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      09-02-2010, 11:17 AM   #1
bruce.augenstein@comcast.
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The Snake, the Mongoose, and the Zookeeper

Back in the sixties, a couple of guys running top fuel dragsters and funny cars in the big time attained quite a bit of success and resulting fame – and they picked up nicknames along the way. Don Prudhomme was known as “The Snake”, because of his slim build and very sharp starting line reflexes, while Tom McEwen became known as “The Mongoose”, because he would run just as hard as Prudhomme did, winning just as often.

A third up and coming guy in the business was John Mulligan, who started getting a name for himself by beating other big guns fairly often, and that name became “The Zookeeper”. The other two guys have led long and happy professional drag racing lives, but The Zookeeper was tragically killed in a racing accident back around 1969 or 1970.

OK, so what in the hell does this have to do with M3s versus the competition?

Hang on, Bunky, I’m gettin’ to it. Just as German car builders have certain proclivities, such as “never use one part where two or more will do”, long term readers have learned that one of mine is “never use one word where two or more will do”.

Be that as it may, I’ve recently gotten quite a lot of seat time in a couple of M3s and a C63, and thought I’d post my thoughts. Yeah. Yet one more M3-C63 comparison.

First of all, the C63 is The Snake. It’ll strike very hard, very quickly, from about any speed in pretty much any gear. It’s not only very fast, but it feels really fast because of that instantly available torque. Plus that exhaust note, of course. It’s to die for, and frankly, I don’t understand how Mercedes gets away with it. They apparently do, though, so who am I to question it? I have to say that I tend to tread lightly when I see any gendarmes around, though. Just reflex, but you never know.

We have the C63 for the next eight months or so because Rich, my military flyboy son, has been called to Afghanistan, and he’s left a couple of cars with us for safekeeping. Some may remember that Commander Augenstein has been boring holes in the sky with F/A18s and F5s for the U.S. Navy since the early ‘90s, but on this assignment, he’s going to be responsible for repatriating Taliban members who have laid down their arms. Sounds fun, no?

In any event, in my opinion the Merc has some very sharp capabilities when compared to the bimmer, such as:

- better low-speed “street” steering feel
- a better overall sound track
- power everywhere
- extremely good overall street handling and feel - but see more below
- a very smooth and sharp automatic. Very smooth in the “comfort” setting, sharper than that in “sport”,and even sharper than that in "manual".
- overall, and at full chat (as they say in the U.K.), a feeling that you are being hurled down the road by God’s own hand.

On the other hand, the C63 displays some lesser habits, as well, such as:

- a rock-hard ride. OK, maybe I exaggerate a little here, but nobody’s gonna describe the ride as anything but hard, even if granite may be an over-the-top reference. Car & Driver currently prefers to use terms such as “flinty”, or “brittle”, but whatever term you use, the only way you can duplicate this type of ride in a current M3 is if you dial up the adjustable shocks to the “punish” setting. OK, “sport” or whatever they call it.
- When running at eight tenths (or possibly, ahem, a little better), understeer starts to rear its head. Yeah, I know the bimmer understeers too when you press it some, but not as much. You can always push the loud pedal harder to free up the rear in the Merc, but that’s a dicey proposition on the street, at best. Of course, you’re going quite fast when you encounter this tendency to go straight (hence my assessment of very good overall handling), but even so, the car is not particularly endearing in this approach-the-limit mode.
- Painful seats. Yup, you read right. They look good, and for that matter they feel good as well when I’m doing my “lap” (the roughly sixteen-mile loop of secondary farm roads that I traverse from time to time when I need some grins), but when going for a couple of hours or more across country, you’ll start getting those butt and thigh cramps because you can’t move around much. I think the M3 will also offer up this problem, but haven’t done more than an hour or so at a time in the car, at which point I felt less comfortable than when I first belted up, but not cramped up yet.
- Miserable fuel economy. I got just over 21 mpg on a 70% highway, 140-mile trip, with no high jinks involved. I guess that’s not absolutely horrific given the two-ton weight and big engine, but still…

OK, now for the M3.

