Since its 2004 introduction, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren has attempted to trade off the glory of the legendary W196S 300SLR racing cars of the 1950s. For the SLR's final run of seventy-five cars, Mercedes has crafted a whole new body for its supercar, creating the most evocative variant yet. Adding the name of another legend associated with Mercedes racing history, the final edition is called the SLR Stirling Moss.
Recently, the nearly eighty-year-old Moss returned to Brescia, Italy, the site of his great racing triumph, to sample the last-of-the-line SLR. Asked to give his opinion of the new supercar that bears his signature, Sir Stirling was extremely candid: "I'm afraid modern cars don't do much for me," he said. "I have seen the SLR once before, but I never tried one. Quite frankly, I am not that interested, either. You see, I don't like driving on the road anymore. Too much traffic, too many people who don't know what they are doing. That's why the only car I own is the vintage OSCA that I still race occasionally. When a transportation need arises, I call a taxi or ask [my wife] Susie to chauffeur me in her Smart."
But Moss seemed to warm up to the 2009 SLR. "It is brash and very aggressive," he allowed. "You certainly don't notice any lack of power or torque," he conceded after his test drive. "I suppose one needs all those horses to compensate for the weight penalty, which is a typical vice of modern cars. It certainly also feels very safe - strong roadholding, sticky tires, good chassis, awesome brakes. But it is loaded with electronics, and some engineering details look quite complex, so I am curious what the reliability is like in everyday use."
Moss needn't worry. The 641-hp, 200-plus-mph hyperexotic SLR isn't likely to see much everyday use. It has only a token windshield, no top, and a sticker price of €750,000 (a little more than $1 million). All seventy-five examples - which were made available only to current SLR owners - have been snapped up, presumably by serious collectors.
So, new or old? Which SLR is the true king of the road, the ultimate high-performance roadster? "You already know I am biased," states a chortling Sir Stirling. "After all, I do enjoy living in the past. The new SLR is a great car, but it may be a touch too perfect for someone who is used to seven inches of slack in the steering, to directing the car primarily with the throttle, and to keeping the foot down because it is in his genes. I owe the W196S a lot. It is an important legend-builder, and I can still see myself arriving in Rome in that car, panda-eyed and tired but very happy."