Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:09
After almost 26 years, 215 countries and 890,000 km
Gunther Holtorf recently finished an epic adventure that lasted almost 26 years while driving a Mercedes-Benz G-Class. It all started when he quit his job as manager at Lufthansa and hopped on an adventure trip with his sky blue 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300GD nicknamed ‘Otto’.
The first years were spent crossing African countries with his third wife but the two broke up and in 1990 he placed an ad in the German weekly Die Zeit personal column and got a response from Christine. After that, they travelled to South America, hitting the 200,000 km mark in 1998 while in Argentina.
Unfortunately, Christine passed away in June 2010 after being diagnosed in 2003 with a tumor of the facial nerve but Holtorf promised her to continue the trip, which he did as the next countries on the agenda were China and North Korea, with support from Mercedes-Benz. Trips to Vietnam and Cambodia followed while the final stop was at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.
Still running on the original engine, the G-Class rarely broke down and whenever it did, Holtorf had around 400 spare parts stored in aluminum boxes on the roof. The biggest problem occurred during a trip to Madagascar while passing another car when the G-Class began to slide on the soft ground ending with the wheels facing the sky, requiring a trip to Europe for a new body. An axle bearing change was also necessary at 5,000 metres high in the Andes Mountains.
“The more you have travelled, the more you realise how little you have seen,” Holtorf said upon his return to Berlin this week. He travelled with his wife, Christine, completely under the radar – there was no Facebook at the time – no mobile phones and no Web. It was just the two of them and Otto, their beloved Mercedes G wagon, which they consider ‘the third member of the family’.
The last trip Christine made was to the UK (country 149) in May 2009. Miraculously, England and Wales were bathed in glorious sunshine, but Christine’s condition was deteriorating, and a planned trip to Ireland had to be called off. She had known for a long time that the end was in sight, Holtorf says, and the couple was able to talk honestly about what would happen afterwards. She continued to insist that the tour most go on and joked about monitoring his progress from a cloud up above.
Two months after Christine’s funeral, Holtorf and Martin set off on a long journey, via Sri Lanka (country 155) to China and North Korea (156 and 157). It was a trip that had been long in the making, and one that Holtorf had been unable to organise without outside help. This help came partly from Mercedes.
Gunther along with his son Martin travelled to Sri Lanka in late 2010 and went to many parts of the country, including Jaffna. Diesel & Motor Engineering PLC (DIMO) facilitated and supported the entire operational aspect of the tour in Sri Lanka and was also instrumental in getting defence clearance to run a German licensed plate vehicle in the north soon after the war.
Otto will in due course take pride of place at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, with a fee exchanging hands that is likely to reflect the sum Holtorf estimates he has spent on the car over the years. That includes more than 100,000 litres of fuel bought at widely varying prices, shipping Otto in a container on 41 occasions, spare parts costs and about 100 ocean-going ferries and 200 river ferries. It’s a big sum, but Holtorf points out it boil down to less than 1,500 euros a month, and only one euro for every 2 km.
At the end of his journey now, Holtorf marvels at how it ended up taking so long, and knows it amazes some other people too. He also never ceases to be amazed by the way his car performed. “When people praise me, I say it’s Otto,” he says. “The sturdiness and reliability of this car is absolutely astonishing.”
But parting with Otto won’t be too hard. He has another Mercedes at home; a right-hand-drive E class, which he bought in Indonesia in 1978 and took on long journeys in South America in the 1980s. Being 10 years older than Otto, it is also, of course, pre-electronic. “It’s a very reliable, very basic car. I like it very much,” Holtorf says. “I like old stuff – no fancy stuff.” It has done a mere 500,000 km, so far. That’s just a snip.
The vehicle will be displayed in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, following a 890,000 km (553,020 miles) trip. As a final note, Holtorf and Christine got married two weeks before she passed away.