Cones, cones and more cones. They seemed to fill even the vast glass expanses of the brand new S-class Mercedes limousine, twirling hither and thither as though an M25 madman had been given his head. Yet the apparently huge Mercedes whipped through them three seconds faster than I could manage in a manual 190E…
The occasion was a British edition of the Guido Moch safer driving school, tuition that normally costs £1000 and stretches over two days. Moch is Daimler-Benz’s long serving chief development driver, possibly the finest road driver in the world, certainly one of the most experienced in varied conditions. We experienced half a day in a bid to master the devilish intricacies of The Snake, Mickey Mouse, and various slaloms (from 20 to 90 mph), skid pad or wet avoidance/ABS braking courses. All featured cones and surfaces that varied from ice to nice. Just when you thought you had the hang of that, they threw in the popular film stunt of a full 360-degree turn in an automatic 190 (no handbrake, just steering lock and throttle).
Feeling smug, having set a few fastest times, despite using a different car for each trial? Then the Mercedes instructors have a final probe into your overall abilities. They stitch four of the key tests together at the Fen End Lucas test track outside Warwick. You are issued a two-litre 190E automatic and the watch starts ticking. Under pressure, your first job is a minor slalom to charge into a coned garage. Wrestle from drive to reverse and twirl the car from forward motion to a complete 360 degree spin and exit, with drive reselected.
Then it’s slalom time again — where do all these cones breed? Now charge into the maze they call Mickey Mouse, so intricate that you have to keep green colour cones right, standard issue red and white, left. Emerge dizzy and there is some serious top gear motoring to be done, a flat out right at 105/110 mph followed by a tightening left. The 90 mph chicane follows (superb in the V12 S-class, experienced earlier).
Then it is time to tackle half of a Snake track, one that places a premium on second gear slides to balance the car without braking. A fast exit here led to more 90-100 mph motoring, cleverly followed by the slippiest of final 35 mph braking manoeuvres into the final halt. I had been pipped until the final 10s, but my closest adversary clipped a cone and handed me victory; less than a second covered nearly four minutes’ exertion…
Those more seriously interested in having their chauffeurs trained to avoid terrorist attacks with the full Hockenheim or Stuttgart-based courses, or those who simply want to receive tuition of a type that does not exist in my UK experience, should apply to their local Mercedes-Benz dealer for further details. Meanwhile the quotes from Guido Moch abounded all day. I particularly liked: “We will never make a finer car than the S-class of today. The next car must be smaller, but for me this is the finest we ever made, because a comfortable driver is the safest driver. And no car provides more comfort and more response than the new S-class.”
That sounded contentious until I vainly tried to beat the S-class time through the tight slalom courses with a manual 190E. As we left, the good Guido quipped: “Drive only at 20 per cent under your personal limit, and that of your car.” He looked a bit dubious at this point. I had a BMW 318is Coupe to drive away in. I did so briskly, before any further comments were made. However, I would swear I could still hear their laughter, miles down the M40. J W