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Around the world 20 times without a breakdown
July 24, 2012 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Gunther Holtorff has been driving a Mercedes Benz Galaendewagen named Otto around the world for 23 years. 800,000km without a breakdown. via Bring a Trailer
posted by Forktine (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Newsflash: German engineering is superior
posted by Renoroc at 4:45 PM on July 24, 2012


Noted; I now know what my next car will likely be.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:49 PM on July 24, 2012


I suspect that it's been so reliable because (a) it's a G-Wagen, which was built even tougher than Mercedes cars of its age and (b) it was made in 1989.

I highly doubt modern Benzes have that kind of build quality.

On the VW side, a friend is still driving his 1984 diesel Rabbit around. Would a modern-day Golf last until 2037? Very doubtful.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:50 PM on July 24, 2012


This is totally offtopic, but when converting my odometer reading into kilometers, Google informed me that a guy once biked 120,805km in a single year, without a major breakdown (ie. dying of exhaustion), which is considerably more than this guy drives in a year.

With the exception of dead batteries, my car (with 260,000km on it) has actually never broken down on me to the point of being undrivable. Sure, I've had my share of flats, and the car has an uncanny knack for having things fall off of it, but it always moves forward when I step on the gas.

However, I've gotten towed a number of times, since it's generally not a good idea to drive when bits of the undercarriage are dragging along the road. The late 90s was apparently a bit of a nadir for German automotive engineering.... It's a marvel that the car is so reliable on a basic level, while everything outside of the drivetrain is hilariously failure-prone.

Still.... I guess I can make the claim that my unreliable hot mess of a car has never had a "serious breakdown." For whatever that's worth.
posted by schmod at 4:50 PM on July 24, 2012


Renoroc: "Newsflash: German engineering is superior"

There are a lot of late-90s/early-00s Volkswagen owners who would like to have a word with you once they get towed back into town....
posted by schmod at 4:51 PM on July 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I have a feeling that the inevitable coming breakdown is gonna be a real buzzkill.
posted by item at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2012


Poop on Gelandewagens. Toyota Land Cruisers 4 lyfe, baby!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect that it's been so reliable because (a) it's a G-Wagen, which was built even tougher than Mercedes cars of its age and (b) it was made in 1989.

He also says he drives like a granny, and he's been smart enough to leave the truck totally stock. Jacking them up and adding big tires and stupid amounts of tough-looking accessories adds a lot of wear and tear on a vehicle.
posted by Forktine at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2012


Also, this site would only load to 22 seconds, after many attempts at refresh/reloading.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2012


BTW, my parents' '98 Subaru Forester has over 400,000km (250,000mi) on it.

It boggles my mind that some people hear less than 100,000 miles and say "Oh, that car's worn out". Some people must have money to burn.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2012


As someone with a 20-year-old car, not breaking down, in his terms, doesn't mean quite the same thing as not breaking down in ordinary terms. I wouldn't consider it serious if I didn't have to part out the car. Mine's never been undriveable; that doesn't mean it's never had what other people would consider to be move-on-to-a-new-car kinds of issues. Maybe I didn't drive it for long with a cracked catalytic converter, but it still drove. Extremely loudly, but it drove.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:55 PM on July 24, 2012


My vehicles have always reached at least 400,000 km before catching fire, or having a strut pop up through the trunk. I try to pick models with good reputations and I'm dogged about trying to fix things myself before reluctantly bringing a mechanic into the situation.

But 800,000! That's a lot of oil changes, gentle starts, and staying away from winter conditions.
posted by CynicalKnight at 5:03 PM on July 24, 2012


On the VW side, a friend is still driving his 1984 diesel Rabbit around. Would a modern-day Golf last until 2037? Very doubtful.

In Maine? Sure. The panels will be more Bondo than steel, and it will shake like it has Parkinson's when it hits 45, but a few people will have kept one on the road through sheer force of will.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:07 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Newsflash: German engineering is superior

No, no. American engineering is superior. Because we have a Kelvinator fridge at home that has been going on for 30 years now without any repairs at all.

