Oh hello baby *insert purring noises*. This, my loves, is the 280SL. Otherwise known as the car I have longed for since I can remember. I didn’t get to drive it at Mercedes-Benz World last Monday, but I may have stroked it when no one was looking.
I’m not subtle: I’ve been angling for an invitation to visit MB World at Brooklands since I started collaborating with Mercedes-Benz at London Fashion Week four seasons ago. My father is a petrolhead, and has always let me drive his cars. This is me at Silverstone in his 120 a few years ago:
So my collaboration with Mercedes was more perfect than they could know. And finally last Monday, after basically collaring the lovely MB people at their fabulous party for Giles at LFW last season and making puppy dog faces, I finally got to go play. And my father got to come too. After all, it’s only fair. I’ve been on countless rallies & track days in his cars, so it was high time I repaid my debts.
Mercedes-Benz World is based at Brooklands which, as any motoring enthusiast will tell you, has been a home of motor racing since 1926, when the first British Grand Prix was held on the historic Brooklands track, the remnants of which are still there. Today the wonderful Brooklands Motor Museum, which celebrates the glory days of motoring and aviation, abuts onto Mercedes-Benz’s modern, state-of-the-art motoring centre, where there’s a museum of MB motoring, a café & restaurant, as well as a wet skid circle, handling circuits and a frankly terrifying off-road terrain course. My grandfather worked at aviation pioneers Vickers, whose runway was under part of today’s circuits, so I was thrilled to be somewhere with a family connection.
We started off in the futuristic main building, where I met my future car,
and then lunched upstairs in the restaurant next door to my second favourite car, the Gullwing 300SL. *insert more purring noises here*.
After lunch, we explored the MB displays.
On the left is the first Benz car — driven by Mrs Benz, I’m proud to say, and on the right is the brand spanking new iteration of the SLS AMG — the roadster. *insert more purring here*.
And then it was time for driving. Out there. On the wet skid circle & handling circuits.
My dad & I split off, him with pro driver Zac, and me with the utterly calm, collected and completely car obsessed pro David. First up was the C63 AMG Coupé, which has a top speed of 155mph and acceleration of 0 — 62 in just 4.5 seconds. That was fun. Although I never, ever want to drive around a skid pan EVER AGAIN. Of course with ABS, sport mode etc and all the extraordinary engineering you will not die, but I did get very car sick as I span around in circles like a yoyo. Eurgh. But hopefully next time I skid in my little rear wheel drive MX5 I’ll have a better chance of staying on the road.
But, to be honest, I don’t remember much about the C63 because next up I drove THIS:
*Momentary pause of appreciation for the SLS AMG, its £192,000 price tag, and its 0–60 in 3.2 seconds*
Sweet mother of GOD that was fun. The circuit is much like the club circuit at Rockingham, with lots of bends, so there aren’t a lot of straights to really welly it, but I did manage to accelerate to a respectable 85-ish out of a corner before before David shouted BRAKE for the next right hander (the tiny straight you can see in the top middle of the circuit photo up top). The car has dual controls, so you probably won’t die, but it is a seat of your pants experience.
I have never driven anything so responsive, so engineered to within an inch of its life — I’m used to thwacking 3 tonnes of 1952 steel around a track with no assisted steering and brakes you practically have to pump. This is a very VERY different beast. Not least because I was driving it as an automatic to start with rather than as a shift with overdrive, which is what I am used to.
I’m glad I had already done a lot of track driving, because it meant I could really concentrate on getting to know this car, without worrying about how you drive around a circuit. (Basically that means I already knew how to steer in and accelerate out of a racing corner, using the cones as markers.) I learnt a huge amount from David, including my first try at using paddle gears — FUN, and basically now have the performance car bug. In my wildest dreams.
As someone who races cars, my father of course was in his element and taking his corners at speeds I could only dream of, judging by the low gear roar of the engine. We left him to his Nigel Mansell impressions and David & I then went onto the straight where I basically went from 0–60 in a straight line and then braked it. And Christ — it didn’t skid a centimetre.
After that, the lovely David ensured that I wasn’t going to be deflated by taking me out in this baby, with its state-of-the-art 4M ATIC 4-wheel Electronic Traction System, to explore the muddy slopes and ditches, steep ridges and deep water hazards of the terrifying 4×4 course.
I drove along a little bit of the original banked Brooklands track, before launching the car down vertical slopes, traversed a gully with 45 degree sides, (there are handy mirrors so you can see your car driving sideways on two wheels across the sides of the gully. Not scary at all. Ahem), manoeuvred across boulder strewn lanes and finally learnt how to use a low ratio gearbox. What a waste of a car it is to see a Mercedes 4WD in London traffic when it can do such awesome things at a flick of a button. Hell, it’s practically a Transformer.
I can’t think of a better present for a motor loving friend or family member this Christmas than a Driving Experience at MB World. You can choose which car you fancy, be a passenger, drive yourself, go for half an hour or half a day, as well as send kids and teens for a taster. I haven’t had so much fun in years.
A HUGE thank you to Mercedes-Benz UK — clearly the awesome-est client I have ever worked with. (Please may I have an SLS AMG for London Fashion Week next season? No? *sigh*.)
Admission to Mercedes-Benz World is free (but the driving bit is not). Open 7 days a week, 10am to 6pm.
Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands Drive, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0SL
0870 400 4000 mercedes-benzworld.co.uk