The year marking the 50th Anniversary of the R107 has come to an end. The anniversary was commemorated loud and broad, around the globe. All despite the pandemic and the limitations that came with it!
On the one hand, conditions made “live” celebrations difficult, and unfortunately in some cases even impossible. On the other hand, the pandemic will make the R107 anniversary even more remarkable – as one celebrated in very tough times. It’s unlikely that anyone taking part in the April 1971 R107 introduction at the Hockenheimring would have envisaged such a scenario for 2021, even in their most daring fantasies.
Getting ready to go
Obviously, everybody has their own way to celebrate a birthday. In our case, when it is not an anniversary of a person, but of a material object, the situation becomes a bit more complicated. I decided to celebrate by taking a road trip with my beloved son.
Starting from our home in Geneva, the options seem limitless. Should we take the endless curves of Alpine roads on a grand tour of Switzerland? Should we head down to the Mediterranean via famous “Route des Grandes Alpes” as many of the German R107 SL-Club members already did? Or, to the official birthday announcement location at the Hockenheimring?
But gifts were also in order: first and foremost a set of brand-new tires. Our 560SL (American market California edition) was very happy with the new shoes, paying us back with a much softer, smoother and quieter ride, plus better grip and handling – offering much more “Vergnügen” than ever before.
The second gift was also very much driven by the necessity of the moment. With a not-very-light 5.6-liter engine in the front and an automatic gearbox attached to it, you should check the brake pads a bit more frequently than I do. As with the tires, I will spare you the details.
With these two upgrades the R107 was ready to rock 'n' roll on the way to her party. But where should we take her finally? The Alps? The Mediterranean? All fine, but somehow not very related to the R107 history and the golden anniversary.
The solution came by accident. I heard that the German R107 SL Club had put together a 50th Anniversary meet & ride at the Hockenheimring. It was not on April 13th – because of COVID – but it was as much "back to the roots" as one can wish for.
Once we were approved to participate in the Hockenheimring event, the hectic preparations started. As usually, everything was happening five minutes before the event date. The tires and brake pads were installed on Monday and Tuesday with our start from Geneva scheduled for early Thursday morning.
The pandemic did not make planning easier. What do we need to cross the border? What documents will we require? Shall we take the COVID self-test kits with us? What kind of masks? Will we have enough space in the trunk for all the extra stuff? The situation in Germany was changing every day and so, accordingly, did the messages from the hotels we had booked.
We wanted to drive “oben-ohne” with the top down. This would be the dream coming fully true. However, the weather forecast was changing even faster than COVID developments and rules, forecasting lots of rain and thunderstorms. Another factor one must consider is the endless distance in the Swiss tunnels where the noise becomes rather deafening, even with the soft top up. Speaking of that, when was the last time we had the soft top out of its storage compartment behind the seats? We made the decision to dust off the long-forgotten and for many years unused hardtop and drive under cover in the middle of the summer.
Planning the route
The trip itself couldn’t be just another drive from Geneva to Hockenheimring. With my interests skewed towards Mercedes and my son’s towards Formula 1, we decided to kill two birds with one stone. With some extra days carved out from my work schedule, the route plan crystalized: two car museums on the Swiss part of the trip and another five car-related locations in Germany.
Paradoxically, due to COVID, the trip became much richer than expected. And no, I do not mean the mask on, mask off part of the experience. Nor do I mean having to load the extra apps on our mobile phones in order to enter hotels and restaurants, nor making sure you have your vaccination certificate on you at all times and the self-tests ready to be used just in case.
What I mean is that early July fit not only the beginning of my son's school holidays perfectly, but also coincided with the reopening of most museums after the COVID lockdowns. The distance we had to cover was not especially long, about 840 miles. However, the places to sleep and the driving hours had to be planned carefully to maximize the time available for museum visits and matched to their opening hours.
