Sure, the owners could have spent more, could have gone even faster but they didn't feel that was necessary. Sometimes a DVD player, 500-plus horsepower and nearly 700 lb-ft of torque seem just enough. In the enviable position of being able to finally afford their dream cars, two car guys make them their own with a little bit of help.

Take the CL600. "I've always wanted a Mercedes," its owner professed. "After a stint in Europe, I came back and decided to get my ride. I walked into the dealer and this car with the AMG Sport package called to me." All that was lacking was a DVD player and Sirius satellite radio, so a friend suggested he stop by Ai Design to check out the possibilities. By chance, Ai had just finished a similar project, among others, on the other car, an SL500. "I saw the red SL, saw the DVD with the factory stereo system and it blew my mind," he continued. "When I bought my car, I thought I might change the wheels after a year, but of course after the DVD a string of other modifications quickly ensued. I've been hooked ever since."

The SL's owner, on the other hand, had bigger plans from the start, budgeting for an SL55 but buying an SL500 and figuring on spending the difference to make his own version of the factory hot rod. That was the plan anyway, but he might have ended up a little over budget. "Ai Design is not exactly the Discount Warehouse," he said. "I got a little woozy when I saw the bill. But if you want top-notch work, top-notch materials, you have to pay for it. I've done enough cars to know; now my motto is `Do it right one time.' It wasn't exactly the brightest thing I've ever done in my life, but I did it and I love the car to death. The reactions to it are worth any of the financial pain it temporarily put me in."

Wanting safe, proven power, Ai Design chose a Kleemann Comfort Power supercharger package for the SL500's V8. The CARB and TV-approved kit combines the intake manifold, air-to-water intercooler and twin-screw Lysholm compressor into a single patented unit. "Of all things I've ever done to any of my cars, this supercharger is the nicest piece I've ever used," said the owner. "You'd never know there is a supercharger in the car. There's no noise, no whine, no nothing. It is really a quality piece." Power jumped from 297 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque to 506 bhp and 675 lb-ft. And there's no mistaking that the noise coming from the Brabus exhaust means business.

The CL's owner was happy with his twin-turbo V12's 493 bhp and 590 lb-ft of torque--until he heard about the Brabus T12 kit, a remapping of the ECU for added boost, fuel and timing. A Brabus badge on the rear deck is the only indication this is no mere CL600. Unless the hood is up, because surely you wouldn't miss the classic red-painted Brabus engine cover. Coupled with a free-flowing stainless-steel quad-tip Brabus sport exhaust system, power from the 5.5-liter, 36-valve V12 jumped to 577 bhp and 664 lb-ft of torque. "It really pastes you to the seat," its owner said. "The Missus loves it. I think she's a bit of a speed freak." Drop the hammer at 60 and don't be surprised if the rear wheels break loose momentarily on the five-speed auto's next upshift as you effortlessly lunge into "straight-to-jail" speeds. Of course, with power comes responsibility and both cars have the stopping power to match their awesome speed potential. Fixed eight-piston Brembo GT calipers clamp down on 15-inch drilled and vented two-piece rotors up front, while fixed four-piston Brembo GT calipers grab 14-inch drilled and vented two-piece rotors in the rear.

One of the key issues on the CL600 was not going over the top, according to its owner. "I thought the modifications should be more under the hood rather than exterior," he acknowledged. Still, he fell in love with the Brabus Monoblock V wheel and ordered up 9.5x19s for the front and 10x20s for the rear shod with 245/40-19 and 275/30-20 Michelin Pilot Sport AS tires. A Kleemann electronic body lowering module firms up the dampers and allows the silver coupe's active suspension to drop 20mm lower than stock.

As hot as it is, the CL is subtle and doesn't have the shock value of the red SL. Take a quick ride down any metro street; horns honk and young ladies start to wave. Maybe it's the perfect fit of the Brabus body kit, maybe it's the 20-inch wheels or maybe it's the way all the little details work to bring the package together. "In my personal opinion," its owner continued, "I don't think AMG goes far enough. Maybe my ideas are a little extreme for the average person but I feel they are tastefully done. Not everyone will put a red wheel on a red car." Dominant visual highlights on the roadster, with polished lips and an open three-piece design, the 20-inch HRE 847Rs with custom painted Mars Red centers keep the look from being too heavy and show off the big Brembos. Continental Contact Sports sized 255/30-20 are mounted on the 9-inch-wide fronts with matching 305/25-20s on the 11-inch rears. The look is finished off by small accents the average person doesn't notice, but a car guy would. Things like the extra drop from a Kleemann lowering module, the blacked-out SL55 taillights or the blacked-out grille and three-point M-B star.

Inside the SL's cockpit, more inspiration was taken from the SL55, where the instrument pods, overhead trim and sun visors have been covered in black Ultra Suede. In addition to converting the stock radio screen to accept video inputs in both cars, Ai Design also replaced their stock speakers with Focal 165 components driven by JL Audio amps. An eight-inch JL Audio sub lives in the SL's passenger footwell, while a custom fiberglass enclosure covered in hand-stitched leather holds a 10-inch sub in the CL's trunk. "We try not to go crazy with our customers," says Ai's fabricator Don Whitmire. "We could sell them anything, but anything and everything isn't always what they need. We try to do just enough for our customers and yet exceed their expectations in every way."

Mercedes-Benz CL600

Drivetrain
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine
5.5-liter V12, sohc, three valves per cylinder, twin turbocharged and intercooled
Brabus software, sport exhaust

Brakes
Brembo GT assemblies

Wheels and Tires
Brabus Monoblock V, 9.5x19 (f)10x20 (r)
Michelin Pilot Sport AS, 245/40-19 (f)275/30-20 (r)

Performance
Peak Power: 577 bhp
Peak Torque: 664 lb-ft

Mercedes-Benz SL500

Drivetrain
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine
5.0-liter V8, sohc, three valves per cylinder, supercharged and intercooled
Kleemann Comfort Power supercharger kit, Brabus sport exhaust

Brakes
Brembo GT assemblies

Wheels and Tires
HRE 847R, 9x20 (f)11x20 (r)
Continental ContiSport Contact, 255/30-20 (f)305/25-20 (r)

Performance
Peak Power: 506 bhp
Peak Torque: 675 lb-ft

Contact

Ai Design
914.779.9000
www.aidesign.com

By Tim McKinney
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