Indians are obsessed with Mercedes Benz. For the longest time, it has been the go-to luxury car brand for anyone in India who wants to let the world know they have arrived. This Dhanteras Mercedes Benz India delivered 600 cars to customers across the country. I sit down with Rayomand J. Patell better known as Rayo, who runs one of Mumbai's most passionate and knowledgeable car clubs known as All Stars.
1. There are many Merc clubs in the country and abroad what would you describe as the essence of All Stars?
Passion. It would have to be our passion for Mercedes. All Stars has just a little over a hundred members, and we are not about how big we are, we are not about how much we care for each other, there is none of that male bonding nonsense that other clubs enjoin upon you. It is just about a bunch of people ranging from very early Mercs to the very latest AMGs. People who do not get along even are members of this group, and I think that’s the strength of this Club. It’s best of breed when it comes to passion, and we only reward true passion. Every guy with a Benz doesn’t get invited or accepted. Having said that, we’re not snooty, we’re just careful about everyone being at the same passionate level, whether they drive a W124 or an SL.
2. How old is the group, and how many members does it have?
We’re just about a year old and a little over a hundred members. Most of us are from Mumbai, but we do have some known car guys from all over the country too.
3. Which city are you guys based out of?
4. Name some of the special Stars in the group?
We’re blessed to have the entire spectrum of cars. From Adanauers to Pontons, SLCs to SLs and even the mighty SLS, from the big bad 80s SEC coupes (four at last count) to people like the Hede family who have every S class, we’re simply blessed with people who love the Star and have loved it for decades.
And it’s not always the fancy Stars either. We do have a fair amount of Youngtimer Stars as well. Some are daily driven like the W124 and so on. Each one is special to their owner, and that, to me, is what our guiding philosophy has always been. Celebrate ‘All' Stars. Save some that are in danger of dying out. For example, the W220 is a personal favorite of mine, ditto for the W201. I try to get people to resurrect those rather than a W124, for example, which are available in plenty in our country as they were made here.
5. What Stars are a part of your collection?
I have a pathological obsession with saving old wrecks that are at the near-death stage. My dream car is my 560 SEC affectionately called ‘Vader,’ and I bought it, and I’m still making it faster and stronger nearly five years later. I had to rebuild literally every inch of that car, but that’s what I do, I guess. When I can’t do it myself, I get my friends to pick up projects.
The coupe is a favorite, along the way a friend gave me one of my favorite S class designs, also by Bruno Sacco, the legendary W220 for free, which I spent eight months on fixing up and now that’s going to be a family car for road trips. I am still waiting for a few small things like the sunroof to be sorted out before we head out road-tripping in it. In keeping with my Star Wars obsession, this one is called Rey, from The Last Jedi because well, it’s the youngest Benz I have.
I also have a donor W126 500 SEL, which I'm making into an Art Car project for the Cathedral School to raise funds for their new school building. It’s my little way of giving back to something that’s been a massive part of my family’s life, and we’re hoping to do a Paul Smith sort of equivalent Mini with it. This one is christened Leia, also from Star Wars.
Rumors swirl about my possessing other Stars. I can neither confirm nor deny them. Watch this space, teehee!
6. What is your favorite Mercedes of all time?
I’m incredibly biased about the SEC. To me, it’s the best car Mercedes made. So maybe you shouldn’t be asking me this question, because I have only one answer. I can look at my 560 AMG tribute literally all day long. As I always say, Vader and I fixed each other up. It has brought me so many friends in the car world, who have been so generous with their time and spirit. I must mention LS Ravi and Aijaz Rashid; without these two gents, my car would not have been what it is. I’m blessed by God to have sent his angels in when needed most.
7. What is the best Mercedes you have experienced?
I must go down my memory lane for this. In the 90s, there was this guy whom all of us looked up to, Karl Gandhi. He had the best cars, the flashiest of them all. There was no competition. He was a legend.
I met him once at the air-conditioning shop when he had brought his R107. It was the early 90s, and he had just been featured on a magazine cover exemplifying the good-life. Very timidly, I asked him if maybe someday, if he was free, I could get a spin in that. He took my landline number down (cell phones did not exist at that point!) and said he would call.
I thought he was just being polite. Eventually, he did actually call and said he would be there. So on that day and precisely like a Swiss watch, I went down to the gate and waited. I heard him coming up the road before I saw him, it was a sunny day, the top was down, he pulled up alongside, I just had the widest smile on my face. I have never seen my city as fast as he drove me around that beautiful morning, the engine was singing, and the exhaust note was to die for. It was quite my Hollywood moment, frankly.
We went whizzing around South Mumbai at the speed of light and then went to where all car guys back then used to: Worli Sea Face. This was before there were dividers there, and the entire road was like one giant deserted track.
He took off, and it was then that I fell in love with the R107 at a soul level. I’ve always had a massive soft corner in my heart for it ever since that drive. That car is now in a museum up North, by the way. Which is kind of a pity, I am all for driving cars not stashing them away.
