daimler


Whilst the weather was little better than it was at last year’s wash out, this year many more classic car owners made the journey to the birthplace of British motorsport for the first major classic car event of 2015.

Porsches, Model T Ford hot rods and Riley 1.5 on the start finish straight at the 2015 Brooklands New Year's Day meeting

Porsches, Model T Ford hot rods and Riley 1.5 on the start finish straight at the 2015 Brooklands New Year’s Day meeting

I took along my MG YB, out for its first run since the Mini Tour Britannia last May. It performed faultlessly although it’s less than inspiring reward on arrival was to be parked on some muddy waste ground between the Bus Museum and the old circuit banking. Apart from the somewhat variable quality of the parking spaces available, the other disappointment was the lack of catering provision which meant waiting 15 minutes, even for a cup of tea. But these logistical problems highlighted what a popular event Brooklands Museum now have on their hands. They must have made a lot of money, which is excellent news as every penny of profit will go towards their work to preserve Britain’s first motor racing circuit and aircraft factory, and the machines that raced or were built there.

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This immaculate Lea Francis is a rare car. Lea Francis were a high end car manufacturer based in Britain’s Detroit, Coventry. Like so many other motor companies, they started making bicycles at the end of the 19th Century before moving on to motorcylces and eventually cars in the 1920s. Known for hand building exquisite well engineered cars, their products also had a reputation for being expensive and exclusive. This Lea Francis is a 2.5L Sports. Only 77 were built between 1950 and 1953 when Lea Francis ceased car production. The low build volume is explained by the fact that whilst the 2.5L Sport possessed good performance, it was slower than its contemporary, the Jaguar XK120, which was also substantially cheaper.

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Oozing quirky Gallic charm, the Panhard PL17 was a development of the revolutionary Dyna Z1 launched in 1953. Like a modern day McLaren or Alfa 4C, the Z1 was built without a chassis, the front and rear subframes bolting on to a central tub. Rather than being carbon fibre, the Z1 tub was all aluminium – equally revolutionary in its day. The rest of the structure of the car, including its aerodynamically efficient bodywork, was also aluminium. This resulted in a car that was much lighter than its peers with consequent performance and fuel economy advantages. Years before “ground effect” in F1 Panhard made sure the underside of the Z1 was as flat and smooth as possible to further enhance efficiency and performance. Powered by an 850cc flat twin engine the car was remarkably fast (95mph) and fuel efficient (50mpg claimed). Sadly, by the time this PL17 was built (in about 1961) Panhard had changed to steel construction to reduce production costs and therefore sale price.

A new feature this year was the open day held by the Brooklands Motor Company whose works occupy the old Members Restaurant at the top of the Test Hill. This historic building had been decaying until BMC acquired and restored it. Where well-heeled BARC members once took tea, BMC now fettles and restores AC cars.

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Aston Martin DB3 and 5 with a Facel Vega on a lift and assorted dismantled AC’s in the old dining room of the Members Restaurant – now Brookland Motor Company’s smart works.

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Mille Miglia AC Ace at Brooklands Motor Company

Below are some of the more interesting cars that caught my eye.

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This Daimler Ferret scout car was built in Coventry in 1953. It served in the British Army for the next 40 years spending time in Jordan, the UK, and West Germany and seeing action in Aden, Northern Ireland and Kuwait and Iraq in the First Gulf War. Powered by a 4.25L Rolls Royce engine, top speed is only 56mph but as a driver you would be protected against small arms fire. And you’d have a machine gun – or two..

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This immaculate 1992 Rover 800 Vitesse is a rare survivor of the Honda / Rover cars that resurrected the brand when it was owned by British Aerospace. These Rovers successfully combined Japanese reliability with British design flare into a pretty compelling package.

