In 2006, Brabus launched the Rocket – the fastest street-legal sedan in the world.
The three most prolific upscale German brands – Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz – have been engaged in the sports car competition for decades. Mercedes’ contenders have only gotten more powerful over the years. Audi’s RS7 wagon now makes nearly as much power as a McLaren F1, and the M5 Competition can outrun a 458 Italia at the Nurburgring.
Brabus is an institution in German tuning. They’ve been around since 1977 and like a lot of tuners, they have their preferred marque. Callaway has Chevy, Hennessey has Dodge, Shelby has Ford and Brabus overwhelmingly works Mercs (and the occasional Smart car). The firm has a sedan tradition stretching back to 1996 when they crammed a 7.3 liter V12 into the E-class and made the Brabus E V12, a car that had a higher top speed than a Lamborghini Diablo. For that ten-year anniversary, Brabus decided to ring in 2006 by once again bringing a battle-ax to the knife fight.
Brabus Goes Ballistic
Counter-intuitively, Brabus did not use Mercedes’ lightest sedan at the time, the C-class, which at most weighed 3700lbs. Instead, they used a Mercedes-Benz CLS, which was a good 100lbs heavier. They got rid of the base model’s 5.4 liter V-8 and dropped in a 5.5 liter twin-turbo V12 from the SL 600, which kicked the weight up to about 4400 lbs.
The V12 Biturbo engine transplant wasn’t the end of it. Brabus bored out the engine from 5.5 liters up to 6.3, adding forged pistons and a custom crankshaft. The cylinder heads were modified, as was the ECM system. They added more aggressive cams, along with all-new intercoolers, a four-pipe exhaust system, a five-speed automatic transmission, and larger turbochargers. The end result was 730hp and 811lb-ft, at 2100rpm.
The Rocket had modified suspension, brakes, and even alloy wheels to help deal with the momentum of throwing something as heavy as a ‘71 Buick Riviera around at such speeds. Yokohama provided custom tires for the world record run. Brabus also performed a handful of aerodynamic modifications and, weirdly, a set of LEDs on the side of the car that could be remotely illuminated with the key.
The end result went from 0-60 in under 4 seconds and 0-100 in less than 10.5 seconds. The car’s quarter-mile was estimated at under 12 seconds, and the top speed was 225 mph – 10 mph faster than a Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SuperVeloce. Brabus wasn’t satisfied, however, so they performed another run and managed to reach 227mph at Nardo.
The Fastest Four-Door
The 2011 model, the Rocket 800, upped the ante. Most of the same modifications were present – twin turbos, a bored-out engine with forged pistons – but there were a number of additions. Firstly, instead of the CLS’ single intercooler, the Rocket 800 used four. The car was also fitted with a carbon-fiber ram-air intake. It used the new seven-speed automatic plus Brabus’ own limited-slip differential with multiple drive ratios available, and a Brabus spoiler.
Torque remained limited to 811lb-fit, but power was now at an even 800hp (hence the name). The second-generation Rocket could do 0-60 under 3.7 seconds and 0-100 in under 9.8 seconds. Ultimately, the 800 managed to push up to 230mph. As far as we know, 2011 was the peak of the Rocket’s potential top speed. Nobody has performed a run with a non-speed-limited Rocket 900 yet, but in principle, it should be even faster. It seems, however, that Brabus decided to take to heart Gordon Murray’s wistful hope that designers would focus on overall performance instead of chasing top speed numbers.
The newest iteration of the Rocket weighs a massive 4600lbs, but it does 0-60 in under 3.7 seconds and maintains the limited 217mph top speed for street models. The extremely limited edition Rocket 900 One of Ten is much faster: tuned to 900hp and capable of doing 0-60 in under 2.8 seconds, though its top speed is governed to 205mph.
An Increasingly Refined Offering
Modern luxury sport sedans typically boast a somewhat sportier profile: the lithe gymnastic build of the Porsche Taycan, or the clean lozenge form of the Tesla Model S. The first Rocket, by contrast, looks more like an old-timey strongman – just generally big and a bit round. Hilariously, even the heaviest Rocket is actually significantly lighter than either of the above-listed competitors.
Maybe that’s part of the fun. Like the Alpina B7 or the Audi RS2, it’s not immediately apparent that it’s been tuned. Performance wheels and a spoiler? Guys in Espanola County slap performance wheels and carbon fiber spoilers onto sun-bleached Integras with purple windows and soup-can exhausts all the time, that’s hardly a giveaway.
The newest Rocket represents the peak of the line’s power and acceleration – and if the limiter were removed, maybe it would set a new record. However, this is now, where sport sedans are a big enough fad that Dodge sees fit to make a Charger that can exceed 200mph. Back in 2006, no sedan was even remotely that fast. SSC has said they want to figure out how to make a sedan capable of 220mph – the Rocket would be a good place to start.