An unpretentious manufacturing hall with a metal fascia located in an industrial estate that resembles just about every other industrial estate in the Stuttgart region. The large roller door opens up slowly. Eyes try to find something to focus on in the twilight of the hall. Photographer Igor Panitz, a real pro who has already seen many a dream car parked in front of his lens, enthusiastically opens his eyes. “Incredible”, he murmurs, letting his eyes wander around for a moment. There’s a silver shine to the hall, which mixes with white, orange and petrol-coloured sprinkles: racing cars, rally cars, Silver Arrows. In this hall – known by employees simply as the “Motorsport Hall” – you have to pinch yourself while you’re walking around in a dreamy daze. But no, this is all as real as can be!
Luxury cars en masse: representative vehicles and sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s.
Jürgen Wittmann has been head of the archives and collection since 2008.
Jürgen Wittmann, head of the archives and collection for Mercedes-Benz Classic, knows this feeling, which often leaves visitors with goosebumps. It’s a rare moment, because this collection of vehicles is a closely guarded secret that is only very rarely shared with anyone. And Classic Magazine was given the chance to take some photos of the treasures in this collection, this automotive oeuvre of worldwide uniqueness. When Jürgen Wittmann talks about the contents of this secret vault, the following facts and figures don’t even come close to replicating the impression which this aggregation of brand history leaves on you when you see it in person.
“Our collection comprises around 1,000 cars and grows by around 30 further vehicles each year. It’s spread across eleven locations in the Stuttgart region.” And, as is the case here in the Motorsport Hall, there’s not a single thing missing – well, except space, that is! “The tight nature of these halls is a major logistical challenge,” he explains. Each year, the collection sees around 1,100 movements: some involve taking the vehicles to driving days, trade fairs, events or special exhibitions in the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Or in some cases, they are simply brought into the nearby workshop for maintenance. As the collection is in constant movement, no vehicle has a permanent parking spot: cars returning to the collection are simply parked wherever there happens to be a free space.
And it’s not just the sheer number of vehicles in the Mercedes-Benz Collection that makes it so unique worldwide, rather also its exclusivity and the fact that Mercedes-Benz keeps treasures here that are no longer available anywhere else and that no sum of money could even buy. For example, the collection houses eleven variants of the legendary Mercedes-Benz C 111, which never made it into series production. Plus, there are only two examples of the 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupé” from 1955 in existence and both belong to Mercedes-Benz Classic. And they too are not for sale, of course!
At Mercedes-Benz Classic Service and Parts in Fellbach, Germany, experienced employees have been looking after the historic beauties for 25 years now, making sure that they don’t lose any of their freshness or shine.
It’s not documented when the then Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft company (DMG) began putting vehicles into storage for future generations. There is, however, a photo from around 1910 of a foreign delegation visiting the Untertürkheim plant. It depicts a small, museum-like showroom with oriental rugs. And archivists also know that, around 1923, DMG began expanding the existing collection with additional purchases, and systematically tried to add the most important models built to date to the collection.
Since 1980 it has become part of the brand’s tradition to include production line vehicles in the collection. In such cases, the cars in question are the last vehicle of a model series, brand-new and transferred directly to the vehicle halls – one of the reasons for the continuous expansion of the collection. Only on very rare occasions have vehicles been removed from the collection. Occasionally, cars are sold to improve the quality of the collection – for example when models are replaced by vehicles with a greater historical value.
Jürgen Wittmann, the principal guardian of this unique automotive oeuvre, is having a spot of déjà-vu today: between a number of the vehicles, he recognises a signal red 500 SL from the R 107 model series. As the spokesperson for the Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen plant at the time, he personally handed over the sports car in 1989 directly from the production line to the head of the collection. Today, this production line vehicle is one of his many protégés with unimaginable historical and material worth.