Europe's biggest annual event for classic cars, the Techno Classica, opens in Germany today. The show, which accommodates more than 1,200 exhibitors and 2,500 cars spread across 20 halls at Essen's vast exhibition complex, is expected to draw 180,000 visitors this year.
But among the old cars, an important new model will appear - Mercedes' latest SL roadster, which will be displayed alongside its predecessors in a celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the SL model line. Among the old SLs on Mercedes' stand, which occupies a prime position in Hall 1, will be the oldest SL in existence, and only the second ever built, a 1952 W194 racing car that has undergone an extensive restoration by the company's Classic operation. Other SLs on show include a W198 “gullwing” road car from 1955 and the 1956 roadster equivalent, as well as the elegant 1963 “Pagoda” - so called because of the concave shape of its optional hard-top.
The R107, known to enthusiasts as the “Bobby Ewing” SL because of its popularity with characters in the television series Dallas, is represented by a rare 1980 example prepared for the 1981 rally season but withdrawn before it could turn a wheel in anger. Finally there is an R129, widely regarded as one of the best cars Mercedes ever made. The 1991 model on show enjoys a provenance that few old cars, however distinguished, can match; it was used by Diana, Princess of Wales, and normally resides in Mercedes' company museum in Stuttgart.
The other German manufacturers are also using the Techno Classica to demonstrate the links between their new and old models. BMW is displaying all six generations of its 3-Series and commemorating forty years of its BMW Motorsport GmbH operation, which is responsible for the company's celebrated “M” line of performance cars.
Volkswagen is showing an “ovali” beetle (an early 1956 model, so called because of its small oval rear window) used in the Mille Miglia race, as well as a selection of its historic commercial vehicles. Audi has a collection of Audi and Auto Union competition cars and Porsche is marking the fortieth anniversary of the appearance of the first Carrera RS.
The Techno Classica is open every day until Sunday 25 March from 9am to 6pm (7pm on Friday) at Messe Essen, Norbertstrasse 2, 45131 Essen. There are 7,000 parking spaces and the exhibition can also be reached via underground railway. Admission costs EUR20 for adults, and there are special rates for children, families and groups.