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A NEW CLASSIC

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Oct 16, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

A NEW CLASSIC

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Automotive news travels like wildfire in these parts of the woods. The opening of the Mercedes Benz Classics Center perhaps isn't catching too many unaware if they happen to be plugged into either the classic car market, or the Mercedes Benz car company's ongoing expansion in Orange County. While Mercedes design studios dot the globe, and its dealerships are more plentiful than paparazzi at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, the Classic Center is the only corporate facility of this type outside of Stuttgart, Germany. Irvine will never be the same!

So the real question is why does Mercedes feel compelled to open a factory restoration facility here in The OC? Evidently, heritage is such a large part of the brand that the powers that be feel it's prudent to keep the classics (cars over twenty years old) in top condition. Secondly, more Mercedes Benz vehicles are sold in this region of the country than anywhere else. Going hand-in-hand with that: OC owners generally have disposable income, and lots of it. Restoration and maintinence can add up. Having deep pockets is a good thing because quality cost money.

On this special occasion (celebrating the opening of the center) we are treated to an automotive spectacle. It's very hard to distinguish the center from an automotive museum. Before setting a foot in the door, guests need to make their way past nine or so gorgeous gullwings from the 1950s. Concourses of any level will be proud to have this kind of showing.

Inside the building that resides on the hillside above the San Diego Freeway is a bevy of cars that are bound to capture the imagination. This modern facility is one-part showroom and one-part restoration shop. The showroom hosts every aspect of the brand, from the earliest of vehicles, to some relatively recent race cars. The double-layered showroom, made possible by car lifts, boasts an incredible assortment.

Each car captures a time and a desire. One example is the 1972 600 short wheel-based limo, and another is the 1970 C111-II concept car, both designed for pushing the boundaries of what an auto is capable of. The limo was a prime example of moving in a regal manner. The C111s were all about moving fast. This particular vehicle on hand has 350 horsepower coming from a 4-rotor Wankel motor, which produces enough grunt to achieve 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, and a top speed of 186 miles per hour. Those figure are not too shabby even by today's standards. About two-dozen various and historic cars stand guard to the entry to the shop area.

Meandering throughout the building, the history of the company is thick. Photos and paintings depicting the past, and prized cars so artfully grace the floor. A few examples, like a flawless looking 190 SLR roadster and the Maybach Exelero concept car, are representative of just how Mercedes embodies extensive development in automobiles - encompassing both engineering and style.

The shop itself is doubling this evening as a dining room for auto aficionados. Normally, having a dressy affair of this sort is unthinkable in a building that houses all manner of restoration facilities, but this is not a normal operation. Ultra clean walls and floors are kept nearly in surgical room condition. Not a whiff of paint or gasoline fouls the air. I don't expect that a nearly sterile work area is the norm, yet it is incredible nevertheless. If this kind of attention can go into a dinner celebration, I have high expectations on its primary mission.

Many car companies struggle hard to find ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. Mercedes Benz might have found a niche the others will have trouble following for some time. After all, one can't open a classic center if the company hasn't been around long enough to honestly have any classics!

More information can be found at www.mbclassiccenterusa.com

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