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The Chevrolet Corvair was America’s answer to the Porsche 911. Rear engined and air cooled it was sporty and handsome. Unfortunately, due to cost cutting its rear swing axle rendered it liable to often fatal understeer. This was highlighted (amongst other industry faults) by crusading lawyer Ralph Nader in his classic 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed”. Rather than address the car’s design shortcomings the initial response of GM to Nader’s book was to try and smear his name. Nader was systematically harassed, his phone bugged, he was threatened and there were even attempts to entrap him with call girls! GM eventually had to apologise to Nader and pay him substantial damages. They also redesigned the suspension of the Corvair to make it safer but by then it was too late. It wasn’t Nader’s reputation that was destroyed by the furore but the Corvair’s.

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Across town from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart is another striking modern building dedicated to motoring history. The Mercedes-Benz Museum is, like its owner, on a different scale to its Porsche rival.  Entering through the ground floor you are required to take a lift to the top of the hollow concrete drum that houses the Museum and work your way down to the bottom on a long spiral ramp.  A sort of motoring version of the Guggenheim Museum in New York!

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Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart

The Museum starts by looking closely at the work of the company’s founder and the inventor of the high-speed petrol engine, Gottleib Daimler.  Daimler was a pioneer of the internal combustion engine and with his business partner, Wilhelm Maybach, founded Daimler in 1890. The company merged with Karl Benz’s eponymous company in 1926 to form Daimler Benz.

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Daimler Motorised Carriage, 1886. This is the world’s first four wheeled motor vehicle and was powered by the “grandfather clock” engine.

The Museum holds an example of the first petrol engine that Daimler and Maybach produced in 1885, a 264cc single cylinder air-cooled engine, nicknamed (because of its appearance) “the grandfather clock engine”.  Initially Daimler were more concerned with licensing the designs of their innovative engines than in building their own cars. In France Peugeot began installing Daimler designed engines in their early motor cars and in 1894 British industrialist Frederick Simms bought the UK  licence to the latest Daimler engine and the right to use the name Daimler. This led to the establishment of the British company, Daimler Motors, now a dormant brand owned by Jaguar Land Rover, but until recently responsible for producing luxurious cars much favoured by the British Royal Family.

Mercedes-Benz is now a division of the industrial behemoth that is Daimler AG.  The Mercedes part of the name stems from the name of the daughter of Austrian motor dealer, diplomat and racing driver, Emil Jellinek.  He had ordered and modified a racing Daimler in 1901 which he used to win many of the early French motor races.  He called the car Mercedes after his daughter and the name soon became associated with success.  So much so that Daimler changed the name of their cars to “Daimler Mercedes”. On the merger with Benz it was the Daimler part of the name that was dropped.  Mercedes-Benz motor cars have long been favoured by the wealthy and powerful. Hitler was very fond of them, obviously not seeing the irony of driving a car named in part after a young Jewish girl.

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Mercedes Simplex 1902. This is the oldest Mercedes in the existence and bears the name of Emil

Jellinek’s daughter, Mercedes.

The Museum covers all aspects of Mercedes-Benz, from buses and trucks to aero engines. There is a fine selection of solid but frankly dull road cars too. But what I was at the Museum to see was the fine examples of the company’s motor sport heritage.  Mercedes-Benz have been involved in motorsport on and off since the earliest days of the company. A Benz competed in the world’s first motor race, the 1894 Paris to Rouen road race.  The 1930’s brought the glory years of the Silver Arrows when great drivers such as Caracciola, backed by the industrial might of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler himself,  dominated Grand Prix racing.  After the war Mercedes-Benz again returned to racing and again dominated Grand prix racing in a technical tour de force that saw Fangio win the world title twice in 1954 and 1955.

Fangio's MB W196 in which he won his third world title in 1955.

Fangio’s MB W196 in which he won his third world title in 1955. Behind is Caracciola’s 1938 MB W154 in which he won his third European title.

Fangio's MB W196 Streamliner, used at the high speed tracks such as Reims and Monza.

Fangio’s MB W196 Streamliner, used at high speed tracks such as Reims and Monza.

Stirling Moss was also a Mercedes-Benz works driver at the time and, with Motorsport’s legendary journalist Dennis Jenkinson, he won the Mille Miglia in 1955 in the fabulous MB 300 SLR.  Sadly the Le Mans disaster of the same year, when Leveagh’s 300SLR collided with Macklin’s Austin Healey 100 and somersaulted into the stands killing over 80 spectators,  led Mercedes-Benz to withdraw from motor sport.

