2003 Aston Martin
Aston Martin

Ferrari
Ferrari 456

2004 Bugatti Veyron
2004 Bugatti-16-4-03-45h Veyron

Aston Martin Vanquish, Ferrari 456, Mercedes SL, BMW 7 Series, Bugatti Veyrons, Volvo, F1, and other thoughts from The Continent, in November's Letter from Europe

Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

Phew. Have I been driving some great cars of late!

The highlight of the summer had to be an encounter between Ferrari’s 456 and Mr. James Bond’s Aston Martin Vanquish.

The 456 is an extremely quick gentleman’s carriage. It does not look that special, with all the latest styling copies coming from Hyundai, Toyota and elsewhere until you see that famous Prancing Horse you cannot be certain.

Once you are inside it you most certainly can. Those other guys do not do 175 miles per hour and do not have beautiful leather inside.

The only let-down was the appalling audio system. You could argue that people who drive Ferraris don’t listen to anything other than the engine but in a traffic jam? Anyway, I suppose anyone who can put down over 200 thousand dollars for a car can afford a new radio although, to be fair, they shouldn’t have to.

The Vanquish is a brute. Also a V12, also very, very quick but this beast has in your face, get out of my way aggression written all over it.

While the Ferrari was not immediately noticed so lesser cars tended to stay in front, once I got into the Aston it was like the sea parting in front of Moses!

Don’t look for any change this side of 200 big ones here either.

Whether you need either of these cars I am not certain . The reason: the amazing Mercedes SL, a steal-compared to the Ferrari or the Aston at well under 100 thousand dollars.

Yes, of course it is an awful lot of money but less than half of what you pay for the supercars.

Having driven all three I am certain that 90% percent of the customers would be perfectly happy in the Mercedes. It is supremely comfortable, quick, beautiful and easy to drive. It has to be, judging by the number of SLs lined up outside the Ivy on Robertson in LA.

Most of these SL’s were driven by ladies who do lunch, so let me stick my neck out before the feminists hit me on the head, most of the ladies I saw there would have crashed the Ferrari and the Aston on the first corner…six gears shift on the floor in the 456, pedal shifts in the Aston…sorry, I cannot quite see it.

The SL’s steel roof which disappears in the trunk in 7 seconds is a magnificient engineering tour de force and also an absolute show-stopper.

Daimler have finally realised that the way to save Chrysler is to send across some German hardware and to have a huge purge on build quality. More and more Chryslers in the future will have Mercedes engines and gearboxes-not a minute too soon. I am conviced that Chrysler would be a footnote in automotive history had it not been for Daimler. As for a merger of equals-what a joke. Still, it provides employment for hundreds of thousand of people all over the World and for that alone it has to be a good thing.

By the way if you are not happy with the SL and want more power, bigger brakes, more excitement, there is something special on the way.

Mercedes have teamed up with Team McLaren of Formula One fame, and together they are building a brand new plant for the brand new car in Surrey, England.

Designed by my old mate Gordon Murray it promises to be the most technologically advanced car ever built. Just like Michael Schumacher was seen at the wheel of the new Forza in his new role as a test driver so former champion Mika Hakkinen was also seen testing the new dream car. We should see it sometimes in 2003.

BMW are riding the crest of a wave right now in spite of some pretty critical press reports concerning their new 7 series car.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in it recently and still cannot come to terms with it. Yes, what you cannot see, the great engine, transmission, suspension are great. The trouble is what you can see.

I would love to get a letter from an owner/reader who truly loves his 7 series including the iDrive, the bells, the gearshifts and all the other annoying features.

As I’ve said in the latest issue of Bimmer magazine it looks as though the bits you can’t see were designed by the A team and what you can see by the reserves…and yet it sells.

I can only assume that buyers don’t take any notice of specialist publications and that even if they cannot work out the iDrive are too embarrassed to take the car back.

The Mini on the other hand is a sell-out with waiting lists galore. Some dealers have marked the prices up by several thousand dollars but that I think will not last for ever. In the meantime stand by for all sorts of Mini derivatives.

The Volvo S60 was our faithful traveling companion during the traditional dash to the Monaco Grand Prix. Being dark blue and not particularly flashy we cruised at a relatively safe- from the speeding tickets point of view - at a steady 99 miles per hour.

I loved the fact that it had a built in phone. I took the little SIM card out of my mobile phone, popped into the a little slot on the dashboard and hey presto we have a functioning telephone with all my numbers in it -fully hands free.

The Volvo also swallowed all our luggage with ease and was 100% reliable.

I cannot wait to drive the new Truck of the Year Volvo SUV, the first viable rival to BMW’s all-conquering X5. Motor Trend magazine just made it their SUV of the year. Their show on the Speed channel, Motor Trend TV, shows some great footage of the Volvo as well as that of its rivals.

It took a while but the car making huge strides in the United States is the Subaru WRX. Closely based on the sensatonal rally car it is selling to people who really understand good cars at sensible prices.

I am waiting to drive the new Nissan “Z”, all reports to date have been highly favourable. I’ve seen pictures of its convertible prototype-that company is really on a roll.

There is a great deal of phoney excitement surrounding Grand Prix racing these days. TV ratings have dropped and the multi-millionaire team owners started panicking. Heaven forbid that they should have to sell their yachts or private jets. In the meantime they’ve just cancelled the Belgian Grand Prix, the last remaining great circuit on the calendar. There just wasn’t enough money in little ol’ Belgium so it had to make way for, wait for it, Bahrain.

As for how manufacturers “have” to be in Formula One racing to succeed is just about the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard.

Look at Peugeot, the French automaker. They very sensibly pulled out of F1, concentrated on rallies and are making a fortune from selling sensible, mainly small cars. Look at Hyundai and Kia, the fastest growing makes in the States. Are they in F1? heck no.

Rallying in fact is rapidly becoming the “in” motor sport with huge following all over the World, especially now that TV coverage has improved dramatically.

Finally hands up if you’ve heard of something called the Bugatti Veyron. It is a car made by Volkswagen just like Lamborghini and Bentley.

Being the sort of naive person that I am it took just a few newspaper articles to convince me that these expensive supercars were doomed in these days of economic hardship with some shares crashing from 160 dollars to a few cents within a couple of years. Silly me! It transpires from the 400 richest Americans issue of Forbes that you do not cut the mustard under 500 million dollars. $450 mill and you are not even a near-miss!

That made me realise that there is still an awful lot of money in the World and why Bugatti managed to sell the first year’s production of the Veyrons (1000bhp) even though they won’t start making them until 2004. The cars will sell for a neat 1 millions a piece and the deposits of 250 thousand dollars are already in the bank!

I would respectfully suggest that you could have nearly as much fun in the new 350Z from Nissan and buy a house on the difference, but then I suppose rich folks are different from you and I.

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