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By Charlie Gaetze
Serendipity: (sere-n-dip-i-ty) luck, that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.
Jane and I had plans to visit Crans-Montana, Switzerland for the graduation of one of our family friends from the same school our daughter had graduated from the year before. However, at the last minute, the school decided the graduation ceremony was too much effort, canceled the ceremony, and gave each graduate their certificates, and wished them well in their future endeavors. We were staying on Lake Constance and intended to stay for a couple of days before driving into Switzerland. Faced with a few days of unscheduled time before our flight back to the States from Zurich, we had to make alternate plans. We decided over dinner that it had been quite some time since we had been to Kitzbuhel, Austria, which we both enjoyed. We arranged a hotel for the next few days and off we went.
As we were driving the last few kilometers into Kitzbuhel, we began to pass old cars that were obviously participating in some sort of organized event as there were people lining the roads with cameras taking pictures of the cars as they passed. When we arrived at our hotel in the center of Kitzbuhel, I asked the desk clerk what was going on? She informed me that the annual Kitzbuhel Rallye was starting. Serendipity – a car event. We spent the next three days watching the cars leave town for the daily tour and return triumphantly each afternoon for a parade down the main street of Kitzbuhel (a 90 degree corner followed by 200 yards of straight street). The cars would then be parked diagonally on the street so people could see the cars, take pictures, and talk to the drivers. This was 2014 and the mix of cars ranged from newer exotics to very old pre-war automobiles. Of particular interest to me was a very special Porsche that I had almost purchased when I lived in Germany in the late 70’s and early 80’s. While sitting on the veranda of our hotel, overlooking the main street, ‘she who must be obeyed’ said, serendipitously “you know, we could do this, it might be fun.” With an opening like that, what could we do but begin the planning process to participate.
First, we needed a proper vehicle. My first thought was that we already had one. Our 1967 Mini Cooper S would blend right in. Then I realized that we would have to drive it from Amsterdam to Kitzbuhel with our entire luggage. That would just not work. Then, scanning the cars we saw in Kitzbuhel, it appeared that a 1980 Porsche 911SC Weissach Edition would be perfect. Limited edition, only 408 made, no one knows for sure how many still survive; rare, comfortable, fast, weather proof: the perfect car. Car was found: low miles, good condition in California, just a couple miles from where our nephew lived. We asked him to check it out. He already knew the dealer as the shop had done some work on one of his old cars. He approved of the Porsche, money changed hands, and the car came to South Dakota. No car is right when you get it. So, off to Classic Import for some of Jim Tranby’s gentle ministrations. Soon it was ready to go back to the Fatherland and provide transportation for us while in Europe for years to come after the Rallye. I contacted the organizers of the rallye in late 2014 to participate in the 2015 Rallye and was informed that the rules had been changed and only cars 1972 or older were allowed now. Too late for 2015, darn, back to the drawing board. The Porsche was a car that had captured the hearts of everyone in the family so it became a keeper; however, garage space was becoming an issue, something had to go. The Mini Cooper S went to a good home in Vancouver, Washington and a 1967 Alfa Romeo GTV took up the Mini’s space. The car was just OK, but needed a lot of work to get it up to a standard that would allow it to be used as a long distance tourer in Europe. Back to Classic Import for initial evaluation, and getting it running in an acceptable manner. Then, out to my garage for some serious new parts installation and restoration. About 1/3 of the way into this project, a friend in Tucson called and told me he NEEDED the GTV as he had been searching for one for a couple of years and wanted it now. I told him “no problem” he could have it as soon as the rallye was over: but he couldn’t wait (Joe is impulsive). So I loaded the GTV and all the new parts and delivered it to Tucson. While I was scanning eBay for a replacement, looking at a 1972 Mercedes Benz 350SL which would be OK for age, I showed Jane. It was the same color combination as her Mercedes (that I am not allowed to sell or trade). For the best of all reasons; because it was pretty, we bought it. Deals on eBay do have some risk. The phrase “They are only original once”, figured prominently several times in the ad. That phrase is true. However, for this car, it no longer was. It had at least one respray in a base coat\clear coat to the original color that was not perfect but presentable. A minor bubbling under the paint on the left front fender would need attention. The car barely ran to get it off the transporter from New York, so dropping it at Classic Import was the right move.
First order of business: get it right and running. New belts, new hoses, new brakes, drain all fluids and replace, give it a tune up. Still no joy to drive: it just would not run right. We found a leak in the intake manifold gasket: easy fix. When we looked in the valley under the intake manifold, it was questionable whether or not there may have been a small head gasket leak. No choice; off with the heads. No evidence of a real leak, but now that they are off, might as well do a complete rebuild on the heads to be safe and cheaper now rather than later. The battery was the least expensive (no just cheap) battery Walmart sells and the cable end had been cut off so an incorrect type could be bolted on. Did you know that a new Mercedes Benz positive battery cable costs; $350.00? Neither did I. In went a new proper Mercedes branded battery and a shining new cable to provide power. After a trip to Executive Touch to have the cosmetics dealt with, the next part of the adventure was how to get it to Europe.
I reviewed all the options from driving the car to Baltimore, and having it shipped on a RO\RO (roll on\roll off) to Europe, where the car travels in the hold of the ship and is just tied down there, or containerizing and shipping. RO|RO is the way new cars are delivered to the US. Knowing all manufacturers have facilities at each port to repair the damage incurred during the ocean crossing, I wasn’t impressed. The next option, and significantly more expensive, was to containerize the car and ship it. We chose this method as we will not have time for repairs when we arrive in Europe. Cosdel International is the recognized leader in this field. With the assistance of Reliable Transport, the car was picked up here in Sioux Falls, trucked to Oakland, CA, where it was containerized and shipped to Rotterdam, Netherlands. Yes, it seems strange to go west, to go east; the car is now transiting the Panama Canal. In Rotterdam the container will be trucked to a warehouse near the Amsterdam airport, where on the 26th of May, we will pick it up and head for Stuttgart to have Mercedes Benz do a routine service on the car, and then send us off to Kitzbuhel.
Arranging the Mercedes service was another small adventure. (We do not play with these old cars because they have no challenges.) I had called Mercedes Classic in California to inquire if service would be available for me at Mercedes Classic in Fellbach, Germany when we were there. I was informed; no problem, just call or go in when you are there and arrange it. As Jane and I were in the Stuttgart area visiting family at Easter we drove to Fellbach to arrange service. We were looking around the impressive Mercedes Classic showroom and offices, when a gentleman asked if he could help. I said, “Sure, we need to arrange for service for this car.” He responded “I am sorry sir, but we do not work on cars that new.” Who knew, 44 years old is too new? Then he gave us the name and address of someone at the main Mercedes Factory Maintenance facility in Unterturkheim (Porsche home town) that specializes in the “almost classics”. Jane and I drove over, as it was less than two miles, and the Mercedes found a new home: Serendipity. They would be happy to give the car a routine service and look it over, store the hardtop, and when we were back from Kitzbuhel, store the car. They would give the car a careful going over and let me know what they thought it needed in a line item format, that I could address. Then over the winter they would perform the work and have the car ready for touring next spring. Perfect for me, so now we wait for the real adventure to begin, and serendipity to take us where we did not know we were going, again. May 25th the adventure resumes. Look for the concluding report on the tour of Europe.