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  • Nothing beats a banger – an old fire engine, discarded and decommissioned.
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    Nothing beats a banger.

    An old fire engine, discarded and decommissioned. A sight which tugged on automotive engineer and vehicle designer Holger Hutzenlaub’s heartstrings. He gave it a second lease of life as a food truck.

    Text: Jochen Fischer | Photos: Gottfried Stoppel

“Let’s crack on!”

A magic dwells in each beginning. But teething troubles are sometimes inevitable. ­Holger Hutzenlaub reversed his fire-engine-red griddle truck precisely into its pitch. He’s happy: “Great spot, this one. Plenty of people will pass by.” He claps in the direction of his employees: “Let’s crack on!” His employees are his two daughters Maria and Lilli (18 and 17 years old) and his son William (11 years old). But they can’t start properly just yet – the griddle for the burgers isn’t heating up. Holger Hutzenlaub starts looking for the cause of the problem: the food event organiser’s electricity is flowing correctly to the vehicle. The electricity from the onboard power outlet to the external devices is flowing – just not to the griddle. Holger Hutzenlaub pulls out a grey plastic box from the stowage space of the van, rummages around in it and pulls out a cable. “Be interesting to see if this does the trick,” he says, swapping the cables. And it does – the griddle starts heating up.

Everything still original, like in 1969 when the fire engine first started its job. When driving on public roads, the blue lights have to be covered up, but the front-mounted pump still works.

Holger Hutzenlaub installed his griddle station on the right-hand side of the vehicle.

Everything still original, like in 1969 when the fire engine first started its job. When driving on public roads, the blue lights have to be covered up, but the front-mounted pump still works.

Everything still original, like in 1969 when the fire engine first started its job.

“Wurst on Wheels.”

“When you’re on the road in a food truck, you always need a plan B,” he says. You can’t really go back home every time you need a spare part when something minor like this occurs. Although, today it wouldn’t have been so problematic: Hutzenlaub and his family live in Böblingen, near Stuttgart, and the culinary market they are at today is in a small town just a few kilometres away. The fact that Holger Hutzenlaub doesn’t get stressed about technical problems may have something to do with his professional background. He doesn’t make a living from grilling sausages and burgers, he’s actually an experienced engineer. His “Wurst on Wheels” food truck is just a hobby. His hobby, and that of his family. A hobby which was the result of a somewhat awkward situation.

Less than 32,000 kilometres on the clock.

Here’s what happened. Around three years ago, he went to his nephew’s school leavers’ party at a boarding school in the Swabian Jura mountains. In the yard of the former monastery stood a decommissioned fire service vehicle that had been stationed there and had recently been replaced by a more modern fire engine. The sight of the Mercedes-Benz 408/LF8 from 1969 tugged on ­Holger Hutzenlaub’s heartstrings.

“It was in orderly condition, as is often the case with fire engines. As it only rarely got called out, it had less than 32,000 kilometres on the clock. But there was some visible wear and it had been parked up for a very long time.”

It’s also no coincidence that Hutzenlaub’s eyes fell on the Mercedes-Benz: he’s been working for the brand for 25 years. The 50-year-old automotive engineer and vehicle designer is cur­rently head of Daimler AG’s Advanced Design Studio in Germany, located in Sindelfingen. Among other things, his team is working on the design strategy for the new Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles.

“The fire service vehicle was up for sale for just 1,500 euros, but it was clear that the restoration would take a good deal of time and money.” And he also needed some good reasons to convince his wife Lucie as to why he needed a new old vehicle – especially after having already put several “Stroke Eights” back on the road in the preceding years: “The Stroke Eight was the car of my youth – it was the first car I owned.” The question as to whether he has ever driven cars other than from Mercedes-Benz takes Holger Hutzenlaub by surprise.

He pauses for a second, then answers: “Actually, I’ve never thought about that. No, I’ve always driven Mercedes.” Not surprising really: his father and grandfather had also both worked for Mercedes-Benz. That leaves its mark. “I couldn’t just leave the 408 fire engine to its fate. So I thought a bit about what we could do with it,” says Hutzenlaub, back in the here and now. His daughters would soon be approaching driving age; maybe it could be turned into a camper van? Or converted into a mobile café? Or what about a food truck? “This was a milieu that had always fascinated me, as it’s full of creative people.”

Holger Hutzenlaub installed his griddle station on the right-hand side of the vehicle.

Food is served at the counter, whose components can be packed away for transport inside the food truck.

Many ideas and a single decision.

Then came decision time. The 85 PS petrol engine of the red helper started as soon as the key was turned in the ignition – an unmistakable sign that the old chap wanted to be brought back to life. In order to get his wife ­Lucie to join him for the journey, Hutzenlaub formulated his aim very carefully: the van should earn its own way to cover the costs for the restoration, which was expected to take around a year. And so it was to become a food truck. Contrary to some of those active on the food truck scene today, this hobby chef offers the typical, standard fare like sausages, beer and soft drinks – incidentally all of which are produced locally.

Mobile sausage grill.

The only exception being the heavily laden burgers, whose patties are made using beef from the USA. As the headroom in the van wouldn’t have been sufficient to turn the vehicle into a mobile sausage grill, another solution was needed: an advertising engineer built the counter from transportable components that could be stowed away in the vehicle. “The advantage was that I could leave a lot of details of the fire engine in their original form.” The fold-away griddle station, storage ­areas and glass-fronted fridges were the biggest operative interventions.

“The original equipment is still stored behind the doors on the left-hand side of the vehicle, and the pump mounted on the front end of the van still works problem-free after all these years.” The last stage of restoration was painting the van and the counter in original fire engine red. “Wurst on Wheels” was then set to go. A family business in which everyone helps out: his wife, his daughters and his son. “We all have other fields of interest too. But the weekends when we work together on our joint project are something ­especially valuable,” says the designer.

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