And this you should do. You’d not rip the cork out of a magnum of Petrus, lift and swig direct from the bottle and nor should you with one such as this. It’s important to do some boring stuff first: if I may further torture the analogy until it’s on its knees begging for a bullet, this is the swirling in the glass bit, the application of the hooter to its rim and the drawing deep of its aroma into your lungs. Round Weissach way, it appears that 2010 was one of the better years.
So let’s take a small sip and you can put the spittoon away: this one’s staying on board. The road is opening up, your limbs are loosening, and you can hear the flat-six just beginning to warm to the task ahead. A word is forming in your head and it is ‘mechanical’. More than anything else, that is what this car feels like, and if that sounds like a statement of the bleeding obvious, it’s not. Like all people in their 50s, I think I feel about 30 but the problem is I can’t remember what 30 actually felt like, so I’m probably kidding myself. Likewise, if all you drive are modern cars offering electric steering, flappy paddles and unemployment for your left foot, it’s too easy to forget how once at least certain cars felt completely different. And it wasn’t that long ago. When you change gear in Hebe, you’re not just moving a lever. You’re engaging in the mechanical process required to disengage one gear wheel and engage another. When you press the clutch and feel your left quad complain, you know it feels that way because that weight is absolutely required to ensure the long-term reliability of a transmission designed to tolerate a lifetime on and off the race track.
We’re in the mountains now: familiar territory in a car I already feel I’ve known all my life. And yet it still surprises. I didn’t think it would feel that quick, not least because I’ve very recently got out of a brand-new 690bhp GT2 RS, but I was wrong. On the road in the GT2, I found myself unwilling to do much more than dip a toe into the waters of what it could do and had to wait for the track to find out more: in Hebe, that wasted zone doesn’t exist. I’m not saying you can use all it has to offer all the time, but when the roads are open, empty and dry, you don’t feel that frustration of being perpetually held back by the bounds of common sense and social acceptability. On the contrary, you feel released.
At first, it’s all about the engine, Mezger’s masterpiece. Even today, its 8500rpm redline seems sky high but I’m not shy about going there. The car may be quite old and the engine has done enough miles to have circumnavigated the globe, but it feels just nicely run in, stronger and more powerful than when new, better than ever.
Besides, the higher the revs, the happier a Hebe you have. Its engine is just too small, its output too high, for it to be blessed with much mid-range torque, and were the snarl-howl-shriek of the flat-six not combined with the best gearshift ever to visit a road car, that could be a complete pain. In the event, it is more than a pleasure: it feels like a privilege. All I’d alter are the gear ratios, which are needlessly wide for a car like this and mean that unless you really do wring its neck in every gear, you’ll be in danger of falling below peak torque when you engage the next one.