It just lies there peacefully, whitewashed and surrounded by precisely mown fields, 40 kilometres away from the city and just next to the quaint town of Parker. It’s a cloudless morning and carriages full of visitors clunk relentlessly through the gates of Southfork Ranch, passing by grazing Longhorns, busy gardeners and horse stables as they go. Anyone who remembers the TV series Dallas will recall an estate with a much more imposing presence than this. The pool in which family bad guy J.R. Ewing used to cool off looks more like a paddling pool. And there’s a good reason for that, because already back in the 1980s, film crews used mirrors and camera trickery to make it appear bigger. The terrace feels almost homely, especially as the theme tune is constantly to be heard.
Southfork Ranch: Cecile and DJ de Jesus share a fascination for the Wild West. They live in Fort Worth, the home of cowboys and culture, longhorns and horses.
Reunion Tower: the trademark of Dallas.
Dallas was one of the most famous television series of the 1970s and 1980s. First broadcast on 13 April 1978, over the course of 13 years, a total of 357 episodes about the clan of Texan oil and cattle barons were filmed. This unparalleled saga made the Ewings one of the world’s most famous families. Viewers got to know them a little better each week. Everyone knew when Sue Ellen would reach for the whiskey, why Pam and Bobby were going through a crisis and what manipulative tricks J.R. used to stock up his bank account. This intriguing world of the rich and beautiful was both seductive and off-putting, but above all, it was highly entertaining.
And for fellow Texan DJ de Jesus, there was one unforgettable thing about the series: the Ewing family’s affection for Mercedes-Benz. Not only did he grow up with Dallas, but he also decided to show his own love of the German manufacturer by joining the Fort Worth Section of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America as one of its leaders. The club now numbers 500 members. Today, his 560 SL is parked in front of Southfork Ranch. It’s a sporty two-seater from 1989 with blue leather upholstery.
Visitors cash in on this surprising sight and start taking their own photos as a reminder of the fact that Bobby Ewing and his striking partner Pamela had several SL models (R 107) at their disposal – albeit not in Arctic white, but in bright signal red. The car, a masterpiece by automotive stylist Friedrich Geiger, was presented by Mercedes-Benz in 1971 for the first time. It was a car with simple yet elegant lines, exciting curves and discreet chrome trim elements.
Next stop: Elm Street. In many respects, this is one of the most famous streets in Dallas – John F. Kennedy was shot just a few kilometres away from this intersection in 1963.
“For Americans back then, cars from Mercedes-Benz were the epitome of luxury. Anyone who drove an SL in the 1980s was definitely considered rich,” DJ said. And what about the character of the car? The first word that comes to his mind is “snooty” – kind of cool, yet arrogant. Quite the perfect car for the looker of the family, Dandy. That said, villainous J.R. also had good taste, as DJ confirms. He just wanted everything bigger, so he drove various S-Class models, including the W 116 series. His first car was a dark green 280 SE, before he later moved on to a silver-green 450 SEL. The family also owned a silver thistle-coloured 380 SEL.
Nevertheless, it was mainly the SL of the R 107 model series that enjoyed a fruitful career on TV. And you didn’t just get to see it in Dallas, but also in “Hart to Hart”, “Starsky & Hutch” and “Miami Vice”. It also put in an appearance in “The A-Team”. And it even made the big jump to Hollywood, where it was a partner to the likes of Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop”, Richard Gere in “American Gigolo” and Sharon Stone in “Casino”. DJ explains that its presence in many TV series and films did obviously have an effect on him, but that it was actually his father who once told him, while growing up in the Philippines and learning how to drive his Dad’s “Stroke-Eight”, that the German car manufacturer with the star was the best there was in the world.
DJ and his wife Cecile now own several Mercedes-Benz classics, among them a 190 SL from 1959, a 220 SE Cabriolet from 1960, an SL “Pagoda” from 1971, a 250 C from 1972, a 300 D from 1983, a 560 SL from 1989 and a 300 CE Cabriolet from 1993. The 560 SL is one of his favourite vehicles. “The driving sensation is indescribable, every single time,” he says almost romantically.
The Roadster: Conspicuous bumpers adorn the 560 SL – they are a concession to the special safety regulations in the United States.
As for Dallas, Texans are still pondering why the series was so popular. It was full of clichés. “So there’s this big boss from the oil industry surrounded by hot women, and a load of conspiracies start spinning off all over the place. None of it is true,” says DJ. He tells us that business people from that domain are generally quite grounded and reserved. “Most business here is done in a friendly way.” The series format, with its dramatic cliffhangers, was formative for the time. Bobby Ewing’s departure in 1985 led to widespread contempt, which is why the scriptwriters later brought him back to life. When oil baron J.R. was shot in 1980, the world experienced the most curious killing off of a character in all of history – the world’s media also quickly jumped onto the bandwagon. Today, Dallas is seen as the mother of all soaps.
Forty years have passed since the first episode of Dallas. When DJ drives his 560 SL over the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge across the Trinity River, memories come flooding back to him. There’s Reunion Tower with its unmistakable apex. Falcons circle between the silvery sheen of skyscrapers, and below them hardly a single pedestrian can be seen – just like it always was. DJ laughs when he sees the gigantic towers. And then that famous Texan phrase drops: “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” says DJ. And what about the oil industry? Well, a lot of that is in Houston.
An imposing backdrop: the 560 SL in front of the Dallas skyline.
Black gold: Many oil pumps in Texas are still in operation and are accessible to visitors. Oil fields continue to be discovered and ensure a fresh supply of cash to the industry.
Today, Dallas is also home to high-tech companies, hence the city’s nickname “North Texas Silicon Prairie”. “Money from the oil industry also brought positive change into the culture scene,” he says – for example the Nasher Sculpture Center or the jam-packed Dallas Museum of Arts. DJ parks his car by the Sixth Floor Museum on Dealey Plaza. The building used to be the Texas School Book Depository; from a perch on the sixth floor, Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Today, the building is naturally a magnet for tourists. And what about all the hype surrounding the TV series of the same name as this Texan town – is it enough to block out one of the darkest chapters in the city’s history? DJ contemplates for a moment. No, he thinks that would probably be an exaggeration. “But the legendary series definitely made the city glamorous, even to this day.”