Where can the performance of Mercedes-Benz Buses be demonstrated more impressively than on the eleven different tracks with their innumerable surfaces, different gradients, the unique crosswind machine and the only 90-degree-steep bend in the world that even buses are allowed to drive around. The Tourismo K, with its compact dimensions and short overhang, was already standing on the track ready for its ride around the steep wall and waiting for the other protagonists of the day – the tough guys of Mercedes-Benz Buses: Gino Lombardo, Jutta Wolf and Roland Scheer in the lead, plus three other members of the Bus Drivers’ Club. And of course, Hermann Zehender too, who has been a test driver for 42 years, and who was presented by development engineer Andreas Türk as the “best bus driver in the world”. On this day, Zehender gave a thoroughly impressive performance of his driving skills and of the Tourismo K on the test track.
Off they went on the long straight. Here, Hermann Zehender deliberately simulated a high-speed swerve, showing just how stable the over ten-metre-long, 18-tonne Tourismo K is, even on a wet road and with a sudden lane change. The faces of the experienced bus drivers said it all – virtually none of them really knew just how much potential there is in a bus like that. Because even a top Mercedes-Benz sports car could barely master the test track more spectacularly. Development engineer Andreas Türk, who regularly drives round the track here in Untertürkheim and has to compete with his car development colleagues, knows this too:
“After a spin in one of our buses, no-one makes fun of us anymore! They are amazed at the forces, which can be far stronger on an 18-tonne bus than in a sports car. And particularly in the back of a Citaro G: that's when most of them start feeling queasy.”
They continued on the small steep bend with a good 20 percent gradient. Here, Gino Lombardo and his colleagues had their first small foretaste. In this bend, Hermann Zehender even stopped the vehicle to show just how stable the Tourismo K is on a slope. And, impressive though the tight bend was, what awaited the team on the long straight exceeded anything they had experienced before. Zehender casually accelerated to 100 km/h and headed for the yellow dotted line that serves as a guide to the ideal line through the steep bend with a maximum lateral inclination of 90 degrees. Suddenly, at the entrance to the steep bend, the bus tilted to a daunting slant, pressing the passengers’ bodies into the seats and causing shocked faces to drop for a moment. After a few seconds the bus returned to an upright position, but such an out-of-the-ordinary experience had left its mark.
Deeply impressed, in every sense of the word, Gino Lombardo had to admit after 2 G of pressure: “I’ve had enough. I can’t take any more!” And indeed, he was not the only participant to be suffering from the huge force. Jutta Wolf and Roland Scheer too, both tough people, repeatedly needed a break to catch their breath between circuits. All the more so because what was going on away from the steep tilt, on the eleven tracks of the test circuit, was not for those with delicate stomachs: washboard, shake-up and pothole stretches simulate reconstructed bad roads authentically, thoroughly shaking up the Tourismo K and all its occupants. And the sloping stretches with gradients of between five and seventy percent, the steepest of which are of course reserved for Mercedes-Benz cross-country vehicles, are not for those of a nervous disposition.
The unique crosswind machine on the test track was not put into action that day, but even when switched off it was impressive; even more so when Andreas Fleischhacker, a Mercedes-Benz test track old hand, described its powerful action graphically: “You see those trees over there opposite the crosswind machine?
They are always the first to lose their leaves in the autumn.” And they are at least 30 metres away from the machine! The machine can generate wind speeds of up to storm force 9, for example to test the Crosswind Assist system of the latest Sprinter.
“That was great!”
Jutta Wolf’s judgement at half-time was quite definite: the Untertürkheim test track is an experience to tell the grandchildren about later. And after everyone had fortified themselves, the equally impressive second part of the day’s agenda followed: a guided tour through the Mercedes-Benz Museum opposite the original plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. The unique architecture, based on a double helix, is fascinating in itself – not to mention the over 125-year-old history of the automobile. Time and again, the participants stopped in amazement in front of the 160 vehicles and more than 1500 exhibits. In particular, the members of the Mercedes-Benz Bus Drivers’ Club, who share not only their work, but also their love of the three-pointed star, felt like stopping in front of almost every little detail of the huge exhibition.
And especially everything on the subject of buses. Of course, the first bus in the world had to be there, just as the 1974 World Cup bus or gaudily painted unique specimens from Paraguay.
At the end of an eventful day, it was Roland Scheer who summed up what he and his colleagues had experienced before directly addressing Mercedes-Benz Buses: “On behalf of everyone, thank you! It was a truly unforgettable experience.” Without doubt, Mercedes-Benz Buses created an event for their drivers that was as unique as the brand itself.
And the expressions on the faces of the drivers when it was time to say goodbye said it all – you could almost feel the enthusiasm for both the moment and the brand.