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McLaren to build Mercedes supercar

Rich boys toys: The Mercedes SLR will be the most costly two door Benz ever.

Mercedes and McLaren are now gunning for Ferrari on the road with a $500,000 super coupe

15 Jul 1999

MERCEDES-BENZ has decided to go ahead with a stunning super coupe to be built by McLaren at a cost of $300 million.

The German car-maker has quoted a launch time of 2003 but McLaren insiders suggest it will be sooner with production starting in early 2002.

The high-tech SLR will be the most expensive car ever offered by Mercedes-Benz, selling for about $500,000 in Australia if it comes here.

The SLR appeared as a fully-formed concept car at the Detroit Motor Show in January and stole the show.

Its front end styling is heavily influenced by the current McLaren Grand Prix car, cleverly recreating the racer's nose, "Zapata moustache" and twin spoiler.

The two-seater "McMerc" will be powered by a twin-supercharged 5.4-litre V8 developing 420kW of power and a chassis-twisting 700Nm of torque.

With weight kept to as low as 1400kg, the SLR will be able to accelerate from 0-100km/h in about 4.2 seconds - faster than any Ferrari or Lamborghini.

The power will be delivered to the 20-inch rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission.

Mercedes aims to topple Ferrari as producer of the world's most desirable front-engined sports car so it is hardly surprising that for this project it has enlisted McLaren, Ferrari's nemesis on the Formula One racing scene.

Mercedes has made a long-term commitment to McLaren and last week purchased 40 per cent of the TAG McLaren Group.

McLaren will build the SLR on a new production line at its new purpose-built factory in the Surrey countryside, south-west of London, which will be finished by 2001.

McLaren has experience building high-tech supercars, having produced the million dollar F1 three-seater which was the fastest car in the world but a commercial failure.

Production was prematurely halted two years ago but many of the 150 skilled workers were retained and will build the SLR mainly by hand.

Only 100 of the BMW-engined F1s were built - well short of the projected 300 - but the production experience was valuable to McLaren and technical director Mr Gordon Murray says the 600 hours it took to build each F1 would be substantially reduced for the SLR.

Production will be between 300 and 500 units a year, depending how successful Mercedes is in achieving its goal of doubling the existing market to 2500 units over the next five years.

The target markets are the US, Europe and the Middle East.

The biggest technical edge offered by the SLR is a carbon-fibre monocoque frame developed by McLaren which will help make the SLR almost 300kg lighter than the rival Ferrari 550 Maranello.

Mercedes had considered the cheaper alternative of building the SLR in Germany using a version of the next generation SL platform but ultimately elected for the high technology approach which will make the car considerably more expensive than the Ferrari.

The body panels will also be made of carbon-fibre and other exotic materials will feature throughout the car, including fibre-reinforced ceramic brakes and all-aluminium suspension.

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