I remember the turn of the millennium and the world marveling at three things. First, the fact we were still here. Second, that all the computers didn't crash. And third, the release of the 400hp BMW M5 family hauler, at the time the fastest sedan in the world by far, and a true sleeper.
It was a bold statement by BMW, because only three years earlier the "quickest sedan" title was held by the same marque with the 1997 release of the E36 M3 sedan with just 240 hp-sub-Honda Accord power by today's standards. The folks at AMG were feeling the wake of the M5, having only the 349 hp, normally aspirated E55 to lean on. In an attempt to ante up and silence the Bavarian celebration, AMG released a revamped E55, this time with a new supercharged 5.4-liter V8 pumping 469 hp and gobs of torque-516 lb-ft to be exact.
The following year, 2004, Mercedes-Benz made it seem this horsepower war had no end in sight. Then, to really stir things up, AMG released the SL65, powered by a beastly 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V12 that unleashed 604 hp and a tarmac-thrashing 738 lb-ft of torque. Apocalyptic times indeed.
Fast forward to 2008 and here we still are. And while the horsepower war hasn't ended, the underground world of the automotive aftermarket continues paving a path for the ego-maniacal few that demand the fastest cars around, bar none. VRP Tuning is one of those companies that caters to these certifiable speed demons. We got a chance to check out a couple of examples they'd been working on.
This silver E55 could be the ultimate sleeper. On a quick glance you'd notice nothing special outside the V8 Kompressor badging. But with an extra 140 or more horsepower and torque to the wheels it's easily one of the most understated, yet fastest sedans in the country.
The car sports VRP's VR700-55 package. This adds sport air filters and an 80mm throttle body (stock is 74mm), along with spec racing cams and ported cylinder heads. Boost was increased from the stock 11.6 psi (0.8 bar) to 14.6 (1 bar) with a new overdrive crank pulley. VRP's long-tube headers and cat-back exhaust system assist exhaust flow.
A VRP/Powerchip software tune maximizes these upgrades, giving a smooth idle and on-throttle performance. VRP's carbon airbox adds the finishing touch to the engine bay.
On the dyno, the above mentioned amounts to 570 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque, which the stock transmission is able to harness. VRP claims an 18 percent drivetrain loss through the automatic tranny, translating to some 695 hp at the flywheel.
Cruising around town the car is as docile as it was when it left the showroom floor. But stabbing the throttle instantly turns it from a granny-hauling, purring kitten into a vomit-inducing, roaring tiger, accelerating in a way that could shove you through the rear seats and into the trunk. As I climbed through the gears I felt as if I was going so fast that bystanders couldn't turn their neck fast enough to spot me. I was in my own little world, and no one around could understand the adrenaline rush I had experienced.
R-compound tires provide the extra grip needed to hook up second gear, but you'd think with so much power and mechanical grip that rear end squat would be excessive. Not so. The AMG-tuned suspension handles body roll and rear squat as it readily anticipates such massive torque.
With so much understated performance, the euphoric state this car brought out in me was reminiscent of when I first drove a Mercedes 500E close to two decades ago. I remember the shock I got from so much performance in a family hauler. But with twice the power, the VRP E55 has exponentially warped ahead of the competition, even by today's standards. To put it into perspective, at just over 4,000 pounds this car sports a power-to-weight ratio bettering a current Porsche Turbo by 10 percent. In fact, it's closer to that of a 997 GT2. With that kind of performance and room for five nestled inside the luxury of a Mercedes-Benz, there's nothing left to be desired. This is my kind of ride.
The black SL65's power is boosted with VRP Tuning's VR700-65 package. With a larger air-to-water intercooler core that flows 60 percent over stock, the pressurized airflow can enter the engine at a cooler temperature and protect against engine knock. A water pump providing a 50-percent increase in flow to the intercooler keeps the charged air optimally cooled.
In order for more air to make it through the forced induction system, VRP had to come up with a larger intake. And because the engine bay is so tight, the company produced a dual "Y" piping with four 3-inch conical air filters to reduce the bottleneck.
To fill the larger chambers, VRP uses Powerchip tuning software that's tuned in house. Not only does it maximize performance by changing the fuel and ignition maps, but boost is increased to maintain 22 psi up top. AMG advertises the stock boost pressure of the SL65 at 22.1psi (1.5 bar), but according to VRP it's a midrange boost spike that tapers to 17 psi by the time peak power is reached.
