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One-track minds

The oldest car maker in the world cultivates its past

While other auto manufacturers carve out their reputation designing new vehicles, the oldest car maker in the world cultivates its past.

This June, the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center set up shop in a 28,000-square-foot facility in Irvine. Only the second center of its kind (the first is another M-B center in Stuttgart, Germany), the Classic Center has a showroom and dealership, as well as service, restoration and consulting departments dedicated solely to its legacy vehicles up to 1989. Vehicles are for sale starting at $25,000.

THEY SAY

The Classic Center is already more popular than expected. “The plan was to start out here and see how things went, then in five years or so move to a bigger facility,” says GM Mike Kunz. “We’ve only been open a couple of months, and it’s going so well we’re already turning people away (for service and restoration).”

WE SAY

The Good
The M-B Classic Center is mecca for the marque’s devotees. They have every blueprint and technical manual for every car Mercedes has built since its first in 1860. This means there’s no need to scour eBay to find a new cylinder block for your rear-engine 1935 Mercedes 130; they can build you one using the original Depression-era schematics.

The center offers regular maintenance at a non-premium labor rate of $99 per hour. (Dealers such as Beverly Hills Mercedes charge north of $100.) In the market for a vintage M-B elsewhere? A technician will look the vehicle over and appraise it for labor plus travel expenses.

Tours are available through the service department (which is immaculate), where you can watch restorers working on a 1936 230 K bought from East Germany on eBay. Classics like the CLK GT racer and Jerry Seinfeld’s custom E60 are on display in the showroom.

And because no pilgrimage would be complete without souvenirs, the center’s boutique sells Mercedes-inspired cast models, postcards and, our personal favorite, luggage lined with cloth from the 300 SL ($150-$200).

The Bad
Sticklers for authenticity, the center will perform slight modifications to your model, but they won’t do anything to your car that they feel inconsistent with the history of the brand. If you want to make your car more driver friendly by, say, getting air conditioning installed in your 300 SL Gullwing, they’ll comply. If you want your pagoda-roofed 190 SL reupholstered in red leather, they will grudgingly oblige. But if you want it dropped and fitted with 22″ Lorinser wheels, prepare to be told “Nein.”

Need to know
9 Whatney, Irvine, CA, 92618, (949) 588 5806, Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, by appointment on Saturday. For more information, visit Mercedes-benz-oldtimerservice.com.