Attention all MBCA members in Western Michigan:
We want to know more about you and your Mercedes-Benz. To that end, we will feature one current member and his or her car each month on this page. Please note that this will NOT be restricted to those lucky few who have a Mercedes that is only shown at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. If you have a rare pre-war, brand new, project, rescue, or faithful daily driver—all will be considered.
So, whether your Benz is blindingly fast on track days or one that is so tired that it’s only used to take the family out on a Sunday afternoon push, our members should know about it! Please contact Jim Lawson via e-mail at CurlyShemp@mac.com or by phone 320.266.3010.
GERMAN TALENT & FUN
Longtime MBCA member Wolfgang Bors has made western Michigan his home for the past quarter of a century. He was born and raised in Germany where he apprenticed as an auto mechanic. Later he chose to return to school and become an automotive engineer, a field in which he works today.
As a youth, Wolfgang developed an interest in all things automotive. So, he did an apprenticeship as an auto mechanic. German apprentice-ship programs are highly structured, rigorous, and available in hundreds of occupations. Consequently, the rate of youth unemployment in Germany is one of the lowest in the EU (whereas neighboring France has one of the highest). Wolfgang’s program was three years long and resulted in a baccalaureate (unlike the US undergraduate degree). Such an apprenticeship is a dual system of classroom time and hands-on experience at a company. Students are paid for their work and the German state picks up the cost of the classroom training. German companies pay a lot of money for employee training. Apprentices receive the most up-to-date information in the classroom and then immediately apply what they learn in the real world, under the watchful eye of supervisors and full-time employees. A rookie mistake on the assembly line could easily cost a company a million Euros, and even more importantly, a blunder during a crucial automotive repair could endanger lives. Apprentices learn slowly and methodically, from the basics to advanced concepts, until they are fully capable of joining the workforce. It has been suggested that American companies adopt system of training, but it is unlikely to get very far because US companies focus on short-term (quarterly) profitability, and today’s American youth are, from an early age, marinated in the notion—most often urged by parents and teachers—that everyone has to go to college. As a result, the US has developed a host of critical shortages in well-compensated fields such as heavy construction, welding, and advanced automotive repair.
Wolfgang served a three-year apprenticeship at a Renault dealership in the late 1970s. He then attended a prep school for a couple of years and, in the mid-80s entered automotive engineering school. All automotive engineering students attended classes together, during which time they decided what concentration they wanted to focus on. The engineering program in Germany then was divided into three fields: 1. body & sheet metal, involving hand drawing (CAD—computer-aided design was just entering the field); 2. powertrain & suspension, and 3. trucks & utility vehicles (including buses. Wolfgang chose the second option.
As with the apprenticeship programs, engineering students had to work during a praxis semester for an automotive company. Wolfgang went to Audi for six months. Later he returned to the same firm to work on his thesis, when he was given a test car that had a technical problem (measuring temperatures of CV-joints (constant velocity) under high speeds). This entailed far more than just looking beneath the car, and involved extensive driving on VW’s famous test track in Bavaria, which runs approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in one direction into a banked turn and 10 kms in the opposite direction. He and others had to run many high speed laps at a time. At best, he could only get in four or five laps before the test car’s fuel tank was empty.
He describes this type of work as a lot of fun, and he and two other engineering students expected job offers from Audi. No job offer was made to any of them, because of a sudden financial crisis at parent company VW involving senior management losing 600 million Deutsche marks on risky stocks in the market.
Wolfgang looked at BMW and Ford. Mercedes, at the time, offered: W201 (190s); W 124 (e.g., E Class); W126 (e.g., the SELs) and the R107 (SLs). He notes, “As a young engineer you want to work on something dynamic and fast. Mercedes didn’t have that image at the time. [Despite that] I talked with Mercedes for a day and decided that it was absolutely the best choice.” He took a position as Development Engineer for Mercedes-Benz AG (today part of Daimler AG).
“At the time,” he says, “Mercedes-Benz had an image of cars for older men—similar to Cadillac, an image that Cadillac hasn’t really been able to change. Mercedes has changed by offering smaller cars, such as the CLA (AMG being very expensive for younger buyers). I always say that if you start driving a Mercedes-Benz, you have a hard time driving something else, because you get used to the features and comfort.”
Wolfgang’s first Mercedes was a gas-powered 190E (W201) that he owned in Germany. “I was surprised,” he says, “that there was nothing wrong with the car; typically when I bought a car there were issues with it that I had to fix.” Since he is as big as an NFL lineman, he was asked if the Baby Benz fit him properly. “Yes, most European cars have more seat travel to fit taller drivers [whereas] most Japanese cars I don’t fit into.”
