Buying the beast in Germany - our campervan 507D Daimler-Benz

LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

The good life comes to those in old bangers!

By Olly Duke

LIFE can be so frustrating. You start off with great hopes only to have them dashed. And so we set off from Wiehl on our first road trip in our magnificent 1989 Merc van in great spirits. With just 44,000 kilometres on the clock and a full service history, what could go wrong?

We decided never to use motorways and we were now going to stick to that. We knew the van was slow, with a cruising speed was about 80kph. We wanted to see the countries we were passing through and experience the drives. So we set our GPS en route for Starogard Gdanski in Poland and fired up the motor, waved goodbye to the Red Cross team who had sold us the 507 and lurched off in second gear. Which is where we remained for much of the time as we ground up the hills of the undulating countryside surrounding the town.

Like a boat at sea

Life couldn’t have been better. The pristine fields, farms and immaculately-clean towns and villages of the old West Germany drifted by in a lazy sort of way, the engine purring with delight. Despite the van’s considerable size – it’s over six metres long and two metres wide – it proved easy to drive. The steering was light when on the move, the soft suspension made the machine wallow like a boat at sea and the huge windscreen gave us a panoramic view of the world.

The GPS did a great job of keeping us off the autobahns as we headed towards Berlin. We passed through every housing estate and farm track the bloody thing could fine. We watched people hanging out their washing and cows munching grass in the fields. By the time it led us down a single-track forest road with a barrier forbidding us to continue, tempers were becoming a little frayed. With no decent map, we were seemingly stuck in the middle of nowhere.

No breakdown insurance

Then the engine slowed down. We were crawling along at a frustrating 50kph with chocked-up fuel filters. A nightmare scenario loomed up as we realised we could become stuck in the middle of nowhere. We had very little money and no breakdown insurance. We had to find a garage. By late afternoon we crawled into Helmstadt, a small town near Wurzbourg, miles from Berlin, the half-way point of our 1000-kilometre journey.

But with sheer luck, and a lot of help from everyone we came across, we scraped through. And so we pulled in to a fuel station to ask where we could find a garage, to be met by a classic Porsche owner who went out of his way to show us garages and lead us to an hotel for the night.

All for one

The following morning we couldn’t find a garage able to replace either of the two fuel filters. As it happened the engine was once again running sweetly, so we headed off. But, once again, it ran out of steam. By late morning we limped into Stendal, west of Berlin. Joanna found a classic car garage on the net, which is where went met 75-year-old Wolfgang Schrader and chums, and where we were introduced to their fabulous collection of cars and motorcycles in the Nordwall Classic Garage (www.nordwall-classic.de).

Wolfgang was born in Poland during the World War II to German parents, who were part of the German population in the country. When the Poland was invaded he and his parent were relocated to what later became East Germany. Talking to each other through Google Translate, he led us to a garage that was able to replace a fuel filter. He then insisted we stay the night at his weekend cottage, an offer we reluctantly had to turn down as we had to return to Joanna’s house in Starogard that night.

GPS and the other half

We waved farewell (the offer of his weekend cottage still stands, by the way) and headed towards the Polish border town of Kostrzyn. This time the old bird was flying along at a sustained 80kph as we watched the less immaculate towns of the old East Germany pass by.

I got into trouble while navigating using the smartphone as our GPS. At one stage in a not-so-smart way I managed to head us off in completely the wrong direction, so I was thankfully banned from touching the wretched thing and placed once again in the driver’s seat.

Poland came into view early evening. We stopped for a rest and a bite to eat, and carried on to our destination through the dark, where we arrived in the early hours of the morning.

Germany threw up nothing but kindness. From Sven, who sold us the van and helped us to reduce its tonnage; to the man in the classic Porsche who led us round Helmstadt in a desperate search for garages and hotels; to dear old Wolfgang, who insisted on waiting with us while the 507 was repaired at the garage he led us to.

Thank goodness we stayed off the autobahns.

Boring stats:

Fuel consumption: 14 litres /100km average (20mpg)

Distance: 1008 kilometres

Time taken:  Ages!

Fun rating: Tops

Removing excess weight for the TUV
TUV officer inspects the van
Van weighed in, we have the plates!
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