For a bit of perspective, ponder that it’s been 136 years since Mercedes-Benz patented the world’s first automobile—conversely, nowadays the German carmaker sells around 2.5 million gleaming new cars per year globally. Somewhere between the way back origin story and the relentlessness of modern commerce is a new facility in Long Beach, California, that houses both ends of these disparate aspects of automaking.
While a hidden portion of the new premises serves as a Vehicle Preparation Center for tens of thousands of inbound SUVs, sedans and coupes before they’re distributed to dealers, true romance can be found in the front of the 1.1-million-square-foot structure where Boeing aircrafts were once manufactured—the newly unveiled Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. Christened on a balmy Friday afternoon ahead of Monterey Car Week, the 40,000-square-foot facility is a slice of nirvana for anyone remotely touched by old school automotive nostalgia. Friend, collector, and Petersen Automobile Museum board member Phillip Sarofim loaned a stunning Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster for the occasion, where the light green metallic convertible was promptly greeted with a spot on the automotive red carpet alongside a who’s who of vintage Benzes.
While the Classic Center features the usual restoration and maintenance facilities—paint booths, lifts for maintenance, upholstery areas for leather and trim work—the stars, so to speak, are the cars: Roy Orbison’s elegantly obsidian 600 “Grosser” sedan, an Ilmor/Mercedes-powered IndyCar racer and all manner of sundry customer cars awaiting restoration, from a rare AMG Hammer Coupe to a deliciously derelict 1920s-era ragtop in running condition.
Fittingly, the grand opening preceded a selection of classics that made the pilgrimage up to Monterey Car week in a caravan of sheet metal that included an eclectic array of Benzes, from a track-ready CLK 63 AMG Coupe Black Series coupe to a jaunty 280 SL “Pagoda” roadster and an elegantly muscular 300 SEL 6.3 sedan. If anything, immersion into a world where perfection is sought in the aesthetic, not commercial, delivers a visceral reminder of why one gets into the automotive hobby in the first place. There will always be a steady stream of new cars, but the classics provide an unforgettable reminder of where they came from.
Click here to see all of the photos of Mercedes-Benz’s new Classic Center.