Mercedes-Benz World (UK )
Historic Brooklands has been annexed by Mercedes-Benz, as Andrew
English reports
Whatever you think of the name (Mercedes-Benz World), or the fact that it took the Germans to recognise the importance of the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit, the alternative was unthinkable. Mercedes-Benz World Ancient and modern: the site of the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit ...
"What really worried us," says Brooklands Museum director, Allan Winn, "was that [John] Prescott would have allowed 5,000 new houses on the site. That would have been a tragedy."
Indeed it would. Completed on June 17, 1907, Brooklands predates the world's other famous banked venues by years and even decades.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (The Brickyard) in America was completed in 1909; the German Automobil-Verkehrs und bungs-StraBe (Avus) circuit was started before the First World War but wasn't completed until 1921; Italy's Autodromo di Monza was finished in 1922 and the Linas-Montlhry circuit in France opened in 1924.
Brooklands was the first of the super-fast circuits where huge aero-engined monsters could lap at really high speeds - the Brooklands outer circuit lap record forever belongs to John Cobb and his bellowing Napier Railton, at 143.44mph. advertisement
The 2-mile racetrack in the North Surrey hills cost its originator, Hugh Locke King, more than 150,000, a fortune in those days. It was highly significant, not only in the development of modern motor racing but the motor car itself, while the sprawling business areas in the centre of the track became an important centre for the aviation industry, home to Vickers, Sopwith and Hawker.
The circuit closed in 1939 and only isolated fragments of the original track remain, but the museum is still a fantastic place to visit, redolent with the spirit of Barnes Wallis, Selwyn Edge and Freddie Dixon, complete with its own Wellington Bomber, a Concorde and the unique Concorde flight simulator that is currently being lovingly restored.
Mercedes-Benz became interested in the 155-acre site adjacent to the museum six years ago. It had ambitious plans to build a facility in which to entertain clients and show off the marque and its cars.
n Germany, Mercedes opened its new museum this year, a statement building inspired by the double helix of the DNA structure, designed by Dutch architects Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos. It houses the company's valuable collection of cars and is linked to an extensive visitor centre, as well as providing a gateway to the city of Stuttgart. Mercedes-Benz World houses excellent displays on the history of Mercedes-Benz, as well as its latest cars
Although the Stuttgart and Brooklands sites share similar floor areas, I didn't think Mercedes would be able to pull off a similar trick in Surrey. But I was wrong.
The Brooklands building is not on quite the same scale as Stuttgart and comparisons would be odious. It is, however, a similarly simple structure using a range of closed theatres, low walls and a central three-storey escalator well to give a sense of scale.
The outside is inspired by a radiator grille and it stands next to a circular skid pan affording views down the old runway, across 1.5 miles of handling courses, a 10-acre off-road course and on to the North Surrey hills. It's a superb setting.
It's also an enormously smart place to put such a facility. Even without the three-pointed star stuff, M-B World can hardly fail to wipe its face financially, as a chi-chi business centre less than half an hour from Gatwick or Heathrow, a driving venue next to a successful museum of motoring and aviation, and as an arena for festivals and events less than 20 miles from London. This is the property deal that must have had other property dealers slapping their foreheads exclaiming, "Doh!" advertisement
Running it is Peter O'Halloran, MD of M-B World and a master of marketing neologism. It was as though the flim-flam had been unloaded from a freighter, the crates prised open with crowbars and each new word unwrapped from grease-proof paper like an oiled rifle before being loaded with care.
In one sentence Peter managed to fit in "autotainment" - a portmanteau word combining auto (and motor?) with something jolly entertaining, and "Streetmosphere", which sounds like the result of treading in something smelly and walking it through the house.
Cut through the jargon and Peter is quite an old-fashioned and shrewd businessman. "We are fully booked for conferences until February," he says. "The phone's been pretty busy." His 240-strong team seems happy and the way the space has been set up is innovative and, yes, entertaining. Mercedes-Benz World Visual treat: Andrew English enjoys the 3-D film of a Merc CLK being built
Most of it is car showroom, true, but the historic exhibits are beautifully displayed, there's a charming interactive three-dimensional film of the creation of a Merc CLK and a private cinema that shows a short but brilliant history film created specially for M-B World using the Stuttgart museum exhibits (the years 1939 to 1945 are tactfully telescoped into a fleeting blur).
The static displays can be changed quickly in response to events (such as the unlikely one of Mercedes winning an F1 championship) and there's a terrific learning display on transport and the development of the car for children up to Key-Stage Three.
Of course, you can also buy a Mercedes there and take delivery of your new car after a quiet lunch in the third-floor restaurant, and there's a shop where you can purchase anything from a Mercedes bear to a Mercedes leather jacket.
Corporate branding is always with you, but it is mercifully discreet and, as Peter says, "rival manufacturers are welcome to use the tracks". He also seems genuinely to want to give people a memorable, even a magical day out. "We seem to live in such a disposable society and at such a pace," he says. "How many children have been on a double decker bus, or in a Bentley on the banking at Brooklands?" advertisement
The Brooklands Museum has the whole site for 20 days each year to stage its own events, and M-B World will play an important part in the Brooklands centenary celebrations next July. As Allan Winn says, "This development hasn't been without its drawbacks, but there are some great benefits."
One drawback is the loss of the old runway, which means Brooklands' Vickers Vimy replica will forever be housed elsewhere.
There are good parts, however, not least M-B's commitment to rebridge the river Wey so that Brooklands monsters can once more roar off the Members' Banking and on to the Railway Straight.

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An article with a somewhat peculiar tone...
MB has rescued what was a derelict site. I have known about this from the day MB acquired the site.
The only odd thing about the whole thing is that you can collect your car from there as if it were a factory. (This is alluded to in the article.)
It is most appropriate that Merc is expanding its presence in the UK like this. And it participates in a big way in other motoring events. Merc and Britain have been involved with each other, so to speak, from maybe 100 years ago and, of course, Stirling Moss, drove with Merc to racing victory in the 1000 Miles... (Mille Miglia).
It's all the biggest market in Europe outside Germany and, if I am not mistaken, third biggest in the world after the USA.
For direct contact replace nospam with schmetterling
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