We often talk about how much we love a car with a good story. This week, we’ve found one with perhaps the greatest story of all. It’s a tale that spans twenty-six years, six continents, and nearly two-hundred countries. This is the story of Otto, the 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300GD, and his journey around the world.
Otto is owned by Gunther Holtorf, a veteran of the aviation industry who spent nearly thirty years looking down at all the roads he wanted to travel. After retiring, he purchased Otto and set off on an adventure with his wife, Christine. They traveled across Africa, South and North America, Australia, Asia, and even to a number of island nations. Their travels took them through the harsh environment of the Sahara desert, through the warzones of Afghanistan, and even into isolated North Korea.
Of traveling off the beaten path, Holtorf said that the key to his success was patience and positive thinking. The negotiations and border crossings were always the hardest part, though. The driving was easy thanks to Otto.
The journeyman G-Wagen had a straight five-cylinder engine, the stock version of which Holtorf never once had to replace. He venerated the powertrain for having very little extra machinery, which many of our followers would probably agree with. The fewer mechanisms under the hood, the less chance there will be of something failing.
There were also no electronics in the cockpit, and Holtorf said that the lack of computerization in this late eighties model is the reason he never ran into insurmountable troubles on the road. “Otto is nothing but nuts and bolts. That means I can unscrew the nuts and pull out bolts to repair anything that comes up myself,” he said. He carried spare parts in containers on the roof of the car and never once experienced a breakdown that he could not fix himself. Working for Lufthansa had taught him the strict principle of preventative maintenance, which also preserved Otto.
“When people praise me, I say it’s Otto,” he says. “The sturdiness and reliability of this car is absolutely astonishing.” The car only had five digits on its odometer, which meant every time Holtorf and his wife logged another one-hundred thousand kilometers, he had to reset the dial and post a sixth digit in front of the display.
His travels done, Otto will go on display in the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, decorated as the Guinness world record holder for most countries visited by a single automobile. The BBC has a brilliant long-form piece on Otto, Gunther, and the ups and downs of the whole journey that we have to insist you read.
The next Raleigh Classic Car Auction is scheduled for December 5-6, so make sure you save the date.