It’s All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating

It’s All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating

A car as white as a tootful of cocaine

The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG coupe has the same gullwing doors as the old 300SL. Obviously, the unusual door style and the three-pointed star badge are about the only things the two cars share. The 300SL was a landmark car. Andrew Frankel has argued quite persuasively that it was the first supercar. I’m not about to gainsay the great man. He’s driven it and the AMG SLS coupe and I – sadly – haven’t.

Maybe now is the time to talk about what makes a supercar. I’m going to give you a definition which is entirely subjective. A supercar exists for no other purpose than to be itself. It shouldn’t pay much attention to practicalities like seating a family or room for shopping larger than a small pot of caviar. It should be monstrously, bombastically fast. It really ought to be loud enough to drown out the screams of your passenger and your conscience. If it comes in comedy colours, so much the better. If you think you can afford one without the aid of an oil well or a multiple rollover lottery win, then it’s probably not a supercar. It’s certainly not a supercar if you can imagine taking your cat to the vet in it. A supercar makes small boys point and shout and drag their mums off their feet. It can lead to arguments between loving couples especially when one party runs off in the middle of a birthday outing because he hears a Lamborghini starting up. Going quickly in a supercar can be a little like running round an obstacle course carrying scissors.

Bearing all that in mind, while the old Gullwing might have been a supercar in its time I don’t think the new one is. It’s too sensible. The silly doors just aren’t enough. It’s stupidly quick enough to impress the stupid. It has a boot large enough to swallow not only a small tin of caviar, but also a couple of weekend bags. I haven’t been able to find out whether you could fit a set of golf clubs in there. I really hope you can’t. It really would be the kiss of death. While I don’t think it’s a supercar, I do think it’s outrageously glamorous. The demonstrator at Robinson’s in Cambridge is that pearlescent white colour. You know, the one that costs just under three grand. They have a black one too and I’ve seen a red one at the Mercedes dealer in Glasgow. That one is the exact shade of red Gillian Anderson wears on her lips in that dream I wish would recur.

Moving on.

Now Mercedes has launched the roadster version of the SLS AMG. They did something similar with the 300SL and in the process kicked off the line of cars which continues to this day as the SL-class. In fact, one of the SLS roadster’s rivals is the SL63 AMG. It’s lardier than the new alu-tastic SLS and its version of the 6.2l AMG V8 is less powerful but it’s still going to be on some people’s shopping lists at the same time as the new car. It has a folding hardtop rather than the SLS’s canvas roof and it’s getting on a bit now. Its facelift left it with slightly unfortunate looks which is a shame. Just like Joan Rivers, it was a thing of talent aging gracefully and now it has people pointing and laughing for all the wrong reasons.

The glamour thing is important. Back when the 300SL was launched in the Fifties, Mercedes wasn’t a builder of glamorous cars any more. All its pre-war 540K stylishness had gone and was replaced by dull, rational, necessary cars for responsible, quietly wealthy, middle-class citizens of the new Germany. The 300SL blew through the Mercedes image and revitalised it. Mercedes re-entered F1 and sports car racing before leaving again in the aftermath of the 1955 Le Mans accident. Today, the SLS joins the SL and SLK roadters in the showrooms as two-seater sportscars. There are coupes in all sizes from C-class, through E- and CLS-class up to the large CL. Some are more glamorous than others. The point is that Mercedes no longer just makes dull, worthy cars for dull, worthy, quiet citizens. The SLS roadster will probably find it even more difficult to make an impact when the new SL appears in the showrooms in the next 18 months. In the meantime, I think I’d rather have the coupe, silly doors and all. No point in having a Gullwing without gullwing doors, is there?

Dramatic lighting, dramatic car

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