Mercedes unleashes its AMG hotrods on Mt Panorama, and PAUL GOVER goes for the ride
SCRATCH Mount Panorama and it oozes blue and red. Bathurst has been the traditional Ford-against-Holden battlefield since the 1960s, despite occasional upset wins by Jaguar and Nissan and even Volvo and BMW.
But Mount Panorama shone a bright shade of silver when MercedesBenz took control of the track for the most ambitious new-car event in the history of Australian motoring.
It closed the course for four days and rolled out a master-blaster line-up of its hotrod AMG models.
Together, they cost more than $7 million and each had the ability to crack 220km/h down Conrod Straight and thunder across the top of the mountain at better than 150km/h.
It was a big call. A brave move. Why did it happen?
‘‘We want to emphasise that Mercedes-Benz is the first choice in luxury cars,’’ Mercedes-Benz Australia managing director Horst von Sanden says.
To prove the point, he signed a cheque for more than $2 million, assembled a battle group of more than 100 people, then approved a 35-car line-up for Mount Panorama.
It included almost every AMG Mercedes model from the all-new C63 to the four-wheel-drive ML55.
There was no sign of the latest SL or the super-fast 65 models, but a rare CLK63 Black Series car was on display in the pits.
It sold, despite costing more than $300,000, less than half a day into the program. And what a program. The plan was simple: get a bunch of fast cars together, strap race drivers into the passenger seats to ensure some control, then open the track and let them loose, with mechanics on standby to renew tyres, brakes and fuel, and some discreet salespeople to take deposits on the customer and dealer drive days.
But, really, it was a case of lighting the fuse and standing a safe distance from the action.
AMG Benzes are brilliant cars — even if the ML is a hulk and the CLK convertible flexes — and Bathurst is a brilliant strip of bitumen.
Put them together and you get a full day of action and a chance to cut loose in cars that are usually far, far better than they can prove on sub-standard Australian roads with strict speed limits.
From the driver’s seat the AMG event was a hoot. Fast, fun and challenging.
Every one of the AMG cars felt quick, something you don’t often experience on a racetrack, and the run over the top of the mountain was always a challenge with a wonderful payback in adrenalin and smile time.
Which of the AMG cars was our favourite? The S was surprisingly quick for a limo, but too soft and keen to upchange to provide much fun.
The ML was something to avoid, the CLK convertible was too blustery with the top down and floppy over the mountain, but the CLS was surprisingly quick, despite a lot of compliance in the steering.
The CLK was a challenge and a bit of a handful, with a lot of pace everywhere, and laps in the C63 were as frustrating as rewarding when the co-pilots kept the traction control on full nanny setting.
So our favourite was the E-Class AMG. It felt genuinely fast on the straights and super-responsive over the top. In some ways, including its V8 bellow and mid-corner grip in the quicker turns, it felt like a roadgoing V8 Supercar.
Which is exactly what Benz wanted. And why it was prepared to spend so much to get owners, dealers and journalists into the Mount Panorama experience.
Every lap in every car was special in some way, even for someone like me who has raced several times at Mount Panorama.
So it was wins all round, even without a checkered flag or a V8 Supercar in sight.
Fast and furious: heading into the main straight.
Fast-tracked: in this digital image, a Mercedes-Benz AMG leads a pack of Supercars down the mountain at
Deceptive Benz: the Mercedes range makes for an impressive line-up at Bathurst.