by Dr. Iain Corness
Mercedes Benz C240

While we have the Mercedes Benz C180 and C200’s in various guises, the larger engined C240 is not for sale in the Benz dealerships in this country. Despite this, the power from the 2 litre Kompressor engines available here is very close to that of the V6 in the C240, so I decided that our Down Under correspondent’s critique was also significant for the local products. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

Mercedes Benz C240

“By most conventional measures this week’s AUD 74,000 test car could be regarded as some $20,000 to $30,000 over the top. The car in question was a Mercedes Benz’s compact C240 four-door sedan. This is roughly the mid-model in the C Class range and it is powered by a hushed 2.6 litre V6.

“2002 was a boom year for Mercedes in Australia, indicating that perception rates higher than more mundane factors for some when they are choosing a car. In most respects this Merc is no better than say a Magna Verada, top-line Camry or Nissan Maxima (Cefiro here) - to name just three cars which are better-equipped, more powerful and rather more roomy and at least $20,000 less damaging to your credit card. (Please note that the bigger engined Camry in Australia referred to by John is not available here.)

“C Class sales surged 19 per cent in Australia last year to a new peak just three units short of 5000. And, for the first time, the C Class outsold its main rival - BMW’s 3 Series range.

“In a week I covered almost 1000 km in the Merc thanks to two sets of visitors from the UK and Sydney who had never seen Brisbane or the Gold Coast. The Merc was particularly appropriate for the UK couple as he had retired as PR supremo for Mercedes in the UK after 25 years most successfully shining the three-pointed star for that tough market. For my car-ignorant Sydney friend, the grey leather interior was luxury-plus and the glistening white exterior was very smart indeed. The absence of any comment on the ride, noise or anything else of relevance to the car’s progress might have been the greatest compliment of all. Above all - forgetting price completely - the Mercedes is a car which feels as solid as the Deutschbank, and just about as durable.

“It is largely gimmick-free apart from the automatic headlamps and artificial speed limiter. Other cars offer more features for the money, but what the Merc has works supremely well. Some controls, such as those for the air-con, trip computer and sound system, work with a uniquely Germanic logic, but a few minutes with the handbook and a little familiarity soon overcomes any worries in this area.

“Overall fuel consumption of 10.9 litres per 100 km is commendable for a 1570 kg car, and the Mercedes 5-speed auto still has the best manual over-ride I know. But it is that imperious badge which imbues the car with its undeniable attraction for most. It is pointless not allowing a minor smirk to light your dial when the concierges at Palazzo Versace and the Sheraton Mirage beamingly agree that of course you may leave YOUR car on their concourse while you look around. Just try that in your Camry, your Verada or your Maxima!

“I think we can safely say it is unlikely that potential Merc buyers will seriously consider the locally produced cars - although if they were being at all objective about their purchase they might well do so. However, they should surely consider the Lexus iS 200 and 300, Jaguar’s new X-Type, any of the excellent 60 Series Volvos and maybe an Audi A4.

“My own favourite of all in this mid-price smaller executive class is the excellent turbocharged Volkswagen Bora 4Motion with its full-time 4-wheel-drive and lavish equipment list. But the question remains whether a VW badge has yet achieved the desired status - only a would-be buyer can decide that.

“These are fine cars which say much about the owner. A record number of Australians chose to be seen in a new Mercedes, and a C Class in particular, over the past year. I am sure they will live in confident contentment with their choice.”

V 16 power comes to Cadillac again

America is the country that coined the phrase “There’s no substitute for cubic inches” and the new Cadillac concept has plenty of them with a huge 13.6 litre engine up front. This car was the show stopper in Detroit, and with 1000 BHP why not? It is front engined and rear wheel drive and is a 4 door hard top. It is luxuriously appointed and if there is enough interest, it could go into production. Estimated price is somewhere between 200-250 thousand greenbacks. That’s about 11 million of our money, and now triple that if you are thinking of importing! But wouldn’t it be nice to park with the bonnet up?

Eff Wun - the new orders are made public - FIA issues statement re cost-cutting

The FIA has now issued the edicts for the 2003 season. This has been brought about in part by the demise of two F1 race teams in the last 12 months, and by the lack of excitement caused by the inability for the cars to actually race each other.

