Family lies at the beginning of the long and complicated history of Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Karl Friedrich Benz, credited with creating the first practical automobile with an internal combustion engine, received the funding to do so through his wife, Bertha, also an inventor and driver. And Emil Jellinek, an early automotive financier, named the first modern car, the Mercedes 35hp, after his daughter.
For Tim Bechtel, the fusion of automobiles and family has been a theme since birth. His father, Arthur Bechtel, dreamed of preserving the tradition of classic cars—a collectors’ market that was small in the early 1970s in Europe—and the drive and passion that grew his namesake business from the ground up meant Tim was raised amongst cars. “My childhood took place between the workshop and kindergarten, among classic cars and their owners from all over the world,” he tells me from the company headquarters in Germany. “My father’s enthusiasm for classic automobiles was omnipresent, and the boundaries between business and work were so blurred that, although classic cars did not physically find their way into our living room, they were ever-present.”
Today, Arthur Bechtel Classic Motors, located in the former Baden-Württemberg airport in Böblingen outside Stuttgart, the historical seat of Mercedes-Benz, specializes in the trade, restoration, and service of a wide selection of vehicles. But the bread and butter for the company is Mercedes, especially models from the golden era of the early ’50s to the mid-’70s.
The regional affiliation of the Bechtels with Mercedes-Benz is clear, but Tim explains that the love of the cars goes even deeper. “Mercedes-Benz is the inventor of the car, which moves not only physically but emotionally,” he says. And for Mercedes-Benz collectors, drawing on this emotional wellspring is becoming even more profitable—and bustling, because, surprisingly, Tim’s consumer base continues to get younger.
Tim’s own youthful passion for Mercedes is apparent when he talks about his first car: “Even though it was not easy to afford this kind of a car, I managed—with lots of jobs—to buy a Mercedes-Benz 500SL (R129), and I do not regret one single shift I had to take.” One can appreciate the work that the word shift does.
“Mercedes-Benz is the inventor of the car, which moves not only physically but emotionally.” — Tim Bechtel
But just as the first automobiles were both business and invention, Tim learned early the ins and outs of his father’s business. “Unlike so many of my school friends, I knew exactly what my father’s profession was and what he did. From very early on in my life, one thing was clear: That is exactly what I want too. Through playing, I learned everything worth knowing about classic cars and their engineering. I also accompanied my father on his many travels around the world. I realized very early how important a well-functioning network is.” He adds, “What more could a boy ask for?”
When I ask Tim what models are special to the company, he immediately mentions the midcentury Mercedes 190SL Roadster. Due to the Bechtels’ attention to detail, this and others of their vehicles have been declared to be Condition Grade 1, which means they are in virtually mint condition.
There’s something about the freedom of these postwar cars—cars that drove through the ruins of the devasting war, that were shaped by the aesthetic of aircraft, of which the imagery was so fresh and powerful at the time and emulated in such models as the 190SL Roadster.
It’s not only postwar cars the company deals in. Arthur Bechtel Classic Motors has a number of 1930s roadsters and is proud to feature a working replica of the original Benz Motorwagen, the world’s first practical automobile.
International recognition has come after various classics were showcased at Pebble Beach and Bund Classic in recent years. Arthur Bechtel Classic Motors continues to perfect its restoration techniques and take advantage of the glamour of social media while keeping the familial spirit that animated the first automobiles.
Photos Provided by Arthur Bechtel Classic Motors.