2003 Frankfurt Show, Part III

September 9, 2003

2003 Frankfurt Auto Show Index by TCC Team (9/8/2003)

Mercedes-McLaren Partner for SLR

2004 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

2004 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

It’s been a long time coming, but Mercedes-Benz has finally shown the super sports car it has developed in collaboration with Formula 1 constructors McLaren. It’s a 200 mph-plus supercar with a supercharged 5.5-liter V-8 that will carry it from zero to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds. Interestingly, nowhere in the Mercedes press material does it mention price – this is going to be one of those products where if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.

Officially it’s the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, but Mercedes had better get used to it being referred to as the Mercedes-McLaren – or worse, the McLaren-Mercedes. McLaren originally had the lead role in developing the car, and they will produce it in a purpose-built factory in England, but as the car has progressed through it lengthy gestation period the role of Mercedes’ F1 partners has been overlaid with a healthy coat of Mercedes technology. The F1 influence is still there, with a body made almost entirely from carbon-fiber and ceramic brake discs, but as the project has progressed the emphasis has changed from today’s Grand Prix cars to the Mercedes-Benz sports racing cars of the 1950s. Hence the emphasis on the ‘SLR’ name, which comes from the German words for ‘sports, light, racer’ that were applied to the legendary gullwing Mercedes sports cars of the mid-Fifties. The new car has swing-up doors that are reminiscent of those of fifty years ago, but there is also a nose treatment that puts one in mind of current F1 cars. A feature that’s straight out of the SLR history book is an airbrake that raises itself behind the cockpit to aid high-speed braking.

One aspect of the new SLR that should approach F1 standards is safety. It is fitted with new kneebags and sidebags, adaptive airbags, and seatbelt tensioners, and its body structure is built to the highest crash-test standards.

Paul Halata, CEO of MBUSA is enthusiastic about the new car, but it will present him with problems – of the best possible kind. The U.S. will receive around 100 of the worldwide annual production of approximately 500 SLRs, and that’s not enough according to Halata. “America is the market for it” he said, pointing out that in spite of low speed limits, Americans buy more ultra-high performance sports cars than any other market. He is therefore negotiating with head office in Stuttgart to get a bigger slice of the cake. For those who want to join the line for the 100 – 100-plus if Halata has his way – he says the U.S. price will be $400,000–ish. He would not be drawn on what “ish” implied.

Lambo Builds Racing Murcielago

2004 Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT

2004 Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT

Lamborghini used the show to announce the fact that it is going racing with its Murcielago coupe – and that it will build cars for customers at a price of 500,000 Euros (approx. $500,000) per car. To comply with international Grand Touring racing regulations and those that govern the Le Mans 24-Hour race, the coupe will be converted from the four-wheel drive of the production version to rear-wheel drive only. The fact that the car will be eligible for Le Mans means that it will also be able to compete in the American Le Mans (ALMS) endurance race series in the U.S.

Developed by race specialists Reiter Engineering, the Murcielago R-GT will use the 6.0-liter V-12 engine of the production car, fitted with the air restrictors are required for the racing rules. Lamborghini’s plan is to sell cars to customers – many of whom have already inquired about the possibility of a race-prepared car – and to provide trackside service at races.

As a preparation for next year, when the first R-GTs will be delivered, Reiter Engineering will race the development version of the car in two international GT races, at Estoril in Portugal and Monza in Italy, in October.

Audi Follows on its Race Success

2004 Audi Le Mans quattro

2004 Audi Le Mans quattro

Audi won the Le Mans 24-Hour race three times between 2000 and 2002, so it’s not surprising that the company’s latest concept car capitalizes on the fact. The Audi Le Mans quattro unveiled in Frankfurt is a compact mid-engined sports car powered by a twin-turbocharged 5.0-liter V-10 producing 610 hp. The body construction follows race-car practice, with wishbone suspension and carbon-fiber body panels, but since this is a road car, it also incorporates Audi production-car principles in the form of the company’s aluminum spaceframe construction. The result is a low overall weight of 1530 kg or 3360 lb. Combine that with a 610 horsepower and the figures are very impressive: zero to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds and on to the German benchmark of 200 kph (124 mph) in 10.8 seconds.

