Jan 26, 2014

Week 4: 1957 BMW 507 vs 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL


"The roads are getting proper death traps. If you ask me, the racetrack is safer than the road between Farnham and London." -Mike Hawthorn

Week 4: 1957 BMW 507 vs. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

   Before we begin this week's review, I thought that I'd take this time to share a letter that we received at our offices.

   "Dear McClarenDesign,

   "After reading your article about the Volvo 240 GLT Estate, I decided that it might be a suitable vehicle for my teenage daughter as well.  You had made a few observations that I thought seemed reasonable enough, eventually equating the car as a form of "automotive birth control", nearly ensuring my daughter's virginity well past her time in college.  Saving on auto insurance rates and possible traffic violations was merely the icing on the cake.   Having survived the Chernobyl-like reaction to her gift, I thought that it'd be smooth sailing afterward.  And although my name isn't Prost, Gordon, or McRae, the notion of entering the car into a race years from now seemed like a fun hobby to enjoy my retirement years."

   "I can't believe how wrong you were.  After showing the car off to her boyfriend, Chuck, I'd hoped that he'd be repulsed enough to head for the hills, warning other lads with similar hormones to turn back lest they suffer the ridicule of being seen in it as well.  Although I hadn't added the feces as you had, the presence and charisma of the car was thought to be enough.  Instead, Chuck took the liberty to replace the engine with a small-block American V8, then replaced the Olive Green paint and nearly every other original component.  Over the course of one weekend the car had been completely transformed into something "hip" and "boss" (although I have no idea how that car attained an executive title by merely swapping a few parts and giving it a new color)."

   "That weekend eventually lead to the next, where he proceeded to destroy the countless hours I'd spent teaching her how to drive correctly, and replacing that with complete hooliganism called "hooning".  Instead of neatly parking the car in the driveway, I spent the entire week counting down the minutes until I'd hear the screaming tires of her approach, completely sideways around the corner and utterly reckless into the driveway!  By this point the typical forms of punishment had lost their effectiveness, and I'd logistically placed my wife and myself in a position where confiscating the car would inevitably cause one or both of us to lose our employment.  By following your advice, I'd opened Pandora's Box!"

   "Attached you will find the invoices for my daughter's care while she's pregnant.  Being that it's your article that caused this problem, it's only fair that you should foot the bill while I'm left to figure out what I'm going to do with the pink monstrosity that the car has become, nevermind the Tampax sponsors that will want to know why she's unable to drive for them for the next nine months.  I'm also canceling my subscription, as that money will now have to go towards purchasing diapers and formula.   My only hope is that this notice, and subsequent legal notices, will be enough to prevent you from ruining the lives of other fathers throughout our great country."

"Sincerely,
Sir Robert of Wanktonshire-upon-Goscruyerself"


   Well, "Sir Robert", let this be a lesson to you that if you aren't willing to go through the feces of following simple instructions, you deserve to be buried in them afterwards, along with any other consequences.   Please give my fondest regards to Charles and your daughter, as I'm sure they'll be happy knowing that you kept your hands clean.  My only hope is that they don't ask you to assemble the crib.

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   You might remember that we'd received a lead on this week's car whilst testing last week's, the Buick Regal GNX.  I should also probably apologize for being a tad late with this week's review, but it is with good reason.  You see, rather than being asked to test one car for the week, we'd been given two.  Along with a fist full of airline tickets, hotel reservations, itineraries, appointments, meetings, demands, deadlines, disclaimers, waivers and about the same warning as Pearl Harbor.