Newsflash: Survivorship bias
posted by vidur at 5:08 PM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Newsflash: Survivorship bias

Just came to say this.
posted by Cosine at 5:09 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, just look at that second photo. He pushes it up hills! I mean, come on! Of course it's gonna last!
posted by orme at 5:09 PM on July 24, 2012


800k without a breakdown is one hell of a survivorship. Let me know via FPP when a Ford accomplishes it.
posted by Renoroc at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2012


Mayor Curley: "In Maine? Sure. The panels will be more Bondo than steel, and it will shake like it has Parkinson's when it hits 45, but a few people will have kept one on the road through sheer force of will."

Paul LePage may be a lurching buffoon, but I think with a few well-placed emails we might be able to convince him car inspections are an undue government intrusion. You in?

Personally, I think uninspected vehicles should have to be blaze-orange and stay under 45.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:13 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Paul LePage may be a lurching buffoon, but I think with a few well-placed emails we might be able to convince him car inspections are an undue government intrusion. You in?

When I was getting inspections in Maine, I made sure to go to the guy who inspected the cash instead of the car. I think emissions tests killed the Golden Age of Beaters.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:16 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Inspirational. I'd love to do this some day, even just a little bit.
posted by Flashman at 5:19 PM on July 24, 2012


This man is truly Living the Dream. He's been everywhere, and he's gotten there under his own power. He doesn't insulate himself in hotels and resorts. He just travels. It takes a lot of guts to do that, though after 23 years I imagine he's pretty comfortable with it. He sounds like a really remarkable man and I wish I could buy him a drink and talk with him for a while. Better yet, I wish I could be him someday.
posted by Scientist at 5:26 PM on July 24, 2012


He drives it like a granny, alright. Of course, my grandmother was a rancher who spent many years storming around the backcountry of Kenya and tried to give me a shotgun without my parents' knowledge when I was about 8 years old, so my definition of "like a granny" may be a little unusual.
posted by The World Famous at 5:26 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


800k without a breakdown is one hell of a survivorship. Let me know via FPP when a Ford accomplishes it.

Actually, "without a breakdown" is a bit misleading. From the article: "He says he has never had a serious breakdown." And since he carries around spare parts, I am assuming that he has had some breakdowns:

"As reliable as the car is, things can go wrong, and more than half of that extra weight on the roof is made up of hard-to-find, genuine Mercedes spares, all of which he fits himself when the need arises."

You say severed limb, I say "just a flesh wound".

Jokes aside, the survivorship bias for this Mercedes Benz car doesn't depend on the performance of other brands.
posted by vidur at 5:33 PM on July 24, 2012


He says he has never had a serious breakdown.

His definition of "serious" is probably a bit different from the average suburbanite's.

Also, a man who uses his vehicle as a manliness proxy tends to understate the amount of work that goes into keeping it running.
posted by klanawa at 5:36 PM on July 24, 2012


Well, I'd say a man who uses his manliness also tends to understate the amount of work that goes into keeping it running.
posted by Anitanola at 5:42 PM on July 24, 2012


Surprised he doesn't appear to have a winch on that thing.
posted by compartment at 5:47 PM on July 24, 2012


85hp?!
posted by Chuckles at 5:53 PM on July 24, 2012


The G wagon has had almost no changes in it's design since it was introduced. The chassis was revised slightly in the early 90's and again recently, but it is nearly the same vehicle they introduced in 1979. That kind of longevity engenders the kind of parts availability matched probably only by aircooled VW cars. I bet that guy finds the weirdest off-the-wall parts for that thing no matter where he goes. Some of those parts on his roof probably act as currency in some places.
posted by tmt at 5:55 PM on July 24, 2012


But 800,000! That's a lot of oil changes, gentle starts, and staying away from winter conditions.
posted by CynicalKnight


Yeah, the key I'm sure is not to let anyone else drive it. The horse will bolt and throw a shoe if a stranger is riding.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:57 PM on July 24, 2012


Noted; I now know what my next car will likely be.

I thought they looked really cool and went to the website to price one out. I slowly backed away from the computer and never had those thoughts again. Take 5 zeroes and add a one in front of them. Then add options.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:00 PM on July 24, 2012


What, you mean buy one new?

Buying new cars is for chumps. Although I suspect the Geländewagen maintains its aftermarket value better than a Pontiac Sunfire.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:04 PM on July 24, 2012


What, you mean buy one new?

