When I try to participate in the pointless-engine-revving derby, I find I'm neutered by the car's electronics-the V-12 climbs to 3000 rpm and won't go any higher unless it's in gear. Party over. Along with all the other idiot lights in the Merc's gauge cluster, there ought to be one that reads, "No, I think not." Instead, I get fired up listening to the Crystal Method's "Born Too Slow" on the CD I burned to listen to at the track. Yes, I made a mix CD just for this occasion. Yes, I am a sixth-grade girl.
The "No, I think not" light would be blazing again at the next phase of the trip down the strip, the water-box burnout. When you try to brake-torque a car equipped with both brake-by-wire and throttle-by-wire, the end result is pathetic bogging as the computer realizes what you're doing and cuts the revs on you. Oh, you can still do a burnout-738 lb-ft of torque will do that for you-but you feel decidedly wimpy choking on the cloud of tire smoke from the Camaro in the upwind lane.
I edge to the line, and the guy at the staging lights makes me put the top up. Fine. Is this a good time to mention that I've never driven on a drag strip before? Hey, if you don't even know how the staging lights work, you may as well start out in something tame, like a 604-hp, $179,000 supercar. At least on this run, there's nobody in the next lane to point and laugh at.
When the light goes green, I take off with such violence that the automatic roll bar pops up. The SL's spring-loaded roll bar deploys at a threshold of 0.5 g, which is a pretty good shove in the back if you're not being rear-ended by a dump truck. When I trip the lights, I find I've turned an 11.85-second quarter at 118 mph-with the air-conditioning on and the seat gently massaging my back. When I pull up to the booth to get my time slip, the track official is apoplectic. "You need to slow down. You just ran in the 11s. I think you need a roll cage." I point to the deployed roll bar, but he says pop-up bars on hardtop convertibles don't count. I get the impression he just made that up on the spot. Luckily, he continues improvising rules until I'm once again legal. "Wait a minute, no, you used to need a roll cage if you were in the 12s . . . but I think we just changed the rule to 11.49. So don't go faster than that."
Back at the pits, other drivers are scandalized. They want to look at the time slip. Curse words are uttered. This rich-guy luxobarge just ran in the 11s right out of the box. I attribute my time to pure driving talent, but that notion evaporates when people start asking questions about my setup and technique. "What's your air pressure?" "Did you do a burnout before the run?" "Does this have adjustable suspension?" "Which ride height is it set at?" "Are you shifting it yourself?" I am quickly made to understand that if I can run in the 11s with full air pressure in the tires, the air-conditioning on, and the suspension set on firm (not ideal for load transfer to the drive wheels), then basically Cuddles the Miniature Seeing-Eye Pony could also snap off consistent sub-twelve-second runs.
I disprove that theory by doing much worse on subsequent runs. Launching the SL65 with the traction control off is about as easy as riding a unicycle up a ski slope. This might sound strange, but there is such a thing as throttle feel, and you don't realize you'll miss it until it's not there. Between the electronic throttle and the nonlinear turbo power delivery, modulating how much juice you summon and when is a crap shoot. If you're lucky, you spin the tires a little, hook up, spin some more when it hits second gear, and then it's a simple matter of holding on. Apply too much gas, though, and you'll not only waste time smoking rubber, but the traction control might decide you're a man not to be trusted and cut the power. This being a Mercedes, there's a stern German hiding somewhere under the hood, and that sneaky bugger activates the traction control even when you've got it switched off. When that happens, you may as well phone home, because your ET is in trouble. On one run against a stacked Mustang, I spin too much, and the Mercedes V-chip cancels my programming on the way to a relatively blah 12.6.