Marque of respect

Nothing unites the mega-rich with sports car obsessives like the launch of a new super-car — and the new ‘722’ Edition of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is likely to please both groups. With a price of around £270,000 it is ludicrously expensive enough to please the former and has enough torque and brake horse power to satiate even the most fanatical petrolhead.

It may cost £13,000 more than its predecessor, but for buyers who can already afford to fork out a quarter of a million for the ‘standard’ SLR, that little bit extra is unlikely to be particularly off-putting. The extra money buys better brakes, bigger tyres and an even more aerodynamic vehicle, as well as providing buyers with significant bragging rights over the other poor ‘standard’ SLR owners at the regular track meets organised by McLaren.

The new version of the Mercedes super-car — due to make its world debut at the Paris Motor Show later this month — is a more refined, more powerful and sportier version of the 2003 SLR, which itself was already pushing the boundaries of street-legal racing cars.

The 722 is so-named in homage to the race won by Stirling Moss in a Mercedes SLR which had the starting number 722 — indicating a start time of 7.22am — at the famous Mille Miglia race in 1955. Its sleek styling mirrors the original vehicle with its long front section, low profile and gleaming silver paintwork, but beneath the surface the SLR embodies the transfer of the very latest cutting-edge F1 technology coupled with the luxurious refinement of a top-end Mercedes.

Michael Scheer is the SLR’s engineering project manager, a job which at first involved a great deal of liaising between the two companies, as he tried to reconcile two completely different ways of working. While Mercedes is a large company with a history of mass-production vehicles, McLaren is a very structurally lean, small company with a formidable racing background.

The two may come from different ends of the spectrum, but it is this combination of super-car racing performance with high-end luxury styling that goes some way towards justifying the SLR’s incredible price tag and one which — according to Scheer — brings the very best of both worlds into one car.

Mercedes was keen to embark on a top-end racing car project and by bringing in McLaren, which is also part-owned by Daimler-Chrysler, Mercedes was looking to tap into almost 40 years of F1 expertise.

One of the most immediate influences from McLaren on the original SLR was the use of carbon composites for the body in a bid to dramatically lower the car’s overall weight.

The technology used for this was developed by McLaren Composites based in Portsmouth which applied its expertise in lightweight materials for F1 cars to the new project. ‘The use of carbon was a big issue,’ said Scheer. ‘Getting lightweight materials into the car was straight from F1, and almost the entire car is made from carbon composites.

‘The real challenge here was in the technology used to make a production car primarily from carbon as usually the process for F1 cars is extremely labour-intensive.’

Although the SLR is certainly no standard mass-production vehicle — only 3,500 are due to be built over its seven-year production life — Mercedes and McLaren needed to find a way of building higher volumes of carbon cars. To do this, McLaren Composites developed new technology and carbon-processing machinery, much of which was based on the textile industry and which brought a higher degree of automation and computer-control to the process.

The car also uses fibre-reinforced ceramic brakes — only found on top-end racing cars — that are temperature-resistant up to 1,000ºC as well as being up to 60 per cent lighter and claimed to be much longer-lasting than conventional brake materials.

For the 722 Edition, the powerful 5.5l V8 engines producing 650bhp — 24bhp more than the standard SLR — are lovingly hand-built by highly-skilled engineers, with the responsible technician for each car signing his or her name on the completed engine.

But it is in the aerodynamics that Scheer believes the 722 really comes into its own, and where the cross-pollination from F1 is most apparent. While the SLR itself was already extremely powerful and quick the new version has stepped up to another level of performance.

‘The whole concept of the car is rooted in a racing ethos,’ he said. ‘We have a different suspension set-up which takes the car away from a tendency for under-steering and makes it more neutral. We increased the downforce and so had to lower the car by 10mm to keep the drag coefficient the same.’

He added: ‘There was an overall move towards making it more dynamic, and although we did not want to build just a pure race car, this is certainly the sportier version of the SLR.’

For sporty, read fast. The original SLR broke the London land speed record in July hitting 175.7mph at London City airport, and the new version is even quicker. Described by Scheer as one of the very few cars in the world which create actual downforce, the SLR 722 has a top speed of 209mph (337kph) and reaches 62mph in 3.6 seconds, 0.2s faster than the standard SLR.

One of the key factors behind its speed is its F1-based aerodynamic styling with front and rear spoilers and the characteristic sidepipes — reminiscent of the SLR’s 1950’s forebears — which keep the underside of the vehicle extremely smooth, greatly increasing its aerodynamic performance.

Beyond the cold, hard numbers that make up the car’s vital statistics however, Mercedes always intended to make the SLR a car that can actually be driven rather than just taken out on the track at specially-arranged meets — although SLR drivers do that too. According to Scheer, it is packed with safety features only found in a top-of-the-range Mercedes S-Class while care and attention were lavished upon its luxurious interior.

As well as embedded antenna in the rear windscreen and boot like the S-Class Mercedes, the SLR also benefits from other S-Class-derived safety features such as side and knee airbags and the sophisticated electro-hydraulic braking system, Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC).

SBC works in conjunction with Mercedes’ proprietary Electronics Stability Program (ESP) system. Whereas in standard technology brake pedals are directly connected to a piston which pushes the hydraulic fluid, the SBC/ESP system uses a sensor in the pedal that recognises the speed and force at which it is being pressed, coupled with a microprocessor which tells every individual brake how much force to apply to each wheel. The steering wheel is equipped with an angle sensor that calculates the car’s direction, and if the rear wheel locks and oversteer occurs then the technology just locks the opposite wheel to stabilise the car.

Bucket-type sports seats upholstered in the finest leather, as well as the very latest in in-car entertainment gadgetry are designed to appeal to those who demand more than just the thrill of the accelerator or the primal roar of a phenomenally powerful engine.

‘When we did the car, everything was the very top specification it could be,’ said Scheer. ‘So we have the performance of a Ferrari Enzo with the luxury of a Mercedes S Class. This makes the SLR unique , and it is a market sector that has never been entered before.’

With a planned production run of only 150 vehicles the 722 Edition’s market sector is certainly an exclusive one. Needless to say, if it is anything like the Enzo — one of its super-car rivals — which includes U2’s Bono, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and actor Nicolas Cage among its owners it will no doubt reflect an elite clientele.

The more affluent readers of The Engineer with a spare £270,000 are advised that if they order now their SLR 722 could be ready early next year.