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Hi all, as you know I got back a week ago from Europe, where we did a 23 day tour around Germany and France in a borrowed 2000 Peugeot 406, with automatic gearbox.

It would have been nice to be in the B 200, as it's got way more room inside than the 406 and is better built too not to mention a lot safer, but then again the loaner car was free so one should't look a gift horse in the mouth as they say. Or is it: beggars can't be choosers? ;) Had the stars aligned differently, we could have done a European delivery of our B 200, but we needed one 6 months earlier. Oh well.

So we were visiting friends in both Germany and France, but we also did some 4700 km of driving - mostly around France, as our French friends were at their holiday home near Biarritz. French immersion for the whole family (well my two older kids weren't there, they came to Paris later) when we stayed with them in their home, located 1600 m from the Atlantic Ocean, in the Landes area. It and the Basque country is beautiful, we really ought to spend more time there.

But I am ahead of myself.

The first thing we did after leaving our German friends' home was drive to Strasbourg to pick up a Canadian friend from Ontario, then turn around and drive back into Germany so we could go to the Mercedes-Benz Museum near Stuttgart.

The museum was fantastic, superbly presented and containing interesting historical displays, including a bit about Daimler-Benz's support of and industrial collaboration with the Third Reich. Refreshing openness! The cars were beautifully displayed with a type of light that rewarded people who turned off their flash units - the colours on film or digital images was perfect! There were some of the expected exotics but also a good dose of the common too: a 200 D taxi in that curious German taxi colour (by the way a hell of a lot of the current taxis in Germany are B Classes), many trucks, buses and Unimogs, some big cars with small engines. I think this selection of vehicles would be an eye opener for some US M-B owners who may be under the false impression that Mercedes does not make cars for the common person, only for the elite or aspiring elite.

Good old Germany; whenever I am planning a trip there I think to myself: this will be the year the Greens will get their way and impose a 100 km/h speed limit on the Autobahnen, but once again this concern was unfounded. There are limits on a fair number of roads, some of which are communicated through LED signs that activate depending upon traffic conditions, but a lot of the AB is still unrestricted. We profited from the latter; the A 81 from Würzburg to Heilbronn is a well-known "racetrack" in the words of my German friend. We cruised at 170-190 km/h and touched 215 km/h on a downhill bit. The car would do 202 "officially" so the hill was needed to put it over the edge. Fortunately the engine was not even working that hard at speeds over 215, with the RPM around 5000. I didn't get any photos of that speed run. More on that later.


The museum entry was free to me and my wife because we are MBCA members (I saved 16 Euros there) and I only had to pay 4 Euros for my 14 year old daughter! At the end of the museum there is a showroom with the modern cars on display. With MWSt (German sales tax of 19%) included, a B 170 with a couple of options was up close to 30,000 Euros, so we are getting a SMOKING deal on the B-Class in Canada. We got some English borchures, ate some chocolate cake with coffee at the cafeteria and then drove back to Strasbourg. That same evening we had a dinner at a one star Michelin restaurant, Eric Westermann's Buerehiesel (Alsatian for Bauerhaus, or farmer's house), in a 16th century building relocated a hundred years ago to the beautiful Orangerie park near the European parliament. The food was superb, and at 65 Euros a person, it should be. We were there with a few smart car club members from this side of the pond....more later.

I saw LOTS of B-Classes in Germany, about half of which were debadged. Most common there and in France was the B 180 CDI. This car looks HUGE in European traffic, but in Canadian traffic it seems small-ish.

I had prearranged a smart factory tour at Hambach France for April 16th, with a lunch there as well. The surprising thing is that 8 other people form North America (one from the USA, the rest from Canada) decided to join us on this tour, which we announced a year ago on the club smart car forum! So we did the tour (what a fantastic factory, no smokestacks, no dirt, spotless inside, natural light everywhere). smart car demand worldwide is at an all-time high and the company became profitable in 2007, after numerous bad management decisions about models previously were written off. While eating lunch at the factory, a reporter from the Républicain Lorrain newspaper (also pre-arranged) interviewed me in French about why these crazy Canadians would come to Hambach for a tour. I explained that we were on a pilgrimage and that was the headline on the article when it appeared in the April 20th edition of the paper! Along with a photo of our group in front of the factory's smart tower and with a huge Canadian flag....

