THE NEW ENGLAND Motor Press Association’s annual Ragtop Ramble & Crustacean Crawl-that is, our summer get-together with car-company media people where we gather for a dinner cruise on Boston harbor, then drive everyone’s convertibles to the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport the following day for a lobster feast-went off without a hitch in late July. The humid heat and thunder squalls dissipated. No one fell off the boat. All the cars made it to our start point, the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline.
And what a lineup of the very latest droptops: two Mercedes-Benz AMG rocket ships, Bentley’s Supersports Continental (in a peculiar shade of yellow called Citric), a gaggle of BMWs that included an M3 and a Z4, a Mini Convertible, a Ferrari California and a Maserati GranCabrio, a Mustang GT, a Volvo C70, a Miata, an Infiniti G37 and two Nissan Z roadsters, a couple of Porsche Boxsters, Audi’s svelte new S5 and a Lexus IS350C. Not to be left out of the fun, several makers sent cars that had fixed roofs but were still memorable-a wicked Nismo 370Z coupe from Nissan and a yellow-and-black Dodge Challenger; a Hyundai R-Spec Genesis Coupe and a MazdaSpeed 3. Subaru diverted a WRX from the set of the next Fast & Furious epic and Audi even provided one of its fantastic mid-engine R8 sports-GTs. Drawing keys that morning was more relaxed than the usual backstabbing mêlée because there was something terrific for everyone to drive.
My navigator on these runs is usually Dan Johnston, Volvo’s veteran public-relations ace. Over many years we have, while evaluating his cars, fly-fished for trout in Colorado, shot pheasants in Scotland and watched Swedish executives do the frog dance (under the influence of aquavit) in Vermont. Dan claims my driving doesn’t upset him; I appreciate his sense of humor and laid-back view of the car biz. Our string of great rides at the Ragtop Ramble has included Vipers, Porsches and BMWs, and now this: I fished out the key to one of the Mercs-an SL63 AMG two-seater that was nearly the color of a hard-boiled lobster. But much, much faster.
The everyday SL550 is no overripe banana, but as an SL63 it emerges from AMG surgery with 136 more horsepower-518 in all-plus a special seven-speed transmission, sharply upgraded brakes and an adjustable sports suspension. A boulevardier has been transformed into a deluxe fighter jet.
Stunning performance aside, the exhaust note alone would sell this car. Punch the ignition and the hand-assembled V-8 wheezes for a split second, then lights off with a baritone bark. Whoa! Dipping the throttle produces a steroidal roar that turns heads and makes Harley riders flinch. In the Central Artery Tunnel, that magnificent sound reverberated off the walls and echoed up and down. It’s possible I ran the revs up higher than strictly necessary. Over and over on the way to Maine I triggered the left-hand paddle to downshift, then fired the car ahead in the suddenly empty left lane. The SL63 cleaves summer traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea.