<![CDATA[MERCEDES-bENZ club OF aMERICA<br />sTUTTGART tOUR 2015 - Blog]]>Sat, 12 Mar 2016 18:15:20 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[2015 MBCA Mercedes-Benz Stuttgart, Germany Tour]]>Tue, 13 Oct 2015 20:12:49 GMThttp://gleadle.weebly.com/blog/2015-mbca-mercedes-benz-stuttgart-germany-tour
By Linda Gleadle

​As a club member for nearly 20 years, I had heard the words “European Delivery” spoken with reverence and awe so many times that when we had the opportunity to purchase a new Mercedes in 2011, I immediately asked, “How much are airline tickets to Stuttgart, Germany?”   I have to confess that I was really disappointed when I was told that my new ML-350 would be coming from Tuscaloosa, ALABAMA, the production location of Mercedes-Benz SUVs and the C-Class for the North American market.  While I am sure that Tuscaloosa has its share of local attractions, I knew it couldn’t compete with more than a century of history of the Mercedes-Benz in Germany.   I had to put my dream of “European Delivery” on hold.

Then I discovered via the Star Magazine that MBCA organizes a weeklong guided tour of all things Mercedes in and around Stuttgart for MBCA members.  After talking with other members who had been on the trip, I realized that this could be the next best thing and my husband and I were finally able to fit their September-October 2015 trip into our schedule.  We just returned and it was AMAZING.  Jim O’Sullivan, past MBCA President and our tour organizer from the states, along with Wolfram Korner (retired) and Ambrose Kluyskens (current) executives from Daimler AG put together a non-stop agenda of museum tours that made automotive history come to life and factory tours that gave us an even stronger appreciation for the Mercedes-Benz marque. They booked us in a first-class hotel, chartered an extremely comfortable Mercedes-Benz touring bus, and found unique German Hofbräuhaus’ excited to share their local specialties such as schnitzel, spätzle, and sauerbraten with our large group of 34 members. 

Our dream journey began with a get together dinner the night before our touring began.  Then, with precision clock-work, we gathered early each morning to begin our organized days filled with lessons of the past, up-close viewing of current production processes, and discussions of the automotive industry future all guided by passionate and knowledgeable teachers.

Our first excursion took us to the AMG Factory in Affalterbach where we heard the history of AMG’s growth from an engine tuning company to their current partnership with Mercedes-Benz which recently spawned the development of the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S.  Like a classical ballet, we were allowed to watch as AMG technicians built individual engines piece by piece using state of the art, precision tuned equipment and skills that justify their craftsman’s signature on each completed engine.  Also remarkable was the trim shop displaying a myriad of color options and spoiler combinations available for complete personalization of your own AMG.

We were then off to a lunch and a tour of the home where Gottlieb Daimler was born in 1834 in the town of Schorndorf, a quaint village filled with romantic half-timbered houses famous in Germany.

Back on the bus, we headed to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Center in Fellbach, Germany.  Many MBCA members have worked with its counterpart, the Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Center in Irvine, California.  In addition to supplying parts to Irvine and beyond, the Fellbach Center has a world renowned classic car repair and restoration center.  Not only do they maintain the beauties at the Mercedes-Benz museum, they even have a few of their own classic cars on display.  It was here that we saw the actual 300SLR that Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia in Italy.  It brought chills to see it in person. 

We topped off the day with dinner at the converted “Schlachthof” (Slaughter house) in Stuttgart.   The Schweine (Pig) Museum has a restaurant featuring great beer and a menu filled with German pork dishes (of course!).   While the Museum wasn’t open at the time, the pig theme and décor, including the flying pigs painted on the ceiling, carried over into the restaurant that gave it a quirky, fun vibe.

Another early start to the day took us about 45 minutes outside of Stuttgart to the Stickel Pagoden Center in Rutesheim.  The owner, Joachim Stickel, and his staff graciously provided a guided tour of their recently expanded, extremely clean and well organized engine, body and interior-trim workshops.   Customers come from around the world due to the quality of work from the Stickel Center.  Also, as parts are getting harder to come by for the W113 first introduced in 1963 as the 230SL, the Stickel Center has been asked to create templates for body parts.   Precision development was on display!

For those of us who dreamed of coming to Stuttgart to pick up a car, the next stop was a highlight.  We spent the rest of the day at the Sindelfingen factory where 450 S-Class and 1,200 E-Class come off the assembly line PER DAY.  We stood in the S-Class body panel factory and felt the floor shake as 20-ton presses stamped out trunks, roofs and hoods from enormous die casts.  We watched robots performing intricate, monotonous tasks such as welding, gluing, placing tiny screws, and placing whole parts in cars.  We watched as employees took over from the robots and worked the assembly line with grace and efficiency.  We learned that each car coming down the line has already been ordered and will need individual modification based on its styling (e.g. regular, long base, or Maybach) and depending on its final destination.  For example, the air conditioning unit for an S-Class headed to Arizona is slightly different than one headed for Alaska.  The options are managed with RFID chips and every part is scanned and logged into a computer.  We watched as parts were made available when needed and where needed using a sophisticated logistics system.   The technology and mechanics of the build process was an incredible sight to see.

Not only is the S-Class & E-Class factory located in Sindelfingen, it is the home of “European Delivery”!  Up to 400 deliveries are made through the center PER DAY.  This is where owners receive a detailed review of every aspect of their new car.  Depending on the delivery package, owners receive a hotel package and can spend time driving around Europe before they drop their car off at a designated port for shipment to the states.  An exciting concept, however this trip has so far provided an excellent alternative.  We had some time to shop for Mercedes-Benz items then headed off for another great German dinner.  It’s a good thing that the restaurant was close enough to the hotel to walk home.  The German specialties including pork, noodles, potatoes and apple “kuchen” were taking their toll and a brisk walk helped to counteract their effect.