I’ve recently spent a fair bit of cockpit time, mostly in another six-speed car (like the first two I drove), but also a dealer test drive in an automatic car with ZCP, or whatever you call the sportier handling package.

It’s The Mongoose.

Compared to the C63, this is the dance partner of choice, or, as I’ve put it in the past, it’s a better back-road bandit. It also exhibits a much better ride/handling compromise, which of course is one of the secrets to superior back-road banditry. Of course, these two characteristics are shared by nearly all BMWs, which, in my opinion, differentiate them. BMW “M” engineering has also apparently made a corporate pact with the devil in regard to the M3, because the engine and drive train seem to have no rotational inertia at all. None. Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, Button and Alonso would all be proud to have their names on the cam covers, I think.

OK, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but this engine is just so damned zingy and eager when you’re pushing it that you just can’t help grinning, or even giggling, not that manly men would ever, ever do that, of course.

Compared to The Snake, The Mongoose has all the moves, and just may not be there when The Snake strikes. Long-time readers may remember my disenchantment with BMW’s piling on of the lard in their M cars, but the E9x clearly can more than hold its own with any of its direct competitors.

Compared to the Merc, it has:

- creamier, more intuiitive steering at speed
- a lovely transition from merely willing to absolutely joyous as you roll over to the right-hand side of the tach – particularly as you near redline and the hairs begin to stand up on the back of your neck from that amazing sound
- a very nice (and traditional BMW) feeling to the six-speed linkage as you go through the gears
- lightning-fast shifts from the auto when you gun it
- a better ride, even with the standard shock/spring package
- better “bump management”, particularly when you’re seriously hauling the mail
- the most amazing torque curve I have ever seen, losing only about 11% off peak over a 4400 rpm span. Just astounding for a smog-legal street engine.
- as mentioned, really, really good overall body control when you’re out for that early-Sunday-morning joy ride

On the down side:

- At low speeds and around town, the steering is just too light for my tastes, compared with the Merc (or a 128, for that matter).
- Around town and at part throttle, the car feels lazy, again compared with the Merc. You need to use quite a lot of throttle and rpm to liven it up. It’s OK, mind you, but definitely not eager.
- The engine note is absolutely riveting when you wind it up, but that C63 sound is there everywhere from idle to redline. When you do a cold start in the Merc, you get this nasty bark as the engine first catches. It makes you want to get going just as soon as possible. OK, that last 12-1400 rpm in the bimmer is definitely soul music, but how often are you going to do that? The Merc is an aural delight from every engine speed to every other speed.
- Overall, the M3 only comes alive when you’re really going for it. This is a cause for celebration for M devotees, and I understand that fully, but for me, having a car excite me right from startup in the garage is better.
- Although extremely sharp when you’re pushing it, the automatic is not very impressive in general driving. In my opinion, there’s nothing yet that can compete with a torque converter for creaminess while just puttering around. Let’s hope that changes.
- Miserable fuel mileage, particularly when you consider that this is a roughly 3600 pound car with a four-liter motor.

Summing up between the two, they are both terrific cars overall, with great strengths and some weaknesses. Those that prefer sane behavior while commuting or just driving around, with insanity available via matted throttle and two (or three or four) downshifts may very well prefer the bimmer, while those that prefer constant insanity will definitely go for the Merc.

Let’s face it, though. While the Merc gets the nod for straight speed, in reality the two cars are very close. Likewise, in the twisties the bimmer is better, but the Merc is no slouch. You just have to work a little harder as you get nearer the limits. The road testers like to emphasize one or another attribute and contrast that with the other car because it makes for more drama and sells more magazines, but in reality, the C63 is only a little off the pace around a typical track, while the M3 will absolutely be close in a drag race, particularly with the automatic.

Having said all that I’d like to call it a draw, but for me, choosing between the cars means the bimmer gets the “automatic” nod – in six-speed, please. I haven’t matured enough to prefer an automatic – of whatever design. These cars are so closely matched in my mind that the gearbox becomes the deciding factor.

