Since its founding by Bodo Buschmann in 1977, Brabus has only dealt in superlatives; the labels "most powerful" or "fastest" have been attached to so many of its cars that we've literally lost count. The latest offering is the 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabriolet, built on a car no sane person would consider slow—the Mercedes S63 AMG Cabriolet. Its headline numbers of a 350-kph(218-mph) top speed and 850 hp allow this car to lay claim to the title of "world's fastest and most powerful four-seat Cabriolet. We are forced to wonder how many owners will find three people willing to ride along to that speed, with or without the top down.
For the first time in its 40-year history, Brabus presented the car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the behest of its lubricant technology partner, Motul. Brabus unveiled the 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabriolet in the paddock on the day before the race, before later taking part in the official drivers' parade. It was a fitting public debut for a car whose power and torque shaded all but the LMP1 race cars on the starting grid that weekend.
When I visited Brabus in May 2017, some months into its 40th anniversary year, the 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabriolet still stood out as the most spectacular car amidst a flurry of new models such as the latest E-Class sedan, estate, and coupe. It was therefore a no-brainer that it would be the car to focus on for the Brabus 40th anniversary. Brabus has had a predilection for black or dark blue cars from day one. I remember my first visit to Bottrop back in 1984 when we went out in Bodo's 500SEL and a 190E, both dark blue, of course, on a dark and dank early winter's day. Even with a tripod and a graduated tobacco filter to put some color into the miserable gray skies, the images were not exactly award winning.
Ever since, shiny black Brabus cars have been the bane of photographers' lives on motor show stands where the hotspots and shadows produced by harsh overhead lighting do no one any favors.
Today, however, we are on location at the Dinslaken, Schwarze Heide Airport, home base of the Extra Aircraft Company, and the weather could not be any better for al fresco driving. Here, the shiny metallic black convertible with its lipstick red and black interior looks like a million bucks standing on the tarmac next to an Extra 330LX. A two-seat tandem aerobatic aircraft, whose 200- and 300-range siblings have a long history of success in international aerobatic championships like the Red Bull Air Races, the 330LX is a racehorse of the air. Bred to be lithe, it features a steel fuselage with a titanium firewall, carbon-fiber composite tail structure, and carbon-fiber wings.
Powered by an air-cooled Lycoming AE10-580-B1A flat-six engine, the 330LX has 315 hp. In single-pilot aerobatic configuration, its MTOW (maximum take-off weight) with pilot and full tank is just 820 kg (1,808 pounds), giving it a power/weight ratio of 2.6 kg/hp (5.7 lb/hp).
The 330LX can pull an eyeball-popping +10 to -10 g in turns and has a dizzying roll rate of 400 degrees per second, while its never exceed speed (Vne) is 220 knots, which translates to 253 mph or 407 km/h.
On the face of it, the Brabus 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabriolet is encumbered by its hefty 2,200kg (4,850-pound) kerb weight and will be lucky to approach 1.0 g in lateral acceleration during steady state cornering. However, with 850 hp on tap, the resulting 2.59-kg/hp (5.7-lb/hp) power-to-weight ratio equals that of the Extra, and represents a huge gain over the 3.61 kg/hp (8.3 lb/hp) of the plain, vanilla 585hp S63 AMG Cabriolet.
This impressive thrust-to-weight ratio is effectively expressed through the standard fit 4Matic drivetrain, which plays a big role in this open-top behemoth's ability to blast to 62 mph in a gravity-defying, but probably conservative, 3.5 seconds and to 125 mph in just 9.4 seconds. Top speed is electronically capped at 217 mph due to tire limitations, but these are already major league supercar numbers in anyone's book. That said, the Extra has a Vr (rotational or take-off) speed of just over 60 mph, after which it can claw itself skyward at up to 3,200 ft/min.
Presented with these statistics, Walter Extra, the founder and owner of Extra Aircraft and a dyed-in-the-wool g-force junkie, told us that when he sells his company and retires, his Ferrari 458 could well give way to a "sensible" car like the Brabus 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabriolet!
So how does Brabus extract well over three quarters the output of the legendary Bugatti Veyron's 8.0L, quad-turbo, W16 powerhouse from a mere 6.0L bi-turbo V-8? The answer is—not easily.
