Monday, 19 November 2007

Murk Taxi

A quick write up on the 2007 Mercedes E220 CDi Avantgarde (170bhp, £32k); the car you should buy yourself if you were a responsible family man, and didn’t keep buying menopausal sports-cars.

An illuminated engine check warning light event meant that the Cayman had to return to the dealer for ministrations. The recovery service included the supply of a ‘premium’ courtesy car, so I was looking forward to trying a Cayenne Turbo for a couple of days. However, the local agents turned up with a Mercedes E Class…

This one was hearse black with 16” alloys lost in the arches, and only 2,400miles on the digi-clock. The interior was also black hide, the quality of which Mrs SS7 suggested was a bit ‘World of Leather”. Other than that, the dash was competent - but it was difficult to see what was so ‘avant-garde’ about it all. As usual for a Mercedes the front seats went miles back, but even at a comfortable reach for my 6’2”, there wasn’t a whole lot of leg room behind.
Cold starts produced the usual 200k-mile-Transit-death-rattle, but on the move it was quiet. Mrs E-H used it for a 100 mile motorway run with her MU grannies with no real complaints, so I was curious to see how it would deal with the down-land roads up to Guildford.

Not well really. The steering is Honda-light with zero feel, and ignorance about what was going on at the front tyre’s footprint didn’t encourage pushing on. Road noise is well suppressed, and ride is comfortable on the straight and level, but with a combination of a hard driver’s seat and soft ride, it does fall apart a bit in the twisties, often with a lurch as the lateral forces start to act. It did really feel like I was sitting on top of, not in, the car – and my seat was on the lowest setting.

The motor had the usual deseasel mid-range thump, and usually the many-speed auto box kept up well, slurring through the gears in normal use. But even in ‘Sport*’ mode, full throttle was needed to produce a lag-clonk-jerk kick-down, and that wasn’t cool. Surprisingly, braking into a corner or roundabout, then getting back on the gas also produce a thump-jerk as the combination of turbo-lag, mid-range heave and dumb gearbox stopped working in anything close to perfect harmony.

Frankly it really wasn’t fun, and having no compulsion to overtake at all, I found myself following all the traffic like a numpty. Even when alone didn’t really exceed 60mph or so.

I did expect that all this self-control would pay off at the pumps, but the car’s trip consumption showed 42mpg, not a world away from the Cayman’s 32mpg in similar (but 15mph faster) running.

I don’t see the point; buy a black Mondeo.

Who can still change gear better than ZF


Montague’s Gaff

One Saturday recently, Mrs SS7 had to take her Mother’s Union old dears (a long story for someone elses’ blog) to a meeting in the borrowed Merc, leaving the two boy’s and I with the Shed* – running much better after a long trip to Manchester and back the weekend before.

We decided it was an opportunity for a long-promised trip to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

It’s around 50 minutes drive from the house, and we arrived at 11.30am after an easy magazine-reading-in-bed start. Our trip began with replica open London bus ride around the park, and after disembarking, we first walked through the Victorian kitchen garden, and then enjoyed a bit of grub at the Brabazon cafĂ©.
After decent fish and chip lunch, went to into the main galleries. Nick Mason keeps some of his mobile eye-candy at the museum, so a Ferrari F40 and Big Mac were waiting at the doorway to universal small boys’ delight. The rest of the Museum contains lots of interesting stuff in an eclectic collection, some hum-drum, some really exceptional.

Personal highlights were the pre-war Sunbeam GP car, and the Golden Arrow and Bluebird land speed record cars, part of a large LSR display. I hadn’t realised that Thrust2 reached a simply staggering 760mph when it broke the sound barrier, and the LSR, in 2005.

The later Grand Prix kit includes some proper 80’s F1 cars - knee high to a grass hopper, bloody great wide slicks and 900bhp – unlike today’s F3 c/f rubbish. Nice too see also the big banger 240mph Jaguar prototype from my Le Mans heyday. There are bikes upstairs too, plus a big display of motoring ephemera.
I could have spent hours watching the AV monitors at most of the collections, and was very tempted to do so, but the museum only looked small boy proof up to a point, so I had to keep one eye on the Heir and another on the Spare. The 9 y.o Heir got £2’s worth of ride in a karting simulator; a box on computer controlled hydraulic rams that produced G-forces to match what was happening on the screen. His efforts were complimented by the staff, as were 4 y.o. Spare’s run in the electric karts outside.

The Playstation marquee was the next stop, and in hindsight I could have just left the little b*gger’s there for four hours and done the museum properly, but you live and learn. However, the lack of a PS3 was disappointing, so after a run through the Museum’s shop (F50 poster, small blue purse, Paul Frere Boxster/Cayman) we headed home.

Folllwing a sausage & mash dinner we all went to the November the 5th Fireworks at the local Footie club.

After Sunday God-bothering we went for a gentle stroll to a pub we’d heard about. It turned out to be the best eatery we’ve discovered since moving down to the coast, so a pint and sarnie turned into good grub all round and a decent Sancerre.
To make room for supper, the Heir and I walked home; 6 miles around the harbour and along the foreshore. The afternoon November weather was stunning, and at times there were just us, huge empty blue skies and the sound of birdsong. By the time we’d arrived home the fire had been lit and a large whiskey poured. A good day.

*Our elderly BMW 520i touring, which will suffice for family transport until the young SS7’s cease their car interior destroying food and crayon habits.

RIP: Black 968 Sport with Air

A couple of weeks ago I met my Ring-buddy Mikey for one of our regular dinners in a local Chinese restaurant. It’s our chance to put the world to rights, and talk a lot of bollocks about cars. Or it used to be - nowadays we share Dad’s angst: kids education, idiots at work, wives, that sort of stuff. It used to be a bigger group, but geography favours Mikey and I, and we don’t spend as much time in Devon/house-husbanding as the other car-listers.

Afterward a pleasant evening I headed home, and spent a couple of hours watching Billie Piper being all grown up on TV. At around 11.30pm I noticed a text message from Mikey, announcing that he’d managed to crash his lovely Porsche 968 Sport on the way home, and when I spoke to him minutes later he was enjoying yet another RAC flat-bed ride home.

He’d been exiting a local roundabout with a little squirt of power, when without warning the back let go, and he pin-balled the Porsche down the Armco. It’s a notorious local accident spot, and I’ve seen plenty of incidents there. Its partly because the Shell-grip on the roundabout ends, and also I think partly because the road crosses a bridge over the Thames at this spot , which encourages slimy condensation to form on the road.

The damage didn’t sound too bad, so as Mikey was unhurt I retired, expecting to see pictures of a slightly dented 968 the next day.

I did see the pictures. The Porsche’s a right old mess. A friendly local Porsche body-shop quoted more than £20k for repairs, roughly double the market value. Mikey took the trouble to have it taken to the guys at EMS for a more realistic quote, but even at Brummy labour rates and using second hand parts it’s a no go.

So sadly another fine 968 will be laid to rest. The numbers sold in the UK were small enough, and I’ve heard of a number of write-off over the last couple of years, so the numbers are dwindling. The Porsche 968 is a fine sports coupe, and has aged particularly well. Even in its middle-age can it hold its head up high as a drivers weapon of choice..

Mikey’s had too many trips back home on an AA transported recently (“Guilty as charged m’lud”) so understandably wants a new car with ESC, ABS, ASC etc. The hunt starts now!