The year was 1997. As a bright eyed, recently minted med school graduate, I had two glorious weeks in Europe before the torture of internship began. One very memorable moment was in the parking lot of the MB museum in Stuttgart, where I spotted a prototype 1998 E50 AMG sulking behind a security gate. That thing looked evil, hunkered down on its 17″ alloys. It was so far removed from my Opel Astra rental car reality that I could scarcely imagine unleashing the 350 HP AMG-fettled V8 on the ‘Bahn at 170 mph in the latest heir to the Hammer.
Fast forward 12 years and the spoils of the German horsepower arms race now litter the pages of eBay. Six year old E55 AMGs with 500 hp supercharged V8s can be had for under $30K, and a “standard” Mercedes E550 will outrun the AMGs of my youth. I was busy living out my childhood dreams, with a daily-driven 604 hp CL65 AMG coupe that had a colossal twin turbo V12 oozing twice the torque of even the hottest V8s of days past. Nothing, not even MB’s own cartoonish V8-powered SLR could unseat this luxurious beast as the king of the autobahn. Or so I thought . . .
As great a cruiser as the CL65 was, it’s still a 2.5 ton tank with narrow tires and a peg-leg differential; the smaller two seat SL65 roadster was no lighter. In my cerebral skunkworks, I often imagined how a lightweight Benz fitted with superior underpinnings would allow the biturbo V12 to shine. Apparently the good folks at Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach agreed. Enter the SL65 Black Series.
You’ve seen the recipe in the buff books: take a regular, semi-sane, but portly SL65 AMG barchetta, pull off the bodywork (sans doors) and replace with DTM-like flared carbon fiber pieces that add 4 full inches to the track width. Throw in a faster fixed carbon fiber roof, an aggressive front fascia to cool the supersized heat exchangers, and a retractable speed sensitive rear wing. End result: a slinky, crouching muscle bound fastback coupe that looks like it could leap over left lane squatters in a single bound.
To wit: when this ride rolled out of the trailer from a dealer in the Midwest with 1.7 miles on the odometer, those of us in attendance just sat and stared at it. And stared some more. And shook our heads. It really takes some time just to absorb the presence of this thing. The more you examine the fastback roofline, the way the front fenders meld into the air extractors, the CF exhaust surrounds . . . it’s just not the same on your computer monitor. Open the hood or trunk to see the beautiful raw carbon undersides of the panels. The trunk space reveals a beautifully stitched box covered in the same leather as the seats, with the engine builder’s plaque affixed to it. Contained within is a bespoke car cover and a letter welcoming me to the AMG owners’ fold.
The Black recipe under the skin: Ditch the heavy, power robbing Active Body Control in favor of a proper set of double adjustable KW coil-over shocks, H&R sway bars, and meaty Dunlop 19- and 20-inch rubber, measuring a Z06-esque 325mm wide in the rear. Don’t forget a 40% locking diff, since the handbuilt V12 is now fortified with bigger air boxes, larger turbos, and a freer flowing exhaust featuring genuine Eisenmann race mufflers. All this adds up to 661 HP and a crushing 738 lb·ft of torque, pushing 500 pounds less mass than the 4,600 lb SL65 droptop.
To verify AMG’s power claims, I followed the break-in guidelines posted on the windshield decal religiously. I had the good folks at Hennessey Performance in Sealy, Texas, change the oil prophylactically at 1000 miles, and we pulled the car off the lift and around the corner right on to the Dynojet dynamometer. After verifying (on the virtual dipstick) the correct oil level and finding the secret menu that puts the car into “dyno mode,” which disables the ABS/TC/ESP from ruining the fun, the big Black laughed at the 96 degree, 90% humid Houston heat. It put down 580 HP to the tires on the first pull and an astounding 700 lb·ft of torque, SAE corrected. Accounting for a 20% driveline loss, the advertised flywheel numbers are conservative. I’d never seen a stock, unmodified vehicle lay down stronger numbers. You’d need a Veyron for that.
The number of highway challengers I had to back down from during the painful break in period were quickly forgotten on the first WOT highway blast. Unlike the strong but silent regular V12 Benzes, the BS bellows mightily and lunges forward at any speed. Acceleration, conforming to expectation is, well, bonkers. Mat the throttle at 60 mph, and (assuming you don’t get wheelspin) literally one second later, the rear spoiler deploys in your rearview mirror, signifying 75 mph. Four seconds later, triple digits are yours, with the acceleration showing no signs of abating. Although I have no proof, I’d swear the ECU allows more boost in the higher gears . . . no other stock vehicle I’ve driven hits its second wind when shifting into 4th at 120 mph like this thing. Since AMG has relaxed the speed limiter from 155 to 199 mph, it only makes sense to test this thing at the Texas mile in October. Stay tuned . . .
Unfortunately, the 5-speed auto remains in place, but with a Black-specific ‘M2’ faster shift mode, in which the otherwise somber white tach displays a yellow/red circumferential shift light that would do a slicks ’n’ skinnies wheelstanding ’69 Camaro proud.
Toggling through the steering wheel menu options further reveals dual lap timers that can be triggered sequentially, you know, in case you want to measure your 0-60 and the (new benchmark) 60-130 times all in one pull.
Ride motions are surprisingly choppy, like a 997 GT2, but the roll control is absolute. The factory settings for the double adjustable coilovers and alignment are what AMG engineers used at the Nürburgring, but I might experiment with a bit less compression and rebound damping to smooth out real world driving in the future. As it sits, when you dive into a decreasing radius corner, the big Merc exhibits amazing grip, but with this kind of torque, extreme care is required in squeezing the throttle upon exit. Luckily, a Black-specific ESP Sport mode allows more yaw than standard AMG fare before pulling the plug on the party.
Inside, the car is mostly standard SL aside from the flat-bottomed, perforated leather wheel, white AMG tach, paddle shifters, and carbon fiber trim. The shift knob proclaims “One of 175,” making it rarer here than even a Carrera GT. Fragrant leather and Alcantara abounds, with comfy buckets that have been stripped of the usual heat/ventilation functions and have Black-specific horizontal white stitching. Due to US side impact regs, these replace the Euro spec carbon fiber racing buckets; this keeps the comfort level on the right side of civilized. Clarkson, or at least his coccyx, is undoubtedly jealous.
That said, the SL65 Black Series is too schizophrenic for many: a factory lightweight hot rod with track-intended cooling, power, suspension and aero mods that still weighs two tons, lacks ceramic brakes, and has a slushbox. One thing that can’t be denied, though: with a tenuous CO2-centric future ahead of us, the 2009 SL65 Black Series is among the rarest, most outrageous rides in these waning days of the second golden age of performance cars.
Thanks to Hennessey Performance for use of their dyno and TonyG Photography for the photos. See more shots of the SL65 AMG Black Series at TonyG’s website.