Out of the box, the M157 bi-turbo V-8 has a displacement of 5,461 cc from an oversquare bore x stroke of 98.0 x 90.5mm, for 585 hp at 5,500 rpm, and 664 lb-ft (900 Nm) of torque from 2,250 to 3,750 rpm on a 10.0:1 compression ratio. Output is transferred to all four wheels via AMG's Speedshift MCT seven-speed wet-clutch automatic.
The 5.9L Brabus 6.0 conversion is a major re-engineering job that involves changing or modifying just about every major engine component. The foundation of this work is optimizing clearances in the engine block for the long-throw, billet steel crankshaft, which is mated to matched and balanced lightweight forged pistons and balanced steel connecting rods. This results in 5,912 cc from a bore x stroke of 99.0 x 96.0mm, with a 10.1:1 compression ratio.
Intake airflow, combustion capacity, and exhaust gas extraction are priorities for any powerful engine, so the air intake system was completely redesigned and now features big free-flow air cleaners in new housings that seal to the underside of the hood when closed. The new intakes draw air through a ducting fitted to the underside of the hood, which uses high-pressure air from the front of the car. As with all very high output turbocharged Brabus motors, this engine features gold heat reflective sheathing for the intake and charge-air pipes. The factory turbochargers are replaced by larger Brabus commissioned units with larger turbine wheels, fitted to modified exhaust manifolds.
The cylinder heads are ported, polished, and gas flowed on state-of-the-art computerized machines to maximize combustion efficiency. On the exhaust side of each head, the expelled gases move away even faster thanks to lower back pressure from the 75mm-diameter downpipes, 200-cell metal catalysts and stainless steel sport exhaust. The exhaust features driver-controlled butterfly valves that tone down the acoustic signature below even the stock exhaust in its "Coming Home Late" mode but open up to deliver the full power and glory of a NASCAR V-8 soundtrack on the open road.
With the appropriate ECU mapping to optimize fueling, spark, and boost pressure applied to this enlarged displacement motor, output is 850 hp at 5,400 rpm, underpinned by a simply astounding 1,069 lb-ft (1,450Nm) of torque between 2,500 and 4,500, which even surpasses the 922 lb-ft (1,254 Nm) produced by the mighty Veyron engine. As this is shared between four wheels, the normal electronic limit of 811 lb-ft (1,100 Nm) imposed on rear-wheel-drive Brabus models can be set significantly higher.
Uprating the AWD chassis to handle this power is down to the Brabus electronic lowering module that drops the ride height by 15 mm. The wheel arches are filled out by 21x9.5- and 10.5-inch Brabus Monoblock "Platinum Edition" forged alloys, shod with 255/35-21 and 295/30-21 Continental tires, behind which sit the massive factory ceramic brakes.
For fans of Brabus special interiors, the eye-catching red and black trim of this show car is not easily forgotten, but is just one of hundreds of possible tailored trim combinations a customer can select. Far more subtle are the bare carbon-fiber front spoiler, air intake guides, door mirror covers, rear diffuser, air outlet guides, and trunk lip spoiler that are visually masked by the shiny black paintwork until you come quite close.
On fast country roads under a blue cloudless sky, the 850hp Cabriolet is in its element. With its exhaust valves closed, it wafts along on light throttle, playing the cossetting flagship Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet that is at its core. However, on full throttle in Sport mode with the exhaust valves wide open, all hell breaks loose and the big convertible shoots off the line, its mountain of twist pinning you back in your seat as more than 2 tons of metal, glass, leather, and carbon fiber hurtle toward the horizon. The speedometer needle races around the dial, the road narrows, and the countryside fades into a blur. At the same time, a very big bent-crank V-8 noise seems to pressurize the air in a bubble around you, and the sensory overload becomes overwhelming as wind noise joins the party.
For me, however, the al fresco driving experience is best savored at more normal speeds when the Brabus 850 6.0 Cabriolet is playing cultured steer with attitude. With the promise of fire and brimstone under your right foot there for the asking when you need an adrenalin spike, this is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde roller coaster ride of the highest caliber.