This menacing matte-black Brabus SL65 Black Series bestrides the autobahnen and even ordinary roads like a Colossus. Its huge intakes look capable of vacuuming up small animals and children as it prowls the streets. Resistance is futile.
When the road ahead is clear and you push the throttle to the lightweight carpet, you encounter a Matrix sort of moment when time seems to stand still. In that second, you can imagine electrons rushing from the e-gas throttle potentiometer to the ECU, sending the "go!" message to the engine room where 12 big pistons play out their lives amidst fire and brimstone.
You sense the mighty V12 engine taking a deep, deep breath to fill its huge lungs. Then you feel the rumbling sensation rise as it responds. A whirlwind of supercharged air blasts through its induction system, and as those big pistons pick up speed, 800 corralled horses are finally let off their leash.
What you also sense is that while 500 pounds has been saved over the normal SL65 AMG, 4,120 still represent a significant amount of mass to be moved. So while the peak torque of 811 lb-ft on tap is more than enough to slingshot the Black Series towards the horizon with Olympic sprinter-grade vigor, you can clearly feel the effort required to warp the laws of physics.
Past that point everything however, and everything changes. Then the Brabus-powered Black Series begins its relentless charge forward with every indication that at a certain critical level, it will live up to the name given by its Middle Eastern owner. Vanish.
Once in stride, its acceleration is an absolutely visceral experience. This is not the kick-in-the-pants kind of sensation that you get from a small, peaky motor coming on cam. Rather than punch, the head of steam that keeps on building delivers sheer thrust of the kind you would imagine from a racing locomotive and you feel it in your gut.
There's a old drag racer's saying: "A good big 'un is always better than a good little 'un." That's never more true than here, and it just goes to prove that the only thing better than a big V12 is a twin-turbocharged big V12.
Yet, the motor in the Brabus "Vanish" is not the biggest one that Brabus makes. In last year's E V12, the objective of 800 hp and 811 lb-ft (electronically limited from 1,050 lb-ft) of torque was met at significant monetary cost with a total engine strip-down and displacement bump to 6.3 liters.
As Brabus technical chief Uli Gauffres explains, greater room in the SL65 AMG Black Series' engine bay and its better cooling arrangements out of the box mean that it wasn't necessary to go to such lengths to attain the same power output.
"AMG found the extra 53 horses with fairly minor modifications," he says. "The way the crank is manufactured is slightly different, creating a stronger component, but the connecting rods, pistons, and the cooling oil spray system for the undersides of the pistons are unchanged."
Better breathing is always a good place to look for extra power. Because the charge air comes in under much higher pressure, turbocharged engines are less sensitive to cylinder-head gas flow than normally aspirated ones. Because of this, the heads are not modified.
BorgWarner Turbo Systems (who bought out KKK) supply the turbochargers for the regular SL65 AMG, and also provided the larger units with 12 percent more flow capability for the Black Series. These work with different exhaust manifolds designed to enhance gas flow, and the wastegate design was also revised.
While the larger intercoolers are around 30 percent more efficient, boost pressure is unchanged from the normal SL65 AMG, and there is no overboost facility. The extra intercooler capacity is used to ensure stable output under extreme ambient conditions or when driving hard on a racetrack. The exhaust system aft of the new manifolds is standard SL65 AMG, differing only in its new tailpipe end tips.
With this uprated motor as a starting point, Brabus changed the turbochargers and exhaust manifolds for bespoke units, which further improve airflow through the system.
"The factory manifold on all the Mercedes V12 engine variants is a big bottleneck," Gauffres explains. "Each cylinder bank has a single feeder pipe with one short exit pipe for each cylinder. The result of these unequal-length pipes is power-sapping backpressure and very high combustion chamber temperatures."
The Brabus manifold castings ensure that the exhaust gases from each cylinder stay separate for as long as possible. All 12 of these extractor pipes are of larger diameter than standard, and as close to equal length as possible.
In the factory setup, the turbochargers are exhaust gas driven only. The Brabus configuration uses exhaust pulses to augment the exhaust gases as well. Just using these special manifolds with the stock turbos already sees a greater than 50-hp gain, with a commensurate improvement in torque.
