In a perfect world, the speed limit is 150 mph and every turn is banked, 100-octane fuel is a nickel a gallon, red meat and Scotch are health foods, your golf game is in the low 70s, and you never gain an ounce of weight. In a perfect world, we all own a Brabus-tuned Mercedes-Benz.
The pair of Brabus specials on these pages are shining examples of the tuner's art. They're cars unconcerned with cost. They overflow with power and are in desperate need of long stretches of open highway and vast horizons.
Perhaps the most respected Mercedes tuner in the world, Brabus was privy to the new SL long before the unwashed masses, and that has allowed it to make substantial gains over the stock SL 500, a none too easy task given the material. The new SL has morphed into a true sports car, a vehicle recalling the vaunted dynamics of the 300 SLR Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia. At Brabus North America, located in Newport Beach, Calif., two versions of the SL were on hand, the previous R129 version and the new R230 car. For grins we brought both along on our test drive to see just how much better is the new, younger Mercedes.
If you're looking for sheer, tire-smoking power, the Brabus-modified 7.3-liter 12-pot mill in the previous generation SL is the perfect monster. Producing a thundering 582 bhp and 550 lb-ft of twist (most of which is realized by 1700 rpm), the '99 Brabus SL 7.3 will clear 60 mph in a scant 4.8 sec. and top out at a staggering 202 mph. And while its performance clearly places it firmly in supercar territory, there is virtually no compromise to driveability. With the exception of a slightly deeper exhaust note, you'd swear it was a factory car-solid, ultra-refined and understated.
But where the older model was designed by the factory to be more of a luxury touring car, Mercedes wanted to inject a more sporting character in its latest flagship. The new SL is equal parts roadster, coupe and sports car, as if Mercedes' engineers rendered the best parts of Porsche and BMW and a little bit of a certain Italian beast into a whole new animal. Where its older sibling feels big and heavy, the new car feels amazingly light and nimble, a remarkable achievement given its 3,894-lb heft (about 100 lb lighter than before) and staggering array of electronics, including the amazing Vario roof, ABC suspension and steering that is the most direct and precise from Benz in a long while.
I liked the Brabus SL 7.3 a lot-I like the Brabus SL 6.1 a lot more. Hell, I may even love it.
The romance played out on "the road," our mountainous test circuit just east of L.A. We played chase on the 423 turns up to the road's summit-400 grand worth of metal being tossed like shifter carts. It turned out to be a one-sided affair, however-although down some 150 bhp, the new SL lost its older brother after a dozen corners. It's that good.
Under the gorgeous curves of the new SL's hood rests Mercedes' modular V8, heavily massaged by Brabus. The 5-liter engine is bored and stroked to 6.1L and is fitted with a custom crank, rods and pistons. The actual machine work on the aluminum block is done in Germany, where the cylinder walls are treated with the same high-tech, low-friction polishing process the factory uses. The three-valve heads are ported and polished and fitted with special springs and Brabus' own camshafts. In addition to a custom engine management program, the intake has been reworked for greater efficiency and fitted with K&N filters.
Like all Brabus cars, the motor wears red valve covers and the uniquely angled Brabus sport exhaust. The piping on this car is wrought from stainless steel measuring 3.0 in. in diameter and features sport cats and specially tuned mufflers. The result of this work produces 426 bhp and 459 lb-ft of torque, enough to get the SL to 60 mph in 4.8 sec. and tickle 190 mph on Brabus' 200-mph speedometer.