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The History and Evolution of the Mercedes SLS

As Hans Werner Aufrecht, Founder of AMG said, “You can’t really improve a Mercedes…but you can make it different.” Hans Aufrecht and his colleague Erhard Melcher were engineers at Mercedes-Benz when they founded the racing engine forge known as AMG. The year was 1967. The two founders were designing and building cars after work- at night. It was their customers who urged them to design and build cars.

Melcher credited Aufrecht with the drive to create a company for making amazing cars; while Aufrecht credited Melcher with the brilliant genius necessary to make them both successful. They created AMG using their own names- “A” for Aufrecht, “M” for Melcher, and “G” for Großaspach, the village where Aufrecht was born. It is situated in the community of Aspach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Today, AMG retains its reputation as a high-performance division of Mercedes-Benz.

They designed and built their innovative car parts in their homes and basements before the company emerged and took over larger spaces. Their philosophy was to listen to their customers and to meet their requests for design features. This bespoke approach set them apart from other car manufacturers. It was a quest for perfection that guided their designs. Ultimately, their collaborative spirits led to what would be a “radical design” for their “highly talented dynamic” car.

The significance of the unveiling of the Mercedes SLS was that Mercedes-Benz released official details about the car at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show even though the final version wasn’t yet ready for its unveiling. In fact, the car was not scheduled for any showing in Switzerland. The company released SLS AMG prototype images which were still undergoing testing. But, certainly, the shrewd marketing move of announcing that the SLS AMG would arrive soon added to its excitement.

The reinterpreted new “Gullwing” would feature a lightweight chassis and body made from aluminum rather than steel. The car would have outstanding strength due to its new bodyshell design-called a spaceframe. The powerful car would have a low-slung engine which would achieve a peak output of 420kW creating 571hp at 6800 rpm. The low vehicle weight allowed for a power to weight ratio which allowed for acceleration from 0 to 100 km per hour in just 3.8 seconds. With a top speed of 325 km per hour, the V8 engine was set to make the SLS AMG one of the most powerful racing cars ever.

Let's start with the models of 2009:

2009 Mercedes SLS AMG Coupé

It was called "The New Legend" when it was first introduced. In a 2009 press test drive video, Chairman of the Board of Management for Mercedes-AMG; Mr. Volker Mornhinweg, described the philosophy which undergirded the creation of the SLS. Meant to be an uncompromising super sports car, Mercedes-Benz gave AMG the responsibility of creating the new vehicle. But the engineers at AMG decided that it wasn’t enough to simply rely on the complete range of AMG technical developments. For the team, it was important to add new innovations particularly indicative of the skill and genius which created the impeccable reputation of AMG. It was viewed as a one-of-a-kind opportunity. To develop a car completely from ideas designed on paper, through building by hand, to finally arrive with an iconic vehicle was an incredible chance. The team began the process in 2005. By the time the first SLS was completed, the engineers at AMG felt they had put the “heart and soul” of AMG into the SLS.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG holds the distinction of being the first supercar designed in-house and built entirely by hand by the AMG performance division of Mercedes. SLS is the acronym for the German description “Sport Leicht Super”; which translated into English means “Sport Light Super”. The sports car has Gullwing doors which were inspired by the 1950s 300SL Gullwing. Immediately recognizable, the iconic original 300SL doors were designed to solve a problem-the spaceframe chassis didn’t have room for usual doors. This one signature design element was key to the success of the 1950s car. The 1950s 300SL is the spiritual ancestor of the 2009 SLS AMG.

The SLS AMG made its world premiere in Frankfort, Germany at the 2009 Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung- today, the world’s largest-the International Automobile Association Show. The sportscar was also shown that year at the Tokyo Game Show. The German model began commercial release on November 16; with production models to be released in 2010.

