Making Mercedes-Benz classics usable in the modern world
The technology we take for granted in cars these days boggles the mind. Satellite navigation, internet connectivity, infrared night vision, ABS, traction control, automatic braking and adaptive sonar cruise control are all well and good. But there's a negative side to all of this tech, especially if you're a driving enthusiast: it robs you of almost all involvement when behind the wheel.
That's why many people choose to run an older car. They want to feel part of the process because they love driving, love the look, feel, even smell of a classic. New cars may be less distinctive and less characterful than their ancestors but, by and large, they're incredibly efficient and reliable. So how about combining these key attributes of character, individuality and rock-solid reliability? Impossible? Not any more.
A growing number of companies now specialise in what most of us could previously only dream about: classic cars with new, bulletproof engineering that makes them safer, more economical and kinder to the environment, as well as driveable on a daily basis because of modern running gear, suspension and brakes. And when it comes to classic Mercedes-Benz, one company is leading the field: Mechatronik.
As the name suggests, this is a German outfit and it's based in Pleidelsheim, on the outskirts of Merc's hometown, Stuttgart. Mechatronik was established in 1996 and, as managing director, Thorsten Klenk, recalls, the company's earliest customers were very advanced in their thinking. "They loved the traditional looks of classic Mercedes cars but when you get into an old Pagoda you usually have to offer a prayer when turning the key so that it actually starts. What they wanted was the charm with reliability and that has been the mainstay of Mechatronik's business since day one."
The company offers the usual full restoration services along with the capability to substitute old engines and drivetrains for brand new turbocharged AMG items, should the mood take you. The modern underpinnings, including new ABS brakes, adjustable dampers, catalytic converters and the like, remain totally hidden but turn the driving and ownership experience from one fraught with potential problems to one of reliability and efficiency in the grandest old style.
Of course, there are classic car aficionados who would not dream of altering a car from the way it was built. Originality is a prized attribute to many collectors and their valuable cars are often indistinguishable from new. They come out every now and then to be shown at concours events (where they often refuse to start), but many are hardly ever driven. Mechatronik isn't here to service that type of client, although it will happily find you any classic Mercedes you can think of and even restore it to "as new". But despite the detractors, it's easy to see why Mechatronik's approach appeals.
"We have the utmost respect for the cars we work on," says Klenk. "And, although we make changes to the physical construction of a car, what we do is never irreversible and often clients will keep the components we have substituted, so that their cars can be returned to their original specifications."
These cars offer more power and torque than when they were new. Modern music systems can also be secreted into dashboards with no visible clue that anything has changed - in fact almost anything is possible. But there's always one stipulation: you must preserve the car's timeless looks. Which is perhaps the perfect compromise.
Mercedes-Benz has always built cars with longevity in mind. You need only see how many beaten up old Mercs are still being driven in GCC countries to appreciate they were rather well-built in the first place. But hand one over to Mechatronik and the results will astound. "If you want bling bling then go somewhere else," says Klenk. "Only an expert could tell one of our cars isn't original from the outside. And OK, you won't be able to enter Pebble Beach with one but you can still burn rubber at the lights and leave other cars for dust!"
Updated: July 6, 2012 04:00 AM