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The Moss / Jenkinson 1955 Mille Miglia winning MB 300SLR. This car is probably worth in excess of £50m.

The 1955 MB 300SLR "Uhlenhaut Coupe". A hard top version of the Moss / Jenkinson car intended for use in 1956. It never raced after MB's withdrawal from racing in 1955 and instead became the company car of MB chief engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut!

The 1955 MB 300SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupe”. A hard top version of the Moss / Jenkinson car intended for use in 1956. It never raced after MB’s withdrawal from racing in 1955 and instead became the company car of MB chief engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut!

For many years thereafter Mercedes-Benz concentrated on road cars but they did support those who wanted to go rallying.  The Museum holds a particularly interesting car for me, the MB 280E that carried a British crew to victory in the London – Sydney Rally in 1977.  My uncle Adi competed in the same rally in a Lotus Cortina Mk2. I can remember as an eight year old standing in the cold early morning watching this very Mercedes Benz being flagged away from the start in the centre of London.

MB 280E, winner of the London - Sydney Rally 1977

MB 280E, winner of the London – Sydney Rally 1977

Mercedes Benz returned to mainstream racing in 1987 with an assault on Le Mans and German Touring Car racing.  Examples of their diverse racing machines are displayed in the Museum alongside the car from their 1930’s and 1950’s glory days.

MB Touring Car (DTM)

MB Touring Car (DTM)

In F1, Mercedes Benz also supplied engines to Sauber and until recently part owned McLaren.  They now own the old Brawn racing team who are looking strong this year already. Given Mercedes Benz’s past record in motor sport and their recent recruitment of Lauda and Hamilton (two men determined to be winners)  I have no doubt that the world title will, before long,  again return to the Silver Arrows.

The Mercedes Benz Museum is exceptional and well worth the visit to Stuttgart alone. One comes away in awe of the company’s technical achievements and with a firm belief that they have always thrived, and will no doubt continue to do so, by adhering to Gottlieb Daimler’s famous dictum “Das beste oder nichts” (“The best or nothing”).

Best Drive of 2012

Undoubtedly the long drive up from Lands End to John O’Groats as part of this year’s LE JoG. Even though I navigated, rather than drove, most of it.. Whizzing around Goodwood in the McLaren MP4 after a tour of the MTC comes a close second.

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You take the high road..

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Best Car of 2012

I have seen many fine cars this year, at The Festival of Speed, Goodwood Revival, various events with McLaren, at Brooklands, Crystal Palace and on the London to Brighton run. The fabulous collection of Auto Unions at the Goodwood Revival was particularly memorable but the most stunning car I saw was the Daimler Double Six at the Windsor Castle Concourse of Elegance. just look at the lines and that long long bonnet!

Star of the show for me - fabulous Corsica bodied Daimler Double Six

Star of the show for me – fabulous Corsica bodied Daimler Double Six

Best Motoring Event Attended 2012

The Goodwood Revival is always amazing and one of the motoring high points of my year. For racing thrills and passionate crowds the newly competitive British GP at Silverstone is a must for all UK petrol heads. The London to Brighton run is always fascinating and the Classic Motor Show at the NEC was a great season closer. But my top event for 2012 was the Windsor Castle Concourse of Elegance. I am not usually one for car polishers but the collection of cars brought together at the Queen’s weekend home was stunning. Even my wife and kids found it interesting, which is saying something!

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Her Maj’s Roller even interested the kids..

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Achtung! Auto Unions!

Best Motoring Event in which Participated 2012

LE JoG – no question.

