With its gullwing doors, sophisticated electronics and superior underpinnings, there’s a subtle menace to the Mercedes-Benz SLS. I get the feeling Mercedes engineers channeled bits of the Viper, Panoz, and possibly a Corvette, distilled their essence and threw their own superior genetic code into the mix. If Aquaman were to graft a seat to the back of a Mako shark it would achieve much the same effect.
I’d driven the SLS a few times, enough to realize it’s very fast. Although I still question the utility of its doors. Once you’re tucked inside, who the hell cares? Behind the SLS’s classic-style grille is an exotic all-aluminum chassis and a potent, hand-built 6.2-liter V8 (Stefan Pepslin built this particular motor). This engine is an upgraded version (it even has a racing-style dry-sump oiling system) of the AMG engine in the SL63, all 563 hp of it. A seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transaxle (a first for a Mercedes-Benz) sends the power to the rear wheels. The SLS isn’t a lightweight, tipping the scales at 3,600 pounds all the while still able to hang with world-vaunted names like Porsche 911 Turbo and Ferrari 458 Italia.
Pure. Brute. Force.
Need an SLS? Plan on bringing about 200k in green to your local Mercedes dealer. Need even more performance from it? Go see the guys at Brabus. We will assume you grow money at this point. It’s time to harvest another basket.
The “standard” SLS is well appointed. You get stuff like 19-inch front/20-inch rear cast-aluminum wheels, bi-xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, headlight washers, park assist with rearview camera, leather upholstery, a microfiber suede headliner, power/heated seats with memory functions, dual-zone automatic climate control, the COMAND interface, a navigation system and a premium audio system with a six-disc CD/DVD changer, satellite radio and iPod integration.
The options list includes special paint, carbon trim, ceramic brakes, lightweight wheels, beefier suspension and a Bang and Olufsen sound system. The performance bits are all from the AMG bin so it’s solid stuff. Brabus however, has always sought to take it even further.
This was exactly what Jerome Dahan was looking to do. When Dahan isn’t running his Citizens of Humanity clothing empire, he spends time with his impressive fleet of performance cars, bearing names like Ferrari, McLaren, Rolls-Royce and Porsche. This pair of Mercs was arranged by Project Manager James Hickerson (who also serves as one of ec’s performance driving specialists). When ec needs a car taken to 9/10ths, we call Hickerson. He’s got a robotic precision that makes performance driving much less “eventful.”
Amber Blonigan and the crew at GI Motorsport served as the car’s build hub. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, GI Motorsport has served for many years as a performance car tuner/builder and maintenance center, servicing everything from Veyrons to Vipers. GI worked with Jim Dunphy at German Tuning Corp. to assemble all the necessary bits to make the build a painless experience.
The Merc was fitted with a Brabus titanium exhaust that includes a diverter valve that gives the car an inside or outside voice. Augmented with GI Motorsport’s own ECU code, the SLS gained a solid 40 hp, enough to allow it to pull away from the stock SLS. A Brabus suspension replaced the factory pieces and includes a cockpit adjustable control knob that can vary the ride from smooth to race-hard. Wheels are the latest Brabus Monoblock iteration and measure 9.5x20 up front and 11x21 out back. The “Platinum Edition” wheels are some of the lightest forged units we’ve come across and provide a significant reduction in rotational mass. Shod with ginormous Pirelli Nero rubber, the rolling stock alone would most likely let it lead a stock SLS.
Following a spec alignment, the car was fitted with a Brabus aerodynamic package. Developed in a wind tunnel, the Brabus system is wrought from autoclaved carbon-fiber and produces significantly higher levels of downforce, especially at speed. The kit includes more pronounced spoilers and diffusers and the special “Widestar” rear quarter-panels.
GI did the painting and install services, utilizing their double-downdraft paint booth. The folks at Street Concepts powdercoated the calipers in a matching red and provided a subtle smoke hue to the taillights. Chances are the SLS will return to Street Concepts for a full custom interior, an area in which they excel.
Finished just a day before our rendezvous, owner Dahan admitted the car was intimidating. Perhaps that is why he invited his friend, UFC champion Anderson Silva to, you know, beat it into submission.
“That car sounds like a monster,” says Silva. “Let James drive it.”
Although driving for high-speed photography is an acquired skill, Silva was quick to learn. Cutting through multiple switchbacks and long sweepers, Silva did a fine job, managing to stay mere inches from the lead vehicle and maintain perfect spacing. I can only guess his intensive twice-per-day training regime and superior twitch reflexes were partly to blame.
“Normally I’ve got to yell and scream to get guys to do this kind of thing,” says ec editor Les Bidrawn. “While I expect a seasoned test driver like Hickerson to perform, most guys don’t understand what I call ‘Hollywood-style’ driving, which is something like automotive Kabuki theater. Everything needs to be overemphasized and larger than life in front of the camera. Speed needs to be higher and turns need to be sharper.
“It was pretty weird that Anderson kept up. He was following my eye movements, placing the car where I wanted it almost telepathically. Through this canyon and at these speeds that is a rare occurrence. Plus, Hickerson tells me he knocks guys out for a living. I don’t want to yell at anyone who does that.”
Silva and Dahan were celebrating the wrap of a biographical film of the fighter’s career, a film Dahan helped produce. Born on the rough streets of Curitiba, Brazil, Silva was abandoned by his poverty-stricken mother at four years old. A caring aunt stepped in to raise him; he found the martial arts and fought his way to fame. It’s a familiar storyline but that’s how it is.
“Anderson is a very talented and dedicated fighter,” says Dahan. “His story is inspirational. I wanted to ensure it got told.”
In any case, the film should be out by the time this magazine hits the stands.
Bidrawn clicked away into the early evening, totally oblivious to anything but the Mercedes in front of him. What do you expect from a car geek? We found both Anderson Silva and the equally famous Jerome Dahan to be completely unpretentious and down to earth (quite a rarity in Southern California). The cars, however, were elitist snobs.
We can live with that.
2011 Brabus Mercedes SLS
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
6.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Dry-sump engine lubrication w/ external oil reservoir, Brabus titanium exhaust w/ sound adjustment, GI Motorsport ECU
Seven-speed AMG Speedshift automated manual
Double wishbone front, multilink rear, Brabus magnetorheological dampers
Brembo 15.3-inch rotors, six-piston calipers (f); 14.1-inch rotors, four-piston calipers (r); ABS
Wheels and Tires
Brabus Platinum Edition Monoblock, 9.5x20 (f), 11x21 (r), Pirelli P Zero Nero 275/30 (f), 295/25 (r)
Peak Power: 603 hp @ 6800 rpm
Peak Torque: 499 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Top speed: 215 mph