A visit to Mercedes Benz World

I can’t believe I haven’t been to Mercedes Benz world before now. You’d think that having lived just eight miles from it for the past year I’d have found the time.

Still, after listening to numerous recommendations of how good it was to kill a few hours, I saddled up the Focus this weekend and went.

And blimey, it was good.

Nestled right at the heart of the Brooklands circuit, the modern architecture of the Mercedes building really stands out. Plus, of course, that tri-star immediately helps to identify who owns the building. Since Brooklands is now a registered heritage site Mercedes isn’t allowed to build any more on top of the original circuit, so visitors to the ‘overflow’ car park are directed to park up on the famous circuit itself.

'Overflow' parking on the old Brooklands circuit

‘Overflow’ parking on the old Brooklands circuit

Even on this wet and windy April afternoon the building was busy, and it’s easy to see why. As well as doubling up as a servicing and sales centre for Mercedes Benz and Smart, MB World also houses one of the most impressive collections of cars I’ve come across. It’s a museum of automotive creation, and, if you fork out £2.50 for the guided tour, a source of some of the best automotive pub facts ever.

 

Try these on for size as an example:

  • The first Mercedes “silver arrows” weren’t designed to look that way. The original paintwork was removed to save weight before a race. The Mercedes team had arrived to find their cars just over the 750kg weight limit, so something had to go. The public so enjoyed the spectacle of the race, which Mercedes won, that the team decided to enter all its cars that way in future.
  • There’s a working example of the Benz Motorwagen at the site, which is occasionally taken out for a run. However, because the engine is so simple it can’t handle the complicated additives in modern petrol. Some time ago the museum switched to running it on floor polish.
  • The modern Mercedes SLS racing car had to be fitted with explosive door bolts, because drivers could literally be trapped inside the car if it rolled over due to its gullwing door design.

That’s just the start, because as you can see from the gallery below Mercedes Benz World is so much more than a museum.

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I can now join the countless others who have been and recommended it as a fun family day out. Though, a word of warning, if you plan on spending any time at all in the gift shop bring your most flexible credit card.

It’s also interesting to note that, aside from Mercedes Benz, I can’t think of another car manufacturer which has a similar site in the UK. Sure there are brilliant collections of cars such as the ones at the Coventry Transport Museum or the Beaulieu National Motor Museum, but are there any similar sites which are manufacturer owned? Let me know in the comments below if you can think of any.

You can find out more about Mercedes Benz World by visiting its website, here.

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For sale, three careful racers…

Engineering at work - the Westfield on track at Rockingham

Engineering at work – the Westfield on track at Rockingham

There comes a time in the life of every track day enthusiast when he realises he must sell up and buy something more powerful.

That day came for the members of team Moss Motorsport a few months ago – and with our new car, an AB Performance Sabre, now nearing completion the time has come to sell our beloved Westfield.

I’ll always have fond memories of our yellow hornet. She taught me to drive fast, and drive well, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

You can read the proper advert here, but here’s my take on the sale: If you’re looking for a first track car, look no further.

The trouble with most kit cars is that before you can actually get in and drive there are a multitude of checks to be done. Oil, coolant, fuel, tyre pressures, harnesses, fire extinguishers, they all need to be checked and checked again. The checks take so long, in fact, that by the time you’re ready to set off the light has faded and it’s time to go home again. Except you can’t, because the shut-down checks have to be completed first.

With the Westfield, there’s no such bother. Just make sure the wheels are torqued, turn the key, adjust mirrors to taste and set off for a drive.

And what a drive it is. Regular readers will know I could talk about its driving characteristics until the cows come home. Then, when the cows have arrived, I’ll continue to praise its incredible handling and immediate power.

I’ll make you a promise. Buy this car, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Contact section at the top of this blog if you’re interested.

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Magnificent Modelling

I love modelling. Always have, always will.

No, not the kind of modelling with women and such, more the kind where you make things. Airfix, for example, is a hobby I love. There are fewer greater triumphs in life than getting the decal absolutely right on your freshly painted Supermarine Spitfire.

Fair enough, I need to get out more. Point taken.

Still, the reason I bring it up is that last week I got to see a rather special model being unveiled. Cast your eyes below and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Isn’t that amazing? The model has been created for Citroen, or more specifically for its motorsport division in celebration of nine World Rally Championship titles. The model was designed and built by Kieron Barter of Funky Lemon Design, and took just two months to complete.

Some of the detail really is incredible. Barter and his team have created nine separate rally stages in one, complete with surrounding scenery and crowds. It’s the little touches that make this model. A policeman eating a donut (or a bagel, depending on who you ask) on a street corner here, and a cat sunning itself among some vines there. It really is a masterpiece.

So, you might think that such a thing would be presented on a carefully sculpted table, or a fancy plynth perhaps? Nope, have a look below.

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See that? That’s a DS3 with a model on its head. And, for those of you wondering, the model comes in three parts and yes, at some point the DS3 was driven in with part of the model attached.

