If ¬all good stories begin with “It was a dark, stormy night”, you will probably not like this one. After all, it was actually a very pleasant, serene evening on a remote coffee plantation in Panama, where my wife and I were vacationing a year ago. This is where I heard about the owner’s 1963 Mercedes Convertible. He had left the car in a friend’s garage when he left the US over ten years ago and since then it had mostly been hibernating unattended. After our vacation was over, it took me six months to convince Randy that selling the car to me was the right thing to do.
At that time, I still owned a 1967 Mercedes Coupe. That car needed a lot of fine-tuning, and I never quite understood why it drove so sluggish. I had initially taken it to a first generation German master mechanic in the San Fernando Valley, who works exclusively on European Imports. He takes great pride in his professional upbringing and his many, many years of job experience. Unfortunately, he charges accordingly and at times his work did not live up to what I paid. Over time, I came to the realization that the older and simpler a car really is, the fewer people nowadays still know how to work on it.
One day, though, I drove by HR AUTO on Saticoy Street and noticed quite a few vintage Mercedes parked in front of the shop. Not the over the top-pretentious kind you will encounter in Beverly Hills etc., but classic Benz nonetheless. My curiosity was peaked, and when I found the time to stop by and chat with one of the owners/mechanics, Roupen (pronounced just like the sandwich; don’t ask) patiently answered all my questions and showed me the small shop. He has been working on (primarily) Mercedes since 1974, when he was learning to be a mechanic in Beirut, Lebanon. His dad was a cab driver, and at that time in this and many other parts of the world, nearly all cabs were Mercedes. Hence, Roupen knows these vintage cars inside out. After all, he started to work on them when they were not Classics but regular vehicles in everyday use. Since then, he built up extensive in depth knowledge, combined with a true passion for vintage Benz. If you are interested, he will gladly provide some tutoring on the difference between the return valve of a 1967 carburetor compared to the W111 1969 export model. Or why the 1969 Pagoda offered a reduced flux capacitor range of 0.0001 jigga-watts, or whatever it may be. All joking aside: Roupen just knows his stuff. At the same time, he and his partner Hratch Ourichian will gladly and expertly work on any modern vehicle as well.
Going back to my ’67, though: I had previously paid Mr. German Super Mechanic $ 1000 for minor repairs and tune-ups, but the car was still running poorly. It took Roupen only a few minutes to diagnose that the throttle linkage had been installed incorrectly in the past, which explained the painful sluggishness of my ride. He charged me $ 60 for his fix, which were the best $ 60 I ever spent. In addition, he also made another repair to the worn out transmission mount (which the other guy also had overlooked). Wow! Gone was the sluggishness, and the ride comfort was dramatically improved as well.
So based on all that, it was a no-brainer to take the convertible back to them. Their work on this current love affair of set me back thousands and thousands of dollars. A LOT more than I had anticipated, however, of course Roupen’s kid deserves to go to Harvard law school and I guess I just paid for that. Am I happy that I had to spend so much money? No. Do I feel they earned their money and delivered quality work? Very much so! Also, who would have thought that Mercedes in 1963 had the audacity to sell a luxury vehicle without power steering? Yet, these guys managed to locate a complete vintage system, which they expertly rebuilt and then retrofitted to my car. The list of additional repairs is several pages long - 7 at last count. But whereas in the past, parts made up perhaps 25 or 30 percent of my repair bills while the remaining 70 or 75 percent was for labor and taxes, HR Auto’s ratio hovers at a much more healthy and reasonable 50/50 or 60/40 level.
Should you decide to give them a try, don’t expect people that look like Hollywood actors, wearing spotless, starched lab coats. Their current shop rate is $ 80/hour and based on my experience this is money well spent. These guys are honest, reasonable, friendly - and just amazingly good at what they do.
Lastly, a word of caution, though: A year ago, when I first stepped into their office to settle a bill, I noticed a rifle leaning against the wall behind the desk. “BB gun?” I asked somewhat perplexed. “No, is old World War 2 rifle”, Roupen replied in accented English, “but we only use when we have problems with customers”. Up to this day I don’t know if he was joking. But don’t worry. The thing is long gone. I think they are now using a baseball bat instead.