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    FEATURE TEST WHAT ESTATE TO GET IN

    Bad pun. The Brabus 200T really isn’t bad at all. In fact it could become the car to be seen in if you want to visit Claridges and The Hippodrome in the same evening. David Vivian explains.

    BRABUS #Mercedes-Benz-200T / #Mercedes-Benz-200T-Brabus / #Mercedes-Benz-S124 / #Mercedes-Benz-W124 / #Mercedes-Benz-200T-S124 / #Mercedes-Benz-200T-Brabus-S124 / #Brabus / #1986 / #Mercedes-Benz / #S124

    Ever pulled up outside the Ritz in a Reliant Rialto? Or driven to the local chippie in a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo R? Then you'll know how it is to feel uncomfortable, ill at ease with your conscience, in danger of being mistaken for a complete dingbat.

    In certain circles, choosing the right car for the occasion is no less an art than knowing what to wear. A Silver Spirit for Ciaridges, a Lamborghini Jalpa for The Hippodrome, a Y10 Turbo for Langans - it comforts me that I possess this information. It goes without saying, however, that to fund an automotive wardrobe of the kind outlined requires the disposal of income on a scale even Jeffrey Archer might have to think twice about. But does the car for all seasons and all reasons really exist?

    You only have to clap eyes on the cautiously different Brabus Mercedes 200T to believe that it might. Based on the cheapest model in what is generally reckoned to be the finest range of estate cars yet offered to a discerning public, this car massages the boundaries of sensibility and good taste, but not to the point where they teeter on the brink of kitsch. It’s a fine line but one that Thomson & Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd of Cobham, Surrey firmly believe Brabus Autosport have no intention of transgressing.

    That’s why they have expanded their Treser (Audi) and MK Motorsport (BMW) go-and-glamour business to embrace the Bottrop-based German company's tuning parts and body kits, for which they are the sole UK representative. As designer labels go, Brabus Autosport of Kirchhellener Straße 246-259 might not have the ring of Calvin Klein or Gloria Vanderbilt but, for the drab Mercedes about town, its studied subtlety is finding favour as a sobering antidote to the “Slay ’em with Style” AMG approach or, worse, the “Slay ’em with gold lame upholstery and mink headlining” philosophy adopted by the Arab-loved Styling Garages outfit.

    Brabus conversions, as a rule, slay ’em with a keenly-observed sense of understatement - but that's not to say they don’t turn heads. The Brabus 500SEC C126 we tested a couple of years back was stunning-both in its appearance and the frequency with which its supercharged engine would go wrong and leave members of Motor's staff stranded. The 200T featured here, however, strikes a more sage balance between base-level utility (the interior of the starter T-car is left all but standard German taxi) and high-level fashion (an already handsome shape enhanced by skilfully-judged additions and deletions). A full house suspension conversion with shortened springs and tubby alloy wheels belies the mild state of engine tune which, with the help of twin carburetters and easier-breathing inlet and exhaust manifolds, is said to raise the modest peak outputs of Mercedes’ 1997 cc “four” from 97bhp and 127 Ib ft of torque to something more in line with the same company's injected 2.3-litre unit which develops 136 bhp and 153 lb ft of torque.

    Thomson & Taylor readily concede that the engine conversion only makes any sense to normal people as a stand-alone project. It costs £1730 fitted, which is several hundred pounds less than the difference in price between the £14,595 300T and the £16,795 330TB. When you consider that the cosmetic addenda of T&T's demonstrator lift the total price to a staggering £21,602 - or a couple of hundred pounds more than the standard 300TE S124 - then you might begin to wonder if such a vehicle can possibly justify its existence. As a mobile parts catalogue it does, say T&T. It is also the cheapest way of getting the desirable Brabus T-car look with an acceptable level of performance. In truth, the suspension changes and wide tyres endow even a tuned 200T with chassis capability way beyond the available performance, but without them you don’t get the purposeful ground-hugging stance. And think about this. If you based the whole conversion on a 300TE with standard engine, you’d be looking at the wrong side of £25,000.

    As for the work itself, it’s beautiful. The spoilers and skirts are superbly made and genuinely enhance the T-car’s majestic proportioning and clean lines. The engine is a success, too, feeling eager, free-revving and very smooth, though a top speed of 117 mph and 0-60mph in 11,3sec are probably a little short of T&T’s 230TE expectations. Best of all, however, is the handling. The shorter springs and tauter damping have brought a new precision in ride comfort.

