• Does an Old-School Mercedes SLR McLaren Hold Up Against a McLaren 540C?

It’s a generational race for the ages!

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We’ve seen our fair share of drag races this year, possibly because there’s not much else to do with the coronavirus pandemic still raging all over world. We’ve seen all sorts of combinations, too, but what we haven’t seen is a generational drag race between two supercars that trace their roots to the same origin, or at least one of them does.

This is a race between the McLaren 540C, the British automaker’s supposed entry-level supercar, and the iconic Mercedes SLR McLaren, considered by many as the product of one of the greatest automotive collaborations in recent memory.

Looking at the numbers, it does seem unfair that they’re pitting a modern supercar in the McLaren 540C against one that first hit the market in 2003 in the Mercedes SLR McLaren. This race effectively involves a teenager racing against his middle-aged uncle to see which is faster in a quarter-mile.

But before you start writing the SLR’s obituary, you need to understand just how special this supercar is. Despite the age discrepancy, the SLR still packs a wallop, thanks in large part to a 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 engine that produces 617 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque. Assuming a 10 percent decrease in output due to its age, we’re still talking about a supercar with a V-8 that churns out around 550 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That’s still more power than the 540 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque that comes out of the 540C’s 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine.

Does an Old-School Mercedes SLR McLaren Hold Up Against a McLaren 540C?
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On the flip side, the 540C doesn’t just have the advantage in weight — 3,296 pounds to 3,950 pounds — but it also benefits from modern technology, inducing one very useful feature in drag races of this sort: launch control.

So, the question begs: does the McLaren 540C have what it takes to beat its uncle in a quarter-mile race?

Who wins this race?

Does an Old-School Mercedes SLR McLaren Hold Up Against a McLaren 540C?
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Again, we’re not in the business of spoiling the results of races like this, largely because of how interesting both protagonists are. We’re not talking about scraps running loose on a clean strip of road; we’re talking about legitimate supercars, albeit from two different eras.

Former Top Gear host Rory Reid manned the wheel of the 540C while a buddy of his took control of the SLR McLaren. The two engaged in a total of four races and one brake test, and without giving away the winner, I’ll just put in these terms: in races like this, there’s no one direct way to win. It’s not just about power and pace. Sure, they’re great tools to have in any race, but there’s something to be said about modern technology, too.

Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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