About a century ago, British historian Lord Acton observed that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. While we are all entitled to our views, anyone doubting that maxim should drive in one of the new super-sedans warp-speeding out of Germany.
Our power-hungry European friends have been busy taking regular cars and replacing their motors with something that looks like it could power a commercial airplane. Proof of this is BMW’s M-Technic division’s latest version of its ultimate saloon car, the M5. This rare conveyance, derived from a car whose base model produces 184 horsepower, has a 500bhp V10 that makes it accelerate like it’s falling off the top of a tall building.
But as exciting as that is to behold, it’s only a warm-up act for what you will experience behind the wheel of a Brabus-tuned Mercedes Benz SL. Before we get into the lurid detail, a quick introduction: Brabus is a standalone but dedicated tuner of Mercedes-Benz cars that has been pumping high-octane automotive steroids into anything sporting a three-pointed star for more than 25 years. It holds a record for producing the fastest sedan in the world (an E-Class fitted with a V12) that topped 206 mph and the fastest wagon — the five-door variant of the record-breaking sedan — that lugged its way to precisely 200 mph in 1997.
At the opposite end of the scale, the company has added a division to its production facility in Bottrop, Germany, to build “high-performance” versions of the Mercedes-Benz-owned Smart range of minicars. Apart from being what every golf cart wants to be when it grows up, these 70-horsepower, two-seater confections are ridiculously desirable in a toy-made-real kind of way. It’s doubtful they will ever make it to these shores, but there are plans to bring a larger version to the United States in the next couple of years. Rest assured Brabus will have a breathed-on version available at launch when they do.
Brabus doesn’t build whole cars; rather, it optimizes ones that already exist. The level of optimization depends on the customer’s wishes — and size of their wallet. It starts with something as modest as a new gearshift knob for a few hundred dollars and goes all the way to the moon if the buyer has the wish and the wad. It sits above AMG — and below MacLaren — in the Mercedes-Benz tuning hierarchy.
The company makes high-performance parts for all regular Benz products, from the lowly (and non-U.S. available) A-Class to the super-luxury Maybach conveyance, but today we are here to drive the SL K8, the Brabus version of the Benz AMG SL55.
The first Brabus stage of performance tuning for the SL features a normally aspirated 6.1-liter engine tuned to deliver 426 horsepower and 457 pounds per foot of torque — respectively enough to hit 190 mph and uproot a mature tree if you ever had the inclination to do either.
The next stage is the Brabus K8. This starts with a standard supercharged V8 476-horsepower AMG SL55 and jacks up the power to 550 horsepower and torque to an earthquake-inducing 575 pounds per foot. It can hit 124 mph in 13.6 seconds and is limited to 192 mph, as that is the highest speed at which its tires are capable of running. It can spin its 20-inch wheels in any gear, including reverse.
Things get really interesting with the V12 SL600-based Brabus roadster. This is also available in two versions: normally aspirated, good for 570 horsepower and 663 pounds per foot, and the brain-melting bi-turbo S V12 that gets by with 640 horsepower and 756 pounds per foot.
As numbing as these figures look on paper, they do little to prepare you for the experience of actually driving such a beast. Press the K8 SL’s gearshift-mounted start button and the sound that hits you is more mammal than mechanical. After the high-pitched whine of the starter dies down, the engine settles into a deep, lazy bass grumble that sounds like a Hollywood sound effect for a particularly ferocious dragon.
It’s about this time that you start to see what Lord Acton was talking about. Faced with 550 horsepower and an empty road you can almost feel the horns growing on your head — it’s hard to stop yourself from burying the throttle and disappearing in a cloud of tire smoke. The car feels like a huge watch spring waiting to uncoil, leaping at any request to convert its massive reserve of potential energy into a bleary-at-the-edges kinetic reality.
You can drive it smoothly and you can drive it slowly, which is as remarkable as the physics-defying power and torque outputs. But it’s nearly impossible to completely resist the temptation to let all that exquisite engineering do its stuff.
And when that time comes, when you think the coast is clear and no one is watching, you will not be disappointed. One second you are cruising down the street in your personalized luxury roadster with the wind blowing through the fine Brabus-leather upholstered cabin. The next you are accelerating into a hurricane-strength wind tunnel and focusing on a distant point as the Brabus lunges on a linear wave of power, accompanied by that fabulous engine noise.
It’s so instantaneous, and the brakes so good, you can have these moments of hyper-acceleration and braking more often than you might think. And because the car still looks like a normal SL, it does not attract too much law enforcement attention.
Contact: (949) 797 0177 or www.brabus-usa.com