Held in Merklingen (Germany), between Stuttgart and Ulm on the weekend of 12 and 13 of June 2004.
The GWOA group was made up of Bill Moss (Off-road prepared 280 GE SWB), Jonathan and Phillip Cowan (in Jonathan’s G55 LWB RHD), Roly Iddison, Ian Watson and Mark (in Roly’s W463 300 GD LWB Auto), Howard Green, Gary and myself (in Howard’s alpine white G290 GD Turbodiesel SWB RHD) and Max Macarthur and Rakesh, who opted for flying to Stuttgart and turned up in a rented E200K. In addition, David Watkins joined the party in his brand-new G55 AMG LWB LHD that he had just picked up from the Geländewagen Centrum in Munich. 12 members and 5 Gwagens in total.
By my reckoning we were the third biggest national contingent after –understandably- the Germans and the ever-active Dutch of G-Centre who brought a number of very interesting off-road specials and a couple of very smart standard Gs, including a pristine 60k kilometres 500GE. I counted six Dutch Gs in total. Other nationalities represented were a trio of Swiss Puchs, a lonely Irish G400 CDI LWB LHD, a Norwegian military double-cab G290 GDT and a 300 GE LWB from Liechtenstein. Sadly, and bizarrely, no French, Italian, Belgian, Austrian or Spanish representatives, to list examples of European countries with a numerous population of G-Wagens.
All in all, there were some 280 G-Wagens registered for the events on Saturday. This is an amazing turnout and the biggest ever that I know of. All the more so when one considers that the Mercedes Geländewagen Club E.V., organizer of the event has only some 800 members. To put this in perspective (and rather shamefully for us), the GWOA has 400 live members and the best we manage when we organize an event is typically 30-40 Gwagens.
For me, the journey started at junction 10 of the M25 (London’s orbital motorway) at 16:30 on Thursday 11 June. Howard and Gary picked me up in Howard’s G290GDT and we headed for Dover where we were scheduled to board the 20:15 ferry to Calais in the French side of the English Channel (or Le Manche). Since we had plenty of time, we went to visit the famous “white walls”. Once in the ferry terminal, we met with Roly, Mark and Ian and we later boarded the ferry as planned. My British travel mates were somewhat mystified at the looks of my Spanish ID card which I was using in lieu of a passport for entering the continent from the UK. The trip only lasts for about 1-½ hours, which we employed in having some dinner.
Once in the French side, we took the Motorway A 26 in direction Arras and left it at junction 2 to take the N43 which runs parallel to the A26. A few kilometres further, we turn left at the D222 to Eperlecques, were we stayed at two converted barns at a wonderful chateau. We paid € 220 for B+B plus two celebratory bottles of wine and twelve beers. After the compulsory photographs of the two Gwagens in front of the Chateau, we departed at 08:15, returning to the A26 to Arras, St Quentin and Reims. Then we took A4 (“AutoRoute de l’est”) through Verdun, Metz and Strasbourg. Right here, our car missed an exit and we momentarily travelled on the A35, which runs north to the left on the Rhein in French territory. We needed to travel back to Strasbourg and cross the river at Kehl (where we found our companions) through the E52, but works on the French part of this road plus the previous detour costs us dearly in time terms, losing at least one hour by my reckoning. Kehl is the first town on the German side of the river Rhein but for those unfamiliar with the Schengen Treaty, the border nowadays is just a line drawn in the middle of the river in the maps…. no custom- or border controls exist anymore so we did not need to stop to show our passports.
Progress along the French autoroutes was faster than I had initially anticipated. Obviously, the group’s pace was limited by the speed of Roly’s naturally aspirated 300 GD rather than Howard’s turbocharged 290 GDT. Still, we would happily cruise at 130 kph (80 mph), except at steep gradients uphill, where Roly’s car would lose speed but rarely under 100 kph (62 mph). However, the group would occasionally speed up close to an indicated 160 kph (the magic ton!) which is amazing for Roly’s 177 k- miles G-Wagen. However, once in Germany the traffic increased dramatically as a reflection of the fact that it was by then a Friday afternoon and that, as opposed to France, there are no motorway tolls to pay.
Sadly, I am unable to report the delights of the French cuisine but we were eager to arrive at our destination at the earliest and thus we did not stop to eat properly, bar for a sandwich at a service area near Verdun.
We were relieved to learn that prices for diesel in Germany were similar to those prevailing in France (some € 0.91 /litre) and clearly below those in the UK (£ 0.81 or € 1.17/litre). Shortly after entering Germany we turned left to the E35 in direction Karlsruhe and then turned right to the E52 to Stuttgart. Our destination was the town of Merklingen, just off junction 61 on the E52 between Stuttgart and Ulm.
Once we arrived in Merklingen we proceeded straight to the event’s site. This was a fairly sized quarry peppered with an amazing amount of G-Wagens, smart or otherwise, and a big beer tent which included a small stall selling models, clothing and other G-Wagen memorabilia.
