Unlike most styling exercises, the Exelero is definitely a runner. On May 1, it proved its point on the Nardo high-speed oval in Italy, where racing driver Klaus Ludwig whipped it to a top speed of 351.45 kph (218 mph). I ran out of road at an indicated 125 mph, but a 0-to-62-mph run was pretty exciting, as the Maybach fisted past the wilting roadside daisies to clock 4.4 seconds. That's Porsche 911 GT3 territory, not bad for a converted luxury liner that weighs three tons counting fuel and Kacher. The dry weight is an almost equally obese 5852 pounds.
Redlined at 6000 rpm, the 36-valve V-12 produces peak power at just 5000 rpm. Compared with the standard Maybach 57/62 engine that's rated at a mere 543 hp, the Exelero has more displacement (up from 5.5 to 5.9 liters), bigger turbochargers, a manlier radiator, and a larger intercooler.
It's soon time for serious leadfoot action. During the morning warm-up, an overenthusiastic crew member warped a pair of front brake discs, so I'm told to take it easy with the second and final set of rotors. No one says anything about saving the tires, so I turn the traction control off, at which point the wide-body coupe duly sheds any semblance of manners. On hot, dry pavement, you have wheel spin in first, second, and third gears. Since peak twist action enters the party early at 2500 rpm, a mild stab at the throttle is enough to kick out the tail and cause paroxysms in the stability system.
But maintaining that sideways action is trickier than expected, because the transmission feels compelled to change down when you massage the throttle a little too hard, and it changes up the moment your hoof loosens its grip. This is fine when you are out to play in a C55 or an E55, but the adrenaline triples when the star of the slide show is a prototype worth 5 million euros. And I'm not telling how many times this one got away from me.
Cool-off time is frequently needed with this car. As its recalibrated air suspension hisses like a dragon, I learn more about the project. The cooperation between Maybach and Fulda dates back to 1938, when the carmaker conceived a radically shaped streamliner, the W38 Stromlinienfahrzeug, with special body by Drr & Schreck, for high-speed tire testing. Almost seven decades later, the two marques teamed up again to crack the 350-kph (217-mph) barrier. "In a way, the Exelero was built around our new 315/25YR-23 Carat Exelero tires," explains Fulda's Stohrer. Weissinger nods in agreement: "That's why the coupe is 6.3 inches wider than a standard 57/62, at 84.3 inches wide."