It must be love.
At 17 a person has dreams.
Theresa Unnold is 17 years of age and will take the “Abitur”, the German qualification for university entrance, in two years’ time. One of her main elective subjects is physics, chosen because she has an interest in technical matters and wants to understand how complex things work. Her hobbies are horses and her grandparents’ classic Mercedes-Benz. Brigitte and Horst Bacher always said: “When we have more spare time, we’ll buy ourselves a classic car.” One day, they simply took time out to acquire their first classic automobile, a Mercedes-Benz 8/38 hp Stuttgart 200 (a four-door sedan from 1928). Since they’ve owned the “Stuttgart” they’ve also taken part in tours and excursions.
One of their favourites is the Bertha Benz Challenge, which this year marks a special occasion: the 125th anniversary of Bertha Benz’s drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim with her sons Eugen and Richard in the Benz patent motor car, model number 3.
The first Mercedes-Benz.
The “Stuttgart” in which the Bachers will be participating in the challenge was produced between 1926 and 1928 and was one of the first new models to appear after Benz and Daimler pooled their interests. Made in Stuttgart, the 2-litre, 6-cylinder 8/38 hp model and its sister vehicle from Mannheim — the 12/55 Mercedes-Benz (3- litre, 6-cylinder, 55 hp) — were the first cars to bear the Mercedes-Benz brand name. The 8/38 hp model was immediately successful. This favoured model from the Benz part of the company based in the Baden region really captured the zeitgeist. It was one of the first ever cars for gentlemen drivers — which the owner drove himself rather than employing a chauffeur, as had been the norm.
Two good old friends.
Theresa Unnold, her dainty hands tightly gripping the Mercedes’ colossal steering wheel, only got her driver’s license a couple of months ago. She is not permitted to drive alone until her 18th birthday. Until then she must be accompanied by a parent or grandparent. “I first sat behind the wheel directly after my driving test. The ‘Stuttgart’ didn’t stall on me once,” she said. Before setting off, Horst Bacher sat her down in the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a theory lesson, pointing out that an anticipatory driving style is essential. As for the three-speed transmission, idling and double-declutching, her grandfather thought that she would soon know what to listen for and what to expect. He refrained from telling Theresa not to drive too fast: An engine output of 38 hp and the W 02’s 1,250 kilo weight make such a tip redundant.
In the end he sent her on her way with these words: “You two have known each other so long, you are sure to get along.”
Intergenerational contract behind the wheel.
The fact that, as a novice, Theresa Unnold is even driving such an impressive classic car and sporting challenge is all thanks to her grandmother. When you live in the Rhine-Neckar area, Schwetzingen Castle is not far away. This is where the Concours d’Élégance is held, a major draw for classic car enthusiasts. It is also a port of call on the Bertha Benz Challenge, in memory of a strong and energetic woman. When Brigitte and Horst Bacher first attended this challenge for cars built before 1930 as spectators, they were both amazed by the lovingly presented automotive gems. Brigitte Bacher was surprised, though, that most women took a place in the passenger seat, instead of behind the wheel as you might expect on a route commemorating Bertha Benz. Brigitte said to her husband: “If we ever take part in this, then I’m driving!”
Their granddaughter Theresa has often joined them on the Challenge over the past ten years: in the back. Today, Brigitte Bacher is the front passenger while her husband sits in the rear. Behind the wheel is Theresa.
Love at first sight.
Theresa Unnold has a very clear memory of her first encounter with the classic car: “I was six years old and my grandparents told me they had something to show me. The garage door opened and there, with its back to me, stood this huge, grayish-black car. I thought instantly: One day I will drive it.” The “Stuttgart” has never let the Bachers or their granddaughter down. Brigitte Bacher: “For me, that moment in spring when we get the car out of the garage for the first time is always special. You operate the starter — and the ‘Stuttgart’ just works, even though it’s been standing idle throughout the winter! It has always started.”
A matter of trust.
For Theresa Unnold it is a matter of trust to get behind the wheel of this mighty vehicle. Perhaps it is also true to claim the opposite: that the sprightly 85-year old motor car is actually looking forward to the Bertha Benz Challenge with 17-year old Theresa in charge.
You can find more exciting stories about ancient vehicles on the website of Mercedes-Benz Classic Magazin.