  Despite harming an endangered species, one of only five hundred and something-er-other, I'd managed to somewhat redeem myself after putting in a frantic performance.  You might also remember that this was despite the injuries I'd received at The Ring the week before, to which I'd like to give my thanks to both the antiquated live-axle rear suspension, and the beauty of leverage in motion.  My shoulder also offers it's appreciation for the gentle touch of the restraint system, and the Med-Evac pilot thanked me for putting his son through college.
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According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san): 




   So when the Devil walks up to you in your moment of triumph, and offers you the chance to stay on top of that plateau... you take it.  And it's in that same spirit that we've agreed to accept the offer from the tiny white-haired Devil, and spend the week as members of his traveling show.   But instead of being your typical carnies, we'd be part of the main attraction.  Thankfully we didn't have to sign in blood, but before you all start whinging about us being "sell outs" or "Beelzebub's lapdogs", let me be the first to remind you that if you don't sin, then Jesus died for nothing.

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Performance (as purchased): January 16, 2014, Silberblau Metallic (Blue)
Displacement: 3,168 cc
Max. Power: 147 HP @ 5,000 rpm
Max. Torque: 174.4 ft-lb @ 4,000 rpm
Drivetrain: FR
Length: 172.4 in., Height: 50.2 in., Width: 66.1 in., Weight: 1240 kg
Tires: Comfort (Soft)
Performance Points: 362
Mileage: 266.3 mi.

   Honestly, after seeing the 1957 BMW 507, can you blame us?  Hell may have seven levels, but behind the wheel of this car they instantly become Heaven.  When we originally agreed to the offer, we were under the impression that we'd be humiliated by driving karts and wearing clown suits, or even worse, something from Chrysler.  Thank god we were wrong, because having a car you can aesthetically admire is just as important as the way it performs.  If the car performs like a figure skater on crutches (read: Lancia Stratos), at least you won't be embarrassed to be seen in it.  It's also been my personal experience that visually appealing cars offer entertainment value even when still, providing countless hours of curiosity about its design philosophy or appreciation of various styling details.

   For both this and the other car we're testing, you can thank Max Hoffman.   But before I tell you about Max, you first need to know about the state of motoring in America and Europe during the 1950's.  Two decades ago you could walk into nearly any pensioner's home and hear countless tales about how much better life was when bombs were raining down from the skies in the middle of the night.  But after the boys had their fun, many returned home with an education in engineering and little concept of "down time."  With no one left to shoot and a wealth of knowledge, many on the west coast used that knowledge to strip down cars to the essentials, removing interior pieces, exterior pieces, and anything that didn't make it go faster.   While the moonshiners were using their talents to turn left, the west coast boys took to dried up lake beds in epic quests for top speed.  As time would pass, this would be the Americana that would be written about in text books across the nation.

   And then there was Max...

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   Although I'm no longer considered a "Very Serious SLS AMG", it certainly wasn't for lack of trying.  The 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing" has no doubt inspired many of the people designing cars today, and most assuredly will in the future.  Having both this and the aforementioned BMW together is like sleeping with Dovima on Friday, then Dorian Leigh on Saturday.  I know that in spirit, as well as on paper, they're miles apart but you simply can't go wrong with either one.  With the fantastic German countryside and a convertible, the BMW offers a fantastic experience.  Likewise, with it's innovative doors and feminine curves, it's absolutely impossible to remain incognito behind the wheel of the Merc.  Which may explain exactly why there aren't any current owners that list "ninja" as their occupation.

   Being a "Very Serious SLS AMG", it's here that I'll kindly ask you to forgo any references to the 300 SLR.  Although this car bears an uncanny resemblance, and even though it was penned by the same hand, the two are different.  Blame the marketing department for that one, but please keep in mind that this is entirely separate.  Thanks to the events at Le Mans in 1955, Mercedes-Benz spent the next 30 years away from competition, and it's for that exact reason that this car will not be driven at Le Mans.  I might be criticized for having some father's daughter get "knocked up", but I'm not about to insult the families who are still affected by those that were lost on that day.

   I'm not a total bastard.