Pit Stop 1: Classic Car Museum
The first stop was the Classic Car Museum in Safenwil. This facility is part of the Classic Center Schweiz and belongs to Emil Frey Classics AG. The center has been open since 2015 when the company purchased and rebuilt a former textile factory.
The focus of the exhibition in Safenwil is on collector cars from the post-war period to the 1980s, mainly of English and Japanese origin. Also, some fine examples of racing cars can be seen there, including Formula 1 cars.
The Classic Car Museum was a great choice for our first pit stop. We got to travel back in time and set a mood for the trip by enjoying more than 60 great cars. Design icons such as the Jaguar E-Type, the Toyota 2000 GT and the Aston Martin DB4 can be admired there, all displayed in the great ambiance of the old, but fully renovated textile factory building.
Pit Stop 2: Oldtimer Museum
Next, we visited the “Pantheon Basel – Schweizer Forum fur Oldtimer - Museum zur Geschichte der Mobilitat” (Swiss Forum for Oldtimers – History of Mobility Museum).
The building itself cannot be more different from the vast, flat, and square factory space in Safenwil. With its roundness, it resembles very much the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York, following the same principle as the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart with its spiral “walk around the round walls” principle and an empty middle within the building.
In the “Pantheon,” unlike in the Mercedes-Benz Museum, we did not find an elevator, so the trip was a bit more challenging – from the bottom to the top and then back. However, the effort was nicely rewarded – you walk up past dozens of classic cars and motorbikes of various brands, then at a certain height the special Mercedes-Benz exhibition begins.
The journey back in time goes upwards, starting in 1886 with the Benz Patent Motorwagen, continuing with the Type 10/30 from 1924, through the 630K from 1927, a beautiful 500K roadster with Graber body from 1934, followed by the 290 A-Cabrio from 1935, the 320, and the 170H from 1938 with the engine in the back. For postwar cars, there's the Adenauer, a Gullwing from 1956, followed by a 190SL from 1959 and Pagoda 230SL from 1966. All with huge poster pictures on the back walls, truly reflecting the historic ambience of the cars on display.
Our round and round climb paid off handsomely once we reached the very top of the building, where the special Mercedes-Benz exhibition finishes with a 1978 450SLC and a 1983 280SL. This was the first COVID-driven bonus on our trip. The exhibition was originally planned to run between October, 2020 and April, 2021, but was extended until October, 2021 to make up for the closures.
Pit Stop 3: Motorworld & V-8 Hotel
Motorworld Region Stuttgart is located in Böblingen, in yet another very interesting building: the historical halls of the former state airport of Württemberg. It has a well-balanced mixture of private classic cars stored in rented glass boxes, as well as a broad variety of classic cars for sale, and several repair and tuning shops.
The highlight was the stay in one of the amazing automotive themed guest rooms at the “V-8 Hotel.” Our room choice was a no-brainer: the “Made in Germany” room is devoted entirely to Mercedes-Benz with the bed front consisting of a metallic blue and chrome front of a '70s S-Klasse W116, including lit indicator lamps. The breakfast and bar area of the hotel is decorated with huge wall paintings featuring “Silberpfeils” and Hans Hermann among others. To complete the picture, you can access (directly from the hotel lobby) a classic Mercedes-Benz car dealership on one side and a Pagani & McLaren dealership on the other. What more one could expect from a hotel?
Pit Stop 4: Mercedes-Benz Museum
We were lucky that the Mercedes-Benz Museum was open – it re-opened its doors after the pandemic restrictions only a month before our trip. We were delighted to see the special exhibition of Mercedes Formula 1 cars that had been originally planned for 2020. Our timing could have not been better! On top of all the impressive history we were able to enjoy all seven Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team cars from 2014 to 2020, the era of seven consecutive manufacturer and driver championship wins.