One of the benefits of working for Mercedes-Benz at the time was the deep discount (21.5%) that the company offered its employees. An additional benefit was that company buyers could often obtain a new Mercedes sooner that the outside customer could. (The general public in Germany who desired to purchase a new Mercedes went to the dealer and was placed on a waiting list that sometimes entailed a five-year wait.) MB employees went to the head of the line, so to speak. Wolfgang says that at that time many employees kept their Benz for a year and sold it for more than they paid for it. The way that much of the German public got a late model Benz was from a company employee. The German government has since adjusted its laws to tax that financial benefit of old.
Wolfgang says that during his tenure with Mercedes-Benz there was a saying: “Daimler Benz AG was a big bank with a small car production. DB had so much money that it didn’t really need to build cars, since the company was paying more than the sticker price just to get a Mercedes.”
When the W124 was developed, he says that the thinking at Mercedes then was that they build the best cars in the world. When the successor W210 (E-class) came out, senior management began asking, “What is the cost of the development?” He contends that the W140 (S-class, launched in 1991) was still developed with the best quality in mind, whereas the W210 was made with the build cost becoming an a real priority. “That was when Mercedes-Benz really became similar to other car manufacturers. Today M-B still builds nice cars, but so do other companies. It’s not that outstanding anymore,” he firmly states.
Government regulation plays a major role in automotive design today. Take, for instance, requirements concerning pedestrian safety. Bumper heights, fixed hood ornaments, and side mirrors all must conform to laws that lessen the severity of injury to pedestrians. Most bumpers must be of a height that would strike an adult’s hip versus a leg —a victim struck in the legs might be thrown into the windshield. A hood ornament, where it exists, must be flexible and not stab a pedestrian. Side mirrors must give way upon frontal impact. Wolfgang notes that auto companies come up with engineering solutions rather than design solutions, therefore everyone comes up with the same solution. Consequently, that’s why most vehicles look the same at the front. And if the government were to ever outlaw emblems on grills, nobody would ever be able to find their (usually white, black, or gray) car in a large parking lot, except by license plate! The more rules government (not just the USA) puts in place, the less freedom a car company has in the design of its products. Wolfgang mentions as an analogy Formula 1 racing, where the complex and ever-changing rules involving crash-worthiness , wing angles, powertrain limits, and much more stifle innovation by any team.
From Deutschland to Dutchland (West Michigan)
Changes both at Mercedes-Benz and in his personal life prompted Wolfgang to come to the US in 1994. He accepted a handsome buyout from Mercedes, which along with his vacation pay, allowed him to move himself, American bride Lori, and their son and newborn daughter, to the US and put a down payment on a house. The 190E didn’t make the trip from Germany, since the necessary baby carriage filled the Baby Benz’s trunk, and Wolfgang had already exchanged the car for a VW Passat. Stateside, Lori got the ubiquitous family vehicle (Dodge minivan) while Wolfgang purchased his first V8, a Mustang GT.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Wolfgang rejoined the Mercedes family, by acquiring a C230 Sport Coupe (C203), which he drove for eight years. Lori’s minivan made way, after a decade, for a Mazda CX7. Wolfgang upgraded from the C-class to the E350 4matic (W211). He describes the E350 as the best Mercedes he ever owned. The comfort, reliability, and features were exactly what he had hoped for. The big AMG brakes on that car had incredible stopping power and he put 80,000 miles on the car before he had to change the pads.
Other cars in the Bors family stable include Lori’s daily driver, C300 4matic (W204), an M-class ML320 CDI (W164), SL500, and a CL600 (whose 12 cylinder engine requires a full day just to change the spark plugs).
Today Wolfgang is Principal Engineer for Hutchinson Aerospace & Industry, which is a parts supplier for auto manufacturers worldwide. Stateside customers include Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, & Mercedes. The company produces AVS (Anti-Vibration-Systems) parts that make your car run smoother and quieter. Automotive engineers look to mitigate Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (known as NVH). If you have
a classic Mercedes that rattles and clunks, despite the fact that you may have changed the shock absorbers, there’s a good likelihood that some of the components of the type that Hutchinson produces may need replacing. Such crucial parts as engine mounts and transmission mounts may have collapsed and/or hardened with time. The same goes for subframe mounts torsion bar bushings. Such AVS parts have limited lifespans and are often overlooked, even by many experienced mechanics.