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   If ever there were an example of poor timing to launch a car, 1955 was it for Mercedes.  Yet despite this, they still managed to turn out nearly three times as many as BMW did with the 507, and remain solvent while doing so.  Imagine how the sales of the Camry would do should one if their cars fly off the banked surface of Talladega and into the crowds.  Instead of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday", you'd have "blood on Sunday, and none on Monday", and as I've mentioned before, Mercedes has paid their penance for what happened even though they weren't the direct cause of the incident.

   Much like the BMW, this is a car that one could spend an entire lifetime admiring without one single regret.  With the doors opened or closed, it's shape reeks of creating an aerodynamic cocoon while in motion, a safety blanket of security to keep you pointed straight and true.  Even the badging on the rear trunk indicates a level of sophistication that is overlooked on nearly every car today.  Rather than being a billboard, block-lettered notice of what the idiot in front of you is driving, the Mercedes star is like the centerpiece of an art exhibit, inviting you to have a look around without being bland or bold.  It really is sad that more car makers don't take pride in this rearward advertising, perhaps because they know deep inside that they haven't done their job properly, so there's no possible way that anyone has any chance of ever seeing it unless it's at the supermarket.

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According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san): 
  "At the 1955 New York International Auto Show, Daimler-Benz announced a new type of sports car, more innovative than anything that preceded it.  It was called the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.  The car featured a revolutionary multi-tubular space from formed by thin steel pipes arranged in a complex configuration, and its engine was mounted longitudinally at a 50-degree angle so the hood could sit as low as possible.  The car possessed world-class performance, able to reach a top speed of 162 mph through a 4-speed transmission."
  "Despite all this technology and performance, one thing stood out above everything else.   The doors of the 300 SL opened upwards, like the wings of a bird, because they were hinged to the center of the roof.  The car's appearance resembled a flying seagull when viewed from the front with both doors open, so these doors came to be called "gull-wing doors." 
  "The reason for these doors was that the side sills of the car were positioned very high due to the structure of the tubular frame.  A conventional door hinged to the body would not properly fit.  Although the new door style had an advantage in terms of rigidity, the side windows could not be opened, making ventilation of the cabin a problem.  Also, it was difficult to get in and out of the car, and the steering was made to tilt at the column in order to make ingress and egress somewhat easier."
  "Powering the vehicle was a 2,996 cc SOHC inline-6 that utilized the same mechanical fuel injection system used on the W196 racing car.  This was the first time for a production car.  Thanks in part to this new technology, the engine produced 212 HP/5,000 rpm.  The brakes consisted of drums at all four corners. Although the car was somewhat hefty for its time, weighing in at 1,295 kg, the 300SL was one of the best performing sports cars in the world, thanks to its awesome powerplant.  In fact, the 300 SL had a lucrative sports car racing career winning numerous races all over the world."
  "There were 1,400 300SL gull-wing coupes built from 1955 to 1957.  From 1957, the production of the coupe stopped, handing the sports car baton to a 300 SL roadster, a more conventional convertible."

  Enter Max Hoffman, an Austrian immigrant with impeccable timing and taste.  While kids were tearing the parts off their parents cars on the opposite side of the country, he was busy making costume jewelry until 1947 where he was able to convince Jaguar that he had enough capital to finance a dealership, and enough charisma to sell fleas to cats and dogs.  Having lived in America during the WWII, he saw the opportunity to fill a niche market among the east coast's elite, those that could afford the cars they fell in love with 3 years prior.  First it was Jaguar, then Volkswagen, then Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Alfa Romeo and Porsche.  Perhaps the only man with more influence across the pond was Luigi Chinetti, and even then that was exclusively with Ferrari.
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Performance (as purchased): January 19, 2014, WeiƟgrau (Grey)
Displacement: 2,996 cc
Max. Power: 212 HP @ 6,000 rpm
Max. Torque: 202.5 ft-lb @ 4,500 rpm
Drivetrain: FR
Length: 178.0 in., Height: 51.2 in., Width: 70.5 in., Weight: 1295 kg
Tires: Comfort (Soft)
Performance Points: 402
Mileage: 174.2 mi.