Oh.

The Zookeeper?

Last month, I flew down to Fort Worth, dropped my son off at DFW for the first leg of his trip to Afghanistan, and turned The Zookeeper northeast to get back to Pennsylvania.

It’s a 2005 Pontiac GTO which my son has owned since new. Some of you may remember this model. It’s the Australian Holden Monaro, modified as necessary for U.S. use, with a Corvette LS2 small block, rated at 400 HP, ahead of a six-speed gearbox. Nicely balanced chassis with good turn-in, too. Weighs about 3800 pounds equipped the way this one is, falling right between the M3 and C63. A stock GTO wouldn’t go head to head with either the bimmer or the Merc in the twisties (I suspect in part because of the longer wheelbase), but it wouldn’t end up in another zip code, either. Good brakes, as well. The buckets are comfy on the long haul, too. Averaged 25 mpg on the 1500 mile jaunt, running nine mph over the limit everywhere I drove, except for traffic, construction, etc. According to the onboard computer, 70 mph was the average speed for the trip, including traversing surface streets for gas, food and lodging.

However, this ain’t just any Corvette-powered Holden Monaro.

In addition to an aftermarket “competition” shifter kit obtained from down under, this car is equipped with a “Procharger” supercharger and intercooler setup.

Result? 512 horsepower at the rear wheels, at 6500 rpm. It was still climbing nicely at that point on the chart, but 6500 is the red line. Peak torque is 443 pound feet at around 4800 rpm, with about 350 pound feet available at 2200, which was where the dyno run started. So, we’re looking at around 600 flywheel ponies, with around 520 pound feet of torque. Some would say more, since the T56 is said to be something of a power eater.

What does this translate to?

A grown man giggling, that’s what.

Item: I’m cruising on Interstate 81 in Virginia at a true 79 mph when a C6 Vette slowly overtakes me, going perhaps 80 or 81 mph. He looks over and nods. I look over and downshift to fourth. OK, I admit to thinking “When was the last time you did this?” at the time, but there’s nobody else out here, so what the heck. I tickle the gas a couple of times, staying even, and then he mats the automatic and jumps out.

OK, you’re probably thinking “Why fourth at that speed?”, but I didn’t know what third gear was good for, speedwise, so I tried to keep it safe, mechanically speaking.

Result? I stop him immediately, and then just walk away. I’m about four cars up and pretty much loping away when he gives up, so I immediately let up and shift to sixth, backing down to 79 mph.

That’s when I began giggling. We solemnly swap nods as he eventually creeps by, but I’m having trouble controlling my face.

Later, with nobody around, I try third at that speed, and it’ll pull your face off compared to fourth. Gets to over 100 before you have to shift, as well. More giggling. Overall, I’d describe the acceleration as “chiropractic”.

Yup. It’s the Zookeeper, all right.

Bruce

PS: On grown men giggling.

I have videos from both of my sons recording on-track endeavors, Rich in a current-model GTI with only a chip and PS2s on lightweight wheels, and Chris (exec with Cisco Systems in Manhattan) in a last-generation Mini Cooper S which has been breathed on a little more than that (smaller supercharger pulley, etc.), running DOT-legal track sneakers and track pads.

In his video, Rich has a race driver of some note aboard (forget his name) while chasing down a V10 M5. Really. When he gets the signal and whips by, there it is: Commander, United States Navy. Fighter pilot.

Giggling.

In Chris’ video, he’s chasing down a late-model Vette while solo, and, catching a tricky, off-camber apex *perfectly*, he picks up better than two car lengths on the plastic bullet down the next short straight. And there it is: Exec, high-tech powerhouse. Next move, VP.

Giggling.

What is it with guys and cars?

Or maybe it’s just hereditary. If so, sorry, guys.

Last edited by bruce.augenstein@comcast.; 10-10-2013 at 11:48 PM.
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      09-02-2010, 01:12 PM   #2
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Thanks for the great review
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      09-02-2010, 01:54 PM   #3
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M3, now with creamier, more intuitive steering at speed!


