MB C55, Ford C-Max, Chrysler T&C, F1 Comments and Observations and Other Car Talk In - Letter from Europe


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2004 Ford Focus C-Max

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Business End of 2005 Chrysler T&C

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2005 MB C55 AMG

Letter from Europe – September 2004 Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

After all the SUVs in the States it was interesting to remind myself that somehow Europeans manage to get from A to B in considerably smaller cars just as quickly and far more economically.

For the Hungarian Grand Prix Ford very kindly lent me a C-Max. Based on the award winning Focus it was sheer delight. Diesel, with a 6 speed manual gearbox I had no trouble getting to the Hungaroring or for that matter keeping up with some pretty quick cars on my way to Lake Balaton the day after what was arguably THE most boring Formula one race of all times. The C-Max had an optional DVD system and lots of other “goodies”, very similar to what one might find in an Explorer but just a little bit more compact, more manageable. No wonder Ford have already sold over 125 thousand of them in Europe.

I did of course spend some time in my trusted Volvo in the UK. I bought it in 1997 and it is still running like a train. In dark blue it looks elegant and is certainly is most comfortable on my regular visits to Woodcote Park, a totally magic hideaway just down the road from the world-famous Derby course at Epsom.

Before I left for the UK I had a chance to drive Chrysler’s much improved Town & Country wagon. 2005 Chrysler Town & Country; what a pleasant surprise!

When I met DaimlerChrysler CEO Jurgen Schrempp in Monaco the other day I couldn’t quite understand what he was so happy about. Positively beaming one might say. Well, having spent a week in the 2005 Chrysler Town & Country I know. Things are getting better after several years in the doldrums. Maybe it took longer than it should have done but finally the synergy that all the talk was about at the time of the take-over ( nobody calls it a merger any more) it beginning to manifest itself.

First of all the styling of the T&C is excellent. Secondly the build quality is better than ever. Thirdly with all the gizmos such as electric sliding doors, a CD player for the children and all mod cons for the adults I cannot think of a moiré pleasant way to drive across America with a large family. Chrysler came up with all sorts of stowage places under the seats, the whole thing is one neat package. The 6 cylinder 3.8 liter engine is perfectly adequate and partly because of the aerodynamic shape I managed to get well over 20 miles per gallon. Cruising at 70 miles per hour is just fine, the T&C is silent at that speed and gives the impression of going on for ever.

What is particularly appealing is that the total price with all the extras is just 2000 dollars over the base price of 35 thousand dollars.

On the racing front Mchael Schumacher duly won his 7th title as world champion, it is just a shame that he had very little opposition. Had I been one of the multi million dollar sponsors at McLaren or Williams I would have been very upset as these once famous teams became also-rans all the way until Spa where finally the car and engine stayed together enabling Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen to show what he could do . The interesting thing about F1 is that for some reason or another (mainly TV coverage I suspect) countries are going crazy trying to get one of these races, boring though they might be.

Take the Chinese for instance. They are giving a small fortune to Bernie Ecclestone for the rights and for good measure threw 300 million dollars at the track as well. Empty seats? Not in China, but to be on the safe side the Government bought 75 thousand of the 150 thousand available. Can’t quite see that at Indy or Silverstone, can you?!

Anyway, there is a huge row brewing between F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone and the manufacturers who would like a bigger slice of a very big cake. We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars by the way. This row will run and run but I will try and keep you up to date. By the way it does not have any bearing on the US GP which will, I am sure, run forever at Indy. A great circuit, great people, great hospitality and amazing steaks for the hungry fans.

I’ve just said good-bye to a truly great automobile, the C55 AMG. To a casual observer it is just another C class Merc but boy oh boy, are they in for a surprise! Coming home on 101 a somewhat over-excited young man caught up with me and decided to follow about 10 inches from my bumper. Not for long as I floored the 5439 cc hand built V8 and within seconds his Subaru was just a tiny spec on the horizon.

For the uninitiated I should explain that AMG-now fully owned by Daimler/Chrysler is the company’s answer to BMW’s M range. Quite how they will fare against Munich’s brand new V10 engine M5 remains to be seen but what an exciting comparison that is going to be!

The 2005 C class in not cheap at 60 big ones and you have to be a. wealthy and b. a keen driver. There is absolutely no point in getting it if you’ll never exceed 55 miles per hour, in fact they shouldn’t even sell it you because it would be such a waste. AMGs are in limited production and in a perfect World each and every one should go to someone who can appreciate them. The handling is outstanding, the Pirelli P Zeroes are the same that are fitted to Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the acceleration is mind-blowing and the comfort-for four people is fine. Not great in the back but perfectly adequate. The trunk swallowed two huge golf bags with ease and all in all there is little to complain about . There are silly little niggles-the back of the seat might be too hard for some drivers and the instruments are so-so. The –speedometer and rev counter are fine but the others are hard to see. Dark grey dials on a black background are not what this great car deserves. Last but not least there are some people who don’t think that there is no connection between everyday cars and racing cars are wrong. The C55 is a classic example of how racing improves the breed. In Germany touring car racing is huge and many of the C55’s components were developed there. For Formula One fans the biggest thrill will of course be the paddle shifts under the steering wheel. Although on the C55 these are not exactly paddle shaped the function of the two levers is still the same- up changing on the right and down changing on the left. Or for the lazy ones there is always good old “D”. A great car, a perfect substitute for a 911 for someone who does not want to give up the thrill but has to make allowances for the children. Mercedes have had some quality problems in the States, I must say that the C55 never missed a beat, went like a train, well, actually more like an express and I was really sorry to see it go.

That’s it from Europe for this month…thanks for TACH’n along!

Andrew

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