20 pre-war classics with a star that make their way through the Californian heat over three days make the Sonoma tour probably the most exclusive classic car event of the past decades. We were there and behind the wheel of the Mercedes 680 S we still dream of vineyards, supercharger power and the exclusive mobility of the 1930s.
Mercedes SK or SSK are not only driving legends in the elite classic car scene. You hardly see the super sports cars of the 1930s on the road. Maybe once at a competition or a spectacular classical music festival. But what recently rolled over a few days from Monterey via San Francisco to the sun-drenched wine paradise of Napa Valley has probably never happened before. 20 pre-war models with a star on the impressive radiator grille, with spectacular design and the automotive high-tech of the pre-war: compressor power from Sindelfingen.
The Napa Valley and especially the region around sun-drenched Sonoma are known for a very special reason: exquisite wines. The best grape juice in the United States of America is grown here. Many winemakers who learned their craft in northern Italy or France are even more confident, calling the area about an hour and a half north of San Francisco the best wine region in the entire world. The warming sun makes the crucial difference, because there is no sign of the Bay Area’s sometimes cool and humid weather around places like Napa, Santa Rosa or Sonoma. Especially in the summer months it is hot, very sunny and anything but humid. Ideal conditions for a wide variety of grape creations, which not only taste great for wine fans, but also create a unique atmosphere when out and about.
This is more true than ever when the mobile vehicle is even more exclusive and exquisite than the appropriately celebrated grape juices. Sonoma 2023 – sounds unspectacular, but it was much more than that. 20 participants met for a multi-day trip like never before. A repeat in the foreseeable future? Rather unthinkable. The group of participants is unique because the ticket for the Sonoma 2023 tour is a vehicle that only exists a few hundred times in the world. The 20 participants – ten from the USA and ten from Europe – celebrated a very special classic ride in a supercharged classic car from Mercedes. Depending on the body structure, individual models such as Mercedes S, SK or SSK are as unique as a blue Mauritius.
Their values reach dizzying heights when sold or auctioned. A Mercedes SS Cabriolet from 1930, the Mercedes SS Rennsport UW 302 or the SS Rennsport GP 10 are worth millions. One of the most exclusive models in the field: the Mercedes Type S Sport four-seater from 1927 was once delivered to a wealthy privateer in Rome. The open tourer with the internal name W06 is powered by a 6.8 liter in-line six-cylinder with an impressive 132 kW / 180 hp, which also gives it its name Mercedes 680 S. “We got it back into the collection at the beginning of the 1960s,” remembers Michael Plag from Mercedes Klassik. “It was actually black and red, but we found paint residues during the restoration and have now painted it back in its light original color.”
After the first restoration in 1998, it was now completely reassembled again in order to complete its maiden voyage on the Napa tour. The new restoration took more than five years. “Many of the vehicle parts were neatly arranged in mesh boxes,” smiles Michael Plag, “we even had to have some details such as shafts, bearings or pistons remade by specialist companies.” However, the frame of the W06 is just as original as the remaining parts – the beech wood comes from it from the Black Forest, where Mercedes had its own forests for the special woods at the time and made wood processing the largest area in the still young company. The value of the Mercedes 680 S after the successful factory restoration: around 15 million euros. When it was delivered in 1928, the purchase price was hardly less impressive: 30,000 Reichsmarks. The open predecessor of such renowned sports models as the Mercedes SS or an SSK is based on Paul Daimler’s 630 engine design. Ferdinand Porsche revised the high-performance engine at the time to 6.8 and later to more than seven liters for the Mercedes sports versions.
Behind the wheel you quickly immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the late 1920s. The gas is in the middle, the clutch is on the left and the brake is on the right – be careful. On longer descents, it is advisable not only to use the engine brake, but also to use the handbrake for the rear wheels, otherwise the 1.7-ton touring car will quickly run out of road meters. The steering is stiff and it takes a lot of feel to shift gears, but when the warm wind blows through your hair, you feel like you did almost 100 years ago – more sublime than ever in the Californian traffic between white pick-ups and current SUVs. A deep step on the gas and the compressor kicks in and pushes the open tourer both shamelessly and loudly. The fast speedometer needle is just an indication of what the pilots experienced at speeds of over 100 km/h.
The feeling of driving such a vehicle from one of the most exciting times in automobility is unique and is hardly different for the other participants on the Napa Valley trip, especially away from the main roads. Where else but here are the pre-war models worth millions being moved several hundred kilometers on a few days in a row? The Sonoma heat obviously affects the drivers more than the large-capacity star models, whose engine temperatures only reach the 70 degree Celsius mark with difficulty, even during long traffic jams or winding mountain sections. But after the sun-drenched day trips, the region can shine in the evening with those culinary delights that you could only enjoy during the day when driving past in the compressor: endless vineyards. At least briefly, even the million-dollar classic cars take a back seat.
I’m a recent graduate of the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. I started working as a news reporter for 24 Hours World about two years ago, and I’ve been writing articles ever since. My main focus is automotive news, but I’ve also written about politics, lifestyle, and entertainment.