Wolfgang doesn’t spend any time in the waiting room at his local dealer, Betten Imports, while his car is being serviced. Instead, he services all of his vehicles at his home north of Grand Rapids. He has a professional vehicle hoist (which Lori says has already paid for itself) and there is very little that he can’t perform in his own garage. The cost of Mercedes parts is expensive enough, and when an owner such as Wolfgang performs his own vehicle service, that can make the decision to keep an aging Mercedes easier and far cheaper.
He is quite direct in his opinion about Americans driving AMGs with the speed limits here. In his native Germany, with its fabulous Autobahn, such cars make sense in traversing the distances between far-flung cities. “There’s no reason to drive an AMG here in the US—unless you drive it on the track. I ask myself about a driver of, say, a GT3 Porsche 911, “What do you do with that here?” He adds, “Unless I took it to Gingerman everyday, I wouldn’t own one. I always say that whether you take a race car, normal passenger car, or SUV, the vehicle can do 80-100% more than what the typical driver can do with it. For example, the M or G-class can climb very steep grades off-road, but people almost never use it that way.”
Wolfgang joined the MBCA in 2002 when he bought the C-class. There was a club notice in the glovebox. And somewhere he saw The Star magazine at that time and he really liked it. He and Lori attended just a few section events at the time, because their children were young. He remembers taking his son Kevin to an Autocross event in Kalamazoo, when Jim Luikens was the section president. Because he drove more aggressively than the other participants, he came home with first place. There was also a quiz that both father and son took separately from each other. Kevin edged out his dad by one answer!
He contends that there were more people involved in the Western MI section 15 years ago and that he hasn’t seen any young blood coming in. Wolfgang believes that the club needs people with experience in advertising, and Lori says that reaching young people through social media is crucial, adding, “I know that we have a Facebook page, but that’s not how you reach young people.”
“The dealer needs to take 30 seconds upon the completion of the car sale to describe the MBCA, not just stick an application in the glovebox. We bought an M-class in 2007; the MBCA membership form is still in the glovebox,” he says.
BARNS, BIKE, & A BENZ
“There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just love,” says Mary. No, she isn’t speaking of John, her husband of 61 years, nor her children, grandchildren, or friends. Rather, she is referring to the W126 that she purchased 27 years ago. The story of how she came to buy the car is as interesting as the car itself.
In 1992, the Nonhofs took a trip to the Netherlands to visit the family farm. Their hosts didn’t have a spare vehicle for them to use during their trip, but they did have a pair of “Made in Holland” touring bicycles that John and Mary could use. (The Netherlands, for those readers who haven’t had the opportunity to visit there, is one of the most bicycle-friendly countries in Europe. Its terrain is billiard table flat, and it has dedicated bike lanes in every city and ample public bike parking. Citizens of all ages ride bikes regularly.)
Upon returning home from their vacation, John and Mary went to one of their local bike shops—there are at least five such shops in Holland—and inquired about the possibility of obtaining the same brand of bicycle that they rode in Europe. They were informed at the time that the brand, Batavus, was so popular in its home country of Holland that the factory was no longer exporting bikes. But the dealer did know of a local couple who owned a pair of Batavus bikes and he offered to call them to see if they would be interested in selling theirs. The answer came back in the affirmative, and the Nonhofs went to see the bikes in the barn of an area businessman’s home.
As Mary was writing the check for the his and her bikes, the seller commented that he had never thought of selling the bikes; what he was interested in selling was in a different barn, a couple of hundred feet away. Mary looked up to see what the seller was referring to and asked, “What is that?” The answer: a 1983 380 SEL.
(Prior to this event Mary had been approached by a good friend in church who announced that she had just purchased her “dream car,” which was a 60s or 70s-vintage Mercedes Benz. Mary had told herself at the the time, “That’s not a bad goal in life.”)
Without driving the W126, hearing its engine start up, walking around it to get a good look or kick the tires, or even having shopped for a Benz previously, she asked, “How much?” Upon learning the asking price she stated, “Done deal, I’ll add that to the price of the bikes!”
Mary claims that she wasn’t taken aback to learn that the SEL had a long wheelbase, once the car was taken out of the barn. In fact, there was nothing that she disliked about it. The style, the color, the comfort, the power, or the size. She fell in love with the four-wheeled beast, a love that has remained steadfast to this day. Oh sure, she has become irritated with it, from time to time, when it seemed that every repair bill would cost $1,000 or more. And when she has threatened to sell it, John has calmly talked her out of it.
