With roots in Mindoro and Malate, Jun would let me, the Bulakeño, drive. We would flit through MacArthur highway, which would have the occasional slow-mo overloaded truck convoy and 24-hour jeepney cruisers or meander through Camino Real’s narrow roads of the old Spanish-era network of Marilao and Bocaue. Jun loved hearing the racing engine exhaust. With the W460 G-Wagen’s 240GD’s power-to-weight ratio, caning to ultimate revs was the only way to get decent performance. The rest of the open air “concert” was the pattering of tires on the old broken concrete as the rhythm bounced against the high walls of the sleeping residents’ houses. We had the roads to ourselves and we’d regale in really juvenile speeds. A good ride at high speed over broken roads, to us, will always be the German car idiom.
At this stage my driving experience with 4x4s or SUVs was limited to a 1969 two-door Toyota Land cruiser (bouncy, thirsty and with a stiff neck-inducing driving position), 1965 Ford Custom F350 stake truck (wickedly fast unladen), a really crude Land Rover (it wasn’t called Defender then) and a floaty Chevrolet C30 truck.
With Jeep-like expectations, I was impressed that the 240GD could be enjoyed like a car. The perch was high — par for the course for today’s SUVs. The visibility out was perfect thanks to upright windows and the signal lights on top of the fenders worked like fender guides. At three up, it didn’t bang into humps nor jarred/jiggled over potholes. The steering was quite tactile and it wasn’t unbearably heavy. Compared to my 180D, the 240GD engine was like cheese to chalk. Looking back at that experience, the 240GD drove with the qualities that made many Filipino drivers impressed by the Mitsubushi Pajero when it was introduced to the Philippine market in 1989. If Mercedes had marketed the G the way Mitsubishi marketed the Pajero, the local SUV scene would have turned out quite different.
Encounter number 2 with the G was in 2003; I was then a BusinessWorld columnist and a guest of DaimlerChrysler for the Frankfurt IAA Motor show. DC at that time was headed by Jurgen Schremp, whose vision was to make DaimlerChrysler the number one mobility company in rail, cars and aviation (Daimler-Benz, ADTranz and Airbus). DC also had its new HQ in a new city: Stuttgart-Mohringen.
The plan was to have me get to know DC at its Stuttgart home, before and after the motor show. Prior to the show, I was to meet the Mercedes Benz truck design team at Vaihingen, a place better known for apple juice. I was also to get familiar (drive) with a natural gas powered Mercedes Vito van made in the Basque country. I was to tour the old Sindelfingen plant where they’d just installed a state of the art robot assembly line for the then current S-class.
At that time, Mercedes Benz in the Philippines was in limbo as its longstanding franchise with Commercial Motors was set to expire, to be replaced by upstart importer CATS Motors. Typical of most multinationals in ASEAN, DC was based in Singapore and had Richard Venn, a South African, keep tabs on marketing efforts in the Philippines and Filipino journalists.
For some reason, Venn decided that for my shuttle to Frankfurt and Stuttgart I was not to get the latest E280 W211 – their fierce rival to the just-launched Bangle-styled BMW 5-series – nor the graceful W220 S-class. Not even a C-class, much less an SLK. Whether it was a joke or not, I was assigned a W461 G 270 CDI – the five-cylinder of the G-Class. Thank God it wasn’t the B-class, Mercedes’s entry for the septuagenarian and the Marbella-retired market segment, or so I thought.
Well, it wasn’t the wisest of weapons going up and down the ultra-fast autobahnen 5, 8 and 9 criss-crossing Swabia, bits of Bavaria and Hesse. Its brick-like aerodynamic properties were the proverbial millstone around the neck going up steep inclines and crossing windy plains dotted with monster wind energy farms. There were times that that I had no choice but to follow the truck convoys as the 156bhp G 270CDi couldn’t muster enough torque to overtake those 22-wheeler behemoths in speed and safety going uphill. Being an automatic, the G-wagen was lucky to get past 156 km/h on a steep downhill.
Still, the G270 CDi was a treat compared to Jun Leido’s agave green G-Class (must’ve been a ‘79). Instead of W123 hand-me-downs in the interior, the dark gray G270 D of the 21st century had vents and steering wheel and a few surfaces from the late but lamented W124. It was quieter in both the wind and NVH departments and had nice five-spoke alloy wheels. As the weeks wore on covering much that DC wanted me to cover, it was toss-up between the G and the Vito natural gas. Well, the Vito was ideal for hauling loot from Hugo Boss outlet shopping at Metzingen. Though it could dice up to 198km/h, the Vito didn’t have air conditioning, and it was record summer heat in Germany that year.
At the end of our trip, my hosts gave me some leisure time and I was happy for them to take both the G and the V off my hands. To make up for the autobahn frustration, i.e the inability to exceed 200 km/h legally, I was promised a T 200 CDi for my private touring pleasure. But some glitch turned up and all our host could get me was a rental Opel Vectra. Ho-hum, but at least that car could get up to 205 km/h.
Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN
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