Some of its specification highlights included:

  • 6.3 liter-V8 front-middle engine
  • 571 PS maximum performance
  • Lightweight aluminum construction
  • Superb driving dynamics
  • 9.5X19-inch, light-alloy, 7-spoke front wheels
  • 11X20-inch, light-alloy, 7-spoke rear wheels
  • Front tires-265/35 R 19
  • Rear tires-295/30 R 20
  • Tire pressure monitoring system
  • Nine body color choices, including a $12,750 option of 7 layers of hand-applied silver paint flakes
  • Nappa leather interior upholstery with five leather color choices
  • Performance steering wheel in leather with three spokes and a 365mm rim
  • Instrument cluster including two dial instruments backlit in white, and an LED upshift indicator
  • Two center air vents with a multimedia system situated between
  • Sports seats with four-way lumbar support and seat cushions with two zones
  • Sports transmission with 7 speeds
  • An acceleration skid control system with a 3-stage ESP
  • Optional brakes in carbon ceramic for approximately $12,500
  • An optional stereo system with 1,000 watts for approximately $6,500

Mercedes-Benz Head of Design Gorden Wagener described the 2009 SLS AMG as the classic car of the future- the new design icon which would characterize the future Mercedes sports cars to come. The defining style elements would infuse all the SLS models which were subsequently built. Following the lead of the SLS AMG Coupé, each model following was built upon the 40 years of design experience inherited and preserved by the engineers of AMG and Mercedes-Benz.

Let's check out 2010

2010 Mercedes SLS AMG "AMG Desert Gold"

This variation of the SLS AMG Coupé was introduced in Dubai at the 2010 International Motor Show. Its intriguing name comes from its body color, which is a rich matte gold. The paint color is called “desert gold” and that naturally transferred to the car name. The front and rear tires also feature rim flanges rimmed with a ring of gold. Paired with its black wheels and shiny decorative trim, the vehicle is a stunner. It was hinted that the car was owned by one of the wealthy, royal residents of the United Arab Emirates, and its color echoes the color of the sand there. CEO Mornhinweg noted that the Gulf region was a large market for the AMG-fourth in line after the United States, Germany, and then Japan

2010 Mercedes SLS AMG "Blackbird"

This strictly limited variation of the SLS AMG Coupé was introduced at the Australian international Motor Show in 2010. It was commissioned specifically for the show by the Australian subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. It wasn’t an ordinary black color. It was a custom color called “Designo magno Night Black” and only one was made. It was said that the paint alone cost $60,000 of the car’s more than half a million dollars price. Two years after it was unveiled in Australia, one lucky customer put down a deposit for it at the Sydney dealership when it went up for sale. Blackbird was the 1000th Mercedes-Benz sold in Australia.

Let's check out the models of 2011:

2011 Mercedes SLS AMG E-CELL prototype

With a battery manufactured as part of a joint venture between Evonik Industries AG, Daimler AG and Deutsche Accumotive GmbH & Co. KG, this prototype vehicle was first presented at the North American International Auto Show in 2011. The vehicle runs on the 400 V lithium battery that powers four electric motors. Together, the vehicle has a combined 392 kW and 880 N-m provided by the 48kWh capacity battery. Ultimately, the car proved that it was certainly possible to build a super sports car with high-tech driving ability and zero emissions. Painted in AMG Lumilectric Magno- an electric yellow color- the car basically retained the design lines of its ancestors. The grille was made a bit wider, the front apron was extended a bit, and a rear spoiler was added to increase the overall downforce at high speeds.

2011 Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (2011–2014)

Developed to be a race car, the SLS AMG GT3 meets the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (International Automobile Federation or FIA) regulations. It was first unveiled in 2010 at the New York International Auto Show, then in Puebla, Mexico, and then at the Pebble Beach Concourse D'elegance. First offered in left-hand driving set-up, it was listed for sale at €397,460 (including 19% VAT). The first deliveries began in 2011 following FIA homologation (approval) and GTE regulations accordance. Twenty-five competition vehicles were built, with all but one scheduled to race in Europe. The model’s popularity reached far past the race track into the world of simracers when Kunos Simulazioni won the license to develop racing software for it. One fan of simracing described it best when he posted “this thing is just so angry” on a simracing forum just after the SLS GT3 was licensed for use in simracing games.

2011 Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster

What distinguishes the SLS AMG Roadster from the Coupé, is that it is a convertible. It has a fabric top constructed of aluminum, magnesium, and steel in three layers which can open and close in just 11 seconds, whether the car is stationery or at speeds up to 32 mph. The Roadster weighs more than the Coupé by 88 pounds. The variant model required specific reinforcements to compensate for the soft roof, including a special protection system in the event the car rolls over. The Roadster is packed with plenty of luxury features such as heating in the sports seats, a proprietary climate control system, keyless starting, a choice of three different trims in either carbon fiber, leather, or solid metal in a matte finish to complement the custom black leather interior upholstery, an alarm system to monitor the interior and protect the car from theft or tow, and Android mobile access to the Internet. The Roadster was first unveiled at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in 2011. Front man for the Scorpions, Klaus Meine bought his Roadster in 2013. He knew he had to have one when he saw it. he told Motor Trend that he likes to drive fast and enjoys taking it out onto the autobahn in Germany. He said that the car “feels so tight” that “you can feel every scratch in the road”. When he’s touring, or in the winter, he stores his Roadster in the garage.