The stunning design has been on display at the SMMT during the past week, and will be touring Citroen dealerships around the country later in the year. My thanks to Citroen for organizing the sneak peek for journalists and tweeters as part of the ever popular Autotweetup events.

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Be proud of your Petrolhead

Here’s an idea – perhaps Petrolheads are the best drivers out there?

We’re the ones who will check our oil, water and tyre pressures religiously  We’re the ones who know where the limits of our talents lie because we’ve been there. We’ve taken our cars to the edge so we know where the edge is. I believe that a combination of those things, akin to being a Petrolhead, makes you a better driver.

Given the choice, I’d much rather take a Sunday drive with a person who likes and appreciates cars than someone who only sees their car as a tool. There are people out there who don’t car what they drive, who only see the car as a means of getting from A to B. That mindset worries me, because if they don’t care what they drive who’s to say they won’t have the same attitude on how they drive? Or on how well they maintain their cars?

I can already see that, even though I’ve only been doing track days for a year, the experience has already improved my driving. That means if and when something goes wrong and I start to slide, I’ll be ready because I’ll have experienced the same thing on the track.

In Moss’s Britain (a wonderful place where common sense reigns supreme) all drivers will be forced to participate in a minimum of three track days with the cars they’ll be driving after they pass the driving test. They’ll take their cars to the limit, learn how to deal with a skid, perfect a powerslide for good measure, and then be sent on their way. And you know what? I reckon that would make for safer drivers.

Just a thought.

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The need for (more) speed

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Question: What has 178bhp, a dry weight of just 450kg and can get from 0-60mph in under four seconds?

The answer is a Sabre.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that the Moss Motorsport venture has been a bit quiet of late. Ever since our Westfield Megablade limped back to the pits at Rockingham race circuit after a particularly vicious track day in December, and was diagnosed with a very ruined gearbox, we’ve been looking for something to fill the void.

The story so far then, is this. The Westfield was transplanted to Andy Bates, the motorcycle engine guru who has dealt with the car in the past and was probably the man most likely to fix whatever damage we’d caused. We were left with three choices: rebuild the gearbox, replace the engine with a salvaged one or scrap the car and sell it on without a working engine.

The third option was tempting, because in our own ways we all felt like we’d reached our limits with the Westfield. Don’t get me wrong it was a fantastic car, nippy and cheerful in the same way that a small fox terrier puppy can be.

The problem was that we now wanted a bulldog.

Andy’s Sabre would seem to be the perfect answer. Developed with the knowledge of his 20 years racing superbike engines, this track-only racer is light, strong and above all, fast. Just take a look at some of the Youtube videos below to see what I mean.

Looks good, no?

To take us back to the story, there was still one hurdle to overcome. You see, while the Sabre manages to rival its competitors in performance it is by no means cheap, and even with the money coming from selling the Westfield we’d still be short of the price tag.

Very handy then, that Moss Motorsport Team Leader, Financier, Chief Medical Officer and Test Driver Hadrian Moss has also decided to sell his Porsche. It’s a 993 911 Targa, if you’re interested, and the advert to sell it is currently listed on Pistonheads, here.

With the money coming from both sales, we reckon we’ll have enough to cover the cost of upgrading our track toy. Which is why just a few weeks ago at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, we signed on the dotted line. We bought a Sabre.

In just a few months we’ll take delivery of a proper racer. Here are some of the headline stats from the AB Performance website: A lightweight steel spaceframe chassis supports aero section steel wishbones on pushrod inboard suspension with tuning fork anti roll bars.

At the heart of Sabre is a high powered four cylinder four stroke superbike engine making over 170 bhp and complete with integral 6 speed sequential gearbox.

Power is transmitted to the wheels via bespoke driveshafts driving our own CNC machined billet alloy hubs, through a quaife limited slip differential.

Cast uprights house low friction wheel bearings and connect to the wishbones via our own billet toe control clevises.

A heavy duty 530 D.I.D X-ring chain is used to transmit power from engine to differential.

All of this engineering is then clad in our own LMP style lightweight self coloured GRP bodywork.

Instrumentation is Digidash as standard with optional datalogging.

Steering is achieved with a heavily modified 2.4 ratio quick rack mounted on billet carriers.

Gearchange system is our own billet anodised paddleshift for lightening quick up and down shifts and a flatshifter can be incorporated as an optional extra.

Four pot billet callipers on grooved discs and race pads ensure you can stop as fast as you accelerate”

We can’t wait for the car to be delivered, but first there’s the small matter of building it. Andy has started putting the first parts of the Sabre together in his workshop, and you’ll be able to follow each step of the journey here, and on the Moss Motorsport website. Or, if you’re a Twitterist, you can follow us on there, too.

One thing’s for sure – when that first track day arrives with the Sabre, we’ll finally find out whether the men can match the machine. Here’s hoping, eh?

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Motorsport – where legends are made

“Here is a man who raced not in spite of the danger, but because of it.”

Did you see the brilliant programme on Sir Stirling Moss last night?

If you haven’t, I suggest you close this blog right now and follow this link to watch it.

Sir Stirling Moss - "The greatest driver never to win the World Championship."

