Retro Classics 2017: Home match for Mercedes-Benz and Porsche
The home city of Mercedes Benz and Porsche, as well as many parts manufacturers, provided the setting this weekend for the Retro Classics exhibition (2nd to 5th March). The Stuttgart exhibition area is Europe’s largest and we can only hope the visitors to the event had some comfortable shoes on, as they will have needed at least a couple of days to properly take in all the exhibition halls and stands. Particular highlights of the 2017 edition included the “Italian Pavilion” and the Roland Asch celebration but, as always, the show was really made by the numerous cars brought along by the clubs and almost countless number of traders. For us it was a real, and unexpected, bonus to run into Stefan Röhrig, the VDA guy in charge of promoting classic car needs at political level in Germany, and during our chat with him he made some interesting points. At the time of writing this, the organizers still have not released the official numbers of visitors in attendance, but if the volume of people crowding the pavilions is anything to go by, it was, for sure, a successful event.
Retro Classics 2017: A brief market analysis
Judging by the quantity of phone calls we received after our trip to Stuttgart, as well as during the event itself, from people wanting to know about the sales trends and what the general mood was, the state of the market is clearly a topic of general interest. Therefore, it seems appropriate to open this report with a brief analysis of this aspect. The Stuttgart fair is traditionally the place where numerous Porsche 911s and Mercedes models, mostly 107s, are offered, and this year was no exception. On entering some halls, the sheer number of cars offered, not to mention the range of choice, was quite astonishing. The cars were lined up in such long rows that we couldn’t help wondering whether such sights were ever seen at the Mercedes or Porsche dealers in the periods in question. However, the flip side to this apparently huge choice was the rather mediocre level of some of the cars offered for sale. There were numerous Porsche 911s with no history and Mercedes 107s that had come from the USA and been “Europeanized”.
The Stuttgart event confirmed that, right now, the hot-choice “normal” cars are the models built from the 1960s onwards; good cars of this vintage, preferably preserved, can fetch high prices, but if their conditions are average or below average, then they are definitely penalized by the impact of restoration costs. With so many cars offered for sale, you obviously have to “dig around” in order to find what you are after, looking at each and every one until the right one comes along. But of course, all this takes experience, knowledge and a great deal of time. A risk-free way of skipping this process is to look at what the most important, established and renowned traders are offering, or to contact, directly, the classic departments of the manufacturers themselves, but this, of course, comes with a cost, and unfortunately there is no magic solution to that. In general, considering that good, correctly priced cars do not usually stay on the market very long, the best thing is perhaps to pick the one that best suits your personal needs.
The “Passione Italiana” Hall
It is generally accepted that Italians have always had a great impact on the car world and that their passion for cars has been a driving force on the markets for years. In more recent times, Italy’s contribution to the classic car world has been its role in the manufacturing of spare parts and its expertise in restoration, not to mention the perfect “locations” it offers for classic car events. The organizers of Retro Classica decided to acknowledge this contribution by bringing together, in a single location (Hall C2), some of the most important exhibitors from “la Bella Italia” — not only classic car and spare parts traders, but also some of the best from other areas of Italian life, too, such as fashion and gastronomy, for example. Indeed, the beautiful sound of an opera singer’s voice and the delightful aroma of balsamic vinegar helped to give the hall just the right atmosphere.
The stand that impressed us the most was that of Piergiorgio Bellucco, a young artist who, following in the family tradition, works alloy into the most incredible shapes. Whereas in the postwar years, his father, from the age of just 15, was hammering and welding panels for Fiat trucks, his son is now producing perfect scale replicas of the most interesting classic cars, making not only full alloy bodies, but also body pieces placed on replica “filoni”, i.e. the small steel pipes used in the past to check whether the shape just hammered fitted properly or still needed some minor adjustment. Continuing the Italian theme, there was also an exhibition, near the entrance, of cars brought by two Italian museums (the Modena-based “Collezione Panini” and “Museo Stanguellini”) and by the Motor Valley consortium.
