Mercedes Benz SL 55 AMG and Mercedes Benz CL 65 AMG

It is not all that often where you get given almost 50 million baht of motorcars and told to go and have a play, but that certainly happened to me last weekend! The nice people at AMG (a wholly owned DaimlerChrysler subsidiary) brought down a bunch of their high performance vehicles for some of the rich and famous to try on the trip down from Bangkok to the Marriott Resort and Spa. After they had arrived, I was given the opportunity for a quick fang in the SL 55 AMG down to Sattahip, and another quick fang on the return leg in the CL 65 AMG.


I shall dwell on the two seat SL 55 first.

This will cost around 17.5 million baht to put in your garage, or about eight mobile condominiums, and carries only two people, so forget the mother-in-law. V8 and supercharged, it is a true supercar, capable of zero to 100 kays in a three tenths under five seconds. Like all the DaimlerChrysler products these days it is also electronically speed limited to 250 kph, in some ways a great pity, but it certainly gets there quickly.

The DaimlerChrysler AMG products start life being based upon a standard Mercedes Benz, before the super-tuning chaps at the AMG factory in Stuttgart get to work. The SL 55 AMG is derived from the SL 500, but that’s where the similarity really stops. The AMG version gets tricky wheels and F1 inspired aerodynamic spoilers at the front and all that visual stuff, but the heart of the difference is taking the original 5 litre V8 engine to 5.5 litres and installing their own special supercharger. This engine develops a remarkable 350 kW/476 hp and generates maximum torque of 700 Nm as low as 2650 rpm, and holds this level of torque right up to 4500 rpm. This gives you a performance package very near the top of the supercar tree.

The ‘basic’ SL package comes with the folding roof that takes 16 seconds to lift itself clear, fold itself in half and put itself inside the boot. You now have the true wind in the hair look-at-me supercar look, that is guaranteed to get a dollybird in the passenger’s seat within 3.2 seconds of driving into Soi 6 in Pattaya, 3.4 seconds of going past Nana Plaza in Bangkok, or 4.6 seconds for Loy Kroh Road in Chiang Mai, Northern ladies being much more shy and reserved. This car has ‘The Look’ open or closed. For me, it had great presence, without being over the top, as some supercars tend to be. No fancy wings and things, everything understated.

On the road, the SL 55 AMG was sensational. Plant the right foot and a subdued V8 bellow could be heard as it just shoots itself forward, and this happens at any speed. Certainly sensational from rest, but plant the foot at well over legal limits and it still gives that instant surge. It appeared there was an endless corral of horses under the long bonnet. You certainly would run out of road, or brave pills, before you ran out of sheer grunt.

The dynamics of this car were simply superb, with every electronic control you could think of and others you might only have dreamed of. It was a true driver’s car and a delight to throw around. A car that makes every driver a Kimi Raikkonen, without having to throw away your personality! The seats were supportive, everything was in the right place, and the view in the rear vision mirrors as the traffic just disappeared behind you, sensational.

Of course, no car is perfect, and I did have a couple of grouches with this SL 55 AMG. To start with, the analogue speedometer, which was easy to read, was in miles per hour. There was a faint digital kilometres per hour in the centre lower area of the dial to cater for drivers in right hand drive metric countries, but this was exceptionally difficult to read. I gave up trying, as it was too dangerous to attempt to decipher the flickering, changing numbers. You needed your eyes for the road. 17 point 5 million and you don’t get the right speedometer. Come on. Even a basic Honda Jazz can give you a metric speedo, and around 17 million baht back in change!

My second gripe was probably even more serious. Here you are in a 17.5 million baht supercar and there was nowhere, read nowhere, to put the mobile phone. You can’t tell me that supercar drivers don’t carry mobile phones, and I ended up opening up the ashtray and dumping the Nokia in there. Not good enough, Mr. AMG!

My third gripe was just that they took it off me at Sattahip. Total spoilsports!

So to the return trip in the SL 65 AMG two door four place coupe. This coupe is close to the top of the line as far as AMG is concerned. This beast has a V12 at the sharp end and not one, but two turbochargers to feed it. The exclusive Gran Turismo is powered by a newly designed 6 litre V12 engine whose biturbo technology gives it a level of performance previously unheard of in this engine size class, according to Messrs AMG. Here’s the numbers: the engine has an output of 450 kW (that’s over 600 hp) and develops its maximum torque of 1,000 Nm between 2000 and 4000 rpm.

