Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren: celebrating a unique collaboration

McLaren is marking two decades since the 2003 debut of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren with a range of activities at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking, UK.

Born out of a Formula 1-inspired collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and McLaren, the pioneering super-GT is a unique chapter in the McLaren story. The activities at the McLaren Technology Centre reflect this, recognising not only the car but also the people who brought it to life, a strong number of whom are still with McLaren.

Four examples of the grand tourer designed and engineered to supercar standards – an SLR Stirling Moss, an SLR by MSO, an SLR HDK and the SLR 722 GT Prototype – were showcased on the MTC Boulevard, alongside items from the car’s development story. A visit to MTC by the SLR Club – an international group of Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren owners – added further colour to the events, with the enthusiasts meeting some of the McLaren team that worked on the project to celebrate two decades of the car.

The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren project was announced at 1999 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, with confirmation that McLaren would partner with Mercedes-Benz to take the Mercedes-Benz SLR Vision concept shown earlier that year at the Detroit Auto Show from show stand to the road, as a full production car developed under the name of ‘Project 7’.

McLaren and Mercedes-Benz were partners in Formula 1 between 1995 to 2009, during which McLaren won four Formula 1 World Championships (Constructors’ champions in 1998, Drivers’ champions in 1998, 1999 and 2008). This winning combination of McLaren chassis development and carbon fibre technology with Mercedes engine power would be replicated for owners of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.

The first Project 7 prototype was built by a team of ex-Formula 1 McLaren mechanics who then joined with automotive engineers to form the core team that would take the car into production, as the first car to be hand-assembled at the then newly opened MTC.

The shape and styling of the car were kept as close to Mercedes’ requirements – and the design expressed by the Vision SLR concept – as possible. This was only realised through ground-breaking engineering, leveraging McLaren’s expertise in carbon fibre composites learned through decades of experience in Formula 1 and the McLaren F1 road car.

Allied to the innovative carbon fibre developments was a 5.5-litre supercharged V8 developed by Mercedes-AMG, producing 626PS and 780Nm of torque. Driving the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission, the performance of the front-mid engined super-GT more than matched up to the supercars of the era, with 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds and a maximum speed of 208mph.

Production of the car that began its life as Project 7 ended in December 2009, but this did not end McLaren’s involvement with the car. In 2010, the newly created McLaren Special Operations (MSO) introduced the McLaren Edition SLR, an enhancement package for the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren created through invaluable feedback from SLR owners and MSO customers. This version of the SLR, limited to just 25 examples, featured significant bodywork alterations with the adoption of a new, aerodynamically sculpted front apron with a larger front splitter, new side intakes, a larger rear wing and a revised rear diffuser, as well as lighter wheels. Alongside the changes, McLaren Special Operations revised the suspension and power steering assistance.

Subsequently, MSO developed further enhancement and redesign packages. In 2019, MSO introduced the SLR by MSO – a new comprehensive upgrade programme driven by feedback from owners in the decade since the car went out of production. A new aerodynamic package combined with new weight saving measures and new luxurious appointments, such as special quilted leather upholstery. These are available as a comprehensive package or as individual elements.

In May 2023, MSO completed the customer handover of the very first SLR High Downforce Kit (HDK) conversions. These cars come with bodywork alterations directly inspired by the 722 GT racer, a track-going version of the car. With the vehicle’s track increased by 60mm front and rear, the HDK cars have an even more imposing stance, emphasised by a wide bodykit with flared wheel arches and a rear wing inspired by the one fitted to the McLaren F1 GTR. Weight is further reduced and exhaust volume is increased with the deletion of silencers from an exhaust system that features large, single exits on both sides of the car. MSO will produce 12 SLR HDKs, all of which have already been sold.

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