End of the Road for the Mercedes-McLaren

By Andy Bannister

07.03.2008

British sports car manufacturer McLaren Automotive’s joint premium sports car venture with Germany’s Daimler will not be renewed when its current agreement expires next year, reports say.

The two companies are responsible for the ultra-expensive but slow-selling 206 mph Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren roadster – the priciest and fastest convertible in the world.

A closed top version of the car ceased production last year, as the roadster was being introduced, although all models including the limited-edition 722 (named afer a famous Stirling Moss victory) are currently still on sale.

SLR stands for Sport, Leicht, Rennsport in German (or Sport, Light, Racing). Inspired by the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of 1955, it seems the new Anglo-German model hasn’t been quite the “halo” model Daimler expected it to be in its eternal battle with BMW and Porsche.

In fact, the AMG-engined 626bhp 5.5-litre supercharged car has been hit by some embarrassing reliability and recall issues during its sales career.

Another more pressing problem the model has faced is that, despite its remarkable doors, many critics think the SLR features too many of those familiar (and in my eyes rather over-done) Benz styling cues. Squint and it can easily be mistaken for the cheaper and much less exclusive SL, particularly from the front.

Whilst a great technical achievement, the car is in truth a bit of an uneasy compromise, with McLaren wanting to make the SLR as light and fast as possible, yet Mercedes insisting it should be a comfortable GT full of kit and safety features which added weight back in.

If people think about the SLR at all it is often seen as a slightly puzzling car, neither fish nor fowl. Compared to rivals like Pagani and Lamborghini, the Mercedes-Benz McLaren title has always been a bit confusing and somehow lacking the right cachet, despite the obvious attempt to capitalise on Formula 1 racing success.

It hasn’t exactly been a failure – nearly 1,600 cars since 2003 isn’t bad in this price bracket – but the initial target was for 500 a year, meaning a total intended production of 3,500 by 2009.

Daimler will probably build its next premium roadster in-house at AMG in 2010, and it’s likely to be known as the SLC.

It’s unclear where this leaves McLaren Automotive, which currently builds the SLR between its English facilities at Portsmouth and Woking. The company is still best known for the legendary F1 supercar built between 1994 and 2005 and famed for being the fastest production car during its lifespan.

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Author: Andy Bannister

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3 Comments

  1. Good. If the SLR was the best this combo could come up with, then a parting of the ways is what the Herr Doktor ordered.

    When compared to the McLaren F1 the SLR is reduced to nothingness. There was a focus, a purity to the F1 — and the SLR is clearly the antithesis of that. It is a mess, it is confused, it doesn’t know what it should be.

    Though chasing the top speed record bores me to tears. I wonder what Gordon Murray could do with an updated F1 given all the advances in technology that have come along since that car was built. It might be noted that he didn’t aim for a speed record… it just happened.

  2. It’s fast, sure, but is it worth it? I’m not convinced and apparently a lot of other people balked too.

  3. Don’t break my heart, just leave already, would ya? This was not a successful experiment!

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