Best of the Best: Aftermarket
The SL55 undergoes a stunning makeover.
When I was growing up in the late 1970s, I had a crush on singer Debby Boone, who was—and still is—attractive, vivacious, and in possession of the perfect smile. But it was not her rendition of “You Light Up My Life” that really set this young automotive aficionado’s heart aflutter; it was her cream-colored 450SL. Another person who captured my youthful amorous attention, a family friend who was the quintessential California blonde, drove one finished in lipstick red. Quite simply, a beautiful woman at the wheel of a 450SL made for an irresistible combination. I’m not sure if the sex appeal I attribute to the 450SL springs from these nostalgic associations or if it is inherent to the car itself—it is probably a little of both—but in the ensuing years, no Mercedes-Benz bearing the superlight designation had displayed the same come-hither qualities.
And then I encountered a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG modified with Lorinser’s GS03 package. The wide-body conversion builds upon the curvaceous lines of the latest SL, a design that in standard form manages to make even a Maserati Spyder appear mundane. The gloriously outrageous lines of the GS03, however, take those qualities to a Frank Gehry–like extreme, transforming the SL into rolling sculpture. It is an appropriately dramatic statement, considering that designer Adolf Koch created the GS03 as a celebration of his 40 years in the profession. He has added bulging fenders with sweeping diagonal slashes on either side of the doors, and spoilers with flowing Art Deco lines, and he has filled apertures in the grille and side vents with elegant mesh.
It was not necessary for Lorinser to spend too much energy on performance enhancements. The AMG-massaged, 5.5-liter V-8 produces a class-leading 493 hp and provides incredibly quick acceleration from rest or any speed. A Lorinser sport exhaust delivers a refined snarl both at idle and at speed, a reminder of the car’s capabilities. An SL55 is not going to keep up with a Lamborghini Murciélago through winding canyon roads, but it still handles with remarkable aplomb for a heavy roadster. The $189,000 GS03 features 20-inch wheels that improve road feel without sacrificing ride quality.
One of the only drawbacks of a stock SL55 is its surprisingly ubiquitous nature. When I parked the GS03 at a mall in Orange County, Calif., I pulled into a spot next to a pair of SL55s. However, only 50 GS03 packages are available worldwide, and a scant 10 will be built in the United States. Los Angeles–based CEC is the sole U.S. supplier, and it says that GS03 modifications can be ordered for the SL500 and the SL600 as well as an SL55.
Cab Fast Forward
For many, the name Gemballa conjures up images of the outré bodywork that graced Porsches in the 1980s—typically slant-nosed 911s with side strakes that put those on the Testarossa to shame. Shades of its former stylistic inventiveness remain, such as brightly hued interiors, but these days, Gemballa has become less outrageous.
The same, however, cannot be said of what is taking place in the engine bay. The Gemballa GT 550 upgrade for the 911 Turbo Cabriolet borrows turbochargers from the GT2 and increases the car’s rating to 550 hp. If that is not enough, 600 hp can be delivered without taking the engine apart. Truly maniacal drivers can have as much as 800 hp if they are willing to send the car to Germany for internal modifications. The Turbo Cabriolet in stock form ranks as one of the world’s most enjoyable drives, but Gemballa’s modifications, even in their tamest forms, make the icon that much better.
Gemballa Cars North America
A Higher Power
With its combination of attractive styling, superbly outfitted interior, fine on-road performance, and stellar off-road capability, Land Rover’s Range Rover stands among the best all-around SUVs on the market. It is difficult to improve on the stock car, but German tuner Hamann has found a way with the Hamann Range Rover.
The one area in which the production Range Rover falls short of its competition is power, and Hamann’s solution is to boost the V-8’s
displacement to nearly 5 liters, bumping power to a healthy 360 horses. Other performance enhancements include neatly styled wheels as well as sport braking and exhaust systems. Stainless steel bars enhance the front bumper and side sills. The result is a customized Range Rover with an athletic feel that distinguishes itself from the crowd in a way that is more elegant than brash, a quality completely in keeping with Land Rover’s ethos.
Last August, just when Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division believed it had established the benchmark in outrageousness with its 612 hp CL65, the 640 hp Brabus SV12 was launched to trump the Affalterbach company’s efforts. The 6.3-liter, twin-turbo, 12-cylinder engine, which can also power an SL or S-Class Mercedes, delivers its full offering of torque at only 1,750 rpm, making a staggering amount of power available at low speeds.
The SV12 is Brabus’ response to customer feedback about the K8, the twitchy version of AMG’s SL55 roadster; drivers complained that the 550 hp K8 was too aggressive. Their grousing will be silenced by the smoothness of the SV12 engine, which costs approximately $50,000 on top of the CL’s $125,000 base price.
Brabus North America