23 February 2004

Mercedes-Benz and its partner McLaren are planning to land another giant blow on their supercar rivals. Their new mid-engined coupé and convertible duo will tackle the Ferrari 360 Modena and Lamborghini Gallardo head on. Revealed here exclusively for the first time, the new rear-wheel-drive Anglo-German supercar will be built alongside the SLR at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking from late 2007. Before then, however, Mercedes and McLaren board members must give the new car, known internally as P8, a unanimous nod of approval. Rather than plumping for another front-engined, rear-drive supercar like the SLR for the second stage of their partnership, Merc and McLaren have settled on a smaller, lighter mid-engined model to slot between the SL55 AMG and the SLR.

The P8, depicted here in our artist’s impression, is officially still a concept – which means styling, engineering, logistic, production and cost proposals for the two-seater exist. But it is already clear that both Merc and McLaren managements are desperate to put it into production. ‘Yes, we are looking at a mid-engined road car,’ Mercedes boss Jürgen Hubbert told Autocar last week. ‘But there is no decision on production.’

Spurring Mercedes on is the knowledge that homeland rival Audi is already at an advanced stage with plans to create its own mid-engined supercar using the Lamborghini Gallardo as a starting point: the Le Mans. Merc and McLaren are also desperate to show Ferrari that they are as much a force on the road as on the race track by building a car to compete directly against the 360 Modena.

The appearance of the P8 will be dictated largely by the wind tunnel. The need to cleave air efficiently, feed large quantities of it to components and provide enough downforce to keep the new car earthbound at speeds of up to 320km/h (198mph) all point to classic mid-engine supercar proportions.

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Our artist’s impressions reveal how the baby McLaren could look, although the package may yet change dramatically by the time it appears towards the end of 2007. Along with a coupé, it’s also highly likely a convertible version of the new car will get the nod, say insiders.

Autocar has obtained top-secret details of the P8’s powerplant. Codenamed M156, it is a V8 engine that will prove significant because it is also destined to power future AMG versions of the E, CLS, S, CL and SL.

The V8 lump has a capacity of 6.3 litres and is an all-new design. It is being developed under AMG engine chief Rolf Zimmermann – who developed the mid-engined V12 for the Pagani – and sources claim it is already developing 500bhp. It is naturally aspirated and insiders claim that in future all AMG models will ditch forced induction in preference of extra cubic centimetres for effortless performance.

And the price? Again, nothing is set in concrete, but the new two-seater will clearly be positioned between the £92,370 SL55 AMG and the £313,465 SLR. Industry analysts contacted by Autocar last week predicted a price tag of around £150,000 – a cool £47,000 more than the 360 Modena and £23,000 more than the Lamborghini Gallardo. Still, that’s a fraction of the £600k a McLaren F1 cost back in 1994.

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