Big bucks in old Benzes

Riley Riley

OLD cars are big business in Germany where the classics go for extraordinary amounts of money.

Restored examples of cars like the iconic Mercedes-Benz Gullwing 300 SL coupe fetch upwards of $1 million a piece.

And, with so much money on the line, it’s hardly surprising that forged examples of the car turn up from time to time.

It’s often difficult to prove their authenticity because the clever crooks fabricate the metal to construct them from old cars of the same period.

Mercedes-Benz has been able to capitalise on the demand for classic Benzes with a ready supply of parts for restoration because of the company’s famous lifetime guarantee.

When we visited the Classic Car Centre in Stuttgart it was in the process of restoring several examples of the famous 600 Pullman limousine (W100), a five metre long monster favoured for decades by the wealthy and heads of state.

Some 2667 examples of the V8 powered Pullman were produced between 1963 and 1981, in short and long wheelbase form — some with armour-plated bodies.

You can still see the specially coloured lights fitted in the top corners of the rear passenger compartment to light up the interior so the paparazi could get a better shot.

Making the restoration of these cars even more difficult is the fact that no two Pullmans are alike, because all of the cars were virtually made to order.

Technicians at the ramshackle centre are sometimes forced to re-manufacture parts and body panels, in some cases with only photographs to go on.

Comprehensive archives, which cover every one of its vehicles, allow the replacement part required to be precisely identified, made available or if necessary, and reproduced in genuine quality – a process that produces some 4000 parts every year.

The workshop carries out more than just complete or partial restorations.

It handles repairs to individual parts and the re-manufacturing of engines, transmissions, axles, steering systems and other assemblies — if these can no longer be obtained.

A further service is the provision of condition reports complete with the appropriate documentation.

It’s a long and expensive process but the finished product is just as good as the day it left the assembly line, perhaps even better thanks to the use of modern parts for things like brake linings.

The centre which opened in 1993 is also home to hundreds of museum exhibits, including F1 winners, concept cars and specially-built vehicles used for speed and economy records.

They have even got the Pope’s old Pullman stashed way down the back, where it is awaiting restoration – complete with crests and a plush, centre armchair for his Holiness.

The Classic Care Centre restores and sells between 15 and 20 vehicles a year, ranging in price from $175,000 to nearly $20 million.

It specialises in convertibles, 300-series models and pre-war vehicles.

In the 16 years since it opened its doors, the centre has handled more than 6000 orders, including about 250 complete and partial restorations.

The largest job of all, the complete restoration of a 1954 W 196 Streamliner racing car took five years.

A Benz is considered by the company to have officially become a classic vehicle 20 years after its production has ceased.

It is company custom for the last example of a model series to be presented to the centre.

If you’re into cars, it’s a fascinating place and well worth a visit if you happen to be passing through Stuttgart.

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