Well, two things. Finding a used one might be difficult at times. Also, there is a strong correlation between new prices and used prices. A used one would likely still run you more than double what I'd be willing to spend on anything.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:08 PM on July 24, 2012


My '91 Pathfinder had about 80,000 miles on it when I bought it, & saw me through to 226,000 without ever once stranding me, except for a dead battery, once. It took a buttload of expensive maintenance over the years I owned it, but it always gave some sort of warning that bad things were about to happen, rather than just konking out.

For a while, my mechanic would tell me "you should sell that thing while you can," but in the end he got as emotionally invested in beating the odometer as me. The final decision to sell was based on it starting to burn oil, & me wanting something with higher mileage.

The Celica I replaced it with on the other hand, has gone undriveable twice already in just over 2 years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:11 PM on July 24, 2012


In my experience with my family's cars:

Best:
'98 Subaru Forester, 255,000 mi (400,000km+)
'87 Volvo 240, 247,000 mi
'90 Subaru Legacy, 240,000mi
'97 Subaru Impreza, 200,000mi+ (odometer's busted, still running like a champ)
'93 Saab 900, 220,000 mi. A classic, possibly the coolest car I have ever owned.
'86 Subaru GL, 220,000 mi.

Worst:

'95 Saab 900 (GM), 110,000mi. Rusted out from the inside, ate through $200 balljoints, belonged to a Republican state rep.
'84 Pontiac Bonneville, 60,000 mi
'98 Ford Contour, 70,000 mi
'86 Ford Thunderbird, less than 100,000 miles, didn't like being driven through intersections, after dark or on Thursdays.

I think you can see a trend here.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:25 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how intentional it is when companies make these vintages of cars and engines that are so bulletproof and reliable. Toyota HiLux and a 22R engine, did they know what they were getting into with that when they designed it? Is the relative shoddiness of other vehicles that intentional?

All I know is that I've got a 12-year-old, 4-cylinder Tacoma with 335,000 miles on it. I've changed the oil, I've changed the brake shoes 2 (or 3?) times, plugs and wires and the tires many times, and replaced a tie rod end. That's it. Original clutch on a manual transmission, burns zero oil. Maybe some of it is due to how I've driven it, but I've taken it some pretty harsh places (Little Santeetlah Creek, I'm looking at you). I'm sorry, but that is just one well-designed fucking truck. Mind you, I think the wheel bearings are getting worn in the front, but come on.
posted by Red Loop at 6:34 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently metafilter doesn't do car threads very well either. Add that to the list.
posted by blue t-shirt at 6:34 PM on July 24, 2012


Apparently metafilter doesn't do car threads very well either.

How so? Seems like an ordinary car confab to me.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:47 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Irv Gordon, Driver of His Record-Breaking, 2.5 Million Mile Volvo P1800, Marks the 40 Year Anniversary of His Purchase: "And, 40 years after Gordon took the keys, the car has the same engine, same radio, same axles, same transmission and of course, the same driver."
posted by vidur at 6:51 PM on July 24, 2012


497,000 miles/800,000 km? Feh. Try nearly 3 million on a 46 year old Volvo P1800S

Credit where credit is due, that's a ton of seat time, be it half a mill or 3 mill. My last 2 E34 BMW's both had over 200K on the clock when I sold them, and still ran like, well, BMW inline 6 cylinder engines.
posted by rhythim at 6:55 PM on July 24, 2012


Also, what vidur said.
posted by rhythim at 6:56 PM on July 24, 2012


Buying new cars is for chumps.

Actually, used prices have been so high for a number of years now that it can make a fair bit of sense to buy new. My five-year-old Toyota, with 50K miles on it, is apparently worth about 60% of the full sticker price of a brand-new model, one with all the latest features.... and you'll be able to find a new one much cheaper than that.

Depending on how long you keep cars, new's looking pretty good just now.

(I personally made out like a bandit, because I bought used, during the big accelerator pedal scare, and got a screamingly good price -- to the point that two years later, and with another 20K miles on it, the car sites say it's still worth about what I paid for it. But that was a weird exception. )

Consumer Reports has been saying that Hyundais are getting really good, to the point of being more reliable in their first year than Toyotas at the same price level, but the market doesn't seem to have fully realized that yet. A used Hyundai can still be a great buy, but you need to check reviews and CR carefully, because they've been improving very quickly. You want to be sure the model you're considering is in the 'good' range... probably 2008 or later, but you need to check to be sure. Buying a year too early can have a significant impact on the car's overall reliability.
posted by Malor at 6:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Up until about a year ago, my mother drove a Mercedes sedan from around that time (maybe a '91) and that thing was built like a damn tank, so I can only imagine how well built they must have made an actual truck.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:51 PM on July 24, 2012


dunkadunc: "'93 Saab 900, 220,000 mi. A classic, possibly the coolest car I have ever owned."