Fun read, thanks for that.
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      09-02-2010, 02:09 PM   #4
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Great post, Bruce. I knew you had one car loving, successful son but not two! Not bad to have some cars to borrow now and again.

Its no surprise you spent so much time talking acoustics. The first C63 AMG I heard was Hans Delbruck's (from the forum) and I was really impressed. Stock the AMG gets the nod here from me as well. However, with my (used, half price, Vorsteiner Ti exhaust ) it is a tie at low rpm but at high rpm...well...
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      09-02-2010, 04:58 PM   #5
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damn, i thought this was a mag review until i see "Bruce"
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      09-03-2010, 08:45 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swamp2 View Post
Great post, Bruce. I knew you had one car loving, successful son but not two! Not bad to have some cars to borrow now and again.

Its no surprise you spent so much time talking acoustics. The first C63 AMG I heard was Hans Delbruck's (from the forum) and I was really impressed. Stock the AMG gets the nod here from me as well. However, with my (used, half price, Vorsteiner Ti exhaust ) it is a tie at low rpm but at high rpm...well...
I'd like to hear that sound...

The C63 sound, while incredible, did NOT raise the hairs on the back of my neck. My theory is that they were being pounded flat by the percussive cannonade of cylinder explosions, 240 times per second.

At the top of each gear, it actually sounds pretty much like that.

It's all good, automotively speaking.

Speaking of which, after all this automotive nirvana, I jump back in my Subie, and it's like wearing an old shoe. I thought I'd be spoiled, but nope, the Subie (my first) really does it for me. With some slightly rearranged electrons in the ECM, it's pretty quick, as well. Guys in other Legacy GTs with tuned ECMs are running low 13s at around 103-104 mph, and of course turbo torque is a complete thumbs up around town.

We have been in an automotive golden age for around a quarter of a century now, and I have faith that, with maybe an upcoming hiccup or two, that age will continue.

Bruce
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      09-03-2010, 08:54 AM   #7
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Bruce,

Stellar review...thoroughly enjoyed perusing through it!

Always great to read your posts, you should make them more frequent!

Cheers,
MJC
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      09-03-2010, 10:38 AM   #8
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We need more posts like this, at last something I enjoyed reading, thanks man, I gets dull with the same posts audi (footie) vs bmw, rich kids and m3's, high end torque the new one, M3 vs 1M (which will beat the 335 vs M3) and so much crappy posts recently.
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      09-03-2010, 11:22 AM   #9
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What about a second zookeper? The E63? It's got the sound and engine of the C63, MCT transmission, updated suspension, great brakes and with the incentives, might come out to be similar or less than a M3.
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      09-03-2010, 01:00 PM   #10
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Thanks Bruce. I enjoyed reading that.
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      09-03-2010, 01:23 PM   #11
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Great read!
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      09-03-2010, 02:26 PM   #12
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Come on now, giggling? Definitely a hereditary thing. No grown men I know would ever giggle. And most certainly not allow themselves to be caught doing this on film.

I'm surprised about the C63 seats. I thought they were one thing that was head and shoulders above the M3. Alas, I don't have but a few minutes in them. It's too bad really because I thought they were the only real nice thing in an otherwise sea of interior chrome and plastic.

As for the exhaust, I mentioned on these forums some time ago about loving the sound from the C63. Others took issue. I'm glad to see now I'm not the only one who likes it.

All this said I still prefer the M3 (obviously), especially the exhaust note, even it you do have to rev it up. Thanks for the review.


Cheers.


P.S. “never use one word where two or more will do”, indeed!
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      09-03-2010, 02:27 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MJC///M3 View Post
Bruce,

Stellar review...thoroughly enjoyed perusing through it!

Always great to read your posts, you should make them more frequent!

Cheers,
MJC
Thank you for the kind words.

Other than baiting fanboys in this forum, and occasionally lecturing on something moderately technical, I write about things that I am passionate about, and that give me joy.

I suggest it. See below.

