In 1952, the first single-brand car club was founded in England, and the youngest just under two years ago: the Unimog Club China. The membership figures grow by five to ten percent worldwide each year. The brand clubs are much more than mere custodians of tradition and driving culture: they are communities with great cohesion, and offer vibrant meeting points for enthusiasts, connoisseurs and fans. Come along on a round-the-world trip with us through the Mercedes-Benz community!
Distribution of Mercedes-Benz Clubs worldwide:
Mercedes-Benz Unimog Club Gaggenau: Martina and Wolfgang Zappel in their U 411.
Entrepreneur Martin Semm has been a member of the 300 SL Club for nine years. He owns several “Gullwings” and roadsters and drives them a lot.
“I’ve met lots of interesting people at the club and in the community. Some have even become friends for life. We meet several times a year at different events and, of course, away from the meetings. My most enjoyable trip? When I drove a 300 SL Roadster from Monaco via Cannes to St. Tropez, with the top down along the entire coastal road. A dream!”
What do you love about Mercedes-Benz?
Already as a young boy, I learned about the fascination of the star from my father. He bought himself a “Fintail” and I was allowed to drive it on our land – at first on his lap, and then by myself once I was able to reach the pedals.
How many Mercedes-Benz classics do you own, and what are they?
I have a U 421 from 1971, a U 400 from 1999, a U 4000 built in 2006 and, as of recently, an SL 500 (R 129) from 1997.
That’s quite a large selection…
I love driving them all, and I choose them to suit the particular occasions in question, for meets and excursions.
What was your key experience regarding your Unimog passion?
My enthusiasm began in Africa. When I left university I went travelling for six months in the west of the continent. Crossing the Sahara in a Borgward was diffcult: although we had all-wheel drive, we had to shovel our way through the huge fields of sand.
That was when I saw a U 100 for the first time as it went effortlessly by. I watched with astonishment as it disappeared: this aroused my desire and fascination.
What was the best reaction from other people that you’ve had regarding your cars?
It’s when we get stopped and people ask if they can take photos. And then there was the time that children came past with their parents and then, in delight and excitement, pointed out to their parents that there was a Unimog over there.
What do you get out of talking shop with like-minded members of the Unimog Club Gaggenau?
Despite all the differences, we have a common basis for what are sometimes very animated conversations. There are lots of intensive encounters and friendships which otherwise would probably not have come about.
Do you have a dream that you would one day love to come true with one of your classic cars?
I’d like to put a camper shell on the back of the load area and travel around Europe in a Unimog for a few weeks, from the North Cape down to Gibraltar.
An exhilarating excursion of the Kitsukawas in the 300 SL Roadster along with other club members on Shikoku island.
It was an impressive journey for us, a visit to the Far East: Shimpei Kitsukawa, his wife Nobuko, daughter Mari and son Katsuya – along with other members of the Mercedes-Benz Club Japan – were the protagonists of the extensive cover story a year and a half ago, in our award-winning 03.2018 issue.
The factory owner on the island of Shikoku owns an impressive collection of vintage Mercedes-Benz models. He liked the feature and the magazine so much that a few weeks ago he ordered another 50 printed copies. This means he has now received about 250 copies in all of this – “his” – edition.
But why so many magazines, Mr Kitsukawa? “Because I am touched, honoured and, of course, also very proud,” he replied. “I give the magazine featuring my story to my friends and business customers.”
For the 80-year-old, Mercedes-Benz is much more than just a car brand. He tells us that the star has been his companion as an elegant, trusty friend for 55 years: “And for me, Mercedes-Benz represents a great attitude towards life – yes, in a sense it means security, status and home. In fact, I have never driven anything else for almost six decades. If I had, I would have felt like a traitor.”
Last year he resigned as honorary president of the Mercedes-Benz Club Japan for health reasons. “Sadly, I rarely sit behind the wheel myself these days; I can no longer attend many events or go on excursions,” says the family man. He is now an honorary member of the club.
Mr Kitsukawa explains that at some point he intends to bequeath the classic models that mean the most to him to his daughter and two sons: “I would really like them to keep these cars in good condition and then pass them on to their children when the time comes. In particular, I would like the 300 SL Roadster, which I have now owned for 40 years, the 280 SL (W 113) and the white 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet (W 111) to give pleasure to as many generations as possible; this is both my wish and, in fact, a family rule.”
Mr Kitsukawa is an honorary member of the Mercedes-Benz Club in Japan.
Dirk Kemper (far right), his wife Marion and son Ashley out and about by the sea, near Melbourne.
Dirk Kemper, born in the Ruhr region of Germany, has lived on the east coast of Australia since the age of eight. In Melbourne. His wife Marion and son Ashley share his passion: “Classics with the star”. They are the “family glue”, says Dirk, the cement that bonds the family – and builds a bridge to Germany for him. For example, the “Pagoda”, or “Roundy”, his 220 S built in 1958.
Nico Ockhuisen is quite probably one of the best Mercedes-Benz experts and greatest enthusiasts worldwide. There are 124 automotive jewels from nine decades parked in his hangar-like hall.