    Brabus clearly know what they’re doing and their "Sport Suspension" is worth having by itself.
    As for the rest, how about lunch at Langan’s?
    Brabus Conversions are sold by Thomson & Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd, 42 Portsmouth Road, Cobham, Surrey XT11 1JB. Tel: (0932)64493.

    Ground-hugging appearance comes from lowered suspension and deep side skirts
    Cabin is largely untouched - roomy for four
    Ugly steering wheel is good to hold
    Real estate, carpet too
    Twin Webers help you breathe more easily

    PERFORMANCE

    MAXIMUM SPEEDS (4th gear) 117.1 / (5th gear) 112.9

    ACCELERATION FROM REST
    mph / sec / kph
    0-30 .... 3.6 0-20
    0-40 .... 5.6 0-40
    0-50 .... 7.8 0-60
    0-60 .. 11.3 0-80
    0-70 .. 15.3 0-100
    0-80 .. 19.7 0-120
    0-90 .. 26.5
    0-100 .. 36.8

    ACCELERATION IN 4th AND 5th
    mph 4th sec
    20-40 .. 11.6
    30-50 .. 11.5
    40-60 .. 11.9
    50-70 .. 12.6
    60-80 .. 13.0
    70-90 .. 13.9
    80-100 .. 16.9
    FUEL CONSUMPTION Overall 24.6 mpg / Touring N/A
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    IF LOOKS COULD KILL – ROAD TEST BRABUS TUNED C126 MERCEDES-BENZ

    ... the stunning supercharged #1985 #Brabus #Mercedes-Benz 500 #SEC #C126 ( #W126 based Coupe) really would do the 160 mph claimed for it. The reality was somewhat different, as David Vivian found…

    Wearing a tea towel on your head undoubtedly has its advantages. It almost certainly means you're an Arab. (If it doesn't, you should see a doctor.) As an Arab, life has probably dealt you an absurdly good hand. It's not that some of your countrymen aren't poor, just that most of them use #Sinclair C5s as business cards.

    Saudi oil. Black gold. Wealth beyond most people's dreams is an everyday reality. Only the very blackest sheep's eyes are sent to the palace kitchen. You employ a man whose sole purpose in life is to remove fluff from your belly button. Even your sunglasses are air conditioned. Sure, the desert's hot and no one makes stylish sandals, but you can't complain. Not seriously, anyway. No. scrub that. There is I one thing.

    Cars. Obscenely expensive f ones. Your friends buy them wholesale. When you roll into Riyadh on Fridays for a spot of late-night bartering, you can't move for Mercedes-Benz. The car parks are riddled with Rollers, p The odds of being crushed by a Cadillac are three-to-one on. You have 15 #Mercedes , too. Seven of them are upholstered in gold lame with matching Kevlar sun visors, the rest have mink carpets, gullwing ashtrays and integral face saunas. It's the sand. It gets in the pores.

    They say you can sell an oil-rich Arab anything under the desert sun so long as it's expensive enough. That's plain nonsense. A fortune doesn't make you less discerning; it makes you more discriminating. In an environment where the world's most prestigious and expensive cars are as affordable as a packet of cigarettes and, as legend has it, are discarded when the ashtrays get full, the S pursuit of exclusivity is a serious business. And where do Arabs go leather briefcases bulging, in search of that elusive style? Europe, home of 24-carat customising, where a no-holds-barred conversion can cost more than the car on which it is based.

    Of course, it isn't just Arabs who want to be different from their fellow millionaires. But there's little question that oil-money is the lifeblood of the companies that produce some of the more extravagant catalogues. The irony of all this is that the very concept of customising is anathema to the philosophy behind the Arabs' - beloved Mercedes. As we all know, Stuttgart's famous three-pointed star stands for studied subtlety and almost clinical understatement.

    Take the company's coupe flagship, the £34.965 500 SEC. It's elegant, it's fast, it's tastefully trimmed. But, above all it's modest. There are no spoilers, no flared body panels, no low-profile tyres and no fancy wheels. The factory wouldn't have it any other way. Yet it is this car the pzazz parlours really like to go to town on. At their worst — and would cite coach-builders Styling Garage of Pmnegerg, Germany as the most outrageously perverse perpetrators of clammy kitsch — the Arab specials are nightmarish and deeply disturbing. Tarmac-scraping nose spoilers, delta-wing tail spoilers and grotesquely bulging flanks are par for the course. Interior possibilities are limited only by the space available.

