Three days of pure driving adventure.

“Such an exciting, exclusive family outing – I’m really looking forward to it,” enthuses Sophie Schillgalies, 27, over breakfast. Her boyfriend, Aron, 27, and her parents (Karin, 64, and Bernd, 63) are there too – and are just as keyed up. Only a few metres away, keeping cool under the car park’s palm trees, eight Mercedes-Benz roadsters stand waiting for their drivers: four Pagodas and four cars from the R 107 series, the Pagoda’s successor.

Three days of pure driving adventure (some months before the COVID-19 pandemic) through the glorious countryside of northern Italy await the group, with Lake Maggiore showing itself at its best.

There are 16 participants in all for this Nostalgic Driving Experience Tour organised by Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Travel: six women and ten men. It’s an international group, whose members have travelled here from Germany, Norway and the Nether­lands. Quite a few of them have never driven a classic car before. 

Spoiled for choice: Shall we take the W 113 – or perhaps the R 107 after all?

Back in time: Sophie Schillgalies, her parents and her boyfriend normally drive cars from Mercedes-AMG.

Logo from Affalterbach.

In “normal life,” as he puts it, Sophie’s father Bernd is the keen driver of a Mercedes-AMG G-Class. Her mother, too, drives a G-Class on an everyday basis. Aron, on the other hand, swears by his SLS AMG­ ­– while Sophie herself, who works at Mercedes-Benz in Hamburg, has an AMG. As a fan, she has even had the three letters tattooed onto her wrist, while her purse as well as her handbag likewise bear the logo from Affalterbach. Until now, she’s only ever seen photos and heard stories of the Pagoda. Following an introduction to the road book and a briefing from the two instructors, only beaming faces are to be seen; the W 113 and R 107 are given looks of tender admiration. 

G 63:
Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 14,4 l/100 km;
CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert: 330 g/km.1

The cars will all be swapped.

Freshly washed, with their soft tops already open, the classic cars stand gleaming in the sunshine. Sigrid, 57, from Dortmund, has given this auto­motive adventure as a 70th birthday present to her husband, Ullrich, who otherwise drives an S-Class. Gianluca, a 23-year-old medical student from Amsterdam, was gifted the trip by his uncle Jan when he started university. “It’s such an amazing present,” says Gianluca, who passed his driving test three years ago but doesn’t have a car of his own. What does he think of the SLs? “Awesome. They’re such elegant cars, with real expressions on their faces.” 

Sophie and Aron – who both also have a reputation as auto­mobile influencers (@sophieschillgalies, @aronvluw) on Instagram – opt first for the R 107 (280 SL automatic) in the rather unusual colour of Inca red metallic. The cars will all be swapped around over the next few days so that everyone gets to drive the different models. One day automatic, the next manual, maybe; 230 SL, 250 SL, 280 SL, 300 SL, built between 1967 and 1988 – there’s something for everyone there. 

Rain interrupts play: Amsterdam medical student Gianluca and his uncle Jan quickly close the roof of the SL.

Strength and sensitivity.

The first day’s tour runs along the shore of the lake. If you’ve never driven a classic car before, it can take a little getting used to at first. Driving without the accustomed electronic aids requires strength and sensitivity. “Changing gears and even steering, especially in the 230 SL, really take quite a bit of manual effort,” reports Bernd with delight. And when it suddenly starts to rain, all are faced with a new challenge: to get the roof closed promptly – and of course there’s no button here to do it automatically. A quick look in the manual helps, since fortunately there’s a description there of how to close the soft top. 

Everyone’s in a cheerful mood.

Gianluca and his uncle enjoy the unaccustomed activity. And off they go again. Ten minutes later, the sun is shining – so the soft tops are opened once more. The traffic is flowing steadily, and the views of the lake and all the magnificent villas are simply glorious; everyone’s in a cheerful mood. And already the first conversations are turning to what it would be like to actually own a Pagoda or an R 107. Bernd, in particular, is very taken by the “ride feeling and sound of the Pagoda,” the car he chose for the first section. “How much does this car cost?” he asks, his eyes lighting up.

Well: a W 113 in good condition and suitable for everyday use can be had from around 70,000 euros. There’s no upper limit, with particularly well-maintained models costing more than 200,000 euros.

Hotel Splendid: the four-star lakeside hotel with private beach, sunbathing area and extensive gardens.

Going for a ride: the elegant way to travel – on a taxing stretch of mountain road high above the lake.

Simply smiling.

As we pause for an ice cream by the lake, Sophie tells us that her experience with classic cars until now had been limited to occasional outings in a friend’s 190 SL. While that had been fun, it has only really been here at Lake Maggiore that she has begun to understand just how “cool, sporty and very special the classic SL models are”. Aron adds how much he has enjoyed seeing ­passers-by admiring the cars, taking photos, or simply waving and smiling at them: “Everyone likes these cars; people feel good about them. And that somehow re­flects on us, as their drivers.” 

Rally feeling, sunshine and open-top driving.

Well before the sun goes down, the group return to their hotel by the lake. A quick change of clothes, a drink at the bar and then off they chug in the water taxi to Isola Bella, where dinner awaits them on the terrace of Ristorante Elvezia. The rally feeling, sunshine and open-top driving continue for the next couple of days. The full power of the eight SL models comes into its own as the drivers, now much more confident, wind their way up the hairpin bends of Mottarone Park. They are very quickly right up at the summit of Mount Mottarone, at 1,490 metres, from where a stunning view over Lake Maggiore can be enjoyed. 

Was the trip worth it? “The scenery is amazing, with those constantly changing views over the lake – and the food is great,” says Sophie Schillgalies – then smilingly adds, “and cruising in these fantastic classic cars – it gives you such a feeling of freedom and a real zest for life.” And those around her nod in agreement. It seems quite possible that there’ll soon be a 280 SL Pagoda alongside her father’s Mercedes-AMG G-Class. Once he was back in northern Germany from his Italian road trip, he started looking in earnest.

More information.

Eat: Ristorante Elvezia

Look: Kastell Rocca di Angera