With the Brabus modified turbochargers, this extends to 100 hp and around 212 degrees (F) lower exhaust temperatures, the latter being good news for the long term durability of the engine. This is before the addition of the uprated intercooler system.
"The turbocharger housing and the turbine wheel are our own castings Gauffres says. "Only the center and the bearings are OEM parts. Over the years, we've accumulated a lot of knowledge on how much power you can get from the various OEM turbos and a given combination of OEM parts. It was design limitations that led us to take the very expensive step of designing and manufacturing our own parts.
"But we did not need to increase displacement with the SL65 Black Series V12 for a number of reasons," he continues. "First of all, the factory engine is already strengthened in this application, but more significantly, the car has much bigger intakes and more room in the engine bay than the E-Class, so its cooling potential is much better.
"Combine this with the same liquid-cooled, four water/air intercooler setup, and you gain sufficient intake temperature drop to allow the use of a slightly higher boost pressure than the 1.3 bar of the E V12 motor. This is a fixed peak setting with no overboost facility. We achieved the same power and torque as the 6.3-liter in the E V12 without increasing the standard 5,980cc displacement and 9.0:1 compression ratio." In this guise, the V12 biturbo is designated Brabus T65 RS rather than Brabus 6.3 R.
Thanks to its pre-engaged starter, the V12 fires up instantly with a sharp bark accentuated by the deletion of two of the exhaust silencers. It turns heads, but as the car was destined for Dubai, the louder soundtrack will not upset anyone. If anything, it will add to this monster SL's cache.
As even the facelifted SL has a lower bonnet line than the E-Class, the new intercooler setup is too tall for the central area. The solution was to cut a hole in the carbon-fiber factory hood, and add a bespoke power bulge. The bulge has been left in natural, unpainted carbon for maximum effect, and gives the car an even meaner and more purposeful visage should you dare to look it in the eye.
This car was originally white, but its owner wanted it matte black. A total respray would have been a nightmare, involving an expensive and time-consuming strip down. The increasingly popular self-adhesive film provided the answer. Whether in a gloss or flat finish, the film can provide impressive results, and the beauty is that if you tire of the color, you can change the color again or remove the film to revert to the original paintwork.
In the meantime, the film protects the said paintwork, so if you removed it after 100,000 miles, the factory paint would be as perfect as the day you drove off the showroom floor. Brabus re-trimmed the interior in Alcantara and fine leather with contrasting red stitching, with red highlights on the instruments. Once the owner had established that his car was to be called Vanish, Brabus made up special sill trim covers, instrument dials, and a plaque for the center console to highlight this fact.
If you're wondering why this SL65 Black doesn't have the usual lightweight race seats, it's because it's a U.S.-spec car. As the race seats do not have side airbags, the Black Series is sold with normal SL63 AMG seats in the States for homologation reasons.
As I had only driven the SL65 AMG Black Series on a smooth test track when it was first launched, I wasn't au fait with its behavior on real-world roads. Brabus has done precisely nothing to the suspension or brakes, so it was a shock to find the KW coilover suspension was really firm even on German roads.
Through town, cross country, and on the autobahn, the ride is best described as restless, and can be rather sudden over short sharp bumps.This reminded me of my experience with the C63 AMG fitted with the notorious Performance Package suspension, which has since been abandoned. It also highlights just how far AMG has come since with the suspension on the SLS AMG, which strikes a near-perfect all-around balance.
There's no question that in an AMG vs. AMG comparison, the less powerful SLS AMG is the faster car around a racetrack. Its exquisite mid-front-engine and transaxle balance quickly shows up the SL65 for the nose-heavy dinosaur that it is.
But the SL65 AMG Black Series is the more spectacular looking machine, and 800 hp, a matte-black finish, and special interior, the Brabus Vanish is icing on an already very rich cake. In looks, performance and sheer attitude, this car is undoubtedly the gloriously extroverted king of the old-school autobahn stormers.
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
6.0-liter V12, sohc, 36-valve. Custom turbochargers, enlarged intercoolers, ECU remap
OEM coilover configuration
Wheels and Tires
Brabus forged alloys, 19-inch
Dunlop SP Sport Maxx
Custom matte black paint protection film
Custom leather and Alcantara with constrasting red stitching
Peak Power: 800 hp
Peak Torque: 811 lb-ft