Subaru Takes a Legacy Power Trip

2004 Subaru Legacy 3.0R

2004 Subaru Legacy 3.0R

Subaru, which announced a new version of the Legacy in Japan earlier this year, has added two new engines to the range. The first is a 2.5-liter, an enlarged version of the 2.0-liter flat-four that is the mainstay of the Subaru range. The second is a new flat-six 3.0-liter that the company claims is the lightest 3.0-liter six in the world. The 245-hp power unit will be the first six-cylinder engine in a Subaru since the SVX coupe went out of production in the mid-1990s. The engine’s extra power and low center of gravity should make the Legacy 3.0R, which will be available, like all the Legacy range, in sedan and wagon form, popular with drivers who want maximum performance plus all-wheel drive in a larger car.

The new Legacy body is stiffer and lighter than its predecessor, and Subaru claims that the light weight and advanced engine technology make a real contribution to the Legacy’s improved fuel consumption. All the new Legacy’s advantages are passed on to another Frankfurt introduction, the new updated Outback. The car that brought the crossover idea to the U.S. back in 1995 will also get the new flat-six.

Peugeot’s Elixir Could Come to Life

2003 Peugeot Elixir concept

2003 Peugeot Elixir concept

Peugeot bills its Elixir as a concept, but the hints are fairly strong that this is the shape of the next mid-size sedan from France’s oldest car company. The official name, for instance is ‘407 Elixir’, which follows Peugeot’s naming policy that has been in place since the 1930s. ‘40’ is the tag attached to mid-size sedans, and the next in line is ‘407’. In addition, the official launch matrial issued to the press here in Frankfurt describes the car as: “an original concept car full of innovations in styling, architecture and engineering that gives a glimpse into the future trends of the Marque.”

The Elixir is certainly not out of place among the concepts on show here, but if it does go into production it will put Peugeot among the avant garde in terms of design. With smooth lines that give an impressively low drag factor and an emphasised ‘mouth’ at the front, the car, which is shown here as a coupe rather than a sedan, is a tantalizing look at a new direction in Peugeot design.

The company also used the show to unveil the car that will carry its colors in World Rallying next season. In response to marketing pressure, it is based on the newly-introduced 307CC , the four-seat coupe/convertible that Peugeot is hoping will follow the success of its smaller sibling, the 206CC. The 206CC uses the ‘folding metal hardtop’ format pioneered by Mercedes with the SLK and has proved to be a runaway sales success in Europe. Peugeot is aiming to move the success up a segment with the 307CC and has decided to use its successful rally team to promote the car.

The marketeers didn’t help the engineers when they asked them to turn the 307CC into a rally winner, because the extra mechanism required to open and close the roof adds weight that had to be trimmed to bring the car into the limits of the rally regulations. Naturally the competition car’s top will be fixed, but it will look like the production car, and Peugeot will be working on the old basis of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” from a form of motor sport that is commanding an ever-increasing TV audience worldwide.

Citroen’s Living Room

2003 Citroe C-Airlounge concept

2003 Citroe C-Airlounge concept

Citroen’s Airlounge concept has some interesting technical details, but the most impressive aspect of it is the interior, which has the look of a spread from ‘Architectural Digest’. On the outside, the French designers have gone for the lowest possible drag factor and have succeeded – the Airlounge has a Cd of just 0.26. In addition to a smooth overall shape, there are other features that help the car to slip through the air with the minimum drag. They include ‘vortex generators’ at the front and the rear. The generators, which have a series of teeth like those of a giant comb, are designed to minimise the vortices that form around the vehicle and create drag. There are also specially-shaped wheel fairings and rims, and ducts that lead air from high-pressure areas at the front of the car and feed it into the wheelarches, where pressure is lower.

The interior reflects a trend that is evident here in Frankfurt, the influence of domestic interior design on cars. Smooth leather is everywhere, and many of the seats in the concepts are set on individual pedestals. This trend is present in the Citroen, but that’s not the only home comfort, for the Airlounge is furnished with shag pile carpets and ambient lighting that can be changed to reflect different moods. It may sound like 1970’s California van culture to American ears, but to the French it’s the latest thing.

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