My parents had an '87 Saab 900 when I was growing up, and it's just a fantastic car. Literally the most thoroughly practical car I've ever seen. Every time I see an old 900 for sale on a lot, I'm tempted to simply walk in and buy it. After all, how long are they going to be around? The lack of airbags is pretty much the only thing keeping me from doing it... My vehicle needs are modest, but....

posted by schmod at 8:31 PM on July 24, 2012


I drive to the store in a 50-year-old car nearly every day in the summer, and a 40-year-old car in the winter, and they're both still on original engines and all that. Lowish miles, though.

If you keep up on routine maintenance, it's not hard to keep just about any old car on the road. Rust is the real killer (ie, store it inside, don't drive it when they bring the salt out--though new cars are much better about that), followed by indifference/ignorance. People spend buckets on their cars and then fill their garage with old high school papers and folding tables they'll never use, while the car rots outside. It's kinda odd.
posted by maxwelton at 9:00 PM on July 24, 2012


Jesus, you people drive a lot. I drove the same Ford for 12 years with no major repairs ... but I only put 75,000 miles on it. (Half in the first three years I owned the car, when I did a fair amount of long distance driving.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 PM on July 24, 2012


Relevant to our discussion.

I've been after a 900 Turbo for as long as I can remember. It's my go-to dream car, and they're only getting more expensive. Damn it, though. Five to Ten Grand for a pleasant example? I'll take it. Damn it.
posted by Chutzler at 10:15 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let me put in a good word for a 1991 Toyota Previa.
posted by mazola at 10:59 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I paid off my '05 Mitsu Galant (the late wife's car) a little over a week ago, and the VERY NEXT DAY (of course) it won't start. Had to completely replace the battery. That's two sears diehard gold batts that have each lasted two years. Thinking of going with an Optima red-top... right now it's got some Autozone store brand thing in it, as the girl who I was driving to see that day, the event was across the street from an Autozone.
posted by mrbill at 11:57 PM on July 24, 2012


While I generally regard the G-Wagen as a toy for the rich and pretentious, I've long been a fan of Steyr-Puch, who built the splendid Puch Maxi (sorry, I love a good honest moped over a pratmobile), as well as some quite lovely bicycles sold in the US by Sears and a motorcycle powered by the nerd-fabulous "twingle" engine. It's a rash generalization, but Austrians seem to have a genius for being associated with durable and reliable engines, which is why, when I started out chasing after a traditional boxer BMW motorcycle, I ended up with their Italian/Austrian (Austro-Canadian)/British/German muttley mish-mash model and couldn't be happier.

Suddenly, too, I have a wild hair to find myself a Puch Maxi.


P.S. My Citroën DS had 360,000 miles on the clock before it needed a searingly expensive clutch job and never once left me on the side of the road in the 80,000 miles I put on it. That's not to say I didn't spend a mountain of cash and a clock full of time on the little things, but like many European cars of its era, the car had the heart of an ox.
posted by sonascope at 12:00 AM on July 25, 2012


The Puch Maxi is a phenomenal little bike. We have the other mopeds and that one starts after barely touching the pedals. My 19-year-old brother increased the cylinder to 80cc and gave it a smaller back sprocket, and that thing just flies. Plus, any cop looking at it would just think it's a 50cc, so you don't really need a motorcycle license. A moped with an extra tank of gas on a Maine logging road is pure bliss. The nice thing about mopeds is that you can replace any part you want without a full garage, and they're very ready to tune.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:49 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


My finest car was a 1989 Saab 9000 Turbo. It was "wine colored" -- a really pale purple -- with a leather interior and great pickup. It was also my first car, and I loved it. A woman driving an SUV at 2x the speed limit flew into a rotary and crushed the side of my car. She was chatting away on her cell phone; she hit me so hard that her bumpers both fell off, her headlights popped out, and her SUV was basically totaled.