Some of the Gs –arguably the poshest- were stationary for the crowds to admire. The rest were at the quarry proper engaged in fairly serious off-road driving. Among the former was the AMG line-up, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, which included a rare G55L in silver metallic (extra long 3.1 metre wheelbase and seven seats) and an even rarer silver G63 (12 cylinders). Both the third row of seats of the G55L and the second of the G63 had the option of deletion of the central seat and its replacement with a king-size coolbox which I am sure would be a delight to use.
Adjacent to these was the “company car” of the head of G-Wagen sales for Europe, Africa and the Far East, Herr Heinz Neunzig, a magnificent dark blue metallic G55 Kompressor (more about this one later).
ORC was also present with its large Paris-Dakar entered Mercedes 2644 six-wheel HGV which featured 100% locking differentials in all three axles. Also displayed were its amazing portal axled G500 Cabrio and the race support G290 GD Turbodiesel LWB.
Gwagen Centre Holland was present with a number of highly prepared specials which were a delight to see moving in the off-road site but it did not have a formal stand. One of them was a very impressive ex military 3 door LWB soft-top, with a 24 valve 3 litre Turbodiesel engine and the dashboard from a 463 Gwagen.
After a pleasant evening around the site, we decided to move to our accommodation just before 22:00. This consisted in a couple of rooms at a Gästehaus (Gasthof Bürgerstübe) in the town which proved excellent quality and value for money. Modern, functional, ample, clean and quiet rooms and just at € 52 for a double including breakfast. But first we made good use of the bar and generously soaked our anticipation for Saturday’s events in Germany’s finest export bier. Due to the late booking, Roly and Mark had a reservation at one of the local hotels in the next village. Unfortunately for me, I chose the wrong mate for room-sharing and ended up with Ian, who due to the liberal drinking did not stop snoring in the whole night!
Saturday was the big day. After breakfast we moved to the site where all Gwagens were to gather for the 61 km motorway parade to Stuttgart. You should have seen this amazing image of almost 300 Gwagens travelling in convoy with their lights on. On arrival in Stuttgart, we were directed by marshals to Parking No 4, where all Gwagens lined up for inspection… and to be profusely photographed by the attendants. Registration with the German Club followed, and we duly paid the € 200 due for two G-Wagens and six human specimens (that is € 80 per car including two persons plus € 20 for each additional person).
At 10:30 we had a choice of alternative activities, of which we chose the visit to the Mercedes-Benz museum situated at the Stuggart-Untertürkheim factory. The German Club had provided buses to transport us to the museum, but we chose to walk to it given that it was at walking distance. I was positively surprised with the fact that entrance is free to the public –living in a country where you almost have to pay for breathing- particularly given the quality of the exhibits, but we were somehow disappointed at the almost complete non-existence of any sixties, seventies and eighties cars and especially of the Gwagen. Well, almost, because in one corner, there is a small display of a dessert race with a six-wheel 460 G-Wagen, followed by the 1981 Paris-Dakar winning 280 GE of Jackie Ickxx , a seventies 450 SLC 5.0 and a sixties race-prepared saloon (Heckflosse???).
I was particularly impressed with the W100 600 LWB landaulette made in the sixties by Mercedes for Pope Paul VI, complete with its Vatican numberplate SCV-1 and its period Becker Grand Prix radio accessible from the pontiff’s throne and with Emperor Hirohito’s 1930s limousine, which featured a remote control with Japanese types.
After a quick bite at the museum’s cafeteria, we headed back to parking 4, were we were treated to free alkoholfrei (or standard) bier courtesy of a full sized hospitality bus owned by a local brauerei while we waited for the next activity.
Here one could dwell on the marvellous variety of Gs on show, like a couple of 1999 G500 Classics, a short-wheelbase station wagon and a Cabrio. In all sales documentation that I know of only the LWB is mentioned but the owner of the SWB assured me that his G had undertaken no modifications and it had left the factory as shown. He also told me that no more than a handful of SWB and Cabrio Classic G500s exist.
More curious Gwagens seen:
· a white 290 GD chassis-cab with a heavy-duty rear skipper
· a white W460 300 GD LWB chassis-cab with a high capacity pick-up tray at the rear
· a blue 230 G SWB chassis cab with a high capacity pick-up tray at the rear
· a delightful 290 GD (again non turbo) pick-up LWB, with the tray covered in aluminium chequered plate and the seats and door cards upholstered in grey leather.
· an off-road caravan being pulled by a standard 300 GD LWB
· a 280 GE motorhome made from a civilian ambulances, complete with spare wheel under the rear overhang
· another motorhome made from a German military ambulance (presumably a 240 GD)
· a LWB standard pickup with a motorhome addition to the rear tray which looked like a porta-loo from the rear due to the short overhang and big height
· a genuine Swiss army 3-door Puch 230 GE soft top Automatic in LWB
· a genuine Austrian army 3-door Puch 300 GD soft top manual in LWB
· a military double-cab extra long wheel base G290 GDT fitted with heavy-duty, wide-track axles, wide rear tray and 16” alloys with the same design as the standard 1999 specification G500.
