In its formative years the annual Essen Motorshow had motorsport and related accessories as its central theme, but the focus gradually shifted towards tuning. Of course there is a relationship between the two, although for many people today increasing the car’s performance does not have top priority any more and body modification has become more popular. The stricter regulations and more complex engines are no doubt major factors in this switch of interest. Harking back at the Show’s motorsport roots, the organizers treated the many enthusiasts with various displays of current and historic racing cars. A smart move; now even the most conservative enthusiasts had something to admire. Our thoughts and impressions are packed in the following report and 150-shot slideshow
Being an even year, the September slot on the international motorshow calendar was filled by Paris this year, traditionally leaving Essen as the largest show of the year in Germany. Usually this inspires the large manufacturers to bring out a few new machines, but this year only Volkswagen decided to treat is with a major release. With 300 bhp available, the new Passat R36 perfectly matched the Essen atmosphere. Another tradition is the unveiling of the company’s latest Rallye Dakar challenger. In the last edition VW came close to winning the legendary event and for this January’s running, a more powerful four-valve per cylinder engine has been prepared. Leaving little to chance two of the most successful rally drivers ever, Carlos Sainz and Ari Vatanen, have been contracted to get to Dakar as quickly as possible. With the bright blue 285 bhp Race Touareg they certainly have a good chance.
There are many small manufacturers that supply a wide variety of parts ranging from dashboard fascias to wheels, to many of today’s customers, but there are also a few that modify complete cars to the extent that they become a completely new model. The most prominent of these is no doubt Brabus, who have specialized in upgrading Mercedes Benz models. They offer both exceptionally luxurious interiors and very powerful engines, both of which are of course lacking in the current Mercedes line-up. Last month they grabbed headlines by reaching 366 km/h with their CLS based Rocket, in their words making it “the world’s fastest saloon.” Another illusion shattered; the Mercedes Benz marketing department had just convinced me the CLS was a coupe. Painted in the distinct ‘Brabus-black’, the 700+ bhp CL-based T13 was the world debut on the large stand.
Another noteworthy ‘tuner’ release was the Techart Cayman Widebody. Although the aggressive body kit might not appeal to everyone, the 385 bhp engine should bring a smile to everyone’s face.
One of this motorsport season’s revelations was the newly created GT3 championship, which saw some spectacular racing. Because it is open to a wide variety of machines, the packed grids were always very colourful. With careful performance balancing, the organizers have achieved a very level playing field. Each team consisted of a professional driver and a gentleman driver. The big success of the international GT3 championship has inspired various local organizers to set up a championship of their own. In Great Britain, the national championship will be run for GT3 cars, replacing the GT2 cars used this year. The German ADAC will also host a championship and to get potential competitors interested, they had a large stand with many of the eligible cars present. These included the newly homologated Mosler MT900, but also the Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Dodge Viper, Aston Martin DBRS9, Porsche 996 GT3 Cup, Ascari KZ1R and Chevrolet Corvette already used this season.
A tribute to motorsport
Apart from the various racing cars displayed on manufacturers’ and suppliers’ stands, there were several vast displays dedicated to a class or type of racing. The biggest of these was a display of around 20 Le Mans racers, ranging from a Bentley 3-Litre of 1924 to a Bentley Speed 8 of 2003. Unfortunately the impressive line-up of machines with Le Mans vintage was tainted by the inclusion of one or two replicas, which could fool the unsuspecting spectator. One floor up the 2006 Formula 1 season was celebrated with a full grid of this year’s vintage. Of course the pack of show-cars was led by the Renault and Ferrari.
One corner of the so called ‘Motorsportmeile’ was reserved for German Formula 3. This highly competitive championship has produced many great Formula 1 drivers and Le Mans winners. Among the champions of the past are Tom Kristensen, Christian Albers, Pedro Lamy and of course Michael Schumacher. His 1990 winning Dallara was among racers on display, which also included the current champion Ho Pin Tung’s Lola.
For us the highlight of the show was the SIHA stand where 100 years of Grand Prix racing was celebrated. They managed to assemble three rarely seen Silver Arrows from the second half of the 1930s. Producing between 450 and 600 bhp these Mercedes Benz and Auto Union racers could only be mastered by the most skillful of drivers. Even today the V12 and V16 engines are engineering marvels. Unfortunately the chassis and tyre design was not quite up to par, making the cars very dangerous to drive.
Although somewhat disappointed by the amount of new releases, the various motorsport displays more than made our trip worthwhile. Thankfully the spectacular 1988 Le Mans winning Jaguar XJR-9 LM or the Auto Union Type C helped to compensate for the countless stands with 26-inch wheels, tacky body-kits and scissor doors.