A Mercedes oldtimer, formerly state limousine of Turkey, flew with Lufthansa Cargo to the auction in the USA
Some are disguised as "prototypes" for the final test before the production start. The sheikhs on the Persian golf, of course, order their Bugattis and Maybachs for delivery by air freight. And in China, the super rich do not want to wait for weeks, until the status symbol has finally arrived by ship. It must happen quickly. Last year Lufthansa Cargo, the specialist for automobile transport by air, flew around 1,400 vehicles all over the world. And the trend is rising.
There is still no chauffeur. Because the Pullman has not yet been sold. But there is already a watchdog who never takes his eyes off the valuable four-wheeled jewel. Tim Bernard’s pulse rate only returns to normal after the Mercedes 770 K W150, built in 1943, is securely stowed in the hold of the Lufthansa Cargo aircraft. Then the 35-year-old from the veteran car specialist "Axel Schütte Classic Cars" in Oerlinghausen near Bielefeld allows himself his first cup of coffee on this day. Bernard acts as the watchdog at Frankfurt Airport, where on this day the almost 6-metre long Mercedes with the number-plate OG EV 1 is heaved on board an MD-11 bound for Los Angeles. The number-plate is a replica. But the rest is real. OG stands for Ankara. The addition is pure invention. The papers of the car, however, identify its first owner without a doubt: The eight-cylinder model manufactured on 30.6.1943 in Stuttgart was a gift to the Turkish president Ismet Inönü.
The 770K was Mercedes’ top model. Larger, better and more expensive than all the others at that time. In its English brochure, Mercedes itself named the car "Super Mercedes". Customers were governments, heads of state, royal houses, the super rich and celebrities. A total of only 88 of the W150 model were built, of which nine were stretched Pullman limousines. The 770 K W150 with the chassis number 150006/0030, identifying it as the last car of all to be built in the model series, served until the end of the sixties as a state limousine in Turkey. That was followed by an eventful history with purchases and sales in Turkey, later in the USA and finally in Europe. The only constant: The rarity became more and more expensive. Now the Pullman has gone on a major journey once again - aboard an MD-11 of Lufthansa Cargo - across the Atlantic. The fact that the transport of the veteran car cost as much as the price of a well-equipped Opel Corsa, hardly mattered in view of the estimated value of the noble state limousine of around 1.5 million Euros. That the imposing vehicle was placed in the care of Lufthansa Cargo, was never in doubt for Bernard: "For top cars we need top partners. With Lufthansa Cargo we have only had outstanding experiences up to now". In Los Angeles, "watchdog" Tim Bernard took over possession of the 770 K Pullman once again and accompanied the Mercedes packed in a special transporter to Monterrey. Two weeks later, on 14th August, it was auctioned there during the "Crazy Car Week". With a bid of 1.3 million dollars, the auctioneer’s hammer fell. The ambiance was fitting. The golf course of Pebble Beach, where normally Tiger Woods & Co get together for the US Open, exclusively belonged to the stars of the veteran car scene for one week. Positioned between legendary sand bunkers and the hand-trimmed green on the 18th hole, the Mercedes from Oerlinghausen was a star of the auction. At the auction run by the US auctioneering company, Gooding & Co, according to information from Bernard, everything comes under the hammer which is "rare, cherished and, therefore, expensive" on the scene.
The oldtimer event at Pebble Beach is "something like the Oscar awards" for classic cars from Mercedes, Ferrari, Bentley, Horch, Maybach, Bugatti, but also for some time now for rarities from Porsche, Alfa Romeo or Jaguar. The oldtimer business is flourishing - and is not suffering a recession. When the world was groaning about the economic crisis a year ago, the car-sales companies specialized in the purchase and sale of veteran cars continued to do good business. "The oldtimer market works like the art market", says Tim Bernard. Anyone who wants a Van Gogh or Picasso, buys it. No matter whether the Euro in relation to the Dollar is high or low. With expensive cars it is no different.
"Very high-quality oldtimers", confirms Rainer Herbst from Germany's oldest veteran car sales company "E. Thiesen - Automobile Räritäten" in Hamburg, "are investment objects like objets d'art". Although these do not disappear into safes due to their size, they usually find their place in the well-kept and well-guarded private exhibition.
For Herbst, who has a doctorate in economics and previously earned his living with an insurance company which also had the insurance of veteran cars in its portfolio, there are another two groups of buyers: the driving-oriented interested parties and the technology freaks. The former indulges himself in the luxury of an oldtimer for occasional excursions on Sundays or to be able to participate in oldtimer rallies, the other is fascinated by technology, works on the car himself and has a screwdriver in his hand in every free minute. He however, does not buy a top restored car for 500 000 Euro, but rather a rarity that has been gradually decaying, carelessly parked away for years in an old garage or barn.
Measured against England and the USA, says Rainer Herbst, the veteran car market in Germany is still relatively young. "The scene in this country only began to form and professionalize itself in the seventy and eighties", says the man from Hamburg. The Second World War with its full-scale destruction and the subsequent reconstruction were the reasons for that. "In the age of the economic miracle, everything had to be new, the wardrobe, the washing machine and, of course, the car". Cars from the pre-war period were simply out.
This has changed. Today, says Herbst, the spectrum of traded veteran cars ranges from cars from the 1920s up to models from the 1960s. Even the relatively young veteran cars "have really increased in value during the last 20 years", he says. For a Mercedes 300 SL roadster, which could still be bought for 500,000 Marks in 1990, today you would have to put down 500,000 to 600,000 Euros. Or for a Porsche 356 Speedster, which cost less than 80,000 Marks ten years ago, in the meantime would command a price of 160,000 Euros.
Tim Bernard, the bodyguard of the Mercedes at Frankfurt airport, advises owners of cars like the Porsche 964/993 RS or the Mercedes 190 Evolution, which are around 20 years old, to take good care of their sets of wheels. Because: "These are the oldtimers of the day after tomorrow". Meanwhile, Lufthansa Cargo can be delighted that in China an economic miracle is blooming as it did years ago in Germany. This has the new car market booming in China like never before - in particular, in the luxury car segment. Rolls Royce recently predicted that in 2010, after leader USA China will replace Europe as the second most important market of the noble brand. That will provide the car business of the cargo specialist with a further boost.