She jumped out to yell at me as I was calling the cops. They found nobody at fault, claiming that the rotary was just "too hard". The same cop called me at home later to personally apologize for making such a bad call, but it never amounted to anything; the Saab was done.

After a series of vehicles, I bought a 1999 Jeep Cherokee Sport last August. Dropped about $3k on the vehicle, and have put about $10k into replacing the suspension, tires, bumpers, and various engine components. I still need to put in a new front axle and pull the dash out to replace the air conditioning compressor, but at 130,000 miles, I expect it to last for another 10-20 years and at least double what's on the odometer today, assuming the rust that New England winters encourages doesn't get to it first. I've coated the undercarriage in POR-15, so here's to good luck.

You can buy a great modern car for ~$15-20k, and keep it for 5-10 years, or you can buy a great older car and spend that same money keeping it going for 10-20 years.
posted by ellF at 5:19 AM on July 25, 2012


A friend of mine put just over 700 000km on a Mazda 626 before deciding it was time to get something else (and very few people will buy the car with that many k on it used). Lots of cars, I suspect, can last a long time if you take care of them.

But no breakdowns is pretty much impossible unless you change the battery before it goes. My battery went on my Echo (Yaris) recently, after 7 years, which, apart from brake work and oil changes, is the only thing I've had to do to it (other fluid changes, tyres, and windshield wipers too). I suspect A/C will be the next system that will need some maintenance.

Other common things that can go wrong are tie rods. Timing belts too. I usually look for cars with timing chains.

But still, maintenance is an expected factor for any car. Low numbers of breakdowns are also pretty well expected these days.

As for German engineering, I'd take Japanese over it any day, but such things are relative and personal.

I'm on the side of not buying new cars when you can, particularly BMWs and certain Porsches. Their value can drop considerably, from about $70000 to $15000 in a decade for Boxters for example. Some cars are extremely over priced new.

But then some are not, and some keep a fair amount of their value. Miatas sell well used.
posted by juiceCake at 6:50 AM on July 25, 2012


Malor: "Actually, used prices have been so high for a number of years now that it can make a fair bit of sense to buy new. My five-year-old Toyota, with 50K miles on it, is apparently worth about 60% of the full sticker price of a brand-new model, one with all the latest features.... and you'll be able to find a new one much cheaper than that."

Yeah. All the "conventional wisdom" about buying a used car is pretty much bunk at this point. The recession, rising maintenance costs, the lingering economic effects of Cash4Clunkers, as well as rapidly increasing fuel efficiency standards have made it so that buying used is no longer the slam-dunk it once was. Also, while there are no longer any practical super-cheap new cars on the market, the current crop of compact/economy cars is actually pretty darn nice.

My 13-year old Audi is worth about as much (if not more) than it was when I got it 4 years ago. That's nuts, considering the maintenance costs (and terrible fuel economy) of these vehicles. The maintenance costs alone would just about cover the cost of leasing a new car (albeit a more modest one).

However, I barely drive at all, and I think I now understand the "stockholm syndrome" that comes along with owning a somewhat-charming older car -- Sure, a new car would be more reliable, efficient, and predictable, but I'd only just about break even, and I can find plenty of ways to talk myself out of it. I've also never driven another car that feels quite as "connected" to the road as my Audi does. It's almost like all the automakers decided to turn the power steering up to 11 sometime around 2003; sure, the cars still handle great, but you can't "feel" the connection to the road like you used to be able to (perhaps someone who knows more about cars can jump in here to explain why that is).

Once my Audi finally dies, my next car will probably be a new Hyundai or Kia (or my other car-crush, the Volvo C30). That's not a phrase I would have even considered possible a few years ago. The Korean automakers somehow managed to get their act together remarkably quickly, and seem to be doing a great job of combining the best ideas from Europe and Japan.
posted by schmod at 7:09 AM on July 25, 2012


800k without a breakdown is one hell of a survivorship. Let me know via FPP when a Ford accomplishes it.

I'll just let you know right here if that's OK with you.
The article doesn't claim breakdown-free, but it does say the truck has the original motor.
posted by fusinski at 11:28 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's more to his story than just the car. Core77's rounded it up pretty well with photos, videos and kit details.
posted by infini at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2012


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