This 380 SEL became her daily driver. When asked if there was murmuring among her fellow teachers when she pulled into the school parking lot amid their Fords and Chevys, she said, “No, not at all, but the parents of my students did.” She says that most of her students were children of farmers or truck drivers in that rural area. The only school employee who may have had a problem with her luxurious means of transportation was the principal, who preferred that his teachers would keep things low-key. (It also may not have helped for the principal to see that Mary specifically parked her car away from the other teachers’ cars, so as not to get any dings or scratches.)
The 380 SEL was originally purchased new by a couple from a Chicago dealer, which delivered the car to the couple’s Florida home, where it remained until the wife decided (unwisely, some might suggest) to sell the car in order to purchase a new Lexus. The Mercedes had never seen winter weather prior to Mary purchasing it. To this day the car exhibits no rust, although the front bumper did have some corrosion and was consequently replaced. The car’s paint that you see in the photos is original. Aside from routine maintenance (tires, battery, oil changes, and tuneups) the car has had relatively few major repairs, the most significant one being involving the replacement of the fuel tank (located aft of the rear seat) because a crucial weld in the filler neck had failed, causing gasoline fumes to enter the passenger compartment. There was a power window regulator replaced and a damaged rear bumper from a minor accident that only injured the bumper itself. The radio is currently not working, but since the Nonhofs rarely use the radio anyway, they have left that problem unattended.
The early W126s imported into the US (along with all other US cars made from ’79 to ’81) came with an 85 mph speedometer, thanks to our unelected safety bureaucrats/ regulators in Washington D.C. at that time. The reasoning stated was that drivers with such speedometers would alter their driving habits—think speeding—if they saw the needle edging towards its limit. This nonsense ended in 1981 and Mary’s ’83 model sports a 160 mph speedo. According to the factory, the top speed of the 380 SEL is 134 mph. (The reason for the foregoing will soon be made clear.)
Soon after Mary purchased the car, she and John traveled to Big Rapids in order to visit one of their adult sons. The son in question, who shall remain nameless, asked his mom if he could borrow her car. Mary described him as “a very responsible young man who was in his twenties [at the time].” He drove off and when he returned he asked his mother if she thought that her car, in fact, could travel at 160 mph as the speedometer indicated. Her answer, “I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.” Impetuously he replied, “Well, I just did!” Consequently, this son, the Flying Dutchman (see the model name of the bikes pictured below), has never been permitted to drive her car since.
When Mary purchased the car, it had about 40,000 miles on the odometer. Since then she and John have added approximately 160,000 miles. Most of these miles have occurred while driving in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Once they they drove across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, WI, if one considers the ferry from Luddington to Manitowoc as driving on water. There have been no cross-country trips in the SEL. When traveling long distances, they prefer the long queues at TSA and baggage claim (and, one assumes, delicious airline food as well).
Since the car is currently registered as a historical vehicle, it is not driven very much anymore. (By law, a car with such a registration can only be driven to parades and car shows.) Last July, Mary drove the car to the Deutsche Marques show at the Gilmore Museum and won the Mercedes Best Daily Driver award.
These days, John and Mary spend much of their time teaching ballroom dancing, playing bridge, traveling, and being involved at their local church. Through the mists of time, Mary’s love of her car has never dimmed. Once, during a Bible study, the biblical passage about King David lusting after Bathsheba was discussed. John leaned over to Mary and told her, “That’s how you are with that car.” Mary adds, “I’m not interested in any other Mercedes-Benz. I’ve never come across another Benz that I’ve lusted after.” When she went looking for the perfect bike, she found one in a barn, only to find to find a perfect Benz in another barn.
Color: Anthracite Grey – Metallic (172U)
3.8 liter 16 valve V8 engine (M116) 155 hp 196 lb-ft torque
Top speed: 134 mph
Wheelbase: 121 inches
Length overall: 208 inches
Width: 72 inches
Curb weight: 3682 lbs MSRP (new): $52,005
THE KOOPS SEE RED
Along the shore of Holland’s Lake Macatawa live longtime MBCA members Sharon and Ed Koop. Their home is ideal for these car buffs because of the ample garage space; they even store cars below the ground level of their home. Their collection is large enough that some cars are stowed at the homes of family members.
Their Mercedes adventure began 31 years ago when they espied a 1967 230SL. The Koops had never previously owned a convertible but they were instantly smitten with the Pagoda. The styling, size, performance, and color—red on white—checked all the boxes. Of the seven Mercedes that they have owned (one of them a parts car) this one was, and remains, their favorite. Ed describes that W113 as “top-notch.” Sharon adds “it just drove great and was a classy little thing. We always hopped into the ’67 first.”