   It was Hoffman's genius that's directly responsible for the cars we have here today, although it nearly killed one of them.  When Max phoned the Stuttgart offices of Mercedes early in 1954 and inquired about a road version of the SLR, he was told that they simply didn't make one yet but were thinking about it.  Rather than wait, Max ordered a thousand of them before the project had been given the green light.  At the time, a thousand cars for a foreign market was unheard of, and could potentially mean an increase of sales within that market.  By ordering a thousand 300 SLs, Max had assured them that it already was, and the only thing stopping more sales was Mercedes itself.

   Like any decent arms dealer, Max knew that the only one that ever truly profits from war is the one building the weapons.  That same year, he managed to convince BMW that what they needed to compete with the upcoming 300 SL was a roadster.  After all, many troops/eventual boy racers loved the handling characteristics of European roadsters, and even though they were low on power, the looks and handling was enough to sell.  Like every car salesman, Max over-promised that it could be built using a few simple techniques and would cost next to nothing to build.

   Like every sucker signing for an auto loan today... they fell for it.

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   Upon finishing with the Buick, we'd expected to return to our hotel for rest before the flight home.  However once our appointment with the tiny little man was finish, we were immediately whisked away to the French Riviera for our first race the next day.   We'd also expected that since we were the main attraction in the show, that we'd have our accommodations supplied for us. What we didn't expect was the manner in which we were tossed out the next morning, nor the fact there would be marks visible to everyone.  Here, a black eye and a broken nose clearly states: bad credit.

   £31,250 later and free of any legal wrongdoing, we finally arrived at the track to find the Super Aguri crew already working on the car, once again ensuring our safety.  They even brought along a specialized team of auto detailers, ensuring that not only would we be safe, we'd look pretty too.  Then it was straight to the driver's meeting, where we were educated about the track, the rules, recommended strategies and expected behavior.  We were also reminded that one of the aluminum-bodied SLs, of only 29 ever built, recently sold for over $4.6 million at auction.  As for the Bimmer, the Devi's own only went for only $904,000, so at least our damages would be kept to a minimal.

   As we were close to beginning our first race, the Super Best Friends expressed some concerns with the scoring officials about the tyres.   Through my helmet, I couldn't hear exactly what it was about, but it looked serious and several other teams looked concerned as well.

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   Into the first turn on the first lap, many ahead jockeyed for position while I remained hesitant.  Hearing that you might have tyre issues seconds before the green flag is a nightmare, and before I begin testing the limits of what this $900,000 car can do, I wanted to first make sure that they'd stay on.  As the other drivers fought with each other ahead, it became apparent that an opportunist approach would probably be the best strategy, at least for the opening lap.  We'd started on the harder of the two compounds, and as such we anticipated a slow start compared to everyone else for that very reason.  Heavyweight fighters going 12 rounds have more room to battle than here at Monaco, so waiting for the mistakes would be easy and I could focus on staying clean, tidy, and getting to the pits as quickly as possible.

   The thinking behind our strategy was that a standing start would be the absolute slowest lap, baring any track debris or Safety Car periods.  As such, we wanted to spend the maximum time on the preferred driver, whilst those that pitted last would face the uncertainty of slipperier rubber.  Meanwhile we... I could focus on my rhythm, while theirs would be ruined, and I could theoretically make up more time.  It was focusing on these specifics that caused me to miss a braking point, and hit a barrier head on at the entrance to the pits.  Finishing the race 7th was bad enough, but having the humiliation of having the incident televised was far worse. (Edior: Idiot's antics below.)