Panini, in particular, brought along one of the most important cars in its collection, the 1958 Maserati 420/M/58 that was built, as a one off, to take part in the 1958 500 Miles of Monza, in which it was driven by Sir Stirling Moss. Despite its short competition life — basically, it was raced only once —, this car, equipped with a V8 4.2-liter engine, entered the history books for its amazing looks, and also because it was the very first Italian racing car to wear colors of a non-technical sponsor, the Eldorado ice cream company. The car as a whole boasts some amazing details, and the fabric covering the seat is, still today, one of the most beautiful types ever used for a racing car. The highlight from the Museo Stanguellini was the 1947 Stanguellini 1100 Sport Ala d’Oro. Equipped with the four-cylinder 1.1-liter engine derived from the Fiat 508C, this car features a wonderful spider body designed by a young Francesco Stanguellini Jr., son of the company’s founder, Francesco Sr.
Roland Asch celebration
German racer Roland Asch, 67, originally from Altingen, a few kilometers from Stuttgart, was hugely successful in tourism series competitions during the 1980s and 1990s, driving both Mercedes Benzes (the W201 190 in the DTM) and Porsches (racing with the rear engine 911 in the Carrera Cup series and the front engine 944 in the Turbo Cup). To celebrate his successes, a rich selection of his most successful cars was put on show in Stuttgart. The cars were arranged to create a sort of starting grid, and for each one there was a label, showing the races it won: a nice idea that made a very interesting and attractive feature.
German classic car clubs
The most important German clubs had stands in Stuttgart, and some of them put on really excellent displays. BMW, for example, was represented directly by its clubs which exhibited some stunningly beautiful cars, while Mercedes Benz and Porsche, as well as contributing to the show with their official stands, were also supported by club stands. The only Lancia Stratos shown in Stuttgart was at the Lancia Club “Interessen-Gemeinschaft E.V.” stand. This was the very car raced by Andruet/Biche (DNF because of an accident) in the 1975 Monte Carlo Rally with Alitalia livery. VDH, one of the biggest Mercedes clubs in Germany, brought along a full “fintail” car, of which only the metal parts of the body remain; every single part had a price written on it. This club famously has a used parts shop at its headquarters, and with “fintail” parts now in increasing demand and getting harder and harder to find, they took this event as an opportunity to promote their stock, indicating the prices reserved for their members. The Mercedes 190E-16V Club e.V. brought along one of the most interesting cars of the show, the 190E 2.3-16 driven by Niki Lauda in the 1984 Nürburgring race against eight other former F1 World Champions and a grand total of 19 F1 drivers, all in identical cars. The victory went to a very young and still unknown Brazilian driver, Ayrton Senna, whose car is now in the MB Museum, while second place went to the, back then, two-times world champion Niki Lauda.
Mercedes Benz and Porsche
These two manufacturers, which might be considered the “hosts” of the event, welcomed the visitors with two amazing exhibitions. Mercedes Benz, this year celebrating its sport series, showed, among other things, the Simplex, which was the very first Mercedes created with a view to racing. Today considered the first “modern” car, this is the model that established the brand as a technologically advanced, refined, fast and reliable manufacturer. Porsche brought two iconic rally cars, namely the 1978 911 SC Safari, driven by Waldegaard, and the 1986 959 driven in the Paris to Dakar Grand Raid by Kussmaul. Both were set against a backdrop showing an appropriate landscape.
The James Bond Fan Club
The James Bond Club Deutschland exhibited 2 Lotus Esprits (one normally aspirated and the other a turbo), both used during filming of two of the 007 movies starring Roger Moore: The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only. The display was very well done, including not only the two cars but also detailed information on the geographical locations (complete with satellite coordinates to reach them) where the cars made their film appearances, and a full set of photographs of the two cars, with the actors, taken on the sets or for promotional purposes.
We were delighted to run into Stefan Röhrig in the crowd at Retro Classics Stuttgart. Röhrig, having spent a couple of decades in the Mercedes Benz Classic department, is now part of VDA, the German association of the car industry. In this organization, he heads the department of classic vehicles which oversees the classic car activities of various organizations, from the most important car manufacturers to parts manufacturers, traders and so on. The VDA allows them to speak, with a single voice, with the German government and leading institutions. We will soon return to our fascinating conversation with Mr Röhrig, because we found him to be absolutely clear on the risks now facing the classic car movement, mainly concerning restrictions on their use, and also on the possible solutions.
All photos courtesy of the author, © Massimo Delbò.