The Retro Classics – one of the world’s largest exhibitions for classic vehicles – and a visit to the Mercedes-Benz Museum recently brought the co-founder of MB Automobilia to Stuttgart. “It is not the first time I have travelled to Stuttgart to visit the Museum. Every Mercedes-Benz fan needs to come here at least once”, says Fran. Before he restores a vehicle, the qualified engineer precisely studies the original. We accompanied Fran on his visit to the museum and asked a few questions along the way.
Where does your passion for classic vans come from?
Fran: I was searching for a new job and thought this would be a great opportunity to discover the world of old Mercedes-Benz vans. I like the models because the design is both classic and yet diverse. In addition, the vehicles have so many personal stories to tell. That is very interesting. A lot of people come to me and tell me that their father or grandfather had a van like this. Others are amazed that the classic van is still even roadworthy. The vehicles simply have a unique attraction.
Describe how MB Automobilia came about.
When I began working with Mercedes-Benz classic vans, I discovered that I was not the only person interested in them. So I started publishing pictures on Facebook. The idea of MB Automobilia was born. It is not a commercial interest, but rather an opportunity to let others benefit from our experience.
What was the vision behind MB Automobilia – or in other words: why did you want to do this?
The basic idea was to share our experience because I did not want to keep my knowledge about the vehicles just for myself. The whole purpose of MB Automobilia is to create a small community for Mercedes-Benz classic vans. Especially for people who restore the vans. Exactly these people often need a little help and we can all support each other. That is the reason why we publish our difficulties and solutions on the web. To share the knowledge and the passion with others.
Over time, you have established a large community – how well networked are you with other van enthusiasts?
I meet people from all over the world, from South America to North America to Scandinavia and even Asia. A lot of them ask me for advice when they have problems. I do my best to help everyone – even if I’m not always successful, because my knowledge is not limitless. But we maintain good relationships. Sometimes we also publish pictures that document our progress. We are a small community of passionate fans. I am convinced that this is a passion that has to be shared with everyone to truly enjoy it. Because we can learn from others every day.
How many classic vans do you currently own? Do you keep all of your restored vehicles?
Let’s say about nine vans. My wife should not know the exact number. The original idea was not to sell the vans. Because this is not a business model for me or my friends. But in the meantime, we sell a few vehicles with the goal of financing our own projects. With the money which we receive, we can also finance other projects. It is a type of survival strategy.
What are the greatest difficulties with the restoration?
The main problem is that spare parts are not always available. The condition of the vans is also often problematic. Their owners once replaced them with more powerful vehicles. But because they took up so much space, it was not always possible to store them in a private garage. That is why most of the vans have suffered from weathering and after 40 to 50 years, they are no longer in the best condition. Often, we have to replace a large amount of the body and manufacture our own parts. We cannot always find the right spare parts, that’s why we often have to improvise. But we orient ourselves as closely as possible on the original design.