Gullwing takes off

2 Jan, 2007 (All day) Chris Thorp

Another automotive legend is set to return!

Following a growing trend to produce modern successors to much loved classics, Mercedes is planning a new flagship sports car in the shape of a stunning 21st-century Gullwing.

Based on insider information from contacts in Germany, our picture shows what we have to look forward to. Bridging the gap between the SL roadster and the mighty Mercedes McLaren SLR supercar, the new model is tipped to become one of the most desirable performance machines on the planet.

Developed by Mercedes' sporting arm, AMG, the ambitious project is still in its early stages, but one element of the design is paramount - the doors. Bringing back memories of the 1954 300 SL, Mercedes will cash in on its heritage, in the same way as Ford has with its GT, BMW with the MINI, and Fiat will with the 500.

The German brand has already proved its engineers aren't afraid of experimenting with outrageous door designs - for example, the Mercedes McLaren SLR's have their own exotic opening style. Needless to say, the trademark roof-hinged gullwings won't feature on any old model - it will have to be a fitting successor to the much admired original.

It's been revealed to Auto Express that Mercedes has settled on an aluminium spaceframe chassis. Having ruled out the carbon fibre bodyshell of the SLR as too expensive, the other option is to base the new model on an existing platform from the SL or SLK. These would offer cost-effective solutions, but might not provide true supercar-style underpinnings.

Auto Express printed spyshots of one possible chassis option in Issue 939. The EHV - Experimental Handling Vehicle - is partly funded by Mercedes, and is testing the world's latest suspension and engineering components.

To go with its hi-tech structure, the Gullwing will need a powerful engine for earth-shattering performance. Mer­cedes is hardly short of options, with a line-up full of punchy V8 and V12 powerplants from the latest S-Class and CL to choose from. However, the company is thought to be planning something special for the Gullwing. Having shown tri-turbo concepts at the Geneva Motor Show in 2005, a new, forced induction system for the range-topper is likely.

A bi-turbo V8 unit is the hot tip, with power outputs possibly reaching a staggering 750bhp. Translating that kind of energy into useful performance calls for a seriously robust transmission. The logical choice would be a seven-speed automatic offering manual controls through paddleshifters moun­ted on the steering wheel.

With designers still playing around with different options and ideas, a production schedule for the Gullwing is yet to be confirmed. The latest information suggests we won't see anything before 2010, when the model is likely to be unveiled at a major international motor show.

Meanwhile, McLaren is preparing a convertible version of its SLR, and is still said to be working on a new, small supercar of its own, the SLS. The model would make the famous F1 badge more accessible, and rival Ferrari's F430.

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