The French Autoroutes are in many ways better engineered and laid out than their German equivalent, but they suffer from punishing tolls and a 130 km/h speed limit that is rigourously enforced through static photo radar and handheld laser. Despite my dislike of the Autoroutes, we drove about 2000 km on them and paid the price! We needed to get from A to B fairly soon.

On the way we visited Beaune (bought some Gevrey-Chambertin 2005, a wine that wants to be aged, as it was one of the best vintages ever), visited the Hôtel-Dieu, drove to Orange and saw once again (last time: 1988) the best Roman theatre in existence and the triumphal arch of similar provenance. We stopped at Oppidum d'Enserune near Narbonne for a dose of more archaeology and then Carcassonne. Pau was very nice too, a place I will definitely visit again.

Our visit in the Landes region was briefly described above. We nipped into Spain for some cheap fuel (if 1.25 Euros per L for 98 octane is "cheap") and then went back to their place after a day of enjoying the Pyrenées and a cave in some karst rock near Spain. Fuel was about 1.35 - 1.40 per L for 98 Octane at French supermarkets (the only sensible place to buy fuel in France).

We picked up our other two kids from CDG once in Paris. What a dump that airport is, it is falling apart (Terminal 2 at least). We went right into Paris with them to prevent them from going to sleep at noon. Had a great time!

Paris is great, I love it more each time I go (tenth time in the last 24 years). The cars in the Mercedes showroom on the Champs-Elysées were all locked, which seems odd as I think I recall (maybe incorrectly) that they weren't in 2005 when I was last there. The new version of the B Class ("facelifted") is not much different than the old and the rear window, contrary to what I read here, is apparently the same as before - I can see no difference at all in the hatch. The centre armrest in the front looks a lot better and I hope it can be retrofitted to our car.

While in Paris we drove to Poissy to see the Villa Savoye, one of Le Corbusier's finest, and Versailles, where I hadn't been since 1971 with Boy Scouts. We also had a get-together at night in a Brasserie with 4 members of the French Club Peugeot 404, fine people, two of whom I have known for nearly 20 years. They kindly drove us back to our hotel (we were using the Métro) in their sacrificial Urban Assault vehicles, one Fiat Punto with every panel dented, and the other a very old Peugeot 505 diesel with 500,000 km and at least 5 dents in every panel. These fellows are too smart to bring a classic 404 Cabriolet or Coupé into the melée that is Paris traffic. I drove the 406 there twice this time, and rounding the Arc de Tripmphe is a complete gas. Got that one on video. Laugh a second. Really!

We then took two days on wonderful D and N roads, driving to Metz (pronounced "mess"), but it is not messy at all. I love back roads in France, there are little delights around every corner and the people are marvellous.

I lived in Metz from age 6 weeks until age 3, so I was retracing where we used to live and where my late father worked when he was posted there. I love French cooking, but the patisseries have me in their devil grasp. My son too, though he can get away with downing 4 or 5 of these a day with no sign of weight accumulation. Well, he is only 17. I can't eat that many, but those I do go straight to my waist.

We visited our French friends again, those whom we had seen a week earlier in the Landes area, who were now back in Metz, had a typically delicious 3 hour French lunch at their place, said our goodbyes and then drove back to Germany and our German friends' place. The French know how to live WELL. It was on this drive back, on the German A 61, that we crested at 222 km/h, with my 19 year old daughter on the video camera to prove it ;) This car got 18 km/h on the Renault Scénic 1.9 dCi we had the last time we were there in 2005. Boo yeah!

We wound up the trip with a visit to the Nürnberg Tiergarten (Zoo), home of Flocke the Eisbär (snowflake the polar bear cub). The Germans are gaga about Flocke, which is ironic because although a bear is in Berlin's coat of arms, bears were hunted to extirpation in Germany in the middle ages. Flocke sure is cute, and she is helping raise huge money for needed zoo upgrades.

