8:23 a.m.The last AMG car in our test fleet of six arrives in the office parking lot. It's a black G55 with purty chrome wheels and the outward demeanor of a WWII-era Tiger Panzer. "This vehicle is very special to Mercedes PR," the driver says as he hands me the key. "So don't friggen break it. And remember-no burnouts!"
No other factory-backed tuner has the clout of AMG, so frankly it's amazing a little magazine like ours could swing a feat as incredible as getting six AMG cars at one time to test. All told, there's more than a half-million dollars worth of hardware here. There's a catch, though: We only get them for 24 hours. And if any are returned in less than desirable condition, someone's cojones will end up floating in a jar of formaldehyde on some Mercedes exec's desk in Stuttgart. Probably mine, since I'm the idiot who signed for them all.
If that's the case, I figure I better make it all worthwhile. I shuffle through the keys, looking for the fob tagged SL65, but it's nowhere in the pile. At that precise moment I hear devilish snickering in the hallway outside my cubicle. Apparently, using his mystical "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Engineer" skills, Jay snaked the key while I wasn't looking.
9:04 a.m.The crew assembles in front of ec's offices with the six shiny cars. Drivers include editor Bidrawn, photo ace Rob Hallstrom, art director Markas Platt, associate editor Melissa Rausch (you can call her Missy), engineering editor Jay Chen, and myself. I start handing out the remaining keys, and realize there's an E55 in the fleet.
"I'm driving the E55," Rob says, snatching the key from my nerveless fingers. I'm left with the fob for the bright red SLK55. Oh yeah, stick me with the girl's car. Thanks guys. This is just great.
9:12 a.m.Despite my best efforts to sulk at the rear of the pack, somehow I end up leading everyone out of the driveway.
9:13 a.m.I ease the SLK out of the drive, straighten her out and stomp on the gas. The engine explodes into sound; I'm a bit disoriented as ESP claws momentarily for traction. Then 376 lb-ft of torque boots me squarely in the ass. All thoughts, good or bad, are instantly wiped from my mind, replaced by utter amazement, then a second later, by sheer terror. I back off, way off. Hallstrom rockets past me in the supercharged E, but I hardly notice. Despite my best efforts to squelch it, a big, stupid grin splits my face. This might shape up to be a pretty good day after all.
9:37 a.m.We merge off the northbound 57 freeway and onto the eastbound 60, headed for Interstate 15 to Las Vegas-though, fortunately or no, we won't be going quite as far as Vegas.
10:21 a.m.We begin our approach of Cajon Pass on the way out of the greater metropolitan area of Southern California. The way leading up the pass is basically a big hill that winds on and on for 10 or 15 miles at a 30% grade, relegating lesser cars and big trucks (of which there are many) to 55 mph or less. The SLK is unfazed. It wants me to get arrested. I look down at the fuel dial and realize through my speed-induced detachment that my overzealous right foot has burned about a quarter tank in less than 50 miles.
10:53 a.m.About 15 miles north of Cajon Summit I exit the freeway. I thought everyone had passed me, but to my amazement I catch up with Markas, who's driving the C55. The two of us commence looking for the agreed-upon meeting point, a Shell station a few miles off the Interstate. We find it and wait... and wait, and wait. Then we wait some more. Eventually Markas gets on the phone and calls Bidrawn. Turns out they're all meeting five miles back for lunch.
12:01 p.m.After some pretty good onion rings and fairly terrible burgers (at least, they told us it was hamburger) the AMG convoy resumes. We try to look inconspicuous, but driving these cars through empty desert backwaters is like marching a group of naked porn stars through skid row. We're searching for Highway 138, a serpentine stretch of baked pavement that winds from Interstate 15, on the other side of the mountains to the south, to our present location 30 or 40 miles to the north. We've driven the route before on other road tests and photo shoots, but always south to north. This time we're backtracking, and it shows. We can't find Highway 138. It's true several of us can't occasionally find our asses with both hands, so we pull over and individually consult our snarky AMG nav systems. Unfortunately, no one brought a map.
12:17 p.m.Still lost, but getting closer. We hope.
12:32 p.m.Still lost. Like so many others before it, the fifth road we're certain will cut through the boulder-strewn chaparral and deliver us unto Highway 138 ends up terminating in orange cones and broken asphalt-more flood damage from the wettest winter in SoCal history. At least this one's got a few twists and turns and elevation changes, so we take a break from our search to do a little spirited driving and grab a few pictures.