A life-long link with the Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8.
Taxi – a symbol of freedom.
“As a child I already knew I wanted to be a taxi driver. Being on the road in a car: for me it’s a symbol of freedom and independence,” explains Mohamed El Bacha, who comes from the Berber village of Arbaa Ida Ouguerd. His father paid for him to get his driving licence at 17 years of age. For a while he worked in a cake shop. But once he had gained a few years of driving experience, the local authorities of the Moroccan port town of Essaouira issued him with his taxi permit. Shortly after that, he became the proud owner of a Mercedes.
At least 500 kilometres per day – and for 25 years.
“I drive more than 500 kilometres each day. If there are special jobs to be done and I have to drive to Agadir or Marrakesh, then it’s more like 1,400 kilometres,” says Mohamed El Bacha. His Mercedes-Benz is now over 40 years old and has never let him down.
In 1991, the friendly driver bought the 1974 Stroke 8 – from the German “Strich-Acht” – and brought it back into shape: the salt-laden air from the Atlantic had rusted the doors and boot. Now, he drives the car six out of seven days a week. His only day of rest is Friday – his family day.
Loyal and robust – the ideal companion.
“My Mercedes just keeps on running: no other cars are as robust and solid as this one,” says the taxi driver. Normally, he drives from Essaouira to the nearby residential areas. But even in the heat of the desert, where other vehicles get stuck on the side of the road with a steaming radiator, his diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz has proved itself time and again: high temperatures are no match for it. The 240 D is also an economic vehicle: “I often only use around seven or eight litres of fuel over a hundred kilometres, even when I’m loaded with passengers and luggage.”
Millions of kilometres over rough roads and sandy tracks.
Mohamed El Bacha and his Mercedes-Benz have been working together for 25 years day-in, day-out. In the past, they had to tackle sandy tracks and rough roads with loose surfaces, but nowadays most roads are paved. The pleasant driver doesn’t know the exact number of kilometres the vehicle has covered in total. The clock stopped working a few years ago.
That said, it must be several million kilometres – and the car’s original engine is still going strong.
In good company.
The Stroke 8 is in good company. The type of taxi the people of Morocco use all depends on the distance they need to cover. For short journeys, people still use horse-drawn carriages. Mid-range distances are covered by modern compact cars. These are the so-called “petit taxis”. For journeys into the surrounding areas, the “grands taxis” are ready for their customers. The share taxis are almost exclusively classic Mercedes-Benz vehicles from the 1970s and 1980s. They offer space for up to six passengers and their luggage.
No other driver in Essaouira can boast the same level of experience as Mohamed El Bacha, and no-one knows their way around better than he does. That’s why many of his colleagues turn to him for his advice on the rare occasions when their vehicles need a repair. “The mechanics in town have all of the essential spare parts in stock. They can get a Mercedes back up and running in no time. A taxi won’t be off the road for longer than half a day.” That’s precisely the reason why none of the taxi drivers dare to use the less reliable vehicles of other manufacturers.
Hard-working classic in front of a historical backdrop.
The classic Mercedes-Benz models are extremely resistant. In other countries, well looked-after examples of the W 115 or W 123 model series are collector’s items and are carefully kept in shape by their owners. Yet in Morocco, they continue to work hard as taxis and are thus accordingly shabby around the edges. Around 400 classic Mercedes-Benz taxis are in use around Essaouira whose imposing town wall was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
At the time, this is where goods from the Sahara were loaded and unloaded. These days, only a few fishing boats are in the port and the town’s historical medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Grand taxi” with a star on the bonnet.
The taxi stand in Essaouira is busy all day long. Mechanics’ workshops are just around the corner. In Morocco, even if the propshaft breaks, a “grand taxi” which bears a star on its bonnet doesn’t need to stop mid-journey. The taxi drivers from Essaouira have developed a method which allows them to carry on to the destination without having to be towed away: they simply fill the boot with stones. The additional weight on the rear axle serves to stabilise the car such that it’s still possible to drive a few dozen kilometres to the workshop.
No-one else is allowed behind the wheel.
Mohamed El Bacha’s Stroke 8 runs problem-free to this day. That’s almost certainly because no-one else is allowed to drive the vehicle apart from him. “My colleagues lend their vehicles out to other drivers on the odd occasion. I don’t – I’m not sure I’d be able to sleep at night if I did.” Before every journey, the owner checks the oil and water, as well as the brakes, suspension and engine as he walks around the vehicle.
Mohamed El Bacha knows how his car should sound. “If something was wrong, I’d hear it straight away.”
Mohamed El Bacha is happily married. “But I’ve also got a life-long link with my Mercedes-Benz: the taxi is my first car, and remains my only car,” he smiles. That said, there have been people interested in the car, but selling the car is not an option for him. Quite the opposite: one of his two sons is soon to take over his father’s role. “Initially we’ll drive together so that I can teach him all the ins and outs. Then he can take over the business.” And of course also the trusty Mercedes-Benz.