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Autos: Best of the Best Aftermarketers: Brabus

A gentle push on the 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500’s accelerator gets the 5-liter, 302-hp engine growling and catapults the car up to speed. But a squeeze on the gas pedal of a Brabus-tuned SL500—transformed into a 6.1-liter, 426-hp behemoth—sends the two-ton coupe rocketing past everything in sight. “A stock car is somewhat muted in its response,” says Andreas Bellgardt, director of sales and marketing for Brabus North America. “They make sure the soccer mom doesn’t unleash the power of a V-8 in a supermarket parking lot. Well, we take off that leash quite a bit. Quite a bit.”  

Brabus, the Bottrop, Germany-based Mercedes tuner, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and its third year in the United States. Brabus North America, located in Newport Beach, Calif., allows American buyers to purchase their high-powered SLs, CLs, and E55s Stateside instead of in Germany. “California is the automotive capital of the world,” says Bellgardt. “We have seen so much positive response in the U.S.”  

When you can obtain such a high-octane cocktail of performance and quality, popularity is a given. Take the 349-hp E55. Tweaked by AMG, Mercedes’ in-house tuner, the E55 has a 5.5-liter engine that gives the car a 5.4-second time from zero to 60. Brabus upgrades the E55’s engine to a 6.1-liter, 426-hp monster.  

Numbers, however, can’t adequately describe the experience of driving Brabus’ E55. “I can throw around numbers and figures like zero-to-60 and times in the quarter-mile,” Bellgardt says. “But the seat-of-the-pants feel is where you generate gratification for the customer. You have more power on tap so you don’t have to wait until it comes on. There’s excess power throughout the rev range at every point. We make sure that the car has serious power—permanently, all the time. When you get to the sweet spot, that’s the true revelation.”  


Sweet indeed. At the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, Brabus debuted its K8 performance kit, which improves the SL55 AMG from a 476-hp engine to a 530-hp machine. That gives the car an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph.  

If you think Brabus’ machines are all muscle and no elegance, think again. Brabus North America offers custom interiors, shaping and sculpting each Mercedes to fit the individual. And while many customers buy stock machines and bring them to Brabus for tuning—turnaround time is approximately four weeks, says Bellgardt—the company can purchase the car for you as well.  

“As Mercedes has pursued a younger crowd that’s performance-oriented, our profile has become more visible,” says Bellgardt. “We’ve added a dynamic aspect to cars that have been perceived as a bit stodgy. Some of our customers were diehard Mercedes fans who were looking at BMW’s capabilities. Or they might have had a Porsche but also liked the Mercedes brand. Brabus now caters to all these people.”  

Brabus, 949.797.0177, www.brabus.com

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