SL65 AMG Black Series: The Maddest Merc Of All

It’s the meanest-looking production Mercedes ever. And it backs up its looks with an awe-inspiring 670bhp

Mas du Clos, central France. It’s hardly plausible that eight months have passed since we were last at this peach of a private circuit nestling in the tranquil hills behind the town of Aubusson for eCoty 2007 (issue 112). And faintly ridiculous as it might seem, I can still hear the soundtrack of that week as we trundle down the narrow lane that leads to the pit area at the end of the main straight where the sonic onslaught hit its peak: the manic shriek of the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, the brutal, bludgeoning bellow of the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera and, perhaps most memorably of all, the visceral, bass-tuned V8 blat of the Merc CLK63 AMG Black Series – which, appropriately, turned out to be the dark horse of the whole event. The feeling of deja vu goes from ghostly to palpable as we file into the gallery that overlooks the pits. There, down below, is a CLK63 AMG Black Series. In black. And it isn’t alone. Mercedes has brought us here, ostensibly at least, for a close encounter of the first kind with the Black Series class of 2009. So lined up next to the CLK is an SLK55 and, just to make sure we catch the sporting drift, there’s an SL63 AMG IWC (looking rather fabulous with its optional matt-white paintwork). The ‘reveal’, the real reason we’re here, is just minutes away. But even wrapped in its identity-obscuring elasticated body-stocking at the head of the miniature ‘grid’, the shape bends our attention like some gravity-distorting cosmic entity.

It looks too wide, too low, too wild. The guys from AMG milk the theatre and tease up the edges of the fabric, then pause for effect like the hosts of a reality TV singing contest about to eliminate another desperate hopeful. But when the grey cloak of secrecy finally comes off, we’re roughly as shocked as the residents of Manhattan would be should the monster from the movie Cloverfield ever turn up for real and whack the Statue of Liberty’s bonce downtown. Why? The SL65 AMG Black Series looks simply staggering. Forget the wings of lateral muscle grown for the CLK Black. Forget the slightly fussy, manicured aesthetic anger of the SLK. And by all means forget the cartoonish excesses of the SLR. AMG’s vision for the ultimate SL is, by some margin, the meanest looking production Mercedes ever made. Indeed, putting the SLR to one side – and for all its straight-line thrust and aural thunder, that’s where it belongs – this is the meanest production Mercedes ever made. Shades of the 1997 CLK-GTR most definitely and enough raw presence to make a Ferrari 599 GTB Fioranno seem temporarily invisible. It’s unlikely the world’s greatest GT would be able to exact its revenge on the road, either. The figures, like the bodywork, can cause involuntary dribbling. The standard SL65 AMG’s 6-litre biturbo V12 has 604bhp, the Black Series gets 670bhp. The amount of torque allowed to reach the tarmac remains at 738lb ft between 2200 and 4200rpm but, were the limiter to be removed, it would be 885.

The new turbochargers have a 12 per cent larger spiral cross-section with wastegate ducts that push more air through. AMG claims the modified intake air ducting results in a still sharper response. Power is further massaged by a new, low-back-pressure exhaust system. And so is the noise. Today’s exercise, rather crushingly, is just a photo opportunity. We won’t get behind the wheel until the end of the year at Laguna Seca in the States. Test driver Harry (not that one) seems to have few regrets about rubbing it in as he clambers into the leather, Alcantara and carbon cocoon of a cabin, grabs the 15mm smaller, flat-bottomed steering wheel with one hand and stabs the button that rouses the pre-warmed monster V12 with the other. We listen. High-frequency starter whine, ultra-crisp combustion, dark, expansive exhaust note, pitch perfect. Then, somewhat surprisingly, Harry gives it the full Molotov out of the pit lane. What the aural output lacks in sheer decibels, it more than makes up for in goosebumps as a shockwave of infrabass energy washes back down the main straight and the SL disappears up the hill towards the first right-hander at a rate that, if you were watching it as a film, you’d suspect had been tampered with.

What seems like a mere handful of seconds later, we begin to sense its return, much in the same way you sense the approach of a low-flying fighter on a training exercise in a lonely valley. First the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Then you hear the rush of metal (or, in this case, carbon) against air. Then the explosion of tyre roar, exhaust blare and pulsing brake-lights as Harry hauls the SL down from 160mph for that long right-hander again. We’re handed a piece of paper. It says: ‘The low-temperature charge air cooler, now 30 per cent more powerful, and the optimised water cooling system, guarantee not only that the power generated under extreme dynamic driving conditions is exploited to the maximum but also the greatest possible fatigue strength at high outside temperatures.’ Tell that to Harry.

AMG claims 0-62mph in 3.9sec, which just has to be conservative. Top speed is electronically limited to 198mph. And remember, this car has a torque converter automatic transmission with just five speeds, and it’s doubtful it needs all of those. For the Black, there are two Sport shift programs – M1 and M2 – the latter reducing shift times by 25 per cent to 250 milliseconds. The three-stage ESP can be switched off. Completely.

AMG’s engineers have cleaved a huge 250kg from the weight of the regular SL65, not least by ditching the Vario roof and turning it into a fixed-top coupe with a flatter profile and a larger rear window placed at a less sharp angle to the boot lid. It incorporates an integrated roll-cage. Also jettisoned are the heavy air suspension hardware and Active Body Control system, replaced by good ol’ fashioned adjustable coil springs and dampers in best motorsport tradition: ride height, wheel alignment and camber can all be altered for track work. The track is wider by 97mm at the front and 85mm at the rear, the steering 8 per cent more direct, and the rear axle has a 40 per cent locking limited slip diff.

The special light-alloy AMG wheels are are asymmetric both in diameter and width, 19 x 9.5 inches at the front, 20 x 11.5 at the rear, wearing 265/35 R19 and 325/30 R20 Dunlop Sport Maxx GT tyres that fill the extravagantly flared arches quite beautifully. The sheer acreage of rubber at the rear is startling and neatly bookends the carbon diffuser (which does nothing but look tough) and the retractable bootlid wing, which really is responsible for reducing rear-end lift at speed. The brakes are identical to those found in the Performance Package offered on the SL63 AMG. The enormous internally ventilated and perforated disc brakes engineered in steel rather than carbon ceramics and grabbed by six-piston fixed calipers and four-piston fixed calipers at the rears.

Of the limited run of 350 SL65 AMG Blacks, 200 will go to the US with the remaining 150 distributed across other markets with probably 15 ending up in the UK. The price has yet to be fixed but don’t expect much change out of £190,000. Personally, if I had it I’d hand it over right now. Hell, I’d pay £1000 on my credit card just for a drive. Rash, I know, but I think the devil had something to do with its design.

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