coupe, then it makes so much more sense. It’s the super coupe.

I was able to compare side by side the SL and the SLR and the SLR isn’t even in the same ballpark. It also sounded amazing on driving away on the days he took it to work, you could hear him coming back way up the street.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Pat Rich

This is the sort of comment that makes this section worth scrolling.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
9 months ago

The sound of that engine is worth every penny if you can afford it.

Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago

If you can put up with Hoovie for a half hour, his YouTube where he takes his SLR-McLaren in for an oil change service is fascinating. As long as you can successfully get the car in the air it is all pretty straightforward but the engineering on display is worth the view.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

I unfortunately can’t put up with Hoovie for any extent of time. The guy just rubs me the wrong way. He comes across as such a smug, self-important jackass who’s more or less just a run of the mill rich asshole who happens to to be somewhat mechanically inclined. Out of all the big car YouTubers he’s near the bottom for me…and I say this as someone who unironically enjoys Doug and watches most of his videos, although now that Doug went from normal rich to mega rich with the sale of Cars and Bids he seems to be developing some similar tendencies and moving away from his roots.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
9 months ago

Grab your finest bucket hat, pour yourself a cup of hot brown, and meet me at Regular Car Reviews.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago

Don’t have to meet you, I’m already there. RCR, Savagegeese, and Throttle House are my favorites. They’re all at the ideal intersection of entertaining and informative.

Mike B
Mike B
9 months ago

SG is great, I like Mark’s dry sense of humor and perfect level of snark. Jack fits in nicely, I got a good laugh when he called Mark a “professional grade a-hole” during a GMC review.

I find RCR insufferable lately. I think the last video I actually enjoyed was the guy who got his hands on a LLV. Doug was more entertaining when he did the “Doug Car” videos, now I don’t have the patience to watch him talk about a quirky doorhandle for 20 minutes.

I don’t watch many of the review channels anymore, I more enjoy channels that build things, like Grind Hard Plumbing and Dirt Lifestyle.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

SG is the perfect blend of humor and information. I’ve learned a ton about the actual engineering behind cars through watching their videos and honestly I trust Jack and Mark’s opinions over pretty much anyone else’s because they really go above and beyond when it comes to trying to understand the cars they’re reviewing. The videos are clearly made with love.

The absurd/surreal humor they work in is the icing on the cake. I appreciate that they’ll periodically have videos that go completely off the rails out of no where. I crack up thinking about a normal person watching one of their videos for information on a commuter car then being treated to 90 seconds of Mark screaming about you’ll never live up to your family name or AI Jack coming in to blabber about the B58.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nsane In The MembraNe
Carson Giardini
Carson Giardini
9 months ago

Ehh, Brian has become really snooty over the years and doesnt seem to fact check anything in his videos or podcasts. His whole schtick anymore is “buy a toyota.” BORING

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago

Apparently the giveaways are collaborations with other channels too. They’ve taken some flak for not being forthcoming about that recently…and I personally think that $50 for an entry is a pretty steep ask.

I still like the channel and they still put out gems periodically…but like I said in my Kilmer comment I really don’t need anyone else telling me about how reliable Japanese cars are. It’s common knowledge and honestly I think JDM stuff has gotten to the point that it’s ludicrously overhyped and now we’re all paying the price in the form of market nonsense.

Do I think the CTR is amazing? For sure. Would I pay $60,000 for it? Absolutely not, but unfortunately the JDM fanboys will line up around the block for the opportunity.

Carson Giardini
Carson Giardini
9 months ago

Having met hoovie, hes actually an incredibly down to earth and pleasant guy. sure he plays it up for youtube but yea, you’re way off. Should’ve assumed because you say you unironically enjoy Doug. I’m sure he is a very pleasant man but I cannot stand his videos and the pandering to the lowest common denominator “auto enthusiasts”

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

There’s always Scotty Kilmer….

His voice is like nails on a fucking chalk board
(or white board, or smart screen, or whatever)

Last edited 9 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
Carson Giardini
Carson Giardini
9 months ago

Can’t believe he’s still even around. Scammers gonna scam I guess

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 months ago

A weasel of the highest order. I’d rather listen to a possum.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago

Kilmer is the goddamn worst and there’s a not-insignificant number of people who take everything he says seriously. Which is dumb because he’s just reciting the same old nonsense you can find anywhere. Japanese car GOOD and RELIABLE! Other cars BAD! If you buy other cars you’re a BIG DUMB IDIOT!

Remarkable. It’s not like I couldn’t have found that information in 15,000 other places. Oh wait.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

I honestly thought that I wouldn’t have this much agreement, it somehow makes me feel more sane that others can’t stand Scotty, so thank you all.

Kilmer looks and sounds like a low-rent cousin of Geddy Lee who wanted to be famous but had no talent.

Last edited 9 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago

I don’t watch Doug to be informed, I watch him to be entertained. His videos are the equivalent of automotive junk food for me. It’s mindless car content that’s best taken at face value. His videos are something I’ll have on when I’m cooking or doing chores. Frankly it’s not that deep and I think DOUG BAD in fact a bit of a lowest common denominator enthusiast/car hipster take.

Although it’s also personal for me to an extent because Doug grew up near me, we have some mutual friends, and I’ve emailed back and forth with him on a few occasions. He’s a nice guy IRL and it’s cool to see one of your own that made it big, if that makes sense. So obviously my enjoyment of his content is certainly not objective and I acknowledge that.

If Hoovie’s a cool dude IRL and is more or less playing a character in his videos than maybe I’ll consider revisiting him. Sometimes that’s how it is with people as big as he is and I’ll take what you say into consideration. If nothing else he’s great to spam my German car loving family with whenever they hyperfixate on the newest, fanciest German cars that’ll lead to immense suffering later.

Will they learn? Of course not, but I’m not above a little “I told you so” every now and then 🙂

Carson Giardini
Carson Giardini
9 months ago

Yea I was a bit harsh, we all have guilty pleasures. Mine is binging motorweek retros. I Shouldn’t have been so quick to judge

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
9 months ago

All good my friend! I certainly don’t come to this site to make enemies. And nothing guilty pleasure ish about that at all…Motorweek’s retro reviews are pretty universally loved, and for good reason.

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