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Friday 10th September 2010


DRIVEN: WIESMANN MF5 ROADSTER

BMW's high-revving V10 unleashed in Germany's classic 'Brit' roadster



We've all had that dream of bounding down the Queen's highway in a classic English sportscar, a classy bit of totty in the passenger seat, and caddish laughter being all it takes to clear the slowcoaches from our path. But (as TVR owners everywhere might attest) life doesn't always work like a '60s film, and we'd probably end up on the side of the road hitting speed dial number one for the AA, while our erstwhile passenger takes-off with a Lambo-owning city boy.

But there's a classic English sportscar built today that could be the answer to all your problems. All you have to do is overlook the fact that the Wiesmann MF5 Roadster is, well, German.


Brothers Friedhelm and Martin Wiesmann fell in love with the classic English designs of the 1960s and wanted to bring the ideal bang up to date, building it round the most modern German mechanical components. So they took design cues from classic Jensens, Austin Healeys and others to create the basic curvaceous shape of their eponymous car, and in its latest incarnation have wrapped it round a BMW M5 drivetrain with 507hp.

In spite of its garish red and white colour scheme, our test car's muscular bodywork comes imbued with old-school character. That front end is a step back in time to a simpler world, with that deep front grille looking like nothing on the road today, and the side profile could have come from an old black and white film. Those swooping wings are made from fibreglass, rather than hand-beaten aluminium or even exotic carbon fibre, but the olde-world charm of the Wiesmann renders such things irrelevant. If we're being picky, then the vents and rear lip spoiler don't quite sit right with the antiquated look, but they're there for a reason.


Because there's a surprise in store when you get past the gorgeous details of the interior, such as the canvas roof that pops on to old fasteners, the hand-stitched leather interior and the billet steel door handles that operate with a firm tug. And that is the raucous noise of the 5.0L V10 that bellows into life with a touch of the starter button and shatters the twee illusion in a heartbeat.

Under the skin of this charming, tweed-clad gent is the thoroughly modern, steroid-fuelled madness of BMW's five-litre V10 that now sits in a package some 400kg lighter than the donor car. The Wiesmann weighs in at 1,395kg, so it's a serious sports car and we have an airfield to get to. Tough times...


For the first leg of the journey, we test the Wiesmann's day-to-day practicality. The gearbox looks like an old-school manual, right down to the golf ball-style shifter. But underneath, all of BMW's systems are still in place so the SMG gearbox retains its flexibility, ranging from full automatic to hard and fast manual changes, and the car can be left in its more laconic 400hp mode to save fuel and your licence.

Of course the auto mode on the original SMG was woeful and, though the lighter package of the Wiesmann improves matters thanks to reduced inertia, it does not stop it feeling as comfortable as falling down the stairs. This gearbox works best in full, hard manual mode - even out on the public road. For those that want a 'true' manual option, Wiesmann offers the MF4 with the V8 and BMW's much-improved DCT dual clutch transmission.


That car is cheaper than this 133,000 extravagance and on the public road is the more sensible blend of outright performance and comfort. But there are always those that want the fastest, the most powerful car in the line-up. As we turn into the airfield, we're cleared for the first flat out blast on the runway. The car starts to pulsate as I blip the throttle with the Sport mode engaged and the full 507bhp straining at the leash; I already know this is going to be good.

The figures state 3.9 seconds to 60mph, a massive 0.6 seconds faster than the M5 that gave its guts for the cause. And with the wind in the hair, that almighty F1-sounding motor breathing free through a sports exhaust and the neck twanging effect of those tyres digging in and sending the car snarling at the horizon like a rabid wolf, it feels even faster.


The Wiesmann is simplicity itself to drive, too, and drive fast. A click of the finger is all it takes to run through the 'box with the paddle shifters, though it needs to close in on the 8,500rpm rev limit as the M5 engine was never blessed with low-end torque.

But then the intoxicating exhaust note ensures that's rarely an issue. With the V10 screaming at the top end, the acceleration is just unbelievable and in a straight line this car will match almost anything. The top end of 192mph is more than enough for the airstrip, too, never mind the road!

As I fast approach the 90-degree left hander with a photographer optimistically lying in the road just ahead, I thank the skies above that I can just stand on the brake and bang down the requisite three gears to haul off the speed and throw it into the corner. And here's where it gets really interesting. A supremely stiff chassis, thanks to a Lotus-style aluminium monocoque, allowed Wiesmann to soften the suspension enough to soak up bumps without sacrificing its cornering capabilities. As I throw it into a bend with way too much speed on the clock it just sticks when it should spin off the road.


The Wiesmann brothers put the gecko on the nose, and atop the factory, as they believe the car sticks to the road like the diminutive lizard sticks to the wall. It's true and they deserve medals for the way they have combined comfort and grip to an almost illogical extent. It's not the easiest car in the world to drift and when you turn the gadgets off and provoke the car, the cute image gives way to an aggressive monster thanks to the short wheelbase, huge power and large engine hanging over the front.

But today is not a normal day and, though Wiesmann drivers regularly gather on track for a few laps, that represents a tiny portion of the car's life. Which is why the lap time compared to a Lamborghini Gallardo or Ferrari 458 is an absolute irrelevance. For the record, it would be a whisker behind both on a hard charge, but on the road it's such a unique proposition, such a charming machine, that the hair's breadth on the stopwatch pales into insignificance.


This is a car for driving through town, to the coast or to the country club, with an outrageous lick of speed, pausing only to soak up the admiration. Everybody loves this car: van drivers stop at junctions, kids point as we cruise past and girls, grandmas and guys alike smile and turn their heads. It has charm, it has style, and it stands out from the most exotic crowd.

It's for those that have already done the Ferrari and Lamborghini and didn't like the kind of attention they got. It's for those that remember the old films with nostalgia and want to relive the '60s in the very best classic English sportscar they can find. Even if it's German.







Author: NickmHall