At the end of this day we wandered, more by chance than plan, into the Mercedes-Benz Dealership Stuttgart, next to the museum. What we found there was a surprising refresher in the form of Bernd Luz’s art exhibition "Stern Legenden” (Star Legends) with lots of colorful and dynamic pictures on Mercedes’ racing history – “Rennsportlegenden.” This exhibition was first on display in the enlarged Classic Center in Munich and only since November 2020 is to be seen in Stuttgart.
It would be difficult to find a major racing victory of Mercedes cars which has not yet been painted by Bernd Luz. This series includes, among others, a quite dramatic picture showing the two winners of the 11th Rallye Bandama Côte d'Ivoire 1979 – the 450SLC 5.0s of Mikkola / Hertz and Waldegard / Thorszelius.
But Bernd Luz’s pictures are not only about the Mercedes-Benz cars racing history. They include also almost all the SL line, starting with the 300SL and all the way to the R231.
For us, the cherry on the cake was a picture from the Pop Art Series – Movies & Motors featuring Richard Gere and his black 450SL with the license plate “California 963ORE” from the 1980 movie American Gigolo. The QR-Code at each of the PopArts can be scanned with your smartphone for background information about the picture’s subject – in this case the movie trailer.
Pit Stop 5: Technik-Museum Sinsheim
The Technik-Museum Sinsheim requires no introduction or detailed description. The Sinsheim Museum is famous for having both the French-British Concorde and the Russian Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic passenger jets parked together. The museum has a vast collection of planes, military vehicles, and cars, including a very interesting selection of Maybach and Mercedes-Benz with lots of amazing pre-World War II vehicles.
Aside from the permanent collection, we were lucky to find yet another special short-term exhibition: the Red Bull World of Racing, which opened only on May 19, 2021 and was planned to last until January 10, 2022. Covering 3,000 square meters, the exhibition featured vehicles from various racing categories which competed under the Red Bull banner and have been driven by stars like Nasser Al-Attiyah or Sebastian Vettel. That could mean only one thing: lots of Formula 1 cars and a big smile on my son’s face.
Pit Stop 6: Hockenheimring
After a great visit to Sinsheim, we finally reached our ultimate goal: the famous and historic Hockenheimring, site of the 50th Anniversary meet & ride organized by the German R107 SL Club. The club had managed to arrange exclusive entry for event participants to the rather small but still very interesting F1 Motorsport Museum.
Obviously, the highlight of this stop was to meet the other 106 of the invited R107s and their drivers. It was lots of fun and a pleasure to be able to participate both in the event and in the dinner where, at our table, we had the luck to learn about the R129 development work.
We were not only the only car in the event with non-German license plates, but also the only R107 sporting a hardtop.
It was amazing to see the oldest pre-series R107 (the 107 043 10 000 002) looking as beautiful and fit as new. It was great to enjoy the astonishing versatility of our cars, with no two identical vehicles among the 107 machines taking part. To be able to drive on the famous racing circuit and see it from a driver's perspective – although a bit slower than at racing speed – was an unforgettable experience.
Pit Stop 7: Hajo's house & the way home
Our last day was reserved for a visit to my friend Hajo and the drive home. As usual with Hajo, we disappeared for a couple of hours into his man cave for a deep dive into R107 die-cast scale models and print materials, and an exchange of news and collectibles, followed by a great lunch made by his lovely wife Ute.
It always hurts when I am not able to use the car’s top-down capacity to bring “Freiheit & Vergnügen” to its fullest, but after several days of suffering under the hardtop in warm and sunny weather this decision finally paid off. The heavens opened, with strong thunderstorms over most of the 310 miles back home.
What more do you need?
This was a great way to celebrate the 50th R107 Anniversary. We visited seven classic car sites and museums and, thanks to the pandemic, three special short-term exhibitions as well. All our objectives were more than achieved. We enjoyed the “Freiheit & Vergnügen” the R107 offers even with the hardtop “coupe-roof” on. We were able to participate in a great event and managed to visit our friend Hajo and his wife Ute. What more do you need in a trip just a bit longer than a weekend?