Climbing behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is a rare treat, even for the spoiled, often jaded automotive journalist. Seat time in a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti the same day just doesn't happen. oeber grand tourers of this nature are more commonly driven from the seat of a sofa, but not on this day. The controls here are real and so is the dire consequence of missing a turn at mach speed. It would not be pretty, and simply hitting restart is not an option. But that wasn't going to stop me from driving the pants of off either one. With a shared price of over $750,000 and roughly 1,150 combined horsepower, each offers a thrill ride quite unlike any video game, F1 paddles or not.
Enter the world of Diko Sulahian, President of Wholesale Tire and Wheel, the parent company of GFG Forged Modular Wheels. Sulahian's wheel portfolio also includes Giovanna, Gianelle Designs, G Racing and Double G. A man known for his passion for fine European automobiles, Sulahian has only to make one tough decision each morning: which car to drive to work? To make it even harder, the SLR and 612 are but only two of his latest acquisitions. Although he prefers the practicality of the 612 for, dare I say, regular transportation, often including shuttling his two daughters Giovanna and Gianelle to school, he motors around in the half-million-dollar McLaren-built SLR just the same.
Both cars could fall into the grand touring category for their long-range, high-speed capabilities while carrying passengers (and luggage) in great style and comfort. This is especially true with the four-passenger 612. It could also be argued that the limited production SLR really isn't a GT in the true sense of the term, but rather a unique and purposeful built racecar. Perhaps, it deserves a moniker all its own? I would say Grand Sport Tourer, but Mercedes has other plans for that name.
Each car is fitted with a set of the latest offerings from GFG wheels. The SLR features a black-faced Beverly Hills Edition, a forged aluminum three-piece modular measuring 9x20 and 11x20 front and rear. The multi-spoke wheels are mated to a set of Continental SportContact 2 tires running 255/30-20 and 305/25-20, respectively. The 612, on the other hand, jumped to an even larger 22-inch wheel using the company's Spiello-6 model. Also modular with black centers, the 9x22 and 10.5x22 wheels are coupled with Pirelli P-Zeros with 245/30-22 fronts 295/25-22 rears.
After a gracious offer to test drive each of the cars, I met up with Sulahian (also known affectionately as "D") at the company's corporate office in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. On my arrival, the two silver gladiators sat parked just inside the company's gated complex like guarded crown jewels.
Within minutes, D tossed me the keys to the 612 and we were off. Seemed someone forgot to fill up the SLR, so our first stop was a gas station. You can't imagine the attention we attracted driving these two supercars through the neighboring community of Whittier, looking for a station with higher-grade fuel than offered at the local thrifty mart. Once stopped, green alien smoke may as well have seeped from the cabin as the SLR's gullwing door swung open. "Where you from?" asked a local peering from the opposite side of the pump. Similar comments and stares from wide-eyed passers-by continued throughout our drive, which eventually led us to a long and winding canyon road. Finally clear of city traffic, we were able to become better acquainted with the cars and more freely sample their awesome power and performance. The SLR was next up for me.
Flipping up a small flap on the top of the shifter, I pushed a button and the AMG-tuned, supercharged V8 roared to life. Hands firmly at three and nine, I buried the throttle, leaving a cloud of smoke and two parallel stripes of smoldering rubber. Eating asphalt is perhaps what the carbon- fiber-bodied SLR does best, and in copious amounts. Its power is immediate and pulls with intense force. With an astonishing 617 bhp at 6500 rpm and 575 lb-ft of torque from 3250-5000, the SLR is capable of zero-to-60 performance in a mind-numbing 3.8 seconds. Provided you have a long enough straight stretch of pavement (we didn't), Mercedes claims a run through its five-speed automatic trans with TouchShift will propel the car to an incredible top speed of 207mph. That places it in an elite class of supercars reserved for the likes of the Carrera GT and Enzo.
At these speeds, it's nice to know you can stop in an equally impressive manner. In addition to its massive carbon-ceramic discs and giant eight-piston front calipers (four-piston in the rear), the rear wing doubles as an air brake, rotating to 65 degrees during hard deceleration. Braking at the pedal did require a little finesse, but stopping power is beyond compare.