Mercedes SLS AMG Ambulance (2011)

This is simply an ambulance variation of the Coupé. It was introduced at the RETTmobil emergency vehicle exposition in 2011. The Ambulance was equipped with communications equipment and traditional blue flashing lights for the hood. The silver colored concept car was designed with a 6.3-liter V8 engine. The iconic gullwing doors were outfitted with explosive charges designed to blow them off the hinges in the event the car rolls over. Though Mercedes has plenty of ambulance vehicles already in service, the SLS AMG Ambulance was specially built so that injured Formula 1 race car drivers could be quickly taken from the racetrack to the hospital. The Ambulance boasts a top speed of about 155 mph.

Mercedes SLS AMG Matte Black Edition (2011–2013)

Built specifically for the Japanese market, this variation of the Coupé was a limited edition, in three different editions, made to honor the first year of the SLS AMG. It features Night Black paint highlighted with red embellishments on the bonnet and grill fins, the 3-pointed star, and the rear emblems. The interior trim is a high-gloss black with classic red and black leather upholstery. The leather performance steering wheel, sports suspension, and 10-spoke front and back wheels are all AMG designs.

The three editions offered were:

  • Designo Mago Night Black exterior with a soft black top, red embellishments on the wheels, grille, and fuel cap- limited production of five units at $377,028 each
  • Magno Cashmere White exterior with black accents-limited production of five units at $377,028 each
  • Matte White Coupe- almost identical to the roadster with limited production of ten units at $354,460

Moving on to 2012:

2012 Mercedes SLS AMG Matte Edition

This is another limited-edition production for the Japanese market but created with left-side drive. Two matte colors of the Roadster were made- 5 in designo magno Night Black and 5 in designo magno Cashmere White. The Coupé was offered in designo magno Cashmere White in a limited production of 10.

2012 Mercedes SLS AMG GT

Another variant on the classic Coupé and Roadster styles, this model has the same top speed of 197 mph and the same torque of 479 lb-feet at 4,750 rpm as the original SLS AMG. What makes this model different is its increased engine power. An increase of 20 hp resulted in a 3.7 to 3.6 seconds decrease in zero to sixty mph. This model took less than 7 minutes and 30 seconds to complete the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The 14.173-mile Nordschleife or “North Loop” of the motorsports complex was built around the medieval castle and village of Nürburg in the 1920s. British Formula One race car driver Sir Jackie Stewart nicknamed the old loop “The Green Hell”. But the incredible time clocked for this model stands as proof of the power and capability of the SLS AMG GT.

2012 Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 "45th ANNIVERSARY"

With the arrival of 2012, the AMG brand celebrated its 45th year. Five units of this variant were produced. The body color was deisgno magno graphite, and carbon-fiber was included in a safety cell on the driver’s seat and throughout the car body. Carbon fiber reinforced the plastic doors, the hood, the trunk lid, the front and rear apron, the front splitter and rear diffusor, the rear wings, and the mud guard. It was introduced at the São Paulo International Motor Show that year. Racing driver Bernd Schneider, Mercedes Brand Ambassador, and champion of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters for four years, installed the engines.

And now for 2013:

2013 Mercedes SLS AMG Coupé Black Series

Apparently, the SLS AMG GT3 set a high bar in terms of performance, because the SLS AMG Coupé Black Series which followed took inspiration from it. This next variant was developed with several high- performance attributes:

  • Engine power increased to 631 PS
  • Engine redline increased to 8000 rpm
  • Decreased torque to 468 lb-ft
  • A valve train fully revised with modified camshafts for high speed
  • Cam geometry newly-adapted
  • A unique coating exclusive to racing vehicles added to optimize bucket tappets
  • Air ducting modifications designed to accommodate the greater maximum engine speed
  • An increase in the peak pressure which allowed for an acceleration time 1/10 of a second faster than the SLS AMG GT and a top speed 1 mph slower, at 196 mph.
  • A vehicle weight 150 pounds lighter than the standard SLS AMG
  • Moving away from steel to carbon fiber in the body parts and the exhaust system
  • Changing to a lithium-ion battery

