Written and submitted by John Gates
It took several years for the cost of new cars and my disposable income to rise to the level to enable me to purchase a classic Mercedes-Benz. (“Classic” sounds so much better than “used”, doesn't it?) The ever-escalating new car prices caused me to wonder why I should buy a new econobox when I can buy a truly good, albeit pre-owned, car. While doing my research, I stumbled across the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, CA and decided I needed to visit there one day. That day came late this past October during a business trip to Los Angeles.
The Classic Center web site ( www.MBClassicCenter.com ) shows they stock over 40,000 genuine M-B spare parts, have factory-trained craftsmen performing restorations on-site ranging from daily driver to Concours level, have an extensive library with a wide range of M-B technical documentation including owners manuals for virtually all M-B's made since 1946 and they sell classic Mercedes-Benz automobiles. They encourage visitors and their displays include their vehicles for sale, customer's vehicles awaiting restoration and a rotating display of automobiles from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center collection in Fellbach, Germany.
Irvine is a short hike south of Los Angeles and, other than dealing with So-Cal's notorious traffic, is real easy to get to. This striking contemporary building is definitely a low-key place. The staff was always helpful when asked, but I was left alone to wander the parts of the Center open to the public – this does not include the actual restoration garage, nor the parts warehouse or library.
When you pull up to the M-B Classic Center and see their parking lot with lots of Mercedes-Benz's of various vintages, you know you are in the right place.
Right inside the doors was this superbly restored 300sl ($ 750,000 USD).
The Classic Center show room has about a dozen cars on display ranging from a replica of the very first Mercedes-Benz automobile ($ 65,000) and a 1933 290 Cabriolet B ($ 175,000) to more recent classics, like an unrestored 1979 6.9 with just 229 miles ($ 175,000), a fully restored 1959 190 ($ 29,000) and many more beauties. The showroom also has a large reception desk and a wide range of items for sale (the same as found on the MBUSA web site), several of which found their way home with me ( I paid for them ).
It took me awhile to get past the 300SL; with no barriers as you might find in a museum, you can get up-close and personal with all the cars in the Center. ( I did not take advantage of this situation to actually sit in the 300SL and make vroom, vroom sounds. ) That 300SL and the adjacent cars were only the start.
The showroom opens up to a large storage & display area with two rows of lifts with cars displayed above and below and in-between; over 30 cars in that one area. I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store, seeing some models for the very first time…one stunning car after another…from limo's to race cars and everything in between.
I was particularly intrigued by a 1935 150 Sports Roadster (W30), one of just five produced. This petite rear-engined roadster did not fit my stereotype image of the large 1930's Mercedes-Benz cars.
Just across this room was a 300SL race car owned by the Mercedes-Benz Museum that appeared to have just arrived from the race track, complete with dirt.
As with several of the cars on display, I had not seen one of these racers before and this was quite a treat, especially knowing that this was a “driver”.
You should visit the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center the next time you find yourself in So-Cal; it's worth the time.
I will leave you with one “What Is It?” that was on sale in the Classic Center. Not much of a challenge, but another beauty.
John Gates is not a gear head, nor a Mercedes-Benz historian, but he truly loves driving a really good automobile. His daily driver is a 1986 560sl that won 2nd place in its class at our recent Germanfest XXII.