The CL 65 AMG accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds and reaches the 200 kph mark in 13.3 seconds while a standing-start kilometre takes 22 seconds. The top speed of 250 kph is also electronically limited as the SL 55 AMG. Remember too, that this vehicle takes you and your wife and both the mother-in-laws!

As far as the engine is concerned, it has all the latest technology in its manufacture, with race-spec wrist pins on the gudgeons, oil sprayed special pistons, you name it. The torque figure of 1,000 Nm is not quite correct, as it actually develops 1,200 Nm, but this is also electronically limited to the lower figure, or the engine could likely twist the gearbox off the end of the crank! 1,200 Nm is certainly enough to tow the Schwedagon Pagoda from Rangoon, across the Burmese border and leave it in Chiang Rai. Those are unheard of numbers in cars. There are trucks with nothing near those torque numbers! For example, a 7.6 litre Hino bus diesel engine puts out 834 Nm of torque.

Inside, the CL 65 has the usual AMG plush, all-leather interior, but I have to say I found the large diameter (leather rimmed) steering wheel almost “vintage” in its enormity, and certainly took away any sports car ambience. In fact, the wheel, the seating position and the size of the interior are reminiscent of a sedan, rather than a coupe.

However, the 612 large neddies under the bonnet certainly give it supercar performance. On the road, it is all whoosh and gosh when you put your foot down, and the car just hustles its way down the highway, pressing your eyes back into their sockets.

The CL 65 AMG is a technical tour de force as well, with all the electronic bells and whistles, a harmonium and a set of bagpipes thrown in as well. It has everything, from braking control, body control, damping control and airbags to fill every crevice. But, and for me, this was a big BUT, there was still very discernible ‘turbo lag’ displayed by the engine. Plant the foot and the car thinks for a bit, and then goes. Even with two turbochargers, there was not the instantaneous response that there was in the smaller engined V8 supercharged SL 55 AMG. This makes the CL 65 AMG much more of a ‘Grand Touring’ car than a sports car, and honestly, I think the ultimate performance is wasted on a GT.

With my Scottish heritage, the thought of paying 30 million baht for the CL 65 was just too much. I’d rather have two SL 55’s, once they’ve fixed the mobile phone stowage problem!

It certainly was an interesting afternoon!

Energy saving, taken to its illogical extreme

In the latest panic reaction to escalating crude oil prices, someone in the Ministry of Silly Walks has come up with yet another daft scheme to save oil imports for Thailand. Shut the petrol stations at 8 p.m. and look at how much energy we can save. After all, the fuel that would have been bought between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (the current pump-locking curfew time) is then “saved” seems to be the thinking.

Just who dreams up these cock-eyed schemes, I wonder? People are not going to stop driving, just because the government closes the pumps early.

A similar kind of thinking was prevalent in Australia in the 1950’s, where to stop alcohol consumption, the government decreed that all pubs had to close at 6 p.m. The end result was a quaint Australian custom known as “The 6 o’clock Swill” where the workers rushed in after work, lined up six or ten large beers and promptly began swilling down in the limited time available all the beer they would previously have drunk by a 10 p.m. closing time. It produced extreme levels of aggression and rampant drunkenness and was totally counterproductive.

Getting back to our own situation, look forward to long lines queuing for petrol at 7.50 p.m. complete with not very gruntled motorists and much pushing and shoving to get to the head of the queue.

Incidentally, did you read in the financial pages that Gasohol, which is supposed to lessen our dependence upon imported oil, has struck a snag. The wondrous “cheap” ethanol that we were going to make from old pineapple tops and sweet corn leaves so cheaply, has become a scarce commodity. We can’t produce enough ethanol by these means, and we are going to have to import the ethanol from overseas to manufacture Gasohol! Expensively, no doubt.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned that a Scandinavian car had its body made in Scotland and the rest put together in England to share the assembly line with the Big Healey’s. I asked where in Scotland was this plant, and what was the car? It was the Linwood plant and the car was the P 1800 as used by The Saint. Remember it?

So to this week. Which car company was the first in the world to set up a dedicated production line to build customer competition cars? For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!