    A genuine improvement on the original clearly requires a lightness of touch far beyond most of the operators in the business. So when we first saw the #Brabus-500SEC . we rejoiced. When we heard that its 5-litre V8 was supercharged we picked up the phone. And when we were told that it would do 155 mph and 0-60 mph in 6.6 sec. we knew it was a car we had to drive. As Merc conversions go this one was subtle and promised to be quick.

    Fortunately, the people doing ‘ the telling were just down the road in Cobham and the pick-up was swiftly made. Central Garage is probably better known in association with ex- #Audi rally boss Walter Treser, whose tuning and body conversions for off-the-peg Audis have been featured in Motor on several occasions.

    But the Surrey-based VAG dealer has recently extended its conversion brief to include the Mercedes model range and, to this end. it has revived an old sleeping partner, #Thomson-&-Taylor ( #Brooklands ) Ltd. to import the German-made Brabus Auto-sport range of tuning and body parts and to handle the Treser agency.

    The Brabus #Mercedes-Benz-500SEC which Central has just completed makes no claim to be the ultimate #Mercedes-SEC (does such a beast exist?) but it does require an investment of £8576 on top s of the £34,965 Mercedes asks for the standard car. To save you doing the sum, that makes a grand total of £43,541 — cheap by Saudi standards, but by no means a snip if what you really want is a svelte German 2+2 with 150 mph performance. #Porsche , for instance, has just such a machine in the #Porsche-928 S2, and that will set you back just £35,524.

    A hefty £4600 of the conversion cost is spent under the bonnet, where an American-made #Paxton supercharger, boosting at a pressure of 4.3 psi (0.3 bar), is claimed to lift maximum power by 38.5 per cent from 231 to 320 bhp and peak torque by 31 per cent from 299 to 391 lb ft. The blower is calculated to add the sort of muscle Porsche and #Jaguar drivers had better respect. After all, a 0-100 mph time of 15.8 sec — a claim that beats the standard car's effort by a whopping 5.4 sec — is rapid enough to put an #Jaguar-XJ-S HE (16.8 sec) firmly in its place.

    So much for the power. Crest-fallen supercar drivers If would be sure to notice how low and sleek the Brabus looked as it swept by. Lowered suspension's part of the deal, and the shorter, stiffer springs are matched to revised-rate dampers. At the business end of the suspension system, superb 7J x 16 Rial lattice-type alloy wheels wear huge 225/50 VR 16 #Pirelli P7 tyres: £362 a corner for more grip and classy looks. The body kit which eats up the remainder of the conversion cost is remarkable for its low-key good taste and is engineered to a v very high standard. The front spoiler is deep enough to scrape the ground on sudden S inclines but looks so good — especially when ordered with the optional integral driving lights — that plain practicality suddenly seems a churlish demand. Equally deep side skirts continue the ground-hugging theme, running back to a valance-type underskirt at the rear. So far, so predictable.

    What really sets the Brabus off, however, is a boot lid which has been reskinned to incorporate a delicately fashioned lip at the back. It gives a slight kick to the tail profile which has a surprisingly positive effect on the way the whole car looks. The overall effect of the changes is stunning because it enhances the 500 SEC's good features without seeking to transform them. Nor is there any major surgery inside, just a chunky leather Brabus steering wheel and a polished wood gearknob for the auto transmission selector lever.

    Perhaps it was a little rash of Central to pass the Brabus on to us for test so soon after having completed it. Without dwelling unduly on the painful details, the car proved disastrously unreliable and thwarted all our attempts to record a meaningful set of performance figures for it. The first time we tried, the fuel pressure was set too low and the Brabus proved very little quicker than the standard car. On the second occasion, everything was looking good until two spark plugs burnt out and the radiator burst. That problem overcome with a replacement radiator and new plugs, the Brabus went even slower than before, improving on the standard car's 141.6 mph top speed by less than 2 mph. Between test sessions, the car displayed an alarming propensity for throwing off its engine belts, in one instance shedding four at the same time. When the Brabus was running well it felt impressive, with masses of low down torque, very solid mid-range, acceleration and outstandingly wieldy handling for such a big car though the stiffer suspension and low-profile - tyres had taken the ride firmly out of the luxury class.

    We'd like to be able to tell you that it matched the performance claims made for it, but it never gave us the chance. A pity, because the Brabus certainly looks the part and mechanical supercharging has been rather forgotten in the rush to bolt turbos on to anything that moves. Maybe when Central has sorted out the teething problems, we'll give it another shot.

    No missing the the Paxton supercharger: boost in at 4 psi it lifts power to 320 bhp.
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