This explains the huge gap between peak torque and horsepower, and this, coupled with the boost drop, is indicative of small, taxed-out turbos. "On the SL65, most of the power is made by keeping the stock turbos from running out of air up top," says VRP's Vadim Fedorovsky. Having started with an already crazy baseline of 497 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque at the wheels in stock form, the VR65-700 spun the rollers to an unbelievable 578 hp and 755 lb-ft of torque-that's enough twist to make 400 wheel horsepower by only 2800 rpm. I repeat-horsepower. Assuming an 18-percent drivetrain loss through the automatic five-speed, the peak numbers equate to 705 hp and 920 lb-ft.
With numbers like these, some might wonder how streetable the car really is. Having already been in several cars that come close to this level I was expecting a violent, fish-tailing tire burner that would snap my neck as soon as the tires got hold of the pavement. But this wasn't so. In fact, while the turbo whine is indeed louder, the car drives as smoothly as stock, only with a speedometer needle that swings around in a massive hurry. The tall, autobahn gearing and smooth shifting of the SpeedShift five-speed, coupled with the grip of 295mm rear tires and a curb weight of 4,555 pounds makes the VR700 SL65 a fairly tamable beast. It's not too scary, but is an absolute blast.
The ride remains stock-like smooth with a stock suspension that's been lowered one inch from factory specs. The 20-inch RennTech Monolite wheels provide the finishing touches and are the only signs of any upgrades from the outside. And although sleek, it's not as if the general public doesn't get the idea this car is a serious performer, with its big wheels and the V12 Biturbo badging on the gills. Still, few could know the hurt this car will put on the majority of today's exotics. Cruising the coast topless doesn't get better than this, but with so much grunt you'll probably want to strap down your girl's Louis Vitton bag.
2004 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.4-liter V8, dohc, 24-valve, supercharged, intercooled.9.0:1 compression, VRP race-ported heads, titanium valve retainers, VRP overdrive pulleys, VRP long-tube 1.75-inch headers, VRP carbon air box with high-flow filters, VRP cooling upgrade, VRP cams, VRP/Powerchip software, VRP 80mm throttle body, VRP heat spacers
VRP carbon pads
*Wheels and Tires
AMG II five-spoke, 8.5x18 (f), 9.5x18 (r)Yokohama AVS R-compound, 245/40 (f), 265/35 (r)
Peak Power: 570 hp @ 5750 rpmPeak Torque: 604 lb-ft @ 3750 rpm*measured at the wheels, VRP data
2005 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
6.0-liter V12, sohc, 36-valve, turbocharged, intercooled.VRP/Powerchip software, VRP intercoolers and heat exchanger, VRP airboxes and filters
VRP springs, VRP adjustable rear control links
VRP carbon pads
*Wheels and Tires
Renntech Monolite, 9x20 (f), 10x20 (r)Michelin Pilot Sport, 245/35 (f), 295/30 (r)
Peak Power: 578 hp @ 4500 rpmPeak Torque: 755 lb-ft @ 3650 rpm*measured at the wheels, VRP data
VRP Tuning-new wrenches on the block
*VRP was begun in 2007 by Victor Ruscitto. A computer systems architect and developer by trade, he was always a car enthusiast at heart. And having owned 993 and 996 Porsche Turbos, Ruscitto found new love after a test drive in an E55 AMG in 2003.
Ruscitto's enthusiasm found him on a path for more power, but the bubble would burst shortly after with the discovery of overpriced upgrades. "I called around inquiring about an 80mm throttle body upgrade and was quoted between $3,500-$4,000," he says. "So I spent the next month doing my own research and eventually found the proper components to make my own kit, which I started selling for $2,500."
The throttle body was an instant success, and an interest to develop a carbon-fiber airbox for the same reasons spawned. "The competition were selling products for upwards of $4,000, but after a hard six months of work I was able to put my own 100-percent carbon-fiber air box on the market-which was shown by outside sources to be of higher quality than the competition-for only $2,300." Shortly after, VRP was born.
Since then, with the development and engineering expertise of Vadim Fedorovsky, VRP has developed its own crankshaft pulleys, headers, exhausts, airboxes, paddle shifters, throttle body kits, cooling upgrades, cylinder heads, cams and even a big bore 5.7-liter engine for the E55. The company's home office is in Canada but it maintains a service shop in Huntington Beach, Calif. While it focuses primarily on E55, S and SL600 V12, S and SL65 V12 twin turbo and 6.2-liter V8-based cars, VRP also does work on Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and BMW.
Current projects include an attempt to make a reliable 820 wheel-horsepower (around 1,000 crank hp) on the black SL65 using larger Garrett turbos, as well as a widebody conversion on a CLK63 convertible for a meaner Black Series-like stance-only this one will also sport a supercharger system. We'll make sure you read about them.