If you haven’t heard of the Cannonball run – yes, like the 1981 movie – you may not know what an impressive feat it is to accomplish and even more so to break the record. The Cannonball is a cross-country race that runs from New York City to Portofino Bay, California in any which way the driving team deems best.
The Cannonball record has been attempted from a wide variety of cars, from a Ford Pinto to a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, but is there one car manufacturer that stands out above the rest?
We will leave that up to you. But there is no room to dismiss the fact that the past two Cannonball records have been set by one car brand in particular: Mercedes-Benz.
In 2013, Ed Bolian and codriver Dave Black broke the record at an astonishing 28 hours and 50 minutes in a modified Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG.
The record was broken again in 2019 by Arne Toman and codriver Doug Tabbutt, reducing the race completion time to 27 hours and 25 minutes in a Mercedes-Benz AMG E63.
Two Mercedes-Benz in two records – is this merely a coincidence, or is there something special about this German car manufacturer? To determine whether it’s a happy accident that both records were broken by Mercedes-Benz, it’s important to look at why those cars were chosen specifically to begin with.
Comfort and Space
The first critical note to make about the Cannonball is that it is accomplished with the most success by a three-person team. This automatically rules out many two-seater sports cars that may come to mind when you imagine trying to race across the country. Both teams found themselves looking for a car with a back seat and enough room for their gear and various electronics.
It’s no surprise to us that a comfortable and luxurious car would be ideal to make a straight-through drive across the country, after all, you would be spending a grueling 28+ hours with minimal stop time and no breaks. Mercedes also balances cabin space with cargo space, which is critical when considering the amount of gear and emergency supplies a team would need to bring along.
Both the CL55 AMG and E63 AMG were outfitted with auxiliary gas tanks to increase fuel capacity and consequently reduce the number of stops that would be required to refill the tank. Not only did the auxiliary gas tanks require space but each car required a full-sized wheel-mounted tire in case a tire needed to be changed out on the fly.
Stealth and Style
Mercedes prides itself on luxury, but they are not the most neck-breaking cars on the market. A police officer or unsuspecting driver may be less inclined to pay attention to a standard Mercedes-Benz cruising over the speed limit.
These less-flashy options make the car less of a quickly moving target than a bright green Lamborghini might be, and they certainly draw less attention. For Arne’s E63, the team even went so far as modifying the taillights to make them look more similar to a Honda at night. Mercedes-Benz is also known for its quiet luxury.
If you’ve ever found yourself whipping your head around at a stoplight to see what loud car is about to pass, you can understand why having a more modest-sounding car can be important when it comes to staying under the radar.
The engineering of the Mercedes-Benz also allowed for many upgrades that each driver could make, included upgrading turbochargers and intercoolers or whatever else the team decided would enhance the driveability of the car. If all of this sounds like something you could get from other car brands, such as BMW, there is one important aspect of Mercedes-Benz that sets them apart: adaptive suspension.
The adaptive suspension of both the CL55 AMG and E63 AMG was critical as both cars traveled across various terrains and through different climates. Another factor that affected the suspension was the addition of the auxiliary gas tanks, as the change in weight with the use of gas would become more noticeable and drastic.
Whether it’s your car manufacturer of choice, there is no doubt that Mercedes is the reigning Cannonball champion – if only until a new competitor steps up to break the record.