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Hero of 2012

Of our current crop of F1 drivers Vettel, now the youngest triple F1 Champion, stands out. If he had been less temperamental when faced with adversity then maybe he would have crept to the top of my list. As it was I think Alonso gave him a great run for his money in a clearly inferior car. Hamilton also showed some of the genius that seemed lacking from his driving in 2011. And that strange petulant streak that marred many of his performances last year was largely absent. Just look at his reaction when Hulkenberg’s rash lunge robbed him of victory at Inerlagos. But my hero of 2012 is former F1 driver and Double Champ Car Champion, Alex Zanardi. Not only did he magnificently overcome the horrific loss of his legs in a racing accident in 2001 to go on to a successful Touring Car career, he now has a fistful of Paralympic medals to add to his trophy cabinet. Winning two golds and a team silver at the age of 45 in a sport he only took up two years ago, is particularly impressive.  And the venue for his most emotional success (Gold in the Hand Cycling Road Race)? Brands Hatch of course – where his highest previous finish was a second in a F3000 race in 1991.  What a remarkable and inspirational man!

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I remember once entering my car in a Pride of Ownership at an MG show at Silverstone. I was assured a POO (as it was unfortunately known) was not as serious as a concourse d’elegance. However I turned up to find that others in my class had cleaned the inside of their bonnets with a toothbrush. I hadn’t even opened mine. So I abandoned the car and went to watch the racing. That was when my general aversion to the world of car polishers started. In my view it is far better to use your car as its maker intended – even if it gets a bit battered and dirty.

Lyon’s masterpiece..

It’s fair to say my cars are very rarely the best turned out in the paddock when I race. Of course one of the main problems is that I drive to venues and in summer that can mean a world of dead flies caked to the front. But at heart I would rather be tinkering with my tyres or engine rather than polishing the chrome. So I recently surprised myself by replying to an advert in Jaguar Driver looking for cars to go on display at Windsor Castle as part of the Inaugural Windsor Castle Concourse of Elegance (note the spelling – this is England you know) being held as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations.The cars invited to participate in the main Concourse were parked up in the Quadrangle of the Castle – a perfect setting. The Bentley and Jaguar Drivers clubs were invited to bring a car for each year of the Queen’s reign to be parked on Long Drive leading up to the Castle. I entered my wonderful Series 1 XJ12 and the old girl looked wonderfully patrician, on what was her own 40th jubilee, amongst the usual E types and Mk2 saloons.

Jaguar XJ12

I would like to say her shiny paintwork and detailed engine bay were the work of many hours of preparation. Well indeed they were – just not by me. I’m ashamed to say I paid someone else to do the work. Still, she looked good if not concourse. In fact I felt a definite pride in my ownership of her.

Others stirred by proprietary pride no doubt included the captains of industry, hedge fund millionaires and other plutocrats who owned the star cars up in the Castle. Whilst I prefer to see cars in motion, many of these stationary cars were indeed beautiful and it slowly dawned on me why people flock to Pebble Beach and Amelia Island. The most beautiful car in my mind was the 1931 Corsica bodied Daimler Double Six with a bonnet so long its radiator was practically in Hampshire. The most over the top (and frankly hideous) car was the one off  1925 Jonckheere Rolls Royce. Clever, wonderful attention to detail but undriveable with its long tail and appalling visibility.

RR Phantom Jonckheere Coupe

But the cars that caught the eye were those with patina. Two of the best were William Ainscough’s wonderful 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C, still resplendent in its original paint and Canadian Army (of occupation) formation insignia, and Nick Benwell’s faded yet glorious 1935  twin supercharged (gulp) Shelsley Frazer Nash. An interesting contrast was provided by two 1950’s Ferraris. The first, a heavily restored ex Fangio 290 MM Scaglietti Spider looked magnificent but also brand new. It could have been a replica. The second car, a 1957 Testarossa driven at various times by amongst others Collins, Hawthorn and Phil Hill was in paint decades old, still bore the number it last raced under and seemed to have beeb baptised in Castrol R. One was clearly a car for the polishers – the other for the drivers. I know which I preferred.

Even uglier from the front..

Star of the show for me – fabulous Corsica bodied Daimler Double Six

Alfa Romeo 8C

Ex Fangio Ferrari 290 MM

Testarossa!

Frazer Nash twin supercharged Shelsley