x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

My car: Classic Merc is a dream

People try to persuade risk manager Michael Halbig to sell his classic Mercedes 280SL, but they haven't got a chance.

Michael Halbig gets business cards tucked under his window wipers asking him to sell his car:
Michael Halbig gets business cards tucked under his window wipers asking him to sell his car: "I think I'm going to keep it forever, no matter how much people offer me."

Without seatbelts and carrying a whole lot of years under its belt, you would have thought Michael Halbig might have had some difficulty importing and registering his pristine 1970 Mercedes 280SL in Dubai. Quite the contrary, in fact. Having owned and loved this car for the past 10 or so years while living in Switzerland, the 42-year-old German head of risk for Thomson Reuters found that bringing it into the UAE was a breeze.

"The shipping company I used delivered my furniture to my home and the car straight to the RTA. The only issue was its high levels of pollution compared to modern cars, which they said had to be fixed. But I didn't think they meant it very seriously, because you just can't do that.

"Also, it needs leaded fuel, but now I have a bottle with certain ingredients to substitute that. And the guys at the RTA loved the car. When they saw it for its registration, they could see that it was a 40-year-old car, but they were smiling and very friendly, and everything went very smoothly."

It isn't only the RTA that has become a fan of the Mercedes, says Halbig: "I often get business cards under my wipers, asking me if I want to sell it, but I don't think I would. I think I'm going to keep it forever, no matter how much people offer me. The question would be, 'what is the right price for a dream?' But no, I don't think I would ever sell it."

The car was in quite good shape when he bought it. At the time, the soft-top roof was missing, so Halbig's biggest investment on it was on a new one, which turned out to be expensive because he insisted on original parts throughout. And apart from a new paint job and a few replacement bits and pieces, he has had to do very little to it.

"I bought it with about 60,000 km on the clock," he recalls, "and now it is up to around 80,000. I haven't put a lot of kilometres on it here in Dubai, but when I lived in Switzerland I really loved driving it around where I was living. I took it to some nice lakes there, and to places in Europe, such as Italy. But most of the time, I have only ever driven it close to where I have been living."

In spite of its advanced years, the car is very easy to drive. It is an automatic and Halbig says the engine is in very good shape, which is typical of Mercedes of this era. "If you get the chance to go to other parts of the Middle East like Lebanon and Egypt, you will often see the limousine [the W108 S-Class, which was built from 1965 to 1972], and it has the same engine as mine. I have seen cars like this with more than a million kilometres on them, so they're very sustainable. If you look at automatics from 42 years ago, they maybe don't operate as smoothly as they do nowadays. And if you really have to hit the brakes, it is certainly not like a modern car. But I'm not racing with this car; I just really enjoy driving it."

Even though Halbig is an avowed lover of classic Mercedes, he still approves of the latest generation of the marque. "I love the 300SL, and the new one, the SLS. For me, my favourite cars are two-seaters, and Mercedes builds these particularly well. The current 300SL is based on the classic model of the Fifties and early Sixties, which is absolutely my dream car. But with not many more than 3,000 ever built, it is not affordable at all. In Europe, you are looking at over half-a-million euros [Dh2.6 million] for this car, so it's far, far more expensive than my little 280SL."

Halbig says he has had "a couple of good cars" before, but this is definitely his favourite. "When I bought the SL, I had always dreamt of this Mercedes convertible. I don't know how many years I had been thinking about it, but I kept seeing similar cars on the road in Switzerland. And then I saw this one outside a dealership, and I decided the time was right.

"I have two more classic cars that are dreams for me. One is the [Corvette] Stingray, and the other one is a Porsche 356. But I have no concrete plan to buy them now - first I have to earn some money, and I need a bigger garage."

* Richard Whitehead