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.
While the SLR would feel more at home on the open autobahn and under high-load track cornering, it traversed the canyon roads with great authority and remained extremely stable, thanks in part to an all-independent double wishbone suspension, long wheelbase and wide track. It also features a front-mid engine layout, which places the engine aft of the front axle and creating what is considered an ideal 50/50 weight balance. Moreover, the F1-inspired, carbon-fiber, flat-bottom tub, complete with inlet ducts and a rear diffuser, creates pavement-sucking downforce. Its new tire and wheel package also proved extremely effective, providing ample traction with nearly a foot of contact patch at each rear corner.
Inside, the two-seater is quite comfortable with luxury and sport-trimmed features abound. Unlike the stripped-down Enzo, the SLR comes fully loaded with all the creature comforts imaginable.
In addition to passive and active safety features, I'm told SLR and 612 also feature awesome upscale audio systems. I wouldn't know. The thought of disturbing their precision tuned exhaust notes never once came to mind.
As comfortable as the SLR is, the 612 offers substantially more in every respect. As stated, this is a true GT. Aside from its slippery design, my first thought was how unlike a traditional mid-engine Ferrari it is. Not only is the engine in the wrong place, there's room for four normal sized adults. Measuring 193 inches long by 77 wide, it's also the largest Ferrari to date, comparable in size to a midrange SUV. But make no mistake, the 612 is still very much a died-in-the-wool Ferrari. Its blistering 4.1-second zero-to-60-mph performance will affirm that. Like the SLR, it also has extremely long legs and is said to hit a top speed of 199mph. Though intimidating in both power and size, the 533 bhp 612 is actually extremely well mannered and is quite forgiving too. In other words, it will make up for a lack of good judgment or driver incompetence and make you look like a pro. This is a good thing, considering the car's ultra-high-revving V12 bark and six-speed F1 transmission will make you believe you can outrun Schumacher himself. Trust me, it has this effect on everyone.
Similar to the SLR, the 612's monster 5.7-liter engine is placed behind the front axle, providing a 46/54 front-to-rear weight ratio. Additionally, and as with the F430, the 612 uses an aluminum space frame construction, reducing curb weight and increasing torsional rigidity in the process. It is 54% stiffer in torsion than its forebearer, the 456, which amounts to better overall handling and a more positive feel at the wheel. Given its overall dimensions and larger rolling stock, which I might add tucked beautifully under the 612's muscular fenders despite their size, I couldn't imagine the car handling any better.
Unlike the gear change chatter in the 360 Modena, gear swaps in the 612 are smooth and quiet. Delivery is faster too, executing shifts in just two-tenths of a second. It's rapid fire paddle shifting at its finest. Stopping power is equally impressive with giant 13.6- and 13.0-inch rotors front and rear mated to like-sized binders. Pedal feel also seems much more familiar with no sudden surprises.
At the end of my brief encounter with two of the world's most admired automobiles, I concluded that both offer power, prestige and practicality unlike any other exotic available. Though I spent the better part of the day driving by the seat of my pants, the fun and excitement ended far too soon.
Ruined for life, I may never play the video game again.
2005 Mercedes-Benz SLR Mclaren
DrivetrainLongitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine5.5-liter V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder, supercharged and intercooled
TransmissionFive-speed automatic w/TouchShift
SuspensionIndependent double wishbone suspension
Brakes14.6-inch ceramic front discs with 8-piston calipers, 14.2-inch ceramic rear discs with 4-piston calipers
Wheels and TiresGFG Beverly Hills Edition 9x20 (f), 11x20 (r)Continental SportContact2 255/30-20 (f), 305/25-20 (r)
ChassisCarbon fiber monocoque, carbon- fiber panels
PerformancePeak Power: 617 bhp @ 6500 rpmPeak Torque: 575 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm0-60 mph: 3.8 sec. Top speed: 207 mph
2005 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti
DrivetrainLongitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine5.7-liter V12, dohc, four valves per cylinder
TransmissionSix-speed auto-clutch manual
SuspensionAdaptive Variable Suspension, independent triangular arms with coil springs, shock absorbers and rear stabilizer bar
Brakes13.6-inch ventilated front discs, 13.0-inch ventilated rear discs
Wheels and TiresGFG Spiello-6 9x22 (f), 10.5x22 (r) Pirelli P-Zero245/30-22 (f), 295/25-22 (r)
ChassisSuperleggera all-aluminum spaceframe
PerformancePeak Power: 533bhp @ 7250 rpmPeak Torque: 434 lb-ft @ 5250 rpm0-60 mph: 4.1 sec. Top Speed: 199 mph