These cars are like sculptures. And there’s an entire hall full of them – over three floors. Such a collection of the most luxurious of cars is rare, a sight which onlookers must first digest. He stands there, speechless. Before him, a whole host of “Ponton”, “Pagoda”, “Fintail” and “Gullwing” models. Nico Ockhuisen, 70 years old, grey hair, beard, easy-going smile. He observes – and en- joys – the visitor’s reaction out of the corner of his eye. Road-going beauties in all imaginable shapes and colours. So many highlights from nine decades of automotive history all at a single location.
From the 290 Cabriolet B built in 1933 to the 300 SL Gullwing from 1955, the 300d from 1960, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution from 1989, right up as far as the SLS AMG from 2011. An SLR McLaren, a 450 SEL 6.9, a 600 model that once belonged to the editor-in-chief of the New York Times, and even one of just 85 units of the 220 Coupé from 1954. Legendary classics and a few future classics. The senses in overdrive, the heart pounding hard. The first question the reporter poses to passionate car collector Nico Ockhuisen finds a terse, cool response: “Have you ever driven anything other than a car from Mercedes-Benz?” – “No!”
When he was 17, Ockhuisen’s paper round brought him his first pocket money and subsequently allowed him to buy a used Mercedes. Today he owns a whopping 106 vehicles from Mercedes-Benz. The majority of them are parked right here in this hangar-like hall. “These cars don’t bite,” he says. “You can get closer to them, you know! Just get in. You can also go for a drive if you like. Feel free and have some fun.” OK, now that sounds good! Time for a ride – for lots of rides, in fact. Louis van Vliet, 59, president of the Mercedes-Benz Automobil Clubs Nederland (MBAC), and Patrick Bauland, 61, treasurer of the MBAC, are also present. First, it’s time for a lap in the rain with the rare, sporty 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution; then, when the weather picks up, it’s time to get behind the wheel of the elegant 220 Ponton.
The three young-hearted petrol- heads are totally in their element – during the ferry crossing and when driving on solid ground. They’re having a great time. “Having such a shining example of a Mercedes-Benz enthusiast like Nico in the club is something very special,” says Club President van Vliet. And Patrick Bauland adds: “I don’t know anyone else who has so much passion and specialist knowledge.” As a businessman and father of two daughters and a son, Ockhuisen runs four yachting marinas and a small transport company just outside Amsterdam.
The Dutchman, who is equal parts down to earth and friendly, has invested a lot of care – and a hefty sum of money – into his car collection. “None of my cars are for sale. Quite the contrary, in fact. I’m always on the lookout for new treasures and am lucky enough to have a reliable network of informants all around the world to help me,” he says. “If there’s an interesting car for sale somewhere with low mileage and in original condition, I’d like to think that I’m among the first to hear about it. I never buy a car without having looked at it personally first – apart from this one time in Los Angeles. I received a photo and an offer by telephone. I pounced on that one right away.”
Almost every one of his cars is in great condition: unrestored, original paint finish, original leather or fabric upholstery. Underfloor, boot, spare tyre, tool kit: everything’s old, but looks new. That’s important to Nico Ockhuisen – and it makes his collection even more unique. Nevertheless, cars were made to be driven. And so, every vehicle is driven at least twice per year, each time over a distance of 50 kilometres. Coming from a big family – “Father worked at Philips, mother looked after my six siblings and me” – he has earned his own way with love, brains and skilful hands, which are living proof of his ability to knuckle down and get on with the job at hand. Ockhuisen isn’t just a collector, he’s also capable of of taking an entire engine apart and rebuilding it.
His eyes glisten like the shiny surfaces of the polished cars in his 2,000-square-metre hall. There’s no doubt about it: here stands a man who can be very proud of what he has accomplished. This is his lifetime achievement. And sometimes a dream car becomes a “dream come true,” explains Ockhuisen. He happily sits in his historic beauties, closes his eyes, breathes in the scent of old leather, carefully passes his hand over the materials and dreams back to days gone by. For him, those are “true moments of great happiness,” he says, and the two other club members nod in agreement.
Nico Ockhuisen can still remember exactly how it all began: “I was ten. In the neighbourhood there was a dog groomer. A dog owner with a beautiful Mercedes visited him regularly. It was a Fintail from the W 111 model series. When he pulled up, my astounded eyes gave the car a once-over while my jaw just hung there, wide open. At some point I asked if I could go for a ride with him. He said yes.” The sound of the engine, the sublime elegance, the charming instrument panel. When he got back out, he was a changed man. What is it that’s so fascinating about the brand? “The quality. The look. No other manufacturer has built so many fascinating cars over such a long period of time than Mercedes-Benz.
I’m such a big fan that I even called my eldest daughter Mercedes.” And is his son called Benz? “No, Bram.” In close club company, Nico Ockhuisen loves sharing stories from way back when. Now together for 53 years and married for 47 of those, he picked up his wife Jannie from her house in the Mercedes-Benz Ponton 220 on their first date. Even today, the Ponton is the car which the Ockhuisens prefer to take for a spin.
The black classic now has many more than 200,000 kilometres on the clock. A couple of dozen of his other treasures don’t even have that many miles between them, Club President Louis van Vliet throws into the conversation jovially. Nico Ockhuisen still has one big dream. And his wife Jannie staunchly supports him in wanting him to fulfil this dream. He wants to make his treasure trove readily accessible to other Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts and, with the support of the club, he wants to build his own museum – in Baarn, on the A1 motorway, just a few kilometres from Amsterdam. He intends to open the doors in two or, at the latest, three years from now. Right here, on the edge of the yachting marina. Now that’s going to be a huge event!