2009 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG Roadster

The lovely Larkin Hill, Mercedes-Benz USA's media relations representative for the West Coast, promised me that I had quite a nice surprise at the San Francisco airport for my drive down the coast to the Monterey Peninsula for the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. She was right, as a sparkling silver, 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG roadster was waiting for me at the Park n' Fly near SFO. I loaded my luggage into the SL's spacious trunk, slathered my face with SPF 55, lowered the power-folding hard top, set the navigation system for the Lodge at Pebble Beach, and headed south on the 101. This, I thought, is not a bad way to start my Pebble weekend.

The SL55 makes way for the SL63

I first saw the SL63 last December at AMG headquarters in Affalterbach, where a small group of American journalists were given a sneak peek of the car that was to replace the infamous SL55 AMG, the most successful AMG-badged Mercedes in the four-decade history of the tuning house. More than any other vehicle, the SL55 had cemented AMG's reputation for transforming Mercedes-Benz luxury cars into high-performance Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, ones that bristled with the sort of rubber-melting power and heart-on-the-sleeve attitude that previously had not been associated with Mercedes-Benzes. The SL55 was particularly popular in America, where half of the 21,000 SL55s built from 2001 to 2007 were sold. In fact, the SL55 helped make California AMG's most important sales market in the world; twice as many AMG cars are sold in the Golden State as in all of Germany.

In the spring of 2002, I participated in an Automobile Magazine comparison test wherein the new SL55 acquitted itself quite smartly in the company of a Lamborghini Murcielago, an Aston Martin Vanquish, a Porsche 911 Turbo, and a Ferrari 550 Maranello, most of which cost twice as much as the Benz. The SL55's supercharged V-8 was bursting with energy, the car looked great and handled well, and it had a great exhaust note that reverberated through the narrow streets of the northern Italian villages of the Emilia-Romagna region. The SL63 AMG, then, has a big reputation to live up to.

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