Next was a quick stop at Motorworld in Böblingen Germany.  It housed a multi-level classic car storage unit with hundreds of beautifully restored European classics available for viewing in climate controlled glass booths.  In addition, the building is home to Arthur Bechtel Classic Motors.  They had an impressive collection of vintage classics for sale including the largest collection of 190 SLs that I’ve seen in one place in a rainbow of colors.

Just when we thought that we had seen the best, the next day brought even more highlights and history.  Our first stop was the Mercedes-Benz Museum, an architectural delight and a wondrous display of the 125+ year history of the automobile fully integrated with a world history timeline.  There were nine floors of auto displays and special collections.  They allowed photos to be taken in the museum.  Thank goodness for digital photography and huge flash card storage devices, though the pictures can’t really capture how well organized and documented the museum collection is.  It’s definitely a must-see exhibit.

We spent two hours viewing the museum with a promise of more time later in the day, and then were hustled off to a meet up with our next guide who arrived in a brand new Mercedes-Benz bus.  We were driven into a fenced off, guarded area and found ourselves inside the Mercedes-Benz Research and Development Facility, also home to the Daimler Group Headquarters.  No cameras allowed here!  All around us we saw cars under cover and test models camouflaged with a black and white patterned wrap intended to hide new features.  We then found ourselves entering the Stuttgart-Unterturkheim test track!   While driving down the track, our guide described the 1.86 miles of test situations including potholes, bumps, rough roads, 20-30% grades, a skid pad, a rain tunnel, and a 90 degree banked turn.  He stopped the bus midway down the track and we found several AMGs, an SL65, E63, C63s, and a CLA45, all with professional drivers waiting to give us full speed test drives on the track.  Talk about exhilarating and a once in a lifetime experience!   I was personally glad that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet.

We had an excellent lunch back at the museum then headed off to the Mercedes-Benz Engine Production Facility in Bad Cannstatt.   Here we learned that over 5,000 engines PER DAY for all of the Mercedes-Benz models are manufactured and shipped to all production factories including Alabama and China.  Our guide took us to the roof of the building and showed the reason why Mercedes-Benz had begun to open up factories in other countries.  Between the existing developments, the Neckar River and the extensive railroad system, they had simply run out of room for expansion in the Neckar River Valley.  As a result, Mercedes-Benz chose to establish factories closer to their end user markets.  Somehow it made me appreciate Alabama more.

We ended the day back at the museum with time to take another look, to shop at the museum store, and to admire the new cars on display next door at the Mercedes-Benz dealership with its classic Autohaus design.  After that test drive in the E63, I just had to take a look at the sticker price.  In case you are wondering, not in my price range.

Our last day of touring found us on the Autobahn to the Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum about an hour and half outside of Stuttgart.  The museum is an eclectic collection of “stuff” stored in two separate buildings.  The first building housed an actual Concorde supersonic jet, a World War II military history museum complete with tanks, classic American cars, a huge motorcycle collection and even some steam engines.  The second building housed a race car display, hundreds of classic European cars including gorgeous examples of the Mercedes S, SS & SSK series from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the largest collection of Maybachs worldwide.  The displays were set up as vignettes with models wearing period clothing making the museum pieces come to life and even more intriguing. 

Then it was back on the bus to our last museum tour of the trip.  The Dr. Carl Benz Museum in Landenburg is located in a former automobile factory building beautifully restored and now used to house an extensive display of Benz and Mercedes-Benz automobiles and memorabilia.   The most memorable item was the actual car that Berta Benz drove in August 1886, from Mannheim to Pforzhem, to become the first person to drive an automobile over a real distance.  The Benz Patent-Motorwagen was widely regarded as the world’s first automobile and Berta’s infamous journey sparked a revolution in the automobile industry.  It was an incredible privilege to see this treasure up close.

The day was capped off with a privately catered dinner at Chef Jaschutschik's "Unsere Küche".  Chef treated us to a splendid buffet of the freshest homemade German specialties that we have had all week.  It began with a glass of “new wine” fresh from the harvest and a toast to new friends.  It ended with a glass of pear schnapps and a salute to a wonderful week.

Our final day in Stuttgart was on our own.  Many headed to the Köingstrasse just a short walk from the hotel.  This pedestrian only, kilometer-long group of shops began at the central train station, and contained parks and performance areas to people watch and enjoy live music. It also provided easy access to other excellent local museums and the Markthalle, a gourmet food and farmers’ market.  A group of us hopped on the local train out to the Porsche museum.  The Porsche factory is also located nearby, but was closed that day. 

Everywhere we went, we saw young and old dressed in lederhosen and dirndls, traditional German costumes, and discovered that the Stuttgart (Cannstatter) Volksfest had just begun that weekend.  We hopped on another train and followed the crowd to an incredible sight.  Not only were there fairground rides, food, and games, but there were beer “gardens” set up in huge buildings each holding up to 5,000 people.  People were packed into the beer gardens, standing on tables, singing and dancing to the live bands, and drinking non-stop beer in huge liter mugs.  It was definitely a carnival atmosphere and a perfect Oktoberfest experience.

Every great journey must come to an end, and our group gathered for one last meal together that night.  Our host, Jim O’Sullivan, commented that he knew when it had been a successful trip by the noise level in the room the last night.  We may have been strangers when we met, but we were friends at the end.  We exchanged emails, promised to share pictures, and made a toast to Wolfram, our extraordinary guide, who was with us each step of this incredible journey.  A huge thank you to MBCA and Daimler AG for putting these adventures together each year.  I can only hope that this story will inspire others who have dreamed of a “European Delivery” experience, even without the delivery part, to book their tickets for the next adventure!