Sir Stirling Moss – “The greatest driver never to win the World Championship.”

Essentially the one hour special revolved around lifelong petrolhead, and past Commander of the USS Enterprise Sir Patrick Stewart following Moss’ journey from young racing talent to legend of the sport – taking in the cars, dramas and locations that transformed Sir Stirling’s life and career.

Readers of this blog will hopefully have stumbled upon my own encounter with Sir Stirling, although sadly not in person. I did, however, base one of my articles on him for the 2009 Sir William Lyons Award. You can find that article by following this link.

Not many people would have guessed that the young man who entered the Harrow Car Club Trial in London on March 2nd 1947 would go on to hold 16 pole position wins, and 24 podium finishes, but Moss was an underdog from the start and the people loved him for it.

Our own racer, the Westfield Megablade

Our own racer, the Westfield Megablade

In some small way, I like to think that I understand some of the thrills Sir Stirling so enjoyed on the racetrack. Sure, I’ve never set foot inside a Formula 1 racer, or even competed in the same way he did, but with our own trusty Westfield I would like to think we’ve at least scratched the surface of motor racing on our track days.

Of course motorsport today is on the whole a lot safer than it was in Moss’ era. There’s a very poignant moment in the programme where Moss and Stewart are retracing the route of the famous Mille Miglia in Italy in a Mercedes 300 Gullwing, and out of nowhere comes this fact that every year racers would die on the track. That’s astonishing, and it shows that in those days drivers really did have balls of absolute steel.

Even though safety standards have improved though, 2012 has not been without its own tragedies in the sport and the wider motor industry. Let’s not forget the late, great Sid Watkins or the legendary Caroll Shelby.

The thrill of motorsport is still strong with fans and going to watch a race is still considered by many to be one of the most exciting forms of entertainment available, but let’s never forget the danger and skill behind the show. I have a massive respect for racing drivers for their nerve, and I know it’s something I could never do.

People like Sir Stirling Moss are legends for a reason, and as Sir Patrick Stewart put forward last night: “Here is a man who raced not in spite of the danger, but because of it.”

 

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Moss Motorsport – the next step

“Our little yellow wasp has taught me a lot about driving fast, and I now genuinely feel more confident on the road because of what I’ve learnt on the track”

It was all going so well.

The car was running brilliantly. It was driving, nay flying around Rockingham Motor Speedway and all three drivers agreed it was one of the best track days we’d ever been to.

Doubts had surfaced over the previous weeks over whether we might have each gotten all the fun we could out of our Westfield, and dangerous talk had come up of what to replace it with in the long run. A Radical perhaps? Or something with a car engine instead of a bike?

Unfortunately, the decision was made for us.

On the last run of the day we spotted our plucky Westfield headed for the pits prematurely, and it was clear from the expression on my brother’s face that something was wrong. Indeed it was, very wrong as it turns out.

The long and short of it is this: we’ve broken the gearbox. Two smashed gears, with bits flying into the sump and untold damage also being done to the gear changing mechanism. The car has been subsequently dropped off to motorcycle engine guru Andy Bates, who has left us with a number of decisions to make.

There are three possible routes open to fix the problem and get Lady Westfield back on the road. Option one is to source a new gearbox from an older high mileage engine and bolt it onto our engine, hoping that nothing else goes wrong. Option two is to replace the engine with another, like-for-like, and option three is to replace the engine with another from the newer generation of Westfields. On the outside, this would seem to be the best way forward.

Newer Westfield engines have engine management systems, ECUs, and better power output. The downside is a big one, however, to the tune of almost £10,000. That’s because as well as the engine we’d also need a whole host of other components.

With it being his car and all, my Dad has made the decision. We’re just replacing the gearbox with a view to selling the car at some point in the New Year. That means we’ll be saying goodbye to Lady Westfield sometime in the next few months, which is a sad thought. Our little yellow wasp has taught me a lot about driving fast, and I now genuinely feel more confident on the road because of what I’ve learnt on the track.

It does raise an interesting question though, namely what to replace it with?

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Radical SR3 – a monster on the track

The aforementioned Radical is a good place to start, more specifically the SR3 version which is a monster on the track (the RS model can do a lap of the SPA circuit in 2:25 minutes) but can also still be driven on the road. It’s quite the looker too, and as Radical’s website states is: “as much at home flat-out through Eau Rouge, as it is providing passenger rides for your friends around the Nordschleife.”

However, with even used prices fetching around the £50,000 mark, this would be a very expensive mistake should the worst happen and we run out of talent on the track.

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Andy’s 170bhp Sabre

Another option is Andy Bates’ home-grown racer, the Sabre. Try these figures on for size: 170bhp, a six-speed sequential gearbox, 0-60 in less than four seconds and a dry weight of just 450kg. Interesting, no? And while I wouldn’t want to give away the pricing strategy you can rest assured that the Sabre is a damn sight cheaper than the Radical.

Who knows what the New Year will hold for Moss Motorsport, but I’m already in the process of arranging a seat fitting with Andy for January.

Vroom vroom!

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