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Mercedes-Benz revives its classic Gullwing two-seater as the SLS

Mon, 02 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0800

Mercedes-Benz's gorgeous 300SL--or Gullwing, as it is affectionately now known--has been reborn five decades after the iconic two-seater first sent the motoring world into a spin at the New York auto show in 1954.

We were the first to report Mercedes' secret plans to resurrect the Gullwing following Dieter Zetsche's decision not to forge ahead with a second supercar in collaboration with its Formula One partner, McLaren. Now we can confirm the name--SLS--along with details of its state-of-the-art construction, unique driveline, performance and much more.

The SLS will highlight the Mercedes display at this September's Frankfurt motor show, with North American sales starting mid-2010. Expect the price to be in the $250,000s range.

While Mercedes is holding back on revealing the SLS's final design until later this year, the latest prototypes, pictured here, expose its classic, long-hood proportions. Describing the SLS styling, AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg, said, "It is totally faithful to the 300SL. The gaping mouth, long bonnet, sculptured wings, upright windscreen, design of the doors, rounded turret, tapered rear-all are present and updated in a modern interpretation of the original."

Mercedes also is said to be hard at work on a convertible version. Expected to be badged the SLC, it is planned for launch in 2012, boasting a traditional fabric top.

The engineering program is rumored to set the tone for the next-generation SL due out in 2012. The SLS's floorpan and inner-body structure are fashioned from a combination of aluminum extrusions, casting and sheet panels. The only steel element is a brace running within the windscreen fame. The body is aluminum and carbon fiber. Despite the substantial bracing required for the gullwing design, weight is said to be just 3,571 pounds, 286 less than the SLR.

At the heart of the new car is a reworked version of AMG's 6.2-liter V8 engine, with 120 components replaced or altered, including a new lightweight aluminum crankcase that reduces weight by nine pounds. Power peaks at a whopping 563 hp, with 479 lb-ft of torque. The transaxle is a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Drive for the gearbox is sent via a lightweight carbon-fiber reinforced driveshaft and is transferred through a limited-slip differential to the rear wheels. Mercedes is claiming a 3.8-second 0-to-62-mph time, the same for the soon-to-be-dead SLR coupe. Mercedes says that top speed is electronically limited to 196 mph and that the car will get 18 mpg.

More than straight-line performance, though, Mercedes engineers talk up the handling. Underpinning the modern-day Gullwing is a bespoke chassis with 66.1-inch front track and 64.9-inch rear track combined with a bespoke double-wishbone suspension. The arms, steering knuckles and hub carriers are made from forged aluminum to reduce unsprung mass, while the wheels are flow-formed 9.5J x 19-inch alloys up front and a whopping 11.0J x 20-inch at the rear. They are shod with 265/35R-19 and 295/30R-20 rubber, respectively. Steering is hydraulic, with the rack mounted low down ahead of the front axle. There will be no variable assistance; AMG development boss Tobias Moers said the fixed ratio provides more tactile feel and added feedback.

Inside, the SLS provides seating for two, with the seats set well back on the car's lengthy 106-inch wheelbase for optimal weight distribution. The hard-shell seats are positioned low to improve the center of gravity.

Safety is a big priority. Among the standard equipment when the SLS goes on sale will be eight airbags-two front, two side, two knee and two window devices.

A total of 35 crash tests have been carried out during the car's development to ensure that it meets all relevant crashworthiness regulations, including North America's tough new side-impact test.

An additional 30 disguised prototypes have been used as durability mules, racking up more than 620,000 miles of testing in far-flung corners of the globe, including about 6,200 miles--or more than 460 laps--of the tortuous N

By Greg Kable