The airport shuttle’s door with its tinted glass slides away to the side and you step out into the middle of a film. The hilly landscape with its vineyards, olive groves and precisely aligned cypress trees looks as if a film set designer had created it. And the soft, warm light? It can’t come from the sun that shines in Germany; there must be a lighting engineer hiding somewhere. The next few days will see this scenery become the backdrop for a special type of film shoot. The lead roles are played by 13 people and eight classic vehicles. And the story is all about love, of course.
Three couples, a man travelling alone and two pally brothers-in-law booked a special type of journey: a three-night stay in a noble residence which is over five centuries old and has since been converted into a luxury hotel. Each morning, they leave the Borgo Scopeto Relais near Siena wearing their caps and ready to drive the various 1960s and 1970s Mercedes-Benz SL Roadsters made available to them. Ready for some super light (SL) journeys through a landscape that’s a dream destination for many people. It’s understandable that Tuscany has served as the backdrop for many a classic film.
The wayfarers and their individual intentions are as varied as the paint finishes of the tarpaulin-covered vehicles awaiting their arrival in the courtyard. Among the tour group are Bernd and Karin from Flensburg in Germany. The couple always wanted to visit Tuscany – and Bernd has dreamt for a long time about a “Pagoda” SL. Then there are the two brothers-in-law, Kai and Marc, one of whom already owns a classic, but as a result of work commitments never gets the chance to drive it. Accordingly, their family decided to send the pair on a holiday where they will be forced to drive a classic car, as it were. And of course, there’s also our lone voyager, Erhart, who appears to already be familiar with every technical detail of the vehicles.
But there is one common element that links them all to one another: their love of classic cars. And the desire not to miss out on a single minute of driving pleasure. The main protagonists (or should that be supporting roles?) meet up with tour guide Johannes more punctually than the vast majority of tourist groups. The cars are then given a thorough once-over and “reserved”. Johannes explains that in the coming days, the drivers will have the chance to swap cars. Which is followed by a collective sigh of relief. Later, during dinner, the group enthuses, compares and talks shop: The sound of the engine! The roads! This design! And generally about how it feels to be behind the wheel! The favourite is also already made known: the group finds the R 107 amazing and beautiful – but in their eyes, the Pagoda SL is truly amazing and absolutely beautiful.
For each of these two model series there are four cars to choose from. In recent years, the Pagoda has moved up to occupy a top position in the classic car charts. Many classic fans are children of the 1960s and associate those times with their dream cars from times gone by. Presented at the 1963 Geneva International Motor Show, the model series bearing the internal code W 113 was the beginning of a legend: it was intended to combine the best of the 300 SL – the car with motor racing genes – and the 190 SL boulevard cruiser. It was a match made in heaven, to the point that it is more coveted today by lovers of classic cars than ever before. Plus, the Pagoda – so called because of its slightly concave hardtop used for reasons of stability – has the ability to make classic car lovers out of people who previously weren’t.
The R 107 has a more masculine look; it is more muscular and less dainty than its predecessor, which it replaced from 1971 onwards. And it was quite popular: in 18 years, 237, 287 units were sold. But in the rankings concerning the refined appearance of the vehicles, it must concede that the final judgement of the group went in favour of the W 113 – the latter being deemed to have a more attractive layout for the rev counter, fuel gauge and speedometer. So much chrome! Oh, and then there’s that sleek parking brake on the right-hand side of the footwell! Engines growl, hearts beat faster, then the convoy of vehicles leaves the courtyard via the cypress-lined gravel driveway. Safety first, bravery later. And even still, the first sets of tyres start to screech during a sporty start. Now everyone wants to sound out the driving characteristics. Cameras… “And… action!”
The combined engine sound from the pack of SL models sounds like the orchestral background music of big favourites from the silver screen. The line of pearls then breaks up, with each heading off into the sun. Each car drives at its own pace; everyone experiences the road’s breathtaking interplay between light and shadows in the stretches through the forest (must be that lighting engineer again!), gliding through the impressive avenues and along the lonesome out-of-town roads. All around, there are fortresses from the Middle Ages, sequestrated monasteries and fields of wheat wafting gently in the light breeze (there goes the film set designer again!). “Il Ristoro”, a small bar in Ville di Corsano, is the location where the group meets up again: breathless, beaming and with immense smiles, almost as if the Roadsters had no windscreen and the driving wind had drawn a smile on their faces.
Espresso time. Now switched off, the engines continue to crackle like the suspense which a good film leaves hanging in the air. After a quick stop, all the cars are back on the road – much to their drivers’ delight. Again, they head off through splendid film backdrops. And above all, past friendly locals who wave as the cars pass by. They had already scrupulously examined the cars during the espresso break. Soon enough, all of the group feel like actors in an action film, or like participants in the Mille Miglia classic rally.
At only 70 km/h, there’s already a small amount of wind noise (particularly in the Pagoda SL). Although they handle smoothly at any power output, the W 113 models accelerate rapidly, claw at the tarmac in curves and stoically hold their line. Until the next stop, the drivers happily drive their cars through the picture- postcard scenery of Tuscany, soaking up the sound of the engine and breathing in the fresh scent of lavender. Time for a spot of downtime from the classics: Bernd and Karin discover the town of Pienza and visit a delicatessen specialising in cheese. Meanwhile Kai and Marc buy some Chianti at the Badia a Coltibuono vineyard – but all they’re really waiting for is to get back behind the wheel.
Johannes keeps a cool head. He knows all about the excitement which the two Mercedes-Benz models can stir up, and he’s also more than familiar with the driving pleasure in which he is also privileged to share: to accompany the group of tourists, the employee from an engineering agency in Munich has also taken time off from his day job. Six years ago, he started out as a student, but now he knows exactly how the participants feel at the end of their holiday when they have to hand back the keys of their classic cars after covering more than 500 kilometres over four days. Just like film actors when they hear the final “Cut!” after an ardent filmshoot. The last clap of the board has fallen. Thankfully, however, most good films nowadays have a sequel. Da capo.