In addition, the SLS AMG Coupé Black Series continued the tradition of using fine Alcantara leather in the interior upholstery, with custom stitching inside and high-quality embellishments on the exterior. Several options were offered, including the interesting AMG designed Performance Media and backup camera and Media Interface as part of an “Infotainment system”. The car was introduced at the LA Auto Show in 2012 and went on sale in the summer of 2013 as a 2014-year model. In the United States, 132 cars were produced:

  1. Obsidian Black: 39 cars
  2. Mystic White: 32 cars
  3. Solarbeam Yellow: 30 cars
  4. Imola Grey: 10 cars
  5. Iridium Silver: 7 cars
  6. Magno Alanite Grey: 7 cars
  7. Mars Red: 5 cars
  8. LeMans Red: 1 pre-production vehicle built before the color was cancelled
  9. Silver Arrow: 1 car of its kind made for in-house only

2013 Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive

Released in June 2013, this limited edition electric variation of the SLS AMG was introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 2012. Less than 100 units sold. The car runs on four electric motors synchronized for optimal performance. Lithium ion batteries power the motors which operate the AMG electric drive. The batter pack itself weighs 1,208 pounds It has 12 modules and each of these contain 72 lithium-ion cells. Each of the motors weights 99 pounds and can reach up to 13,000 rpm. The transmission is designed to allow each motor to selectively drive the four wheels. The car can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds.

And finally we hit 2014:

2014 Mercedes SLS AMG GT Final Edition

Unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, then introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show and the Osaka Motor Show, the “Final Edition” was not significantly different as an iteration of variants which came before it. Top speed, acceleration time, horsepower, and torque are identical to the previous year model. It was offered in both classic Coupé and Roadster styles and represents all that came before it in both obvious and subtle ways. The limited production included 350 units. Features indicate its SLS bloodline:

  1. From the SLS AMG Coupé Black Series: the fixed carbon fiber real spoiler
  2. From the SLS AMG GT3 “45th Anniversary”: the design magno graphite matte body paint color
  3. AMG forged wheels in light alloy with inlaid matt black on the spokes and a highly-polished shiny finish on the rim flange
  4. Luxurious black leather upholstery with contrasting silver topstitching
  5. The classic Alcantara steering wheel designed by AMG Performance with silver embellishments at 12 o’clock and inserts in black metal
  6. The iconic AMG crest embossed on the sports seats head restraints
  7. A wealth of AMG options including the Ban & Olufsen BeoSound surround sound system for AMG, a braking system made of carbon-ceramic for high performance, or carbon fiber wing mirrors


When the SLS AMG completed its long run, there was no direct successor to the iconic brand. Mercedes-Benz instead offered the Mercedes-AMG GT. It was partly a marketing decision which included a lower priced vehicle with substantially less power, and one which could compete with Porsche, which unveiled its Porsche 911- another model with a long history of various iterations, and a significant sports coupé. But much more significant is the decision to not replace the SLS because it is essentially irreplaceable. The SLS made an indelible mark on the racing world, winning numerous international awards, and it was that stance of Mercedes executives that the superior vehicle had already stood on its own merits.

Over the years of the SLS Gullwing and its variant models, a few thousand of the most perfectly designed sports cars ever produced, have made an indelible impression on the world of high performance vehicles. The legendary attention to high quality materials and function has drawn many to admire the engineers of Mercedes-Benz AMG and their impeccable cars.

The SLS is a car which has gained distinction as the choice of world class race car drivers and car enthusiasts. Plenty of celebrities have owned one, too. Tom Hanks, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Leno are just a few of them. Anonymous SLS owners worldwide have also enjoyed driving what are arguably some of the best cars in the world. With the SLS, it hasn’t been the popularity of celebrities that inspired people to own one, it has been the popularity of the car’s design and capabilities.

Ultimate, the legacy of the SLS owns much to the “One Man – One Engine” AMG philosophy. Within the realm of ever-advancing technological inventions, the company built the SLS by hand-the first ever in the Mercedes world. The SLS was conceived as all Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles-not only to perform, but “to outperform”. The team of engineers understood what the founders put into place-the idea that design and performance would be paired with superior craftsmanship to develop and bring to reality the finest vehicle possible “built in accordance with the strictest quality standards”. The SLS, in their own words, is the expression of engineers ‘crafting a dream” passionately, with dedication and character for their customers to enjoy.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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