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SLR : A masterclass in automotive engineering (Part I)


In the beginning of the century, McLaren was known for being a Formula 1 team and also for building the fastest production car on earth and “the greatest automotive achievement of all time” - McLaren F1.

Designed by Gordon Murray and Peter Stevens in 1988, the production started in 1992 and ended in 1998. Only 106 McLaren F1 were ever produced.

If this wasn’t enough to make it iconic, it was also the first production car to use a carbon fibre monocoque chassis. Carbon fibre was used mainly in aerospace engineering and was too expensive to be used in a production car. Yet, McLaren pioneered this technology in F1. It took them over 3000 hours to build each carbon fibre chassis.

Image from "Driving Ambition"


The one-plus-two seating configuration - another remarkable design decision by Gordon Murray, which actually took him 20 years to perfect, finally materialised in the F1 in 1988. From gold in the engine bay to reflect the heat, to the throttle pedal being handcrafted out of six pieces of titanium: the uncompromising approach proved that every millimetre was intentional.


Image from "Driving Ambition"


McLaren F1 is still the fastest car on earth with a naturally-aspirated engine. It is one of the rarest and most desirable cars in automotive history.



This leads us to 1998

In Formula 1, McLaren-Mercedes won the championship together with Mika Häkkinen, marking the first win for the McLaren team since 1991. Looking unbeatably strong, the successful partnership between the two automakers would take a new direction outside of Formula 1. McLaren had just ended the production of F1 when McLaren Cars Ltd and DaimlerChrysler would invest 200 million Euro combined in a new project - to build a car that can rival and succeed F1. Naturally, the main goal was to transfer the Formula 1 technology and the image of the McLaren-Mercedes partnership to the new project.

With Gordon Murray appointed as the design director, the first concept of the Vision SLR was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in 1999. On the outside - the design pays tribute to the 1950s and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL combined with aggressive lines inspired by Formula 1 cars. On the inside - hand-built 5.0L supercharged V8 AMG engine (which is different from the engine in the production SLR), producing 557hp.


Vision SLR concept, 1999

Following the positive feedback, McLaren and Mercedes-Benz unveiled the production design on November 17th 2003 to the general public. The production would be limited to 3500 units and due to costs and time management the goal was to sell 500 units each year for 7 years.


Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren production design

While the exterior design changes were minimal compared to the concept, the engine got upgraded to a hand-built 5.4L supercharged V8 (yes, the same one that produces the unique “whining”). Delivering 575 lb-ft of torque, the SLR would beat all of its rivals. The surprise came when the production SLR was built with carbon fibre monocoque. The point was for it to be light - hence the abbreviation “SLR” (Sport-Light-Racing), so using carbon fibre was a natural choice. McLaren had to produce 33 times more carbon fibre chassis with the SLR compared to the F1 (according to the initial plan), which was absolutely astonishing for a car maker of their size. McLaren was responsible for the structural engineering and design, while Mercedes-Benz delivered all the parts that needed to be outsourced - like the engine and the interior components. The SLR was assembled in the McLaren factory in Woking, England. I believe this also answers the question whether it's a McLaren or a Mercedes-Benz. It's a McLaren.







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