Don’t bother with the Cat and Fiddle Pass, said the local expert we encountered at a filling station.
The famous old A537 from Macclesfield to Buxton may be achingly scenic as it carries you across the Peak District but there’s too much traffic nowadays. Not to mention a blanket speed limit. You won’t get much of an opportunity to feel what the car can do.
Helpful though this was, what the bloke didn’t realise (mainly because, unlike us, he hadn’t been given a week’s tenure of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series) is that our mighty German gullwing-doored coupé was so potent – what with its 196mph top speed and 3.5sec 0-60mph acceleration – that it would have been constrained in some way by every road in Britain.
Keeping it in check, we already knew, was part of the game. However, by chance on the weekday we arrived, grey and bleak but dry, the slowest Cat and Fiddle traffic seemed to have been corralled elsewhere.
Caravans were being serviced; furniture was delayed in the warehouse. By re-editing the speed limit according to ACPO guidelines – and adding a bit more for speedo error – we were able to spear along the pass’s 12 famous miles at decent speed, exhaust bouncing back off rock walls as the SLS demonstrated its impressive grip while the steering showed how faithfully it can follow lines through long bends. The Nordschleife this was not, but it was good fun.
Our journey had been billed as a farewell drive. Production of the SLS, AMG’s first-ever complete car, characterised by its theatrical gullwing doors and massive, front mid-mounted 6.2-litre V8, has ended. And as the Autocar bloke who ‘owned’ an SLS for about 10,000 miles a couple of years ago, I was elected to shed the ritual tear.
Except that I couldn’t seem to attain a funereal state of mind. For one thing, the SLS has lasted a year longer in production than originally planned, and more than 10,000 have been built – well ahead of the original target.
Today’s version was the extra-strength Black Series I’d never driven before, with its stiffer suspension, new electronic diff, lower gearing, even fatter tyres, massive carbon-ceramic brakes and power elevated by 59bhp to a cool 622bhp. Who was going to feel mournful about that?
The arrival of the Black Series has had the effect of firming all SLS prices. Far from disappearing from the firmament, the car is fast heading for the automotive hall of fame.
AMG boss Tobias Moers reckons prices started rising as soon as he first announced production would end, and the Black Series has only added to the problem, if it is a problem. (And it is to people like Your Humble, who in his dreams had imagined buying an SLS once they settled at £50k-£60k. The cheapest cars did sink briefly to £80k-£85k, but now you don’t see one below £95k.)
The Black Series is quite a paradox. With that big, square mouth, thundering exhaust, huge performance and that wide body in stark black and white, it’s a bit of a blunt instrument.
Except there are unmistakable allusions to the Mercedes 300SL about its styling, and that gullwing coupé of the mid-1950s was one of the most beautiful cars ever built.
When you drive it, you realise this car is far better developed than other 2000-a-year machines; it has decent visibility and ventilation, perfectly placed dials, controls you can understand (and which you know, instinctively, will work with the same robust precision in 30 years’ time) and a body too well designed and tested to grind its exhaust or aero gubbins on the road.