Mercedes Classic Center Moves to Huge New Building in the LBC

·3 min read
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
  • Mercedes-Benz has opened a new, larger Classic Center in Long Beach, California.

  • The center restores and refurbishes great Mercedes of yesteryear.

  • They also sell—or make—hard-to-find parts.

Having a beautiful old car is one thing, but keeping it running—and turning and stopping—is quite another.

Mercedes-Benz is proud of its motoring heritage and wants to preserve it. To do that takes old-world techniques and craftsmen (and women) who know how to use old-style tools and machinery to keep the great cars of yesteryear on the road. To that end there’s a Mercedes Classic Center in Fellbach, Germany, just outside Stuttgart, and another one in California. The California shop just expanded, moving from a relatively small operation in Irvine (the former Saleen headquarters 20 years ago) into a huge space at its Vehicle Preparation Center in Long Beach.

Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

The ginormous building is the former home of McDonnel Douglas, which built everything from B-17s (under contract from Boeing at the time), to the DC-8, DC-9, and DC-10 jets. The huge neon sign “Fly DC Jets” still sits atop the building’s south end.

Most of the building is taken up by Mercedes' Vehicle Preparation Center, where new cars are processed before being sent to dealers around the region. But a huge chunk of floorspace is taken up as the new home of the Mercedes Classic Center.

“Irvine was 27,000 square feet, but a lot of it was office space and the ceilings were lower,” said the Classic Center’s manager, the affable Mike Kunz. “This place is 41,500 square feet, but we have another 20,000 beyond that wall and 10,000 more in another building.”

And you thought your garage was impressive.

Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

On the night of the gala grand opening, there were Gullwings galore on the shop floor and parked outside, along with various old cabriolets, 190s, and even a Ponton, the latter resplendent in black and red. There was a red carpet but it was for classic cars. Marcus Breitschwerdt, head of Mercedes-Benz Heritage, arrived in a 300 and addressed the assembled crowd of dealers, enthusiasts, and press interlopers.

“Well, we certainly are the car brand, which is the first in the world, the oldest, the inventor of the automobile,” Breitschwerdt said. “That was the reason why, for the beginning of this year, we have funneled all the heritage operations of Mercedes-Benz and made it an EVP (executive vice president) division directly linked to the CEO of the corporation. And it's my job now to create a bridge between the unbelievable heritage which we have all through 136 years of history to the future. The customer is the direct link to the owners of our vehicles that will actually bring us to a future with great technological changes.”

And with that, they fired off streamers (which included the exact same car-shaped foil cutouts they fire at Pebble Beach when the Best of Show is announced) and opened the doors. Inside were all kinds of machines you would recognize if you ever worked in a metal shop: pinchers, nibblers, and a giant English wheel for shaping metal. There were welders, wire cutters and wheel balancers. There was everything you would want if you ever tried to restore your own Gullwing, or Ponton, or any Mercedes over 20 years old. In fact, the only thing missing may have been enough crafts people.

“We have eight now but we need around 12,” Kunz said.

So if you think you have what it takes to restore an ancient and significant Mercedes, maybe give them a call. Now, onward to the past!