Whether the W113 was lonely in their garage, or because the Koops wanted his and hers Pagodas, a 1968 230 SL—also red, but with a tan interior—was acquired. Both Pagodas are still in their possession, and their adult children have announced that they want to keep both cars in the family. The ’67 is in good driving condition, but the ’68, which ran well when they purchased it, now has a seized engine. Rarely have they driven either car with its hard top, and it’s also infrequent that the soft top is used. Fresh open air is the way they prefer to drive these little gems.
Both cars have largely remained within Michigan. Ed and Sharon have taken the ’67 three or four times to the 28th Street Metro Cruise (held each August) in Grand Rapids. They have also driven it to the Frankenmuth Auto Fest a couple of times and to the Midland Flea Market a time or two. Make no mistake, these Pagodas are not trailer queens, driven solely to car shows and parades. These cars have been enjoyed by Ed, Sharon, and their family. Both W113s have a well-earned patina.
Next came an R107, ’85 380 SL, which is also red (do you see a pattern here?). The Koops enjoy the performance of the bigger and heavier cars with their eight cylinder engines. They describe the ’85 (the newest model year of any Benz that they have owned) as drivable and in good condition, with only a heater issue that needs attention. The ’85 was followed by two more SLs: an ’84 380 and a ’73 450. The blue ’84 SL is the most recently-purchased Mercedes, acquired roughly 10 years ago, and it’s the Benz with the fewest memories for the Koops. Sharon describes the 450 SL as “a lumberwagon” and she much prefers the smaller displacement V8 in the 380 SL. Incidentally, both the ’84 and the “lumberwagon” are for sale as of this fall.
About 15 years ago, a widow from the church that the Koops attend, began good-naturedly bantering with Ed about buying her late husband’s ’68 280 SE, a very different vehicle from the roadsters that the Koops had owned. “No,” Ed protested, “Sharon doesn’t like [the car].” Eventually, he relented, despite the fact that Sharon disliked the car a great deal. Nicknamed Big Blue, Sharon derided the SE as an “old folks car” and adds that “I probably rode in it two times” in the 15 years they owned it
until it was sold this past spring.
The Koops did purchase a ’67 230 strictly for its parts. Eventually, the car was sold online to a man in Dallas. The buyer shipped the car to Texas, and later to the country of Poland, for body restoration. (There are some YouTube videos exhibiting the meticulousness of some of the paint and body work of some of the Poles who specialize in classic Mercedes restoration.)
None of the Mercedes that the Koops own has ever been driven in winter weather. They have the space to safely store their car away from the elements. With the exception of the ’68 230 SL with its seized engine, none of their Benzes have suffered any major breakdown, which can be attributed to a combination of good fortune and the mechanical ability of Ed, who has performed nearly all of the repairs and maintenance of the fleet. Ed is a retired USPS worker of 30 years. He first began as a clerk (which he hated), then he became a letter carrier. Finally, he went to VOMA (Vehicle Operations Maintenance Assistant); his job there was to keep the mail trucks on the road, just as he did with his personal vehicles.
Not all of their seasonally-driven vehicles are Mercedes. The Koops also own two Mustangs and, more interestingly, two Amphicars, one of which is red. They have had a lot of fun with these amphibious cars. Ed has been known to ask fellow boaters out on the water if he has somehow made a wrong turn in his car. (Visitors to the LBJ Ranch in Texas will see the Amphicar that the former president drove on his ranch. He delighted in surprising, or even terrifying, first-time passengers when he would leave the roadway, while exclaiming that the brakes were malfunctioning. The tiny car would be coasting downhill towards the Pedernales River than runs through the ranch. Unable to stop, the car would slip into the flowing river, and LBJ would proceed to drive the car as though it were still on land.)
Why did the Koops purchase so many Mercedes? Their answer is simple: “Our thinking is that there’s no reason to keep the money in the bank, [drawing say, 1% interest] so we might as well put the cash into a car that we like. And our kids can have one of the cars, if they choose. All of their cars have been in Holland’s Tulip Time Parade at one time or another.” Tulips, like classic Pagodas, come in an array of colors, but the Koops contend that red is the finest color of all. We can’t disagree.
— Nice! Nice! Nice article! I hope and think that Ed’s car “CDs” are doing better than the bank is offering.
Looking forward to joining club at some outings. —sk