Vol. III No. 46 - Saturday November 13 - November 19. 2004
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Automania

Mercedes-Benz C200K

Rest content with your choice, says John Weinthal, our Down-Under motoring consultant, if you buy a Benz C200K. Mind you, in Australia he would pay only a tad over 2 million baht (straight exchange rate conversion), while the same car in Thailand costs the same tad, but over three million baht!

Forgetting about the price, here are the Words from Weinthal:

“The supercharged Mercedes-Benz C Class is about as competent a compact sedan as you will find. It is so good in so many ways that the AUD 62,900 price tag even looks reasonable.

“There are larger, faster, more lavishly equipped cars for as little as half the price. In purely objective terms they may be only around 5 percent less impressive than the Merc in some of the most important areas.

“But that’s the rub. That extra 5 percent and the undeniable appeal of the Mercedes three pointed star emblem will be more than enough for those who can afford something which is indubitably upper drawer. In five years others will be used cars. The C200K will still be a Mercedes!

“Most of these cars will be fitted with Mercedes’ excellent five-speed automatic with its simple to use manual up and down feature. If you must have true manual, a six-speed is available to special order for a saving of around AUD 3000. (In Thailand, only the 5 speed auto is listed.)

“My enthusiasm for this car almost surprised me. I am not really a great Merc fan in the normal course of things. In the past most Mercedes have, for me at least, lacked the sheer driving appeal of almost all BMWs and the sublimely calm ambience of any Jaguar.

“What probably most won me over with the test car was the suspension. It was totally unflappable over all roads. It loved dirt - smooth, harshly corrugated or pot-holed. (Sounds like the MB C200K will love Beach Road Pattaya or Huay Kaew in Chiang Mai.) It wafted over those obscene speed humps which send aching shudders through so many cars. The ride is hushed with little road, wind or engine noise intrusion.

“Many would easily believe there were six cylinders up front. Certainly 120 kW appears less than lavish in these days when Camrys boast 150 plus and Commodores (Chevrolet Lumina’s) offer more than 170 kW. But there is an impressive 230 Nm of torque on hand over a broad range, and the gearing is perfectly matched to the engine for effortless acceleration from the lights and for safe overtaking.

“Effortless and unobtrusive are two more adjectives applicable to this rear-drive Mercedes. It is both undemanding and rewarding at the same time. The interior whispers class, without boastful brashness.

“Not so appealing for some will be the rear seat legroom, but you can check that out in the showroom. Only taller adults will complain. Most controls have a Germanic logic to them after a little familiarization for those of us more used to Australian-made offerings or Japanese and Korean breeds. (In other words, the wipers and the indicators are on the other side!)

“The 200 C Kompressor - that’s German for supercharger - is more than adequately equipped in base form but there are a couple of distinctive packages available over the standard Classic we tested. The Elegance pack adds AUD 6,000 and Avantgarde is an extra AUD 5,500. (In Thailand, only the Elegance and Avantgarde models are available.)

“Beyond that the options list is virtually limitless, but so too should be your bank balance if you tick too many boxes in the options sheet.

“I have not mentioned safety. That is a given with all Mercedes. This C200K lacks nothing to help avoid an accident in the way of electronic aids, excellent suspension and brakes plus sharp rack-and-pinion steering. Then there are multiple airbags and more to protect you if fun fang turns to bang.

“Supremely competent is the best way to sum up this appealing, if largely unassuming, car. Others will certainly admire it. You will rest content with your choice for a long time to come.”

(Thank you John. The C Class Benzes are definitely popular in Thailand, for all the reasons mentioned above, plus the undoubted three pointed star factor. When you open your garage door, nobody says, “Wow! You’ve got a Toyota Crown (which costs 3.8 million)! But they do say, “Wow! You’ve got a Benz!”)


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned the Invictas which were interesting sporting machines, with the fastest having four and a half inches of ground clearance. Rather too low for today, and definitely too low in the 1930’s when they were in their heyday. The push behind the marque was Lord Macklin (who I think was the father of British racing driver Lance Macklin). In the late 1920’s an energetic young lady by the name of Violet Corderey drove an Invicta around the world and set the world 25,000 km record at 89 kph, a real piece of autotrivia! However, the S type Invictas were well built vehicles with all sorts of innovative features, such as a dual fuel feed system, using air pressure or electric pump, and telescopic shock absorbers all round. They had one other very innovative feature that related to the positioning of the starter switch. So after all that verbiage above, last week’s question was simply that - where was the switch? Would you believe the switch was actuated by lifting up the horn button!

So to this week. We featured the supercharged Mercedes Benz C200K this week. The first catalogued supercharged cars were also Mercedes. Two models were exhibited at what motor show in which year?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!

A1 Grand Prix series is ‘Go” in Asia

The newest, and perhaps the most exciting new category in motor racing is coming to Asia, called A1 Grand Prix World Cup. This is being promoted similar to the football world cup, where there can be national champions, but the world cup is for nations, not individuals.

A1 GP car

The concept has been bank-rolled by His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, part of the Dubai Royal Family and will be have up to 30 franchises available, limited to one per country. Each national team will be represented by a driver native to that country, engendering strong local support and presence for the team. So instead of Ferrari against BAR, we will have China versus Pakistan. It works for the Olympics, why shouldn’t it work for motorsport? So far, nine countries have taken up franchises, including Malaysia, China, Australia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the UK, South Africa, Canada and Portugal, with many more countries in negotiation stages.

Again similar to the successful BMW and Porsche categories, China cannot get a “better” car than Pakistan as the cars are identical single-seater A1 racing cars, built by Lola, and powered by 550 bhp Zytek A1 Grand Prix V8 engines. The idea is to provide that level playing field with no driver aids allowed. This is something the viewing public has been calling for. Enthusiasts want to see the drivers do the business, not an electronic controller from the pits.

To maintain the level playing field, there will be one tyre supplier, which is (Cooper) Avon (who have been supplying Formula 3000 for the past years), so they know what they are about too.

The races are scheduled to take place during the European winter in countries enjoying summer weather conditions including Dubai, China, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, South Africa, Bahrain and Qatar. TV coverage is also in place with Sky Sports taking up broadcasting rights. The first event will be in September 2005.

The price of buying a franchise will be based on the population and wealth of the country, with China, the United States, Britain and Germany costing more than a team in Indonesia or Thailand. (As a comparison, Ferrari has an annual budget of about USD 400 million but the average team in A1 Grand Prix would operate on a budget of about USD 40 million.)

Former F1 world champion Alan Jones has put his hand up, along with compatriot Alan Docking (F3 team boss) to snare the Australian franchise for the A1 Grand prix World Cup series due to kick off in 2005. Some newspapers are claiming that Alan Jones will drive it, but I think it much more likely that his son Christian Jones would be behind the wheel.

Another famous name is John Surtees, the only man to win the world championships on two wheels and four and he is involved with the British team.

And the name being mentioned with the Malaysian franchise is none other than tail-end Charlie, Alex Yoong himself. Let’s hope that in this formula with its level playing field that we can see the true level of competence in the Malaysian driver.

Portugal’s franchise holders will involve Real Madrid footballer Luis Figo and former Real coach Carlos Queiroz, now assistant to manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, for all the footy fans out there.


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