The Silver Arrow for the 21st century was introduced as the Vision SLR at the 1999 Detroit Motor Show, I first saw the prototype in action at the 1999 Formula 1 British Grand Prix in Silverstone, but it took another four years to prepare for mass production. We only tasted the most powerful passenger car with a three-pointed star on the front in December 2003 in the hot conditions of South Africa.
Right behind the wheel
When I first saw the SLR McLaren prototype in Detroit, I never dreamed that I would one day sit behind its wheel, and in South Africa! The invitation from the then DaimlerChrysler company came like a bolt from the blue, there were two places left for the Czech Republic, so I didn’t hesitate for a moment! During the week I changed plans and flew to Cape Town with my colleague Michael. We completed the eleven-hour flight overnight and after a short rest, we were the first of our group to leave the Cape Waterfront for the Cape of Good Hope (75 km there, 75 km back).
Getting into the cockpit under the wing doors is not difficult for those who have tasted racing cars, others may have problems. The starter button is under a hinged cover on the head of the selector lever, the dark burbling of the engine promises great experiences. The rack-and-pinion steering is accurate, it remains to get used to the long nose and low stance (again like in a racing car), however, after a while you will find that the SLR McLaren is also suitable for relaxing driving in normal traffic. When you’re tired of driving around, just step on the gas pedal. Acceleration is literally rocket-like (0 to 100/200 km/h in 3.8/10.6 seconds), but the machine stops even faster (from 100 km/h in 34.9 meters)!
The next day we tested the production versions (six silver and two black cars) on the roads between Cape Town, Hermanus and Franschhoek, together with journalists from the USA and Canada. It must be said that the coastal road to Hermanus has a surface that Czech roads can only envy.
On smooth asphalt, the ideal weight distribution in an almost optimal ratio of 49 : 51% and rigid aluminum wheel suspensions on double transverse arms stand out, the body tilts minimally, the car drives like on rails and willingly follows the steering wheel, but you must not be afraid of “eselerko” send sharply into the corner. Neutral behavior changes to slightly oversteer, the rear slightly shoots, but with the ESP on, the car immediately levels off.
Sharp brakes with a relatively heavy pedal, ceramic discs of the SBC electro-hydraulic system are a separate chapter, but despite the criticism, especially from British colleagues, we got used to it immediately and the pedal stroke did not seem too short to us. The SBC Hold function prevents self-driving forwards (as with other automatic transmissions) when the pedal is pressed to the floor, as well as preventing unwanted reverse on a slope.
The brakes are assisted by a pressure folding spoiler at the rear, which works either automatically (at an angle from zero to 65 degrees) or from a manually set position of 30 degrees to increase downforce (controller on the center console). The self-supporting structure of the car consists of a shell made of carbon composites, supplemented at the front with an aluminum frame for storing the drive unit and finished with a composite frontal deformation zone. Six airbags were standard, two two-stage front, two side head and two knee airbags for the driver and passenger. The gas strut door opens slightly forwards and upwards.
Many possibilities even then
On both sides of the spoiler control you will find two rotary switches for the five-speed automatic transmission programs, on the left the Comfort, Manual and Sport shift modes, while the manual transmission is controlled by buttons on the steering wheel or by tilting the Touchshift selector lever, and on the right three manual shift programs Sport, SuperSport and Race. Needless to say, Manual Race is the fastest.
The multifunctional steering wheel is electrically adjustable in length by 60 mm and in height at an angle of 2.7 degrees. Advanced audio equipment is hidden behind the aluminum flap of the center console, below are two more circular controls, this time for individual automatic air conditioning. One-piece anatomical seats with a carbon composite frame are comfortable enough, the customer could choose individual upholstery, and they are electrically adjustable. The 272 liter luggage compartment is also not small for this segment.
The base was an eight-cylinder
The engine is located behind the front axle as close as possible to the vertical axis of rotation to reduce the moment of inertia and thus improve the car’s agility. The 5.4-liter supercharged eight-cylinder engine produced an incredible 626 horsepower (460 kW) at 6,500 rpm for its time, but thanks to four catalytic converters it met Euro 4 emissions regulations. they saw for themselves at the famous Kyalami race track near Johannesburg, the venue of the South African Formula 1 Grand Prix from 1967 to 1993. On the third day we flew there to be shown driving at the limit by Chris Goodwin, McLaren’s British test driver.
We didn’t spare the SLR McLaren either, and as the only crew, they had to ask for a top-up of the tank after two hundred kilometers in Hermanus, when the petrol consumption exceeded 25 l/100 km! Of course, the top speed of 334 km/h could not be used in road traffic, we reached some 250 km/h on empty straight sections, where we also tested not only the car’s admirable acceleration, but also the fantastic efficiency of the brakes.
In the tourist zones, the locals waved at us in a friendly manner, several times we were driven by the South African owner of the SL so that he could greet us and express his admiration for the fastest Silver Arrow.
From Hermanus, where the original of Uhlenhaut’s rare 300 SLR coupe (the inspiration for the SLR McLaren) awaited us, we continued to the wine paradise of Franschhoek. It was funny to meet the drivers of the local Corvette Club, their cars had no chance against the SLR McLaren.
The memories will stay with me
I later tried the next-generation Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (including an all-electric version) as well as the latest Mercedes-AMG GT, but the former is simply the former. Witnesses recall that even the handover of the SLR McLaren to clients was a big event.
And the price? At the time of launch, around 375 thousand euros without tax, so almost fifteen million crowns with tax. We can also find SLR McLaren owners in our country (and another Czech has a new Mercedes-AMG One with a V6 E-Turbo Hybrid F1 engine in his collection). The manufacturer set a limit of 3,500 cars over seven years, by 2010 exactly 2,157 were produced, including action versions. The reigns were then taken over by the SLS AMG with a non-turbocharged 6.2 liter V8 engine.