· one of the first Gwagens ever made, a tan soft-top Puch 230 G in LWB with an “Africa Korps” look and a small badge after the front left wheel which read “Mercedes-Benz, Steyr-Daimler-Puch”. It also sported the silhouette of a Palm tree at the other side and was being transported on a trailer by extra long-wheel base double cab Puch 290 GD (non-turbo)
· Jonathan Cowan’s G55 AMG RHD, which I argue that it was never AMG factory produced but born as a standard G500 and then converted to G55 by AMG
· A newer frog green G320 Cabrio with power top in black fabric and designo interior in the same frog green.
Some absent Gs that we were promised but we never saw:
· the 230 G LWB Popemobile built on occasion of His Sanctity visit to Germany in 1980.
· The articulated towing Gs made for Herforder and D2 Vodafon
The next activity consisted in boarding a bus to be transported to the close-nearby Mercedes-Benz test track. There we would board one of the three latest specs G-Wagens prepared for that purpose, to be driven flat out around the track by Mercedes’ own factory test drivers. Unfortunately, us Brits were to be punished in anticipation for the surely unacceptable behaviour of the English fans at Portugal’s soccer EuroCup 2004 and by the time our turn arrived time was over and we missed to be driven around the track. However thanks goodness we could at least watch the show from the barriers and this is what I saw…
The G-Wagens were a silver “standard” G55 LWB, a black 270 CDI LWB and Herr Neunzig’s dark blue G55 Kompressor. The track has an impressive U-shaped section with a banked 180-degree corner and we patiently waited at a distance of the outside of the last corner.
After a while, we heard the unmistakably howl/shriek of the G55K coming from the distance and shortly after the enormous blue mass of the car and all of its 476 horses appeared perched at the top of the bank, taking the corner at 160 kph with its passengers literally flattened out by the G-forces generated by the car’s kinetic energy. The other two cars followed, if only at a marginally lower pace and less high up in the bank. We managed to take a few pictures to witness this unforgettable experience for future generations….
Once we had recovered the physical stance of our feet on the ground, we spend the next hour or so discussing the details of our recent experience until we were invited to join a new parade which was to take us to Schloss Solitude. This is a castle situated at the green park at the west of the centre of the city, where all 300 or so Gs were orderly displayed to be photographed and admired in the most attractive of environments. There, more free beer courtesy of the Brauerei and free pretzels followed, sautéed with speeches by the Major of Stuttgart, Heinrich Wrangler, Chairman of the German G-Wagen Owners’ Club and Dr Michael Grohn, Head of the Gwagen project at Mercedes-Benz.
Then we travelled in convoy again back to Merklingen. Here, in a pond in the quarry we attended to the celebration of a wedding. Both the Bride and her Groom are members of the German G-Wagen club and they got married in their ex-German army topless Gwagen by the major of Merklingen in another topless G, both parked in the middle of the pond, with numerous Gwagens circling the ceremony around the edges of the pond.
After that we gathered in the beer tent for a copious dinner (the only decent meal we would had for almost three days) where prices were also given to the winners of the different activities. Then it was out of the tent for the very impressive fireworks. By then it was 22:30 already and a very sensible British contingent decided to behave in a totally unenglish fashion and retire to their rooms.
On Sunday we left at 6:55. The return trip was to take us through Manheim and Saarbrücken in lieu of Strasbourg to avoid the road works and traffic jams. We had a earthy breakfast shortly after 10 at the latest German service area by the border near Saarbrücken and we retook our outbound route at St Avold shortly after. From there we proceeded directly to Calais, where we arrived at 15:45. Nothing to report for the return trip, really, other than Roly’s car continuously overtaking ours when travelling downhill only for us to retaliate when travelling uphill….. Oh yes, and the “full moon” that Ian gave us from the rear window when they overtook us flat out at 95 mph!!! (If there are any coppers reading this out there… this happened in French territory!!!)
That means less than nine hour including refuelling stops for men and machine for the close to 1,000 kms of the trip, where we recorded some 20 mpg and 22 mpg for Roly’s and Howard’s Gwagens respectively.
After the 16:45 ferry, border control and UK customs formalities I was duly dropped at junction 10 of the M25 where my wife picked me up and took me home.
The total costs for the party who travelled in Howard’s G were just £ 250 pp, including ferry and travel insurance but excluding meals other than the dinner on Saturday and the breakfasts provided by the B+Bs. I would like to thank the German G Club for such a well organised event. These memories will be with us for a very long time. And, to be fair, I know no other better way of spending this amount of money without doing something illegal.