Until only recently, Nico Ockhuisen’s Mercedes-Benz collection – which is unique and impressive in equal measure – was parked in a large hall on three storeys. The hall looks like an aircraft hangar and has similar dimensions. But for his constantly growing collection – he currently owns 124 cars from nine decades – it simply became a bit too small. So Nico, a marina operator and haulier, made a virtue of his necessity. He is now building a second hall on the site of his marina in Baarn on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which was completed in August 2020. “A good 2,000 square metres on two levels,” he explains. “It’ll fit around 40 to 50 vehicles.”
But that is not all. The Dutch collector, who is a walking dictionary on all things relating to Mercedes-Benz and whose daughter is even called Mercedes, wants to set up his own private car museum in the new hall. “Many enthusiasts and fans of the three-pointed star from all over the world will visit it as soon as this is possible again,” he says, certain. “Some clubs from Germany, England and Switzerland have already registered their interest. I’m delighted, as this will then bring the international community a little closer together. And who knows, perhaps my museum will also be a source of inspiration for other collectors wanting to present their gems to the public.”
The Dutchman’s collection comprises 124 Mercedes-Benz models from nine decades.
Nico at the wheel of his “Ponton”, club president Louis van Vliet (in the rear) and treasurer Patrick Bauland enjoy a drive together.
On working days, some 120,000 cars drive along the A 1, and they will all see Nico’s star shining brightly in the marina right next to the motorway. “Some visitors passing through, or businesspeople, will no doubt stop off and visit my museum,” Nico hopes.
They will then be able to admire his 290 Cabriolet B (W 18) from 1933, or the 170 V Roadster (W 136) built in 1938, as well as the 300 S Coupé (W 188) from 1953, the 600 (W 100) from 1964 or the two “Gullwing brothers” – the 300 SL (W 198) and SLS AMG (C 197). “My family is just fantastic,” says Nico Ockhuisen with no end of pride in his voice.
The W 123 is one of a total of four classic cars owned by Ana Gabriela Garcia Ariza, a lawyer from Bogotá.
“The trigger of my passion for Mercedes-Benz was a W 114 that my stepfather owned when I was a little girl. He would always take me with him in our beautiful ‘Stroke Eight’ and explain to me every detail and every subtlety of the interior equipment and the skilled manual workmanship. I was about seven or eight years old at the time, and this was just so impressive. I was inspired; the car was my friend.
Today I own four classic models myself: a 41-year-old 280 SE, a W 116, a W 123 from 1981 and a W 124, which may be my youngest, but is actually already 25 years old. They’ve accompanied me at many – actually, no, at all – the key moments of my life: at my own wedding and that of my sister, at the birth of my daughter, for example. Yes, Mercedes-Benz plays a starring role in my life.”
“The best reactions to my beautiful old cars mainly come from children here in my home city of Bogotá. It’s quite astounding to see how their faces sometimes really light up when I’m at a red light and they discover me. And how the little ones then nudge their parents in order to draw their attention to the car. I find moments like that really heart-warming. You get asked lots of questions – and a nice conversation always follows. This makes me really proud and profoundly happy.
The Mercedes-Benz Club Colombia, whose members are mostly men, has long since fully welcomed me as one of their own. As have those in our circle of like-minded people, ‘Benz Friends Colombia’, to which I also belong. We have 16 members – and I’m the only woman. I put my heart and soul into it. And I’m making sure that more women find their way into the clubs. How do I go about this? I travel, get myself known and draw attention to whichever car I happen to be driving: on the road, in do-it-yourself car maintenance courses, at celebratory events and in the occasional car race.”
Ana lent the 280 SE to her sister for her wedding.
Cecile and her husband DJ de Jesus stop off at Southfork Ranch in their 560 SL. This is where the legendary TV series “Dallas” was filmed in the 1970s and 1980s.
The many TV appearances by the R 107 naturally influenced DJ de Jesus’ taste in cars. The SL models were seen in the cult series “Dallas” as well as in “Starsky & Hutch” and “Miami Vice”: “Alongside the 560 SL, we also own other Mercedes-Benz models, but the R 107 has been one of my favourites for a long time. The driving feel on the road? Indescribable. The classic is cult!”
This ostrich seems to like what it sees: a 300 SE from 1964.
Where does his willingness to make such a commitment to a hobby – Mercedes-Benz classics – come from? “Quite simply, it’s pure passion,” Chris Carlisle-Kitz answers. “You need something in life that fills you with enthusiasm deep inside and keeps you full of energy.”
The route to his passion was a long one. Chris first studied literature, became a teacher and a manager, then tried his hand as a chicken farmer. It was during this time that he fell seriously ill, which threw him severely off course. But after five “very diffcult” years he risked a fresh start: as a car restorer. Chris read books and took evening classes, taught himself a lot – and founded his own company.
He meticulously reconditioned old cars. It was mainly Mercedes-Benz models that left his workshop. “I know it sounds mad, but to this day I just can’t leave classic beauties alone,” he says. “For me it’s a feeling of deep joy and satisfaction when they’re driven out of my workshop again just like new.”
He was just nine years old when he first drove a car alone – a 170 D from 1949. He first steered the car over the site of a decommissioned airport and then before too long out of his father’s garage. “A big car for quite a small lad,” recalls Chris. “That’s how it all started, everything that made me what I am today. It’s left its traces. Good, deep traces.”
Chris even carries his passion in the first three letters of his surname: Carlisle-Kitz.