Bruce
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      09-03-2010, 02:35 PM   #14
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Hey Bruce, what are your opinion on M3 seats, on long trips?, I found them a little uncomfortable on a 3 hour drive, I was thought at M school to get the seat to the lowest point, so your closer to the CoM of the car, then I adjusted the back end so that my wrist touches the wheel, so you have more control, then I went an adjusted the low end, (where you seat) to the highest point so my legs where fully supported and extended the seat just short of my knees, is this how you guys do it?
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      09-03-2010, 02:36 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChinoOrtega View Post
We need more posts like this, at last something I enjoyed reading, thanks man, I gets dull with the same posts audi (footie) vs bmw, rich kids and m3's, high end torque the new one, M3 vs 1M (which will beat the 335 vs M3) and so much crappy posts recently.
You're welcome.

As I mentioned just above, I enjoy writing about things I'm passionate about, and that give me joy.

Why don't you try that - in this forum.

I guarantee that whatever writing skills you possess, you will absolutely be at the top of your form if you write something in regard to your passions, and/or something that gave you joy.

In fact, I recommend that for everyone who participates here. You'll have fun doing it, and folks will have fun reading about it, because that passion and joy will come through.

There's plenty of room for this, still leaving room for tech talk, wild opinions, rants, head butting, etc.

Bruce
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      09-03-2010, 02:51 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChinoOrtega View Post
Hey Bruce, what are your opinion on M3 seats, on long trips?, I found them a little uncomfortable on a 3 hour drive, I was thought at M school to get the seat to the lowest point, so your closer to the CoM of the car, then I adjusted the back end so that my wrist touches the wheel, so you have more control, then I went an adjusted the low end, (where you seat) to the highest point so my legs where fully supported and extended the seat just short of my knees, is this how you guys do it?
That's pretty much how I do it, although there will be a certain amount of trial and error, plus some tweaking from time to time, particularly with german seats, which offer all sorts of adjustments.

I haven't tried the M3 seats for more than about an hour, at which point I was starting to squirm, but wasn't in pain.

In my opinion, the issue is that these types of "sport" seats, designed to hold you in when you're trying to cut a couple of tenths off your best time to the coffee shop, also hold you in place on the long haul, so you'll inevitably cramp up over time. I doubt if Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche etc. seats differ much in this precise regard.

The solution is to stop every couple of hours to stretch, get rid of the coffee you've taken on, get some more, and be on your way.

In fact, stopping every couple of hours is generally recommended, with some cars reminding you along the way.

Of course, some of us tend to want to make time, and can't be bothered between fillups. Lucky these cars are gas guzzlers with small tanks.

Those Germans. Always thinking...
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      09-03-2010, 02:59 PM   #17
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thanks Bruce, just to see if I got it right
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      09-03-2010, 04:56 PM   #18
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Giggling... never happened to me on track - although I may or may not recall laughing and shouting the first time they let me out on the Ring.

Nice write-up, thanks!
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      09-03-2010, 07:00 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bruce.augenstein@comcast. View Post

The solution is to stop every couple of hours to stretch, get rid of the coffee you've taken on, get some more, and be on your way.

.
That's true - the seat holds your body rather still, which naturally tires your back faster, because body needs to change position to stay upright. The solution is to 1) relax the bolsters a bit on longer drives - flatter seat gives more space for moving around; 2) readjust the seat every hour or so - I usually just shift lumbar support up or down and move the seat higher or lower a bit. Works for me - once did a drive from Toronto to DC (8+ hours) with one 10 minute stop.
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      09-04-2010, 07:06 AM   #20
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Awesome write-up! One of the best comparo's I've read to date. Tks!
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      09-04-2010, 12:40 PM   #21
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Excellent reviews Bruce....a refreshing change for here.
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      09-07-2010, 02:16 PM   #22
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Great write up.

PS I too know the beauty of a good ol' suby! I had an 05 STi, while, much more race worthy and not comfy at all... no car I have had since has come close to matching its fun to drive all the time feeling.
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