President of the FIA, Max Mosely

Last October, the Formula One teams rejected all the FIA’s cost-saving proposals. The teams themselves have had several meetings, but produced nothing. The FIA invited the teams to a meeting at Heathrow Airport January 15th and informed them that in order to reduce costs and improve the racing it will rigorously apply existing rules from the start of the coming season, in order to:

1. eliminate pit to car telemetry;

2. eliminate car to pit telemetry;

3. eliminate all radio communication between team and driver;

4. allow only two cars per team (i.e. no spare car);

5. place cars in parc ferm่ between final qualifying and the race (teams will be unable to work on them, except under strict supervision);

6. eliminate traction control, launch control and fully automatic gearboxes (possible derogation for all or part of 2003 to be followed by absolute enforcement in 2004, if necessary by means of standard electronic control units).

In addition, the FIA will also allow teams to use common components; and that it intends to introduce sporting rules for 2004 which will require the use of a standard braking system; require the use of a standard rear wing; require the use of long-life components; ensure that car manufacturers involved in Formula One supply engines to all competing teams; and that for 2005 it intends to bring in further sporting rules to require engine life to be extended from one to two races; a further extension to the life of major components; new penalties for engine or component changes outside permitted times; and that for 2006 it intends to bring in a further sporting rule to require engine life to be extended to six races; and that it will seek the agreement of the teams to introduce a new technical regulation to eliminate the use of expensive exotic materials in any part of the car, including the engine.

Next week I will go through these new items and what the new rules could do for the Grands Prix.

Now THIS is a pickup!

The Detroit MoShow has been and gone, and many of America’s manufacturers use the show as a toe in the water exercise with their concept cars to see if it would be worthwhile looking at turning a concept into production. The following article on the V16 Caddy is one of those sorts of vehicles. However, the Nissan company, which is quite frankly storming the world, used the show-to-show America’s big 3 that Nissan has taken up the challenge, and then some!

We think of Thailand as the land of the pick-up and I don’t mean of the female gender either! America is big on pick-ups too, and Nissan just dealt one in the eye to Ford Motor Company with its new Nissan Titan.

Nissan Titan

This big Titan pickup and a new, larger minivan look like making an even greater market share for Nissan. Last year Nissan’s U.S. sales rose by a tad over 5 % to 739,499 units. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s dynamic boss is now a legend in Japan and declared, “There are lots of big trucks out there but none like this one. We have done our homework, and we know what truck owners want.”

According to Automotive News in the States, the new beast is built in the just opened Canton, Mississippi facility, and the half ton king cab (codename: ZW) shares its new platform with the future Nissan full size SUV to be seen at the New York show later this year. Grunt comes from a 300 horsepower, 375 pound feet, 5.6 litre 90 degree V8 based on the Q45 motor and there’s room up the pointed end for a supercharger in the future.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked who was the father of the Stingray? That should have been easy, and for my money it was Zora Arkus-Duntov, the designer of the Ardun head for V8 Fords. However, Zora A-D moved to GM and was involved in the early Chevrolet Corvettes in camshafts and suspension design (1957 and 1958), but it was the Stingray released at the end of 1962 that had Zora all through it. The body was designed by Bill Mitchell, the successor to Harley Earl, the original Corvette designer (Note Earl did not design the “Stingray).

Incidentally, the first of these cars was called the “Sting Ray” but in 1969 it became the one word “Stingray”. In 1968 and for one year only, it was just called the Corvette. Now there’s some really useless trivia that could win you a beer or two in a bar!

So to this week, and let’s go across the pond to the UK and specifically Jaguar, even though it is now owned by FoMoCo. The XK 120, a classic, was the result of a cock-up by the bodywork company that had been assigned to build the Mk VII Jaguar sedans. They were unable to deliver on time for the 1948 London MoShow, and the boss of Jaguar, Sir William Lyons, said that if nothing else, the new chassis would go on display. To make an impact, he designed a spectacular 2 seater bodywork to go on the chassis. This was called the XK 120. Now I am coming to the question - how did they pick on that designation for the 2 seater Jaguar? A clue - there was one reason for the XK part and another for the 120 bit.

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

Good luck!