For those who know his car collection, it is not hard to guess his favourite letter of the alphabet. “It’s S, of course,” says Hermann Mike, who is wearing jeans, a white shirt and sunglasses. “S for S-Class. Oh man, I love these elegant, comfortable and safe cruisers. The star has right of way, it makes you king of the road. I’ve owned almost every model in the S-Class, both older and younger classics. At one time I had no less than eight S-Class cars in my collection.”
Hermann Mike and his wife, Pauline.
President of the Club: Amon Somolong loves Mercedes-Benz. And good music.
Hermann, 38, works for a credit card company in Nairobi. As a sideline he runs a small workshop, mainly to care for his own cars. He presently owns five S-Class cars. And now, on this Thursday, he is on his way through the streets of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, in his 41-year-old 280 S (W 116) together with his wife Pauline, 38, a stewardess with Kenya Airways. They are heading for a giraffe farm on the edge of the metropolis.
Actually, Hermann only wants to check whether the W 116 is ready for longer excursions through two national parks at the coming weekend: one trip to Lake Naivasha, in the East African Rift, and one through Nairobi National Park directly outside the city.
Hermann and Pauline are not on the road alone. Ahead is a 280 SE (W 108) dating from 1970, and behind them a 300 SEL (W 126), 30 years old, and an S 320 (W 140) produced in 1996. This is a small S-Class parade staged by the Mercedes-Benz Club Kenya.
Sheer joy: Amon Somolong (left) breaks into dance during a refreshment stop.
The Club is the 80th to be officially recognised worldwide. Recognition was only obtained a few months ago – and it made a great many people in Kenya very happy. The idea to form a club came from a few enthusiasts back in 2014. They became aware of each other through posts and comments on various social networks: Hermann Mike, now Vice Chairman of the Club, was one of them, as were Club President Amon Somolong, 29, owner of a taxi and travel agency, Chairman Ronn Nginda, 45, a finance official and university lecturer, Michael Collins, 32, a Kenyan who often travels between Kenya and Cologne and is able to procure replacement parts, and Sam Oendo, living in Texas, currently Vice President of the Club.
Together they established the Mercedes-Benz Club Kenya. “Two years ago my friends asked me if I could organise a tour to Stuttgart,” says Michael, who is driving the W 140 to the giraffe farm. “They wanted to visit the Museum and tour the production plant in Sindelfingen. We still refer to this as our pilgrimage to Stuttgart. And after this pilgrimage, we did what was necessary to be officially recognised as a Brand Club. And when that happened – man, did we celebrate.”
Savannah: heading for the East African Rift and Naivasha Lake.
Encounter: a 190 E 2.6 (left) and a W 126, both design creations by Bruno Sacco, in the national park during a break.
Three W 124s, two in arctic white and one in ivory, plus a number of Stroke Eights and S-Class models have come along for the first excursion at the weekend. In bright sunshine and at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, they head from Nairobi towards the East African Rift, or more precisely Lake Naivasha, around 100 kilometres from the city centre.
This freshwater lake lies at an altitude of almost 1,800 metres and is home to hippos, pelicans and dozens of other species of water fowl. It is also the hunting ground of sea eagles. Various species of antelope and zebras graze on the lush grass by the lakeside. They are in no danger from big cats – there are none here.
“We really enjoy driving out to the lake at the weekend, and do it often,” says Club President Amon Somolong, the proud owner of the W 124 he is driving today. He also has a blue Stroke Eight in his garage. There are many good restaurants directly by the lake, serving fresh fish, fried chicken or grilled goat. Large portions of these delicacies are placed on the table reserved by the Club. Amon, Ronn, Hermann and Michael are joined by a public prosecutor, an IT company owner, an estate agent and an insurance broker for the excursion – all of them avid Mercedes-Benz fans. Their fondness for their cars is genuine, obvious and impressive. They self-confidently celebrate their lifestyle.
“Being on the road in my Mercedes-Benz is sheer joy for me,” says Daisy Namayi, 37. She is a bank employee, has been a Club member for a year and is the only woman at the wheel today. Her W 124 is 31 years old, has a few paint scratches here and there, but is very reliable, she says.
She bought it in Nairobi for 2,000 dollars 12 years ago: “‘Why do you drive such an old car with a manual gearshift?’ My friends ask me that fairly often. But still, they almost all find my W 124, built in 1988, pretty cool.”
Safari: A Stroke Eight raises a huge dust cloud on the track.
The group stirs up a small cloud of dust on a nearby track, then poses for a photograph by the lake. Fishermen are casting their nets for the last time today. The sun sinks below the high hills on the horizon, taking the heat of the day with it. A few hippos are swimming along near the shore. You can hear them puffing, and see their heads briefly break the surface. Zebras appear on the lush grass as dusk falls. The return journey to Nairobi in the dark will take a little more than two and a half hours.
Before setting out on the safari through Nairobi National Park, we take a detour to visit one of the Club’s most ardent and well-heeled car collectors. Sachit Shah, 47, is of Indian origin, and his family owns a large bank in Kenya. He lives in an enormous, tastefully furnished villa on the outskirts of the city, in a neighbourhood with many embassies and government guesthouses. A 190 SL, 230 SL, SLS AMG, W 111 Coupé, W 123 seven/eight-seater, 450 SEL 6.9 – “the only one in Kenya,” he adds – and a middle green Adenauer 300 (W 189) are among the classics in his collection.
“I started to collect classic automobiles five years ago, mainly those with the star on the bonnet,” says Sachit Shah.
Avid collector: Sachit Shah owns several more Mercedes-Benz classics besides this “Adenauer” in middle green (DB 278).
Shop talk: Ronn Nginda, Michael Collins and Amon Somolong (from left to right) examine the engine of a W 111 Coupé.
“My first car was the Adenauer. We found it on a remote farm about five years ago, in a completely dilapidated condition. When we opened the glove compartment, a snake shot out.”
The banker now specialises in rescuing long-forgotten gems and restoring them to life. His employees scour the whole country looking for them – and bring the cars, some of them real rarities, back to the private workshop for restoration. Their most recent finds are a white “Ponton” coupé and the 450 SEL 6.9.
“Hopefully they will both be drivable again in a year or two,” the banker says, and invites us into the house for a snack. “When our Club makes a pilgrimage to Stuttgart this summer, I will certainly join them,” he promises before business calls him away.
We set off for Nairobi National Park in the early morning. “That’s when there’s a good chance of even seeing lions,” says Club President Amon Somolong, who is driving his blue Stroke Eight this time. And he’s right, they suddenly appear and cross the track ahead of us: seven lions. “OK, everything’s OK,” growls S-Class fan Hermann Mike at the wheel of his red W 116. “The star normally has right of way in Kenya, but not here and now.”
Protecting the wildlife is very important to the Club, so they keep their distance. Monkeys, antelopes, buffalo, two rhinos in the distance – and quite close, with the Nairobi skyline in the background, the Massai giraffe. A real adventure, this safari. The children of the Club members are having fun on the rear seats.
And their parents? They are not just driving, they are celebrating Mercedes-Benz!