Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen

Resurfaced roads in Spain convinced journalists of the superior ride and handling of Mercedes-Benz SLs. In an era when Spain’s roads were iffy at best, before all Europe shelled money out to improve them, Mercedes-Benz paid to have them smoothed-off for car launches. Or so it was once supposed. A publicity event for a new kind of Geländewagen was set up in Scotland and as this Sunday Times column of 2 December 1990 relates, I drove one across a grouse moor and waded it up a stream. Click column to enlarge It splashed obediently through a good deal more than the recommended 60cm of water, picked its way over wet boulders, then up a steep bank on to dry land. It was quite compelling. The G-Wagen was more accomplished than the Vauxhall Calibra, with which it coincided. I praised the Vauxhall carefully although faintly. Colin Dryden was kinder to the Land Rover Discovery V8 he drove in the desert. It was an era of extravagant car launches and with fuel at only 60p a gallon in Dubai he could happily recommend it for holidays.

Press launches could be memorable for the wrong reasons. Even though Mercedes-Benz planned its’ with more than usual care, they could take an unexpected turn. The Highland river test of the G-Wagen included driving through strongly flowing water, over a course marked by tall sticks. We were warned to keep between the sticks because of adjacent deep pools. One G-Wagen was more luxuriously appointed than the rest. It had air conditioning and leather upholstery, thick carpets and, it was said, was in the Highlands to be loaned for appraisal to a member of the royal family. Mercedes-Benz allocated it to a journalist more important than mere writing hacks.

Tom Ross was editor of Top Gear. The programme had been going since 1977, as a BBC Pebble Mill production with presenters Noel Edmonds, William Woollard and Angela Rippon. Contributors included Sue Baker, Frank Page, Tony Mason and Chris Goffey. It went on to BBC2 and the affable easy-going Ross was editor until 1991. Unfortunately, like many TV people, he not only thought he could walk on water, he was also sure he could drive on it.

He elected not to steer between the sticks Mercedes-Benz had provided.

Doug Wallace of Mercedes-Benz supervises recovery