One last day of shopping in Würzburg and we then were on the airplane home, with a set of stream green front fenders for my smart in the cargo hold. These were put on my car the day after we got home. Look sweet without the huge side markers that they drilled into the car for Canada!

I love Europe and I am already scheming a way to get back there soon, either for the IAA in 2009 or Le Mans in 2010. We shall see.

Thanks for reading.
 

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Nice write up Mike seems like you had a great time. That M/B museum sounds good hope to give that a visit in the autumn.

Sounds to me that the French are getting rather like us with their speed camera obcession. Di d you see many cameras there on this trip ?? Year before last we saw about 3 in about 2,000 miles (a lot lo which was Autoroute) but they were clearly marked with the Hasselblad type camera sign. As stated previously both cameras & the signs are absolutely everywhere in the UK
 

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Splendid write-up Mike 👍 and a wonderful finishing touch with those photos.
 

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Mike, great story and photos - seems you had a wonderful time. :)
Your story brought back many memories of our total of 18 years living in Germany and reminded me to plan a return trip, to visit many friends and the German side of the family while I can still enjoy it.
Did MB give any indication of if or when they will sell the 200 CDI in Canada?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Hi all,

I wasn't able to speak with anyone who would know about the B-class CDI issue - just a sales lady who was able to get us brochures! I too would have considered the CDI had it been available when we got our car, but now that we have the B 200, it'd be difficult to construct a case for trading ours in for a big loss and getting a CDI, on economic grounds anyway. It would be nice to have the choice though. On the CO2 front, I'd have to average 6.6 L/100 km in a CDI to produce as little of the greenhouse gas as I do at 7.5 L/100 km in the petrol-engined car.

The static speed cameras in France are all forewarned with a large sign (smaller in the fast lane ;)) which does give the attentive driver a chance to slow down. They are also marked on Michelin's yellow atlas of France. But we did see a few speed traps of the old-fashioned kind. I came to the conclusion the last time we were there (2005) that it'd be better to not speed. The Gendarmes will confiscate the car and suspend your license if you are going fast enough. This happened to some British auto journalists a while ago, and their loaner Lambo was impounded. Way to go boys!

Traveling with 5 was a little expensive, as we had to rent two hotel rooms each night, but the money spent was well worth it and we have another series of experiences to last our kids an entire lifetime! Who knows how long air travel will remain affordable, with oil prices the way they are....?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Here are a couple more shots from the museum. The space frame is that of a 300 SL.
 

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Nice trip. But you clearly forgot to visit the beautiful Netherlands !!!
And I visited Vancouver Island last year......
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
There was a plan to do that, a quick sweep into Zuid-Limburg where I used to live, but we ran out of time and decided to take country roads across France instead. It would have only been a 3 hour visit anyway!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Interesting offer on ebay (in Germany) for a brochure on the B class Taxi version this tallies with Mike's remarks about seeing a lot of Bs used as Taxi's whilst in Germany
Cool, I should have asked for one of those when I was in Stuttgart....maybe my friend can get me one at his local dealer. 5 Euros? Nein Danke!
 

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Mike in the 2nd pic from the top; is it a yellow-orange C111 Wankel, if my memory serves me right? Quite a few write-ups on it long ago.

On your next trip there, can you adopt me so I can see those beauties in real life..... Please!!;) Great pictures!!
Cheers
 

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I sat in one of those Gull Wing Mercs in the mid sixties (it was for sale, second hand, in the girlfriend of the days dads car showroom) little did I know at the time what the value of one of those would be now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
C111, that's it. A great-looking car. They should have made a production version with a V8.
 

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That C-111 made great power with the rotary concept, but wasn't great on fuel consumption or oil consumption.
They do like to rev and with a lot less moving parts, it's nice to see Mazda(RX-8) has had a good run with it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
B 200 taxi

I took this shot in Würzburg on May 2nd. B taxis were everywhere!

 

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Now there's a colour we don't see very often! (thankfully)....My bug was Savanna Beige also.

No helmets on the cyclists. Scary!!
 
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