20 years ago Mercedes and McLaren teamed up for the sensational SLR

Patrik Lundin Photography

Having won back-to-back Formula 1 drivers’ titles with Mika Häkkinen in 1998 and 1999, and taken the manufacturers’ title Mercedes-Benz and McLaren were riding high in the last days of the 20th century.

The Anglo-German relationship was so strong that Mercedes picked McLaren as its partner to take the company’s stunning Vision SLR concept car into production, where it would be co-billed as the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.

Four years later in September 2003 the car was finally revealed to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany. It closely-resembled the original show car but broke new ground with its use of the carbon-fiber monocoque construction which McLaren had pioneered in F1. Mercedes-AMG provided the 5.5-liter supercharged V-8 engine, and five-speed automatic transmission that was sat in a mid-front position under the SLR’s long and low snout. With 626 horsepower on tap it topped 208 mph, and could reach 62 mph from rest in 3.8 seconds.

Among the SLR’s many innovations were an adaptive rear wing which could tilt to add downforce or flip up to a 65-degree angle to act as an airbrake, and a unique carbon-fiber front crash structure that bolted to the aluminum engine mounts.

Over the next six years 2,157 cars were hand-built at the McLaren Technology Center in Woking, Surrey as both coupes and roadsters, but even after production ended McLaren just couldn’t leave the SLR alone. In 2010 McLaren Special Operations was formed, introducing 25 examples of the McLaren Edition SLR with major tweaks to its aerodynamics including a new front splitter, side intakes, bigger rear wing and diffuser, along with lighter wheels, and revisions to the suspension and power steering.

In 2019 MSO went further, with a new upgrade package offered to owners that saved weight, improved aero, and added a more luxurious quilted leather interior, while only this year MSO delivered the first of 12 High Downforce Kit conversions derived from the 722 GT race car. MSO increased the track front and rear by 60 mm (2.36 inches), added a wide-body kit, and reduced weight by deleting the silencer from the side-exit exhausts.

Even though 20 years has now passed since the SLR it’s fascinating to see that McLaren not only provides factory support, but is actually still developing this unique supercar.

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    If this hodge-podge of German/British engineering was sensational, I would love to have seen what the ME Four-Twelve would’ve been to people if it ever got produced.

    It’s an interesting car with two different philosophies battling within it. Personally I wish it was more McLaren than Mercedes but the opposite happened.

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