   The next day at Spa we found ourselves soaked to the bone on the grid, endlessly waiting for someone to make up their mind as to whether or not we were racing.  After a few hours, and with no sign of improving conditions anytime soon after, the Devil decided that the show must go on.  Despite minor modifications required to de-tune the various 300 SLs, and thus bring them closer to the specs of the 507s, the Mercs were still much, much faster.  Overall, it's a much better performance package, and even choking the engine a little isn't going to stop the suspension from helping the cars exit corners faster than I can.  Even the aluminum cars, nicknamed "Chromelines" for their liveries, still had to manage the rain.  The Mercs having a few kilos and a slippery surface helped the 507 keep up, but it still wasn't enough to pass without a lot of planning ahead of time.

   By the end of the first lap, I'd managed to start catching up with the lead pack, abandoning the race strategy of before and opting to stay out just a little longer.  With the surface what it was and getting worse, having the softer tire at the end might equal a position or two in the final results, and since I was with the lead pack I wasn't losing any time.  When I did pit, everything went as expected without any reason for alarm, and I thought that I had finished the race towards the top.   Minutes later I found out exactly what my Super Best Friends were Super worried about with the tyres in Monaco, as I had been penalized heavily and relegated to an 11th place finish.  I hadn't hit the pit entrance... but this wasn't exactly any better, either.

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   Apparently when the tyres are delivered, they are in no way marked as to which compound is which. I didn't believe it at first, but one of the mechanics showed me the dilemma.   In today's F1 each tyre has a colored barrier on the outside indicating exactly which compound that specific tyre is.  Like today's F1, we too were required to use one set of each compound, but both compounds looked completely identical and without any distinguishing markings.   Some of the drivers complained that we should've been using rain tyres at Spa instead of traditional ones, to which the Devil's reply was that we were replicating 1957, not 2007, and that after Monaco we should be thankful to have returned at all.  Considering my stellar performance getting into the pits, I felt it best that I remain silent on the matter.  This could be one of those times my wife was telling me about, where everything that I say does nothing more than make matters worse.

   At Brands Hatch on Wednesday, I felt in the car the same way I felt in the driver's meeting, awkward and clumsy like I'd just discovered my first pubic hair.  I've never been good here, and the copious amounts of sand in the fender wells are my witness.  The moment that I'd take one turn, and slowly at that, I'd be thrown off completely by the next.  The previous two races had rustled my confidence, and it was obviously affecting my driving.  Drudging on, I was able to complete a lap or two with a senior citizen level of precision, but I considered the fact that I was still on track and in the race a victory itself.  When I arrived in the pits, I couldn't believe the cheers and smiles.   Had they not been watching?  Were they on drugs?  And if so, now would definitely be a good time to share them.  It wasn't until they pointed to the monitors displaying everyone else's penalties that I realized this time, I could be... lucky?  The FIA scored me as finishing in 2nd, but as far as I was concerned, I drove like 16th and should've finished 22nd.   The team might be happy, but I couldn't be. It wasn't that good.

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   Although the organizers were doing their best to replicate the 1957 Formula 1 season, concessions had to be made.  The Nurburgring Norsdschleife had another venue running the on the day we wanted, Brands Hatch had to stand in for Aintree, Spa Francorchamps for Rouen-Les-Essarts, and Indianapolis was completely out of the question since most F1 teams didn't go due to the cost and distance.  Here at Monza were weren't able to race the original circuit, the high speed oval having been redesigned in '54 and the 1957 configurations wasn't an option either.

   Monza is a flat-out circuit, and as such the pedal was to the metal for a goodly majority of each lap. Since the conditions were ideal, we again elected to pit on the first lap along with a group of other like minded individuals, again ensuring the maximum amount of time on the preferred tyre compound.  The chicanes at Monza have always been tricky, and here the BMW's suspension showed again how the Mercedes' suspension was better.  The trouble with the chicanes was clearly driver error, as the car felt very stable and an absolute joy to drive.   I may have finished 7th, but compared to the other races, it was an honest 7th.


