The 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show is in full swing. Another Mercedes-Benz press conference has come and gone. We were presented with yet another special version of the Mercedes-AMG GT (the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro) and heard some talk about an upcoming AMG GT Black Series. Know what we didn’t get? A new, proper Mercedes-AMG halo car. What gives, Mercedes?
I firmly believe the last Mercedes halo car was the SLS AMG from 2011. And before that, it was the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. These are two cars that always stand out in my mind because they looked damn special and felt like it, too.
The SLS had swoopy doors like the 300SL Gullwing did and proportions that set it apart from everything else in the then-current lineup. It was the very first car to be completely built, from scratch, by AMG. It had the massive, free-breathing 6.2-liter V8 and a guttural yell that only a naturally aspirated motor can produce. It wasn’t an exotic, but it felt as exciting as one, particularly if it was blowing a transmission.
The SLR, too, was imposing, powerful and built in conjunction with genuine exotic manufacturer McLaren. It made sure you knew it was extraordinary and its design articulated as much. It made massive power from its supercharged 5.4-liter V8 (617 horsepower), which is still impressive today. You might have hated it when it came out, but you certainly do have an opinion about it.
These two cars exhibit traits that I believe proper halo cars should have: stunning looks, exaggerated proportions, incredible performance, aspirational pricing and a certain intangible sense of exclusivity. It’s not even enough to merely have these traits, I’ll add. It’s also equally important to balance them all. Not too much of one and too little of another.
I’m perfectly aware that the AMG GT and the Mercedes-AMG Project One exist. Here are my problems with both.
The AMG GT, though Mercedes treats it like a halo car and successor to the SLS, is not. When it first debuted, it was down on power from the SLS. It didn’t even have the show-stopping looks or dimensions to make up for that fact. It was expensive, but not Ferrari-challenging expensive. They were rare, but not so rare that you’d be hard-pressed to find one if you want to buy one. All of these things made it feel a lot like going backwards rather than forwards.
And then Mercedes started stacking on the variants to the base GT. GT C. GT S. GT R. GT R Pro. A couple roadsters. And, eventually, a Black Series. The engines get more highly tuned, but the body remains the same. Yes, there were also different versions of the SLS and SLR (that Stirling Moss edition, gah), but the original and base models never felt like they were lacking. If anything, the current GT and its spawn feel like placeholders instead of a crown jewel.
You could call the Project One a crown jewel, but I’d tell you to get real. It’s a $3 million road-legal Formula One car. Its price alone has ensured that it’s graduated from the realm of relatively possible to pipe dream. Also, it’s been delayed because F1 cars aren’t supposed to be road legal anyway. It feels too much like a rich person’s toy to be taken seriously as an actual halo car.
Part of what makes these halo cars compelling is that there is at least A Chance that you’d see one driving on the road somewhere or at a Cars & Coffee event. Few people will ever see a Project One out in the wild because it might as well not exist outside of a video game. That’s probably the closest brush most will have with it. The car exists too much in the abstract.
I want something that will run with the McLaren 720S and the Aventador. Something that costs approximately what they do and has the performance to boot. Even the GT R Coupe only has 577 HP—extremely respectable on its own, but definitely not a proper challenger to Porsche GT2 RS turf (if we’re going to go there, then Porsche is also missing a flagship car. A fast 911 doesn’t count. Do better.)
Unfortunately, I have heard no rumors about an upcoming Mercedes-AMG anything, other than more versions of the GT. Don’t get me wrong, they are great, great cars and they are wonderful to drive, but they are just missing that final piece that tips them into over-the-top-special, halo territory.