Back in 1955, along with co-driver, Denis Jenkinson, Sir Stirling Moss crossed the finish line of the Mille Miglia in his 300 SLR having set a – still unbeaten - time of 10 hours and seven minutes. Fifty-four years on, Mercedes has produced this, the SLR Stirling Moss. It’s the last of the special edition McLaren SLRs before time is called on the V8 supercar altogether.
The new McLaren SLR Stirling Moss and the 1950s Mercedes 300 SLR… any similarity?
When parked side by side, the visual link between SLRs old and new is clear. The prominent chromed side pipes and power dome behind the driver’s seat are shared - although the new SLR Stirling Moss has a dome behind the passenger too. The minimalist cockpit and token windscreen are another historical link.
Although both minimalist, the cockpits of the two cars reveal the generation gap. The old SLR epitomises minimalism: a plate-sized rev counter, slim tartan seats, removable wooden steering wheel and open-gate dogleg gearbox are all you get. In the new 2009 SLR, carbonfibre lines the door accents, leather is replaced by cloth and the manual box is replaced by an automatic one. The instruments are small and barely legible and there is climate control rather than raw ventilation flaps.
There’s no radio, no phone and no sat-nav in this maximum SLR, but we do notice shift paddles, an ESP Off button and a plump multifunction steering wheel that wouldn’t look out of place in a diesel taxi.
Does the Mercedes McLaren SLR Stirling Moss perform on the open road?
The McMerc exposes you absolutely: there is no windscreen and no roof, it looks utterly exhibitionist. Wiser men would have brought a helmet – I did not. It does give you a good idea of how exhausting it must have been driving the old SLR. In the new one, accelerating feels like standing on the wingtip of a 747 – the wind pushes your glasses into your face and your hair assumes a silent movie look as insects spatter your teeth.
If your neck muscles can bear it, the SLR Stirling Moss will propel itself from standstill to 62mph in 3.5 seconds and on to nearly 220mph. This comes courtesy of a supercharged 5.5-litre V8 that is good for 641bhp at 6500rpm and has a huge 605lb ft at 4000rpm. Then, when you need to slow yourself down, a sheet of silver fills the rear view mirror as the air brake pops up. It’s a violent braking set-up designed to wipe off speed in a jab of pedal.
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And through the corners?
On the twisty stuff, although the standard SLR Roadster provides an intense driving experience, it is this final version of the SLR that is the most dynamically convincing. Unlike the rock-hard 722S, this SLR boasts a compliant suspension.
The front end no longer becomes epileptic over ridges, the rear is generally more tidy while the steering is smooth and progressive. However, the brakes are still grabby and the turning circle more tank than car.
What does the man himself think of the Mercedes SLR Stirling Moss?
‘You already know I’m biased,’ Moss laughs. ‘I 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, directs the car primarily with the throttle and keeps their foot down because it’s in his genes.’
When Mercedes built the original 300 SLR, only six left the factory. Now they are all owned by museums or reside at the factory. Values range from £15m to £25m for the Mille Miglia winning number 722. Compared to this, the SLR Stirling Moss is something of a bargain at £660,000, although you have to already be a McLaren SLR customer to be eligible to own one of the final edition cars.
The original SLR was the epitome of 1950’s racing – a legend builder. The magic of Moss’s winner lives on after more than half a century. But its modern counterpart is living on reflected glory.