When you have a beautiful car as someone on Petrolicious once said, it’s a responsibility to share it with the public, because it’s like Art. But, I digress. To me, the R107, in that era itself… yeah, that was pretty much everything.
8. Name the most perfect car in the group collection?
It’s impossible to bring it down to one car. But I’d have to say Jagdish Thackersey's SLS, LS Ravi’s SEC, Aijaz’s W201 Evo 2 Tribute, Amol Nayak’s Ponton among so many others are the beautiful jewels. We are fortunate to have a lovely collection.
9. What is your take on a modern Mercedes?
It might not be a popular opinion, but if only they would keep the grill proportions sensible. I enjoyed the C63s tremendously the one time I had a bit of a spin in it, to me that’s the right size, the right engine, and the right kind of mental. It’s discreet but can really scream when needed. I do wish Mercedes hadn’t diluted the brand with the whole Renault platform CLAs. However, accounting departments force passionate engineers to do horrible things.
10. What is the difference between a classic Mercedes and a Youngtimer Mercedes?
They are a family! Like Father and Son. The DNA is so strong in them. In Samit Hede’s lineup of S classes, the DNA bloodline is so visible! The W111, for example, isn’t designated an S Class formally, that didn’t happen till the W116, but right from there, you see how familiar everything is. The handbrake, the key position, the instrument cluster, even the sense of the aroma from the MB Tex, it’s all just fine wines of different vintages.
The classic Stars have what people call the authentic analog feel of a ‘real’ Mercedes Benz. Driving a W111 makes you feel you’re sitting in an old Rolex upon four wheels. It’s gorgeous, and there is even this tale of an Indian man who drove one after University from Munich to Mumbai in the late 60s with his German girlfriend. Both car and lady stayed with him for the next fifty years, would you believe? They’re indestructible.
A Youngtimer Mercedes needs a little more love and attention, because of electronics! It’s the early crossover years, and it’s harder to fix. But give me a W116 in Byzantine Gold, and I would be delighted, all the same, they were built in a pre-oil crisis era, and the feel of that exhaust note warbling through a Malabar Hill slope can make your chest hair grow!
11. Which as per you, is the best era of Mercedes?
I’m hugely biased. I think there’s this behavioral science theory of how the cars you see as kids, are the cars you believe are the best era. Maybe it’s true because I’m Gen X, and I’m practically bound to say the period of the 80s, the Sacco years. The W126 era, the C126 era, the big ballin’ 80s, when drug dealers, Heads of State, and every industrialist in between had a big land barge from MB. That’s my favorite era frankly because I gravitate to that time, it is when we were kids and growing up with wide-eyed wonder at the Concorde in posters and so on. But subjective personal opinion aside, look at the way these cars have been around for nearly 40 years now, and they’re just the best of the best built when Mercedes had engineers at the helm, not bean counters.
As a side note, my contempt for the W140 is more than well known for anyone who chooses to ask. I genuinely think it was a massive let down from the magnificent W126, and the pre-facelift ones are what I call Bankruptcy Inducing Machines. No matter how many times you fix them up, they tend to trouble you eventually. I’m sure there are exceptions, but to me, that’s one era best left alone. In my humble opinion, the true spiritual heir to the W126 is the W220. It has the same pleasing vertical and horizontal affinity. The bloodline returns to being visible, unlike in the mutant W140, which was purpose-built to be needlessly as big as a Rolls Royce. Bruno Sacco, in fact, admitted years later that was a mistake and said they’d made the original roof four inches too high after the initial design perhaps. No matter, he bowed out gracefully with the W220 as a makeup.
12. If someone wants to start collecting or enter the Classic or Youngtimer Mercedes scene, which is the least daunting Mercedes, they should begin with?
The Youngtimer scene in India tends to center around the W124. We have a few of those in our group, some of which were bought for very little money relatively, then fixed up over time and are now good examples like the Dhondy W124. Personally, though I push people to save the W201s, those are far fewer and far more fun too, to drive. Both of these have a large support forum, and parts tend to be available also. Even the W123s, I love how some of our members, like Nathan and Dheep, who are half my age, are besotted with their W123 sedan and wagon, respectively.
The Classic scene seems to center around the W110 version of the Fintail, there are many around and nearly every month, someone or the other finds and gets one to restore, due to their relative simplicity. Another favorite seems to be the humble W115, which has recently shot through the roof in terms of asking price and popularity.
13. Last but not least. If someone wants to join All-Stars, how do they get in touch with you?
You can’t miss a fat man with curls at Horniman Circle on Sunday mornings. But we’re on Instagram and Facebook too for those who can’t make it in person. Also if you want to see almost every era of Mercedes on display attend the Mercedes Classic Car Rally happening on the 10th of November in Mumbai at the Sofitel Hotel in BKC.
All photographs have been used with permission from their respective owners. You can follow them on their Instagram accounts.