The Goodwood Festival of Speed is exciting enough for the petrol blooded. But icing on the cake is driving there in a classic 1951 Mercedes-Benz 220 Cabriolet - extracted in pristine, near new condition from the Benz classic museum collection in Germany.
There were about 50 Benz classics on the drive from the old Brooklands race track in Weybridge near London to Goodwood and everyone wanted a spin in the 300SL Gullwing but we were happy with our lot.
It had the quintessential Benz face with big round headlights moulded to conform to the curve of the mudguards and a big, tall Benz mesh grille with the three pointed star on top. The easy to operate vinyl roof had curving landau style fixtures at the back as part of the folding system and there were seats for five.
Ashtrays in the back, no seat belts, rear hinged 'suicide’ doors, useable running boards, dipper switch on the floor, individual metal switches for each function, huge steering wheel, four forward gears and reverse “on the tree”, key and push button start, choke, blinkers on the horn ring, it was a real blast from the past to look at let alone drive.
Which we did for two hours through London suburbs and then out into the lush countryside of the home counties en route to Goodwood. Power comes from a 2.2-litre straight six petrol engine driving the rear wheels. It has adequate power and spins sweetly up to about 130kmh which we did on a motorway stretch - not a problem.
The ride is super plush and would put a good few modern luxury cars to shame. But the brakes were terrible - drums with no feel and not much bite. We quickly figured out why the wheel is so big – no power steering. It takes a fair old reef on the wheel at low speed to make a turn. It makes a man out of you.
Reverse parking is a challenge made easy with the roof off thanks to clear all round visibility. We struggled to find first a couple of times because it’s on a tight parallel gate to reverse – oops. It was a wonderful experience wafting along in the old timer until we got caught up in traffic congestion near the destination.
Radiator boiling is always an issue with old cars and became so in our Benz as the thermometer crept up to 100 degrees. We solved the problem by spearing off the main road for a quick high speed run along back roads. That got it down to 80 degrees and a margin of safety. The car attracted huge attention and we even started waving like royals in a motorcade heading for the hunt or some horsing around. Ha-ha.
After a while the discussion came around to absconding with the car and forgetting about Goodwood. It had strong appeal - a sunny Sunday morning, roof off, 22 degrees, quaint English villages beckoning, winding country lanes, birds tweeting, roast beef cooking. Sensibility prevailed; we went to Goodwood - fabulous.