McLaren Mercedes SLR HDK and the Mysterious Race Car That Inspired It | Henry Catchpole

by Hagerty
4 January 2023

SLR HDK might sound like technology you’d find in a camera, but it’s actually the work of MSO – McLaren Special Operations – on the forgotten hypercar of the mid-2000s: the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.

Twenty years after the SLR first arrived, MSO is now well underway with its High Downforce Kit conversions for the side-piped supercar, and Henry Catchpole is one of the few outside of McLaren to have driven a brightly-painted example for the latest in his video series, The Driver’s Seat.

The SLR was never for the nervous of disposition, with dramatic proportions, wild styling and a front-mounted and supercharged 5.4-litre V8 engine. And while the engine is left alone with the HDK package, limited to just twelve examples, the end result is even more cartoonish than ever – particularly in this car’s Richard Petty-style paint job.

As Catchpole explains, the HDK upgrade was inspired by McLaren’s 722 GT prototype, conceived to encourage Mercedes to enter the car in GT racing. That was only partly successful, but McLaren’s retained knowledge means more than a little of the prototype has made its way into the road car.

This car has another interesting link to history, as one of the original SLR development cars, and as such it wasn’t always in such good condition – but we’ll let Henry fill you in on the full story there.

The SLR has arguably always lacked the desirability of the McLaren F1 that preceded it – front-engined, supercharged and with an automatic transmission, it was never likely to approach that kind of purity of purpose. But it’s always had character, and it sounds (quite literally) like MSO has only built on that character.

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