Disneyland for Car Fans: Techno-Classica Essen

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Those of us in the US can choose from a handful of top-shelf classic car events, including Monterey Classic Car Week, Scottsdale, and Amelia Island, among others. Venturing overseas can expand the opportunity set significantly. I recently attended Techno-Classica in Essen, Germany. Techno-Classica gathers automobilia purveyors, parts vendors, restoration experts, marque clubs, and of course, dozens of collector cars for sale under one roof. Participation is overwhelmingly saturated by Europeans, but we heard a few American voices. The overseas location guarantees you will see cars you’ve never heard of. While most of the merchandise was immaculately presented and quite exotic, a few “barn finds” were extant. The BMW above is a 1940 BMW 335 two-door cabriolet, one of perhaps five in existence. Its pedigree and substantially original paint coat, interior, and mechanicals can qualify this car for any survivor class on the planet. This was BMW’s most powerful pre-war car. With a 3.5 liter in-line six-cylinder, the big car could reach 90 mph. This car arrived on consignment from a long-time owner, and it is eligible for rallies and shows worldwide. The selling dealer’s website lists the price at €275,000. If you want to hoof on over to pick it up, you’ll be flying to Stuttgart.

Here is a “restoration ready” Mercedes 190SL, year indeterminate. Of course, the vendor is a specialist in 190SL restorations. These cars when completed can cost upwards of $250k, but the buyer will receive a perfect car. The remains of this one’s convertible top lie like confetti across the top bows; the engine has not run in many moons. Still, while every panel showed some rust, the tin worm wasn’t terminal. There’s hope for the old girl yet!

To switch gears for a moment – this is a perfectly restored NSU Prinz II utilizing the design trick of the day, a “panorama” rear window. This is probably a ’59 or ’60 model, powered by a 583 cc air-cooled rear-mounted two-cylinder four-stroke motor (whew!). Internal improvements to the motor over earlier cars boosted hp all the way to 40. By the time this car was made, it would have a four-speed all-synchro gearbox. Noisy, slow, and hot – though tractable and easy on gas – the Prinz II never sold well in America. I would own this one in a heartbeat, however, slow or not.

And finally, back to the barn find theme, here is a Piaggio Ape “headlight low”, which means the headlight is situated on the tiny front wheel fender. Configured as a step-through with a pick-up style bed, this little guy proved his usefulness on narrow Italian streets making deliveries door to door. Steering was via bicycle-type handlebars. and a tiny two-stroke motor was usually packed under the seat. Ape enthusiasts can gather here on facebook to trade parts and tech tips.

Essen’s array of wonders includes parts vendors with high-dollar items like a Cisitalia cylinder head assembly, all manner of manuals for the most obscure makes, and light lenses for a 1942 Peugeot that you need. Unlike American swap meets, every part is not only clean but restored to the point of being ready to install. If you can possibly find lodging and a plane ticket, this event is definitely worth the trip. Others on the docket are Auto E Moto d’Epoca, to be held this year over Oct 26-29 in Bologna, Italy (about three times the size of Essen’s event), and then there’s Beaulieu’s International Autojumble, the mother of all British swap meets, in early September – several good reasons to renew that passport!

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  1. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    Looks great Michelle. Germany is a beautiful country. The BMW museum in Munich is awesome if you get a chance to make it down there.

    Like 4
  2. Melton Mooney

    The German machine museums are incomparable. Everything from automobiles, to airliners, to locomotives, to submarines; restored and on display. Just amazing.

    Like 5
  3. Derek

    Don’t forget Retromobile! Paris, February*, Parc des Expos at the Porte de Versailles.

    *Gives you the “I’ve booked a romantic trip” excuse…

    Like 4
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      Yes, I was less than impressed with Retromobile. Honestly, the very best I’ve been to is Auto Moto formerly in Padua which is completely charming on its own without the car show. I also love Beaulieu but then I am a British car fan so there’s that.

      Like 3
  4. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    We were in London last summer, and after doing all the fun tourist stuff, we had a Sunday afternoon free.

    SO, as usual, I google “classic car shows near me”, and found a car show in the town of Croxley, about an hour’s train ride north of London, past Wembley Stadium. My wife was on board, so we went up there and had a great afternoon attending that show, and later had a “Sunday roast” at a charming pub in Croxley. And a pint or two. Smashing baby, yeah!

    Like 5
  5. Car Nut Tacoma

    Beautiful looking car. It’s a shame that it was never offered here in the USA.

    Like 1
  6. TheOldRanger

    Nice write up, Michelle, and I really like the old BMW and chuckled at the Prinz (at first glance, is it coming at me or is it headed the other way?)… the “Ape” is a neat vehicle designed for particular situations… thought it interesting that the “steering wheel” was a bicycle handle bar.

    Like 6
    • Tony C.

      The APE was virtually a Vespa scooter with the added cab, two rear wheels and a tray, I used to drive one in my teenage days to pick up parts, etc. around my home town in Sth. Australia, I’d kill for one now just for fun, they’re like hens teeth and worth a squillion bucks if you can find one.

      Like 0
  7. Martin Horrocks

    Agree with your recommendations (though seems unusual to be disappointed by Retromobile Paris).

    On thing to note about Padua / Padova, the show moves to Bologna in 2023.

    Like 1
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      Yes, I noted that in the article, thanks Martin. I only caught that myself because a vendor at Techno Classica gave us a bag for a few books we purchased, and it had an advert for Auto Moto on it, but it said Bologna. At first I thought, perhaps there will be two shows! But I looked it up, and yes, due to space constraints, the show had to be moved. Sort of too bad, I really loved Padua. I am sure I will find something to love about Bologna as well, after all, it’s Italy!

      Like 2
  8. Gerard Frederick

    The elegance of this BMW is stunning.I wonder how it survived. After 1945 cars like that, if they could be found ended up being ¨liberated¨,frequently being shipped to the former Soviet Union. Also, during the war they were donated to the governmment to help the war effort; This means, they were driven by a party official, or were driven in the ground on the front lines. Whenever they stayed in Germany proper, they were converted to run on charcoal via a charcoal burner being installed in the trunk. This of course completely thrashed the car and made it useless aftwerward. All of this means, that this speciman was hidden away on a farm or some such.

    Like 0
  9. OLdCarGuy

    This is not a”pre-war” car, as WW ll started in 1939, folks. I think it likely that not too many were built in 1939-40. They were probably bought by the wealthy, who would have the wherewithall to hide them away, to prevent their “donation”.

    Like 0
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember


      I also doubt the car was built in 1940. That said, many European countries [and a few US states] would list the year of manufacture based on the year the car was first sold. My 1962 Tatra’s German VIN plate is stamped 1962 for the Baujahr [build year], yet the actual chassis/body VIN is 4739, indicating the car was first built in 1958, but as it was mechanically modernized by the factory in 1962, that’s what the VIN plate says.

      While there were numerous examples of vehicles of all types and price ranges being hidden away in WW2 conflict areas, there were also areas where they were sold outside the conflict areas.

      In the late 1970s my boss, who ran the service department of a large BMW dealership, had told me if I found any pre-war BMW cars, to let him know. I located a beautiful circa 1937 BMW 326 cabriolet with the same basic body as seen here. That car had been sold in France, along the southern Mediterranean coast, where it was safe from German confiscation. It was bought in the early 1950s by a US Army officer and brought to America. I found the car in nearby West Virginia, as a result of the owner placing an ad in Hemmings.

      Like 1

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