A Brief but Thorough History of the SLK
by Teddy Field
With the recent unveiling of both the SLK250 CDI and the SLK55, we decided it’d be a good time to revisit the SLK’s storied past. The Mercedes SLK can trace its roots all the way back to the dot-com era. Way back when pants were shiny and watches were made by Fossil, the Mercedes SLK debuted as the marque’s first purpose-built sports car since the famed 300SL. And it would change Mercedes Benz forever.
The introduction of the 1998 Mercedes SLK marked a pivotal point in
Mercedes history. Previously, Mercedes had survived on its fastidious
build quality, and attention to detail. But the dot-com boom meant there
were suddenly a lot more rich people in need of wheels. So, Mercedes
decided to start taking a mass-market approach to their cars.
It wasn’t long before 1 microchip replaced 29 screws, and Mercedes cars
started to wear the latest in sheet metal fashion (complete with a
bling-sized three-pointed star). The Mercedes R170 was an entirely new
car, aimed at wooing a much younger customer to the brand. Based on the same
principles as the 190SL, the new Mercedes featured a 4-pot motor, and a
tiny 94-inch wheelbase. It was a Miata for the uber-set.
Non-AMG versions focused more on comfort than sport, and that was very
apparent in the engine room. Though you would imagine the little
barn-stormer had a powerplant from a Messerschmidt, early versions had
to make due with a pair of supercharged 4-pots. Thus earning the R170
the nickname of “Kompressor”…because most people “thought that meant
The first-gen Mercedes SLK was also famous for being the first Benz to
offer a manual transmission since…the time of Christ (two of the three
wise men drove a 300C). But it’s main claim to fame was that folding
The Mercedes SLK flew off showroom floors faster than the new Barbie Car
at Christmas time. As a reward, the SLK got Botox injections in 2000,
then it went to AMG Fat Camp Finishing School in 2001.
While at AMG, the little SLK learned to love itself, and its 3.2 liter V6
got beefed up to 349-horsepower, thanks to a twin-screw supercharger.
But its counselor warned that the 2001 SLK320 AMG might display
aggressive “tendencies” if provoked by a Z4 or Boxter.
In 2004, an entirely new Mercedes SLK was unveiled, and it looked like a
McLaren SLR that got left in the dryer too long. The sporty new SLK was
vastly improved over the outgoing model, and Car & Driver even named
it in the 10 Best list for 2005 (one neat feature on this generation was
the AIRSCARF, which used special vents to blow warm air around your
neck, so you could drive with the top down…while it’s snowing).
The Mercedes SLK received a mild update in 2007, and an entirely new
model just debuted for 2012. It features the aggressive corporate face, a
hubcap-sized logo, and Magic Sky Control. With the touch of a button, a
little pixie that lives inside the Sat Nav casts the magic spell, and
the opacity of the roof changes from clear to opaque (looks way cooler
than it sounds).
Besides the retractable Witchcraft Roof, the 2012 Mercedes SLK350 (the
Mrs. Dr. Rabinowitz Special) is powered by a redesigned, 302-hp 3.5
liter direct-injected V6. A 201-hp 4-pot is on the way. It will
also propel the 2012 Mercedes SLK250…or as I like to call it, the
Salon-Especial, unless you decide to move to Europe and get the diesel version. And for those looking for a taupe-destroying good time,
the 2012 Mercedes SLK55 AMG will be on hand, with its new 414-bhp, 5.5
liter naturally-aspirated V8!
So, now we know about the SLK’s storied past, what do you think is in store for its future? Voice your opinion here!