   On Friday afternoon, we found ourselves exactly where we left off, at the Nurburgring.  Just like Spa, Mother Nature decided that instead of racing, we should be building an Ark instead. Starting in fourth, I kept pressure on the cars in front, usurping third, then second before taking the lead at the exit of Flugplatz thanks to the conditions.  While driving in the rain provides a tremendous challenge, it also has a tendency to reveal a driver's true nature, and considering how quickly I was able to take the lead, I thought I might have a chance to win if those same cars could hold off the other cars behind me.   This seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution, often employed by German Formula 1 World Champion and grocery-getter Sebastian Vettel, so how hard could it be?

   Going into Aremberg I was reminded of how hard it is while doing my best impersonation of Danny Sullivan.  In my rear view I could see that a Merc had slipped by and would soon be upon me.  Try as I might, the high speed nature of the track combined with the superb handling of the Benz both conspired to stick me firmly into 2nd place.  After the mandatory pit stop and requisite tyre change, I headed back out only to eventually discover problems with the BMW electrics.  For some strange reason, the power momentarily cut out completely, handing me a guard rail and 3rd place.  The Merc in the lead succumbed to similar fate an eternity later, only to recover precisely as I'd passed and once again overtaking me towards the end.

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   As I approached the podium to accept my third place trophy, I was halted by the marshals with the final results.  Once again, a tyre change had cost us, and instead of third I had finished in seventh.  Although disappointing, I can't very well blame the Super Best Friends Super Aguri, as they had absolutely no possible way of knowing which compound was which.  I can't blame the car, as it did everything that could be asked, including the spanking of many other 300 SLs behind me (rule book be damned!).  What I'm left with is to blame the squishy moron behind the wheel with fists of ham and nerves of wet spaghetti.

   Technically I could also blame one Mr. Maxamilian Hoffman, for whom none of this foolishness would've been possible.  But that wouldn't be right either because that would mean no Jaguars, Porsches, Alfas, BMW or Mercs in the US at all.  At a time when America was falling in love with the automobile, it was Max that introduced us to the cheerleaders.  While the rest of the country was dragging its knuckles, swigging something from a still after a left turn and racing in a straight line, it was Max that brought sophistication and class, as well as performance.  Not just straight line performance, either. Elvis had a 507 and ditched the original engine in favor of a small-block American V8, thus inventing the Shelby formula before Shelby had even spoken to Ace.

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   So, "Sir Robert", if you've managed to pick up this review and have followed along thus far, if you're going to blame someone, blame your father for not explaining how to follow instructions!  If you want to whinge about how terrible these cars are, I can assure you that you'll be in the minority.  If you want to prattle on about how the 507 nearly bankrupted BMW, be my guest, but then you'll also be denying us all the joys of the Z4M, the Z8 and the "Very Serious" SLS AMG.

   And if you'd like to bring this matter before further judicial review, I shall be more than happy to counter-sue for slander and liable.  Good day, sir!

*The views and opinions expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect those of the manufacturer, the publisher, GTPlanet.net or it's members, nor anyone with an IQ above 3.  If you have a history of epilepsy or seizures, consult a doctor before use.   Certain patterns may trigger seizures with no prior history. Before using see the instruction manual included with your system for more details.  For previous reviews, please visit: McClarenDesign's Very Serious SLS AMG Reviews of the Car of the Week N Stuff.  Void where prohibited.  All videos were filmed before a live studio audience.   Car setup monitored by Dark Lion Racing's GT6 Tunes and Tricks app on Android, as administered by Super Best Friends Super Aguri.   No goats were harmed in the making of this review that we are aware of.  This product may cause significant hair loss, headaches, and damage to the immune system.  Best wishes to Michael Schumacher!  To advertise, contact McClarenDesign@gmail.com.

-Super Previous Super Reviews-
Insightful... but bollocks: Introduction To Failure (or How I went from a Very Serious SLS AMG to Super Best Friends Super Aguri)
Week 1: '10 Peugeot RCZ

Week 2: '88 Volvo 240 GLT Estate
Week 3: '87 Buick Regal GNX