André Fourie's 17-strong Mercedes-Benz collection is there to be driven, not hidden away
Pristine, neat and utterly professional – those are the first impressions you get on entering André Fourie’s lavishly tiled garage. You get the feeling that the tiles aren’t there just for show or to make mopping up the inevitable drips of oil that much easier either, but rather to focus your complete attention on the cars.
There are many Mercedes collections out there, but few offer such an intriguing combination of old and new as this one.
This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that André’s first love hailed not from Stuttgart but Coventry. “My first cars were a Ford Zephyr that I bought from my father and a Triumph 2.5 PI,” he says. “But I’d always wanted a Jaguar so I sold the Triumph and bought an XJ6.”
It was love at first sight, but the XJ-S that followed tested his patience when it caught fire – twice. He replaced it with an XJ-S Cabriolet, but the damage had been done.
It was during this time that the seeds of André’s burgeoning interest in classic Mercedes' were sown when he replaced the XJ-S with a 560 SEC. He later discovered a particular love for the SL that has gone on to form the backbone of his collection, ranging from a 1958 W198 300 SL Roadster to the latest SLS AMG.
He says, “It’s fascinating being able to drive six decades of Mercedes cars back to back. You drive the 1959 190 SL with its unassisted steering and accept that it’s difficult to drive at times. Then you hop into the 1968 Pagoda, and immediately it’s a much better car to drive – the technology clearly took a huge step forward in just nine years.”
And these cars really are driven. He says, “The fact that I can’t drive the 600 Grosser at the moment is really frustrating. Cars like these start to go wrong if they’re not used.”
Mercedes-Benz 190 SL
It was actually André’s neighbour, himself a classic car enthusiast, who encouraged him to start looking for a 190 SL shortly after buying his 250 SL "Pagoda". He finally spotted one at a dealership during one of his regular trips to Cape Town in 1991. It wore the same registration number that it has today but beneath the plate was another bearing the words, “Eat your heart out, I belong to Anne-Marie.”
It turned out that Anne-Marie was the car’s owner and had had it restored before realising that it was tricky to drive on Cape Town’s busy streets. André paid her a visit, agreed on a price and drove home in one of the most valuable cars in the collection soon after. Says André, “I’ve had such good service from that car. I’ve had it resprayed and replaced the brake booster, but otherwise it’s as bought.”
Mercedes-Benz 300c Adenauer
From here the collection really started to snowball. The 190 SL and Pagoda already had a 280 SE coupé for company and one day André was at Orbit Coachworks in Cape Town looking for original spotlights for it. As he walked through the various outbuildings piled high with parts he noticed a few cars hidden under wraps, one of which turned out to be a 300c Adenauer.
When André’s wife Louise asked if it might be for sale, the manager simply smiled and said, “We can always talk.”
André confirmed his interest in the car almost immediately and was driving the 250 miles back to the Southern Cape in his "new" acquisition just a day later.
Shortly after buying the Adenauer, André took it on a 1 200-km round trip to East-London where Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s factory is located. “It was a bit of a risk because I didn’t really know the car at that point,” he says. “Sure enough, on the journey home I heard a worrying noise coming from the engine, which turned out to be a failing water pump. Thankfully I managed to find a useful contact who specialises in rebuilding them.”
André’s most extensive trip in the Adenauer to date has been from home to Johannesburg and back – 2 400 km in total. He says, “As with the 190 SL, it’s never left me stranded.”
Mercedes-Benz 600 Grosser & 300 convertible
As we make our way to the far side of the building that houses André’s collection, the 600 Grosser’s sheer enormity draws me in. Both it and the rarer still (one of just 591 built) 300 four-door convertible parked alongside joined André’s collection as a pair back in 2010.
They were due to be sold at an auction in Johannesburg. André was particularly interested in the 600 but couldn’t attend the sale in person because he was on a cruise around South America at the time.
Undeterred, he monitored the sale through a series of text messages sent whenever the ship docked at a port and discovered that neither car had sold. He offered less than half of the auction’s estimate and was astonished when the vendor accepted.
Each needed work, so when a friend mentioned that the cars’ previous owner had a job lot of 300 saloon and convertible parts up for sale, André snapped them up immediately. When he finally got around to going through the various boxes and crates he discovered an owner’s manual. He says, “I was leafing through this one particular booklet and did a double-take when I spotted a chassis number that looked very familiar. I compared it to the 300’s number and simply couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that they matched.”
More serendipity was to follow a couple of years later when a fellow enthusiast revealed he had an album of photos of the car taken before it was restored. “It was difficult to grasp the idea of such a rare classic car being in such a state – the driver’s seat was covered in sheepskin, as was the fashion over here back in the Seventies and Eighties. Thankfully things have changed for the better over the past few years!” The 600 Grosser’s huge 6.3-litre V8 engine and complex air suspension have given André no problems at all, although the hydraulic system cost him a pair of suede shoes when a burst seal sprayed oil all over the driver’s footwell.
However, André reckons he can forgive the Grosser anything when he sits on the sumptuous rear bench and sees the window curtains, pull-out veneered tray table and built-in champagne cooler.
Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC
This is without doubt the most affordable car in André’s collection, but probably also one of his smartest buys because SLC values had already bottomed out when he bought it back in 2012. He says, “It was advertised as being a one-lady-owner car based in Hermanus. These cars are well known for being capable of racking up very high mileages without suffering any major problems, so while this particular example had around 160 000 km on it, it was still slightly less than the average South African SLC.
“It plugged a gap in my coupé range perfectly and is a great accompaniment to my two R107 convertibles.”
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
André spent many years looking for a 300 SL before a classic car dealer contact managed to track one down in Cape Town. He took it on a brief test-drive, sealed the deal the same day and drove it straight home. The journey passed without incident but André was disappointed to find the car down on power. “It wasn’t until I got it home that I discovered the reason for the lack of grunt,” he recalls. “Whoever had cleaned the engine during its pre-sale preparation had removed one of the spark plug leads and forgotten to re-attach it afterwards. I’d driven it home the entire 400 km on just five cylinders!”
Fortunately the car turned out to be a good one. The previous owner had had it resprayed and the engine overhauled by a marque specialist, but it’s otherwise standard. And while its value may have quadrupled since André bought it this hasn’t prevented him from driving the car enthusiastically. He says, “I’ve taken it up Table Mountain where some of the roads are little more than gravel tracks and once drove it to Bloemfontein in the Free State province of South Africa for a Mercedes-Benz Club gathering. It was during this trip that we took a very special picture of the car parked alongside an SLS AMG and a 190 SL racing tribute car. I covered more than 1 600 km on that trip. Then I’ve also visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Germany where there’s a huge model of the 300 SL’s spaceframe on display. It was fascinating to see what it looks like under the skin.”
I conclude my visit by asking André if there’s any other car he’d like to add to his collection. His answer comes as rather a surprise. “I think I have enough cars now,” he says. “It’s important for me to be able to move each car in and out of the garage without a huge amount of effort. If I add any more cars to the collection it would just make life more difficult and I’d be less inclined to drive the cars as often as I do at the moment. And cars like this do deserve